Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #5

I'll give this issue of Uncanny X-Men credit - I didn't see that coming.

Up to this point in the series, the focus has been on Cyclops establishing an alternative school for mutants. We've been meeting the team, learning about their powers and personalities - that sort of thing.

So this issue takes us over into left field as it focuses on the mysterious Magik, who combines mutant teleportation abilities with mystic powers and control over the dimension Limbo.

It's a bit of whiplash as we veer away from mutant and superhero action and into mystic battles, demons and the dark arts.

It gets us back to the earliest incarnation of Magik as created by Chris Claremont - a dark, mysterious character with a capacity for both good... and evil.

Kudos to writer Brian Michael Bendis for bringing that character back to prominence after too long an absence.

The art for this issue is by Frazer Irving, and it has a strong, dark style that's perfect for the story - and I like his take on a certain classic villain.

So not the usual mutant outing - but a good, surprising story about a character finally getting her moment back in the spotlight.

I like it!

Grade: A-


Monday, April 29, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

I wasn't sure what to expect from the latest version of Guardians of the Galaxy.

With Brian Michael Bendis writing, it was a safe bet that there would be lots of clever dialogue out there - but would the story be down to Earth or more cosmic in nature?

The answer, so far, is: both!

We've (briefly) met the Guardians - Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket Raccoon (this week's special guest star: Iron Man) - though not much information has been imparted to new readers.

It's been established that a loose federation of alien races have gathered and agreed to "leave Earth alone" (and we find out why in this issue), but that is, of course, an open invitation to the bad guys (this time around it's the Badoon, a reptilian group of aliens).

Last issue was the setup, this issue is all about hoo-hah-type action as the team battles the Badoon in the skies over London - and it's a heck of a lot of fun.

The art is a bit of a mix, as Steve McNiven and Sara Pichelli split the pencil chores and four separate hands do the inking - but I do like the art, and it contributes to the sense of fun.

So far, this has felt like a film treatment for the team (and perhaps it is), which is encouraging, because this comic is a heck of a lot of fun.

Grade: A-


Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Avengers #5

I'm continually amazed that writer Jonathan Hickman is able to write two different team comics - The Avengers and New Avengers - and make them both about big, cosmic events with all of reality at stake - while making them both completely different and original.

It's the kind of bravura performance we haven't seen in a long, long time - I'm not sure anyone has been able to manage it since Lee and Kirby (though no doubt someone will correct my oversight).

The story isn't easy to recap, but let's take a shot: a mysterious event is bringing Earths from alternate realities together. When it happens, the alternate Earth must be destroyed, or "our" Earth will be lost as well.

The Black Panther discovered the incursion and the woman at the heart of the mystery - the Black Swan. He's gathered the members of the Illumnati (Mr. Fantastic, Namor, Black Bolt, Iron Man, the Beast and Dr. Strange) and together they're facing the possibility of being forced to destroy another planet to save their own.

The team itself is almost chilling in its efficiency, though this time they may face a problem they can't solve.

Add to the compelling story the excellent, dark and purposeful art by Steve Epting and Rick Magyar and you have an outstanding series that is taking us along into some unexpected places.

Like most of Hickman's work, it's challenging for the reader, but very rewarding.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Jupiter's Legacy #1

This is a comic I was torn over.

On the one hand, the art is by Frank Quitely, a terrific artist with a unique style. I make it a point to always buy his work.

On the other hand, it's written by Mark Millar, whose work just doesn't connect for me. He's certainly written some good stories, but too many of his comics just feel like fan fiction - stories that have outrageous moments included just to shock the reader.

So, should I buy or not? You can tell what I decided - at least for the first issue.

Jupiter's Legacy actually gets off to a good start (though the path ahead seems obvious). It tells the story of a group of idealistic Americans in the late 1920s who discover a secret island and somehow develop superpowers.

They use those powers to become icons for justice and lead America into better days.

Flash forward to the present, when once again the country seems headed for economic ruin - so will the children of those heroes, or the Golden Age heroes themselves, step forward to lead again?

So we get the generational conflict, the question of whether the kids are up to the challenge (or spoiled rotten), and whether or not the heroes should use their powers to correct the nation's problems.

It's an interesting concept, and we can hope that the story will take a clever approach to the issues it raises. So far, I'm enjoying it - Millar hasn't tried to shock me yet - he's just telling a solid story. So far.

At least the art is excellent!

Grade: A-


Friday, April 26, 2013

Batman Inc. #10

As writer Grant Morrison brings us to the end of his run on Batman Incorporated, he gives us a hero who has been pushed to the very edge.

Batman has been forced to endure the death of his son Damien (Robin), the destruction of his Batman Inc. franchise and he's seen the entire city of Gotham turn against him.

But his focus is on revenge, and it threatens to push him into dangerous territory, where he'll have to figure out a way to take on Talia's army - and her new, even more deadly son.

There are lots of pieces to this puzzle that are finally coming together, as Morrison starts to reveal his master plan on this title.

He manages to balance the bigger pieces of the epic story with some nice small moments as the resistance grows and the danger goes off the charts.

The excellent art is by Chris Burnham, whose style seems to be patterned after Frank Quitely (not an easy artist to emulate).

It's unusual for Morrison to tackle a "simple" revenge story - but this is shaping up to be much more than that.

It's going to be interesting to see how he untangles all these threads - but if anyone can do it...

Grade: A-


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Avengers #10

So there's good news and bad news.

The good news is, the latest version of The Avengers under writer Jonathan Hickman is as intelligent, involved and cosmic as almost any other series ever written for Marvel.

It's a thought-provoking, dark and stimulating story like no other.

The bad news is, I'm not sure how accessible this story might be to new or young readers, and I hate to think that new fans lured to this comic by last summer's outstanding movie might be scared off by this challenging material.

It's certainly a chance I'm willing to take - each issue in this 10-issue run (so far) has been outstanding, setting up a big cosmic tale that takes the team (and its new members) in strange and unexpected places - and let me tell you, there are few comics out there that venture into "unexpected" territory for a longtime reader like me.

Add to that the luscious art by Mike Deodato (including one splash page that looks for all the world like a photograph) and you have another amazing issue to enjoy.

It's rare for a creative team to go 10-for-10, but that's the score so far.

A word of advice: buy this comic.

Grade: A


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New Comics Day

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

- Avengers #10 - A strange visit.

- New Avengers #5 - Destroying worlds.

- Batman, Inc. #10 - Desperate measures.

- Before Watchmen: Comedian #6 (of 6) - Last laugh.

- FF #6 - Stranger still.

- Fantastic Four #7 - Where's the restaurant at the end of the universe?

- Flash #19 - Reverse course.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #2 - The Earth under attack!

- Journey Into Mystery #651 - Shaggy dog story.

- Jupiter's Legacy #1 - How to win a brutal fight.

- Manhattan Projects #11 - The radioactive man.

- Wolverine and X-Men #28 - Back to our regular-scheduled jungle adventure.

- Uncanny X-Men #5 - Raising hell.

- Young Avengers #4
- Generation gap.

And that's it!

The Classics - Challengers of the Unknown #35

Having spent the better part of a couple of decades going to comics conventions, I love to hit the back issue bins.

There are comics I look for to fill gaps in a particular collection, there are others I pick up just for fun, and there are issues I track down out of a sense of nostalgia.

Among the many titles I look for in the last category, there are several old DC comics I love to find in almost any condition just because they return me to the warm glow of my childhood. Among those are Blackhawk, Doom Patrol and Challengers of the Unknown.

For the longest time, all but the earliest issues in those series could be picked up cheap - and they were always fun.

There is a remarkable consistency to those comics as we look at them in hindsight. None reaches the heights of its earliest, prototype stories, but they all maintain a professional level that (almost) always promises an entertaining tale.

Let's take this issue, which I picked up at a small convention a few weeks ago for a couple of bucks. Released in 1963, it offers two Challenger stories.

The first follows the usual format for this series: a gigantic menace appears after a laser experiment somehow awakens a monster that had been trapped on the moon. It immediately rockets to Earth and begins wreaking havoc.

The Challs investigate and discover the secret behind the creature's original imprisonment and they fight to use that knowledge to save the day in the face of an impossible opponent.

It's all a bit silly and extremely far-fetched, but it still manages to be a solid story from start to finish, with professional, clear artwork by longtime series artist Bob Brown.

The second story is a style that DC fell to in moments of weakness: the "look through time at the children of the Challengers." DC apparently loved these imaginary / fantasy stories (they did loads of 'em), though I suspect they left readers cold (at least I never much cared for them).

It's fine for what it is, but it's mighty thin stuff.

Still, overall, it's an entertaining comic and it makes me smile.

That's pretty good for a 50-year-old comic that cost less than a new issue!

Grade: B-


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Nova #3

So far (and somewhat to my surprise), Nova is an entertaining comic.

Oh, it's not perfect - but it's hitting some sweet notes as it sets up this new version of Marvel's space-based hero.

Writer Jeph Loeb does this by a simple plot device: we're learning about the hero at the same time as the title character, whose name is Sam Alexander.

So this Nova is a teenage boy who has received his helmet (and the costume) from his father, who was apparently a former member of the Supernova Corps.

Any student needs a teacher (or two), and the instruction here is provided by Guardians of the Galaxy stars Gamora and Rocket Raccoon, and they provide a nice balance between funny and deadly serious.

I like Rocket fine, he's (it's) a great character and I suspect he's (it's) going to be very popular after the Guardians of the Galaxy movie hits.

But the character I've always liked is Gamora, the Galaxy's Most Dangerous Woman. Created by Jim Starlin during his classic original run on Warlock, Gamora was a figure of mystery. Extremely capable, beautiful and a deadly threat, she was trained by Thanos and played an important role in Warlock's adventures.

I'm not sure why I took an immediate liking to her - her personality is minimal - but I loved the Starlin design, with her green skin, her cutout tights and exotic eye makeup.

She's tough as nails and incredibly capable, so she's always a good character to have around. But Nova finds her to be a particularly tough tutor.

So, a fun story, with terrific, over-the-top art by Ed McGunniess and Dexter Vines, the return of some familiar faces (including a genuinely surprising group of bad guys), and you have a comic that's mighty entertaining.


Grade: A-


Monday, April 22, 2013

Savage Wolverine #4

I'm assuming that Marvel approached artist / writer Frank Cho sometime last year and said, "Here's a truckload of money. What project would you like to do for Marvel?"

His reply was apparently, "A series that includes lots of savage action with Wolverine, some beautiful, scantily-clad women (to include Shanna the She-Devil), dinosaurs, a mysterious island, gorillas, some guest stars and a galactic menace.

To which Marvel said, "Sounds great." (The same answer anyone would good sense would provide.)

And it is.

The fourth issue os Savage Wolverine arrived right on schedule and included all of the above. It's a fun (if slightly wacky) story that mixes all those elements with Cho's usual stunning artwork.

There's quite a bit of mayhem and dismemberment, so this probably isn't a comic for kids - but most comics fans will love it.

Grade: A-


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jirni #1

So the other night I caught the Independent Lens program on PBS that focused on "Wonder Women" (superheroines in comics and their effect on real women) and one of the points made in the program was that there weren't very many female heroes in the comics.

And while that's been true through most of comics history, I suspect that right now, there are more female-centric comics than any time since (perhaps) the 1950s.

And perhaps the company that leads the way is Aspen Comics, as most of its line stars a female character in the leading role.

The latest addition to the lineup features another powerful woman - Jirni. (This issue is also part of Aspen's "10 for 10" promotion, which means this issue costs a buck.)

The title character seems to be a mix of the She-Hulk and Red Sonja, as she shows up in time to save an innocent victim from a terrible fate, as she faces down a small army of barbaric warriors.

The story's a bit spare, but it manages to introduce us to our leading characters, provides some backstory, a tantalizing hint as to the mystery behind Jirni's appearance and powers, and introduces the big bad she'll have to face eventually.

I like the art by Paolo Pantalena, which has some strong Bart Sears influences going on - so you can expect powerful characters, rich artwork and wonderful, expressive characters.

So it's a good start for this new series from writer J.T. Krul, and a great jumping-on spot for this new series.

And if you're looking for a comic about strong female characters (who do their fighting in skimpy armor) look no further.

Grade: B+


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Captain America #6

It's been a lot of fun to follow the growth of the artist John Romita, Jr.

When he first broke into the business his style was very much along the clean, classic lines of his father (John Romita, natch) and John Buscema.

But over the years he's developed his own, unique style, building on his classic start. His work has taken a more harsh, realistic edge with perhaps some influences by Frank Miller and Jack Kirby - but there's no denying he's become a tremendous talent and one of the top talents in the industry.

So it's great to see him doing such outstanding work on Captain America, taking the hero into a harsh alien world that leave him terribly battered and bruised, but defiant in his efforts to fight back against the plans of the living robot Arnim Zola.

It's surprisingly grim tale for the red-white-and-blue hero, and Rick Remender's story is pushing Cap into desperate actions.

I've enjoyed the story so far, although I admit I'm hoping it's near the end - great art or not, after six months it's time to wrap this up and get on to the next story. (In my humble opinion, that is.)

I know, the style now it to tell these elongated tales that run on and on for months - but it's still nice to see an ending ever so often.

But let me hastily add - here's hoping the creative team sticks around!

Grade: B+


Friday, April 19, 2013

Justice League #19

It's time for one of those "set things up for the next event" issues, and few do those better than writer Geoff Johns.

So this issue of Justice League has a mysterious intruder in the Bat Cave, a secret mission for Wonder Woman and Superman, the first day on the job for two new members of the team, a confrontation between the "big three" about a certain budding relationship, and a shocking appearance on that final page.

So lots going on, and some terrific art by Ivan Reis (though as always I'm not crazy about the inking being handled by a trio instead of a single). He especially has fun with a fantasy sequence at the beginning.

And... there's not much else to tell (at least not without giving too much away).

As always, this comic is well written, with strong characterization and plenty of surprises. It's definitely one of the best of the ever-less-accurately-named "New 52."

Heck, even these "setup" issues are fun. Recommended!

Grade: A-


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Age of Ultron #6

I have to admit that I'm starting to worry about this series.

That's because the solution the team has arrived at involves time travel, and that's a dangerous road to travel - because it can present a too-easy solution to every problem.

Your loved one got killed? Go back in time and change the past! Wish you had money? Go back in time and win the lottery! Hey, let's kill Hitler! (Sorry, Doctor Who reference.)

So that's the minefield this series is tackling, and it reaches a pivotal point here - of course, it remains to be seen how it all works out. Writer Brian Michael Bendis is a solid craftsman, but he's going to have to do some mighty clever stuff to make this all work out properly.

The art is a bit of a letdown from the work up to now by Bryan Hitch. The usually-excellent Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco split the duties this time around, and while the work is good, it feels like it was a rushed job - both are capable of much better work than this.

Here's hoping that my fears are groundless and Bendis is about to pull a plot twisting rabbit out of his hat. (Wouldn't that be something!)

Here's hoping!

Grade: B+


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

It's Time for Some New Comics

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

- Age of Ultron #6 - Back to the Future (and the past)!

- Black Beetle #3 - Watch those noir nightclubs!

- Capt. America #6 - Zola holds all the cards.

- Conan the Barbarian #15 - Who's rescuing who?

- Daredevil #25 - An impossible foe.

- Iron Man #8 - Fight or flight.

- Justice League #19 - Secret of the Batcave!

- Nova #3 - Training Day!

- Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #3 - Breaking in some new equipment.

- Shadow Year One #2 - How it all began.

- Sword of Sorcery #7 - Evil ascendant!

- Savage Wolverine #4 - Saving Shanna.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #27 AU - Blast from the past!

- Wonder Woman #19 - Diana vs. Orion - sorta.

And that's it!

The Classics - Justice League of America #56

The writer of most of the first 100 issues of the original Justice League of America was Gardener Fox, and he's one of my all-time favorite DC writers in the Silver Age.

But he's often been attacked as a "hack" writer because of a few less-than-stellar issues he wrote.

I've always thought that was unfair - certainly he had a few issues that were average at best, and a few goofy ideas in there (the usual one that gets tagged is when the heroes are choked by exhaust from a fleeing car - that scene isn't in this issue), but that's to be expected when cranking out a monthly comic on schedule, each one featuring a small army of characters.

I'll wager that any writer who tackles a significant number of issues on a team book has a few issues or moments they'd love to get a "do-over" on.

As a young reader, I loved this title, even when it fell into a standard format: heroes discover menace, break into teams, confront the problem, then gather together to solve the problem.

It was an effective way to give all the characters "stuff to do" and keep the story barreling along to its conclusion.

And it's important to remember that Fox made this comic a huge success - it was (I believe) DC's best-selling title. And that made sense - why buy single issues with a hero when you could get eight or more heroes for the same 12 cents?

He also expanded on his Flash-based idea of two worlds - Earth-1 and Earth-2 - and made the annual crossovers between the JLA and the Justice Society of America an event to brighten up each summer.

This issue was the last of those crossovers written by Fox (who would depart with issue #65) and drawn by Mike Sekowsky (#63 was his last issue) with Sid Greene inks, and while it's certainly not the best of their work, it includes some surprising moments.

Both teams were shocked in issue #55 when they are defeated by four villains who have gained immense powers from some parasitic alien spheres. They find a possible solution - but instead manage to infect four of their own team members with the same alien force. How can the team fight the bad guys - and their own teammates?

The solution is a bit of a stretch, but offers a fun (or even silly) resolution. And you have to love that iconic cover by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.

Fox's work was always a treasure for its sense of fun, energy and optimism. These were characters you wanted to root for, you enjoyed visiting every month - and there are plenty of modern comics that can't make that claim.

The stories might be on the basic side, but they were always entertaining, and always fun. That's why, even in 1967 when I was gravitating to Marvel's comics almost exclusively, I kept picking up the JLA.

(One of these days I'll talk more about Sekowsky and why I was always a fan of his work.)

Grade: B


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dead Man's Run #4

After a bit of a hiatus (it's been about seven months since the last issue), Dead Man's Run returns with a visit to a different version of Hell.

As a general rule, I'm a fan of these "what happens after you die" stories, and I'm certainly a fan of Greg Pak's writing.

But this series definitely seems to be straining at the seams. We continue to follow a young man, Sam Tinker, a genius for maps, as he plots an escape and recruits a offbeat group of murderers to make a run at it.

But instead of running away from Hell, they're moving deeper into that realm in an attempt to rescue his innocent sister, Juniper, who has (mysteriously) been sent to Hell.

The story seems to be struggling because it's taken us away from the basic idea of escape and has turned into a rescue mission instead - and it's becoming more difficult all the time to keep rooting for Sam, as he takes on some unheroic attributes.

On the up side, the art by Tony Parker is strong, with powerful layouts and some unsettling creatures and demons to contend with.

But I admit I'm struggling with the chaotic nature of the story - it continues to ramble through different hellish situations with no endgame in sight.

If that can be resolved, and the comic can stay on schedule, there's still a lot of potential here.

Grade: B-


Monday, April 15, 2013

Avengers #9

Did this title become a weekly while I wasn't looking? It seems like new issues are landing right on top of each other.

It's difficult to complain about getting more of one of the best comics in Marvel's lineup, but I worry that the Avengers creative team is going to suffer burnout.

There are no signs so far, as the story of the crossover between the New Universe and the classic Marvel Universe continues. In fact, this issue is a showdown between the two as we see the true effects the cosmic Builders have inflicted on the Earth, and what happens when a barely-in-control Starbrand uses his power unwisely.

It's up to the Avengers to stop this powerhouse - and it's a grim task with a surprising outcome.

The art is by Dustin Weaver and Mike Deodato - an interesting combination of two talented creators who are famous for meticulous designs and loads of detail. I really like their work here - it's loaded with energy and emotion, and features some creative and impressive layouts.

Once again, writer Jonathan Hickman stretches the story in unexpected directions, and offers teases for future events that promise to provide plenty of challenges in the future.

Just terrific work here - but please folks... pace yourself.

Grade: A


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #4

On the one hand, I appreciate that writer Brian Michael Bendis is managing to weave the Uncanny X-Men comic in so well with the All-New X-Men title. (Mostly.)

But this issue feels like a bit of overkill as it includes the same scenes and the same dialogue (though from a different perspective) as the last issue of All-New.

The team led by Cyclops is recruiting at the Wolverine-led school for young mutants - and you can imagine how well that goes over.

It's a fast-paced and breezy tale with some humor, an interesting conversation between Emma Frost and her "apprentices," and some interesting developments for Magik.

As always, it features great dialogue and a fair dollop of humor.

The art by Chris Bachalo and a small army of inkers is quite good, with some outstanding page layouts and character reactions.

The only complaint is the final page, which spoils the "shocking surprise" teased at the end of the last issue of "All-New" - but that's a small quibble.

I really didn't expect to like this title, since it focuses on some of the more suspect mutants around (including Magneto, Cyclops and Emma Frost), but so far it's been compelling and entertaining.

Here's hoping for more of the same!

Grade: A-


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Batman and Red Robin #19

This month's comics from DC all carry a "WTF?" cover, intended to shock the reader (or at the very least, entice the customer into buying).

This issue of Batman and Red Robin (note the slight retitling there) features a surprise "Robin" on the cover - the female version, who first appeared in Frank Miller's classic Dark Knight Returns series, which featured an elderly Batman returning to action.

This issue actually features two different stories - one that explains the inclusion of Carrie Kelley (and a thin bit of business that is), and another that has Batman going to extremes in an attempt to restore his son Damien to life.

He does this by venturing far into horror territory, seeking the assistance - willing or not - from an undead warrior.

That story just feels wrong - it tries mightily to excuse some monstrous behavior by Batman, and while his grief is understandable, it's hard to believe he would go to such lengths for what would obviously be a terrible solution to death.

I certainly believe Batman would go to desperate lengths to save a life - but I don't believe he would venture into villain territory, and that's where he finds himself here.

I can't recommend this one.

Grade: C+


Friday, April 12, 2013

Age of Ultron #5

Something happens in this issue of Age of Ultron that I really, really like.

It's the return of one of my all-time favorite characters - Nick Fury. As in Sgt. Fury (of the Howling Commandos) and the first leader of SHIELD - the one whose creative "parents" include Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Severin, Dick Ayers, Jim Steranko, Howard Chaykin and many, many more.

None of which is to take away from the new Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury. He's a fine, entertaining character, now ported over to the "regular" Marvel Universe by some serious writing gymnastics - but since I was a kid in the '60s, the original Nick Fury is the "real" one to me.

So as the world nears its final destruction at the hands of an army of countless Ultron robots (my heart breaks to see Austin under attack in this issue), it's great to see the possible solution being devised by Marvel's greatest warrior.

This series has been blessed with strong writing from Brian Michael Bendis and incredible art (so far) by Bryan Hitch - and I say "so far" not because I expect the quality to drop, but rather because the art next issue will be by Brandon Peterson, another outstanding talent we don't see enough of.

I still have the unsettling feeling that I know where this is all going, but it's been mighty entertaining (if quite grim) getting there. Recommended!

Grade: A


Finally, New Comics

I finally got to the comics shop today - I picked up:

- Age of Ultron #5 - Does Fury have the answer?

- Avengers #9 - Battle with the StarBrand.

- Uncanny Avengers #6 - Blast from the past with Thor.

- Batman #19 - An unexpected opponent.

- Batman and Red Robin #19 - Wait, which Robin is that?

- Fantastic Four #6 - Big bang theory.

- Hawkeye #9 - Girl troubles.

- Saga #12 - You never know what's going to happen here.

- Shadow #1 - Final showdown.

- Star Wars #4 - The battle heats up on all fronts.

- Thor: God of Thunder #7 - What is a Godbomb?

- Ultron #1AU - Like father, like son.

- Wolverine #2 - Lots of meaningless death but nice artwork.

- Uncanny X-Men #4 - Visiting old digs.

And that's it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Classics - Incredible Hulk #124

This issue of The Incredible Hulk touches on something that wasn't really explained until recent years - namely, how it is that the Hulk isn't a mass murderer.

This issue actually features the wedding of Bruce Banner and Betty Ross - this following Bruce getting the ability to control his transformation into the big green monster and able to keep his normal intellect, all thanks to some help from Reed Richards.

As a result of the happy turn of events, Bruce and Betty decide to get married - but of course, there are problems on the way, as The Leader and a powered-up Rhino plot their revenge.

As a result, the (angry and dim) Hulk makes a return appearance, as the Leader plots to separate him from the influence of Banner, in hopes that he will become angry enough to kill Banner's loved ones, including Betty.

As a result of that plot and a subsequent battle with the Rhino, the Hulk does manage to destroy a beautiful old home, but no innocents are injured.

The implication by writer Roy Thomas is that Banner's subconscious influence keeps the Hulk from using his destructive antics to kill anyone - and that's an idea that writer Greg Pak would expand on during his more recent run on the title.

I also wanted to mention the usual excellent art by Herb Trimpe, here inked by the incredible Sal Buscema, to give the work a more sleek and streamlined look.

Some might think it's silly that the Hulk is constantly destroying buildings and vehicles (among many other things) without racking up a huge body count - but hey, he's supposed to be a kid-friendly (anti) hero, so they had to keep him on the side of the angels - even if the explanation was a bit on the thin side.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Classics - Incredible Hulk #128

This is the issue I was planning to review today (see the "No New Comics" post for more info) - but I'm on the road, so this will have to be a quick one.

The fact is, I always liked the "dumb" Hulk who was so prevalent during the first decade (or two) of his existence.

It made the character stand out from his alter ego as scientist Bruce Banner (who was all brain and no strength), and it softened the Hulk's character, making him more sympathetic (like a child who was lost, as opposed to being a simple force of destruction). It even added some humor potential, as his style of speaking and interpreting the world could be fun (something The Avengers movie touched on oh-so-briefly).

The problem with the Hulk was coming up with worthwhile opponents. Here writer Roy Thomas (who penned many classic Hulk adventures) brings in a number of Avengers, though he notably doesn't include the team's usual powerhouses - so no Thor or Iron Man.

But through solid writing the issue manages to be entertaining and showcases the members of the team as they take on the toughest character in Marvel's Universe.

Credit goes to Herb Trimpe, too - here providing both pencils and inks - his style was perfectly matched to the Hulk's larger-than-life adventures. A pose or two may be a bit off, but his storytelling skills were outstanding, and the story hurtles along at top speed, and is a heck of a lot of fun.

I understand why they've changed the Hulk over the years, as a way to keep the character fresh - but there should also be room for this version, too.

Grade: B+


No New Comics Today

Your pal Chuck is presently stranded far from home, thanks to a flight cancellation or two - so he'll try to get back on track tomorrow, if American Airlines will stop trying to give him tours of the country.

So a quick "Classic" review today - and another one tomorrow, probably. Then back to the usual stuff.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The High Ways #3

As a longtime fan of "hard" science fiction (in the vein of Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov), I'm really enjoying this rare venture by a comic book into that territory.

And you get the sense that writer / artist John Byrne is having a blast with The High Ways.

It follows the crew of a deep space freighter that becomes involved in a strange plot involving a stowaway, a secret mission, a huge secret and more than a few surprises.

It would be easy to take this into more fanciful, space cops-and-robbers territory, but Byrne is taking the more challenging road here and the result is a terrific story.

It's also a heck of a lot of fun, and plays fair with the reader (aside from a few minor quibbles) - and just when you think you know where the story is going, you find out you're wrong.

Byrne's art is terrific, with distinct, animated characters and amazing ship designs.

If you're a fan of science fiction, this is the series for you!

Grade: A


Monday, April 8, 2013

Earth 2 #11

I've been pretty hard on the Earth 2 series so far, so I'll cut it some slack this time around.

That's mostly because it features (if only for the briefest of moments) two of my favorite DC characters.

This story is aimed at reintroducing the character Dr. Fate, a Golden Age creation who has managed to survive through the years.

A large reason for that is the costume design. It begins with the cool golden helmet that covers his face completely and includes an arcane amulet (long before Marvel's master magician featured a similar device) and a golden cape.

It was a unique design that made the character stand out from the usual superhero getup. As a result, I liked the character immediately when I first saw him in a 1960s crossover between the Justice Society and the Justice League.

So I'm glad to see his return, even if his mortal identity has changed (which I'm not crazy about, but I'll give writer James Robinson the benefit of the doubt - for now).

The issue also includes the return of another character - one of Jack Kirby's greatest creations for DC - though he only appears in a single panel, and on the "shocking" foldout cover.

So it's a solid issue, with some surprises and characters acting heroically (especially another old favorite, The Flash). Add the excellent art by Nicola and Trevor Scott and you've got a strong issue that's much more along the lines of what I was hoping to see with this series.

Here's hoping for more of this and less of the first 10 issues.

Grade: B+


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thanos Rising #1

I admit to being a fan (if that's the right word) of the character Thanos since his first appearance in an issue of Iron Man in the early '70s.

He was a figure of mystery who quickly became one of Marvel's greatest villains after becoming a godlike figure (temporarily) in the pages of Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell, that is).

Created by writer / artist Jim Starlin, Thanos manages to combine sheer power with vast intelligence and a ruthless nature - but in a brilliant twist, his attempts at gaining ultimate power doesn't come from megalomania, but is inspired... by love.

The problem is, he's in love with the personification of Death.

But despite his recurring appearances over the years in battle with, well, the entire Marvel Universe, Thanos is still largely unknown to the general public - as was obvious when he popped up at the end of The Avengers movie, and most of the audience responded by saying, "Who was that?"

So he's been in the spotlight a bit more lately (including a star turn in the Avengers Assemble comic), and now we have this series (or is it a limited series?) designed to tell the origin of the title character.

Starlin himself skated over this part of Thanos' life quickly - just that he was born on Titan as son to Sui-San and Mentor (the leader of the moon of Saturn inhabited by Eternals), and brother to the handsome Eros.

We get more details here in a solid story by Jason Aaron, with some impressive art by Simone Bianchi and colors by Simone Peruzzi. The art has a painted look to it that serves the dark story well.

So far the story is rolling out a bit slow - and it's definitely not for young readers, as dark forces swirl around the Titan's childhood - but it's a solid start on a definitive origin story, and should help keep Thanos on the mind of the comic-reading public - at least until his next movie appearance.

Grade: B+


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Green Lantern #19

While I'm certainly sorry to see writer Geoff Johns wrapping up his run on Green Lantern, I have to admit that the series has been suffering "event overload."

That's probably because the last two cosmic storylines seemed to pile on top of each other while the story hopped around between all the Green Lantern Family titles - and I don't buy those other titles (because you can't buy everything - well, unless you have a lot of money to spare).

Also, the stories have all been big, cosmic affairs, with battles raging across the galaxies. As a result, we've had very little time with Hal Jordan. He's become a secondary character in his own title, and that's true here, as the focus is on Sinestro and the horrors he faces at the hands of the First Lantern.

I do enjoy the fact that the "First Lantern's" name is Volthoom - that's a nod to a classic Silver Age bit of trivia - but otherwise the character is just another crazy cosmic powerhouse who exists to torment our protagonists.

Add to that the fact that Hal Jordan is stuck in a Death Dimension and you have a depressing story that can't wrap up soon enough for me.

Johns has created some amazing stories during his run on this series - but I'm hoping, in the aftermath of al this cosmic carnage, we'll see more focus on Hal Jordan for a while - and less of the universe-shaking threats.

Grade: B+


Friday, April 5, 2013

Indestructible Hulk #6

In Professional Wrestling, any pro worth his salt knows how to get an easy "pop" (cheer) out of the crowd. The usual method is to say, "It's great to be back here in (name of city)."

As a complete pro (and an outstanding writer), Mark Waid also knows how to make his readership happy.

When teamed with legendary artist Walt Simonson on the Indestructible Hulk, Waid writes a story to warm the heart of any longtime fan: he sends Bruce Banner into Asgard and into danger, where he can team up with The Mighty Thor.

(For those young'uns out there who don't know, Simonson had a long, outstanding run on Thor's comic, creating some of the most memorable and entertaining stories ever.)

But it's not just any Thor - it's the classic version, with the Kirby costume and the dialogue with lots of "thees" and "thous."

It's all a bit silly, but it's a heck of a lot of fun, and the ending should be a surprise to anyone who saw The Avengers movie.

This has been a terrific series under Waid - highly recommended!

Grade: A-


Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Sad Day

It's been a rough day, with three passings of note.

- Carmine Infantino passed away at the age of 87. I've written about him many times over the years - including just two days ago. When I was a kid in the '60s I was captivated by his art on The Flash, Adam Strange and Batman (among many others) - his style was fresh, sleek and exciting, with creative flourishes like unique building designs and captions that included hands that gestured to the reader. There are many others better capable of writing about the artist - Mark Evanier has a nice recap of his career here. I was lucky enough to meet Infantino briefly at a comics convention several years ago - he was funny, sharp and animated. He had a long life and a great career - it's sad to lose someone whose work I've enjoyed for so long.

- I know far less about George Gladir, the prolific writer who built an incredible career at Archie Comics, but he was certainly another giant in the field - Evanier has a nice article about him right here.

- Roger Ebert lost his battle with cancer today, and while he has only the most tenuous connection to comics (he wrote some fanzine articles when he was young, I believe), I mention him because of his work as a film critic. His classic show with Gene Siskel certainly inspired an army of reviewers to go forth and do likewise, and I certainly count myself among their number. I didn't always agree with him, but I had great respect for his skill. I also admire his courage in facing down and fighting back against the physical problems that would have flattened a lesser man.

So, a tip of the hat to these three titans.

Age of Ultron #4

This series continues to be a heck of a wild ride, as the Age of Ultron gives us a present-day world that has been devastated in a matter of days and is under the control of the robot Ultron.

Every major city has been virtually destroyed and the few remaining heroes are desperately trying to find a way to fight back against a seemingly insurmountable opponent.

At the heart of this issue is Luke Cage, who manages to make his way to the heart of Ultron's citadel and make a discovery about one of Ultron's allies - and then gets in the fight of his life.

It's another outstanding chapter in the series from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary, with amazing visuals and a shocking story.

How shocking? You'll see protagonists meet their end, you'll see heroes travel to the ends of the Earth in a desperate bid to save humanity, and you'll see three of America's biggest cities in ruins.

It's a big, grim story rolling out, and it seems hopeless for humanity. But that, oddly enough, is all part of the fun!

Grade: A-


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New Comics

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

- Age of Ultron #4 - Luke Cage's last stand?

- Earth 2 #11 - It's a miracle.

- Green Lantern #19 - It boils down to Sinestro.

- The High Ways #3 - Deep space surprises!

- Indestructible Hulk #6 - Walt Simonson and Thor? I'm there.

- Mask #5 - The mark of Zorro!

- Thanos Rising #1 - How it all began.

- Worlds Finest #11 - Power Girl can tell you why they call him Mr. Terrific...

- All New X-Men #10 - An Uncanny cross-over.

And that's it!!

The Classics - Strange Adventures #180

Wrapping up our focus on the DC science fiction-based title Strange Adventures, let's wrap up with a one-shot character who seemed silly on the face of it, but kept making comebacks and has a series running right now as part of the "New 52."

I'm talking about Animal Man, although he doesn't earn that name until a later story. In his first appearance in 1965, he's simply known as Buddy, and the story was titled "I was the Man with Animal Powers."

It was a common storytelling device at the time, to tell the adventure from a first-person perspective - to put the reader into the role of the hero (there was one issue where you saw the whole story through the eyes of the hero - you never saw the lead character).

This was apparently intended as a one-time-only story, because it reads like the standard DC science fiction stories from the time: a regular guy gains strange abilities by alien means, faces several challenges (including escaped circus animals and a rampaging alien), loses his powers but still finds a way to win the day.

Perhaps it was the stronger-than-usual story by Dave Wood, perhaps it was the excellent art by the great Carmine Infantino, perhaps it was the interesting concept - but DC eventually brought the hero back 10 issues later, restored his powers and gave him a costume.

He would appear sporadically over the decades, finally returning in a excellent series in the late '80s written by Grant Morrison, and has appeared off and on since then, finally landing a regular horror-based series in the "New 52."

It's a great example of the difference a good writer can make. In the right hands, Buddy Baker / Animal Man can tell amazing stories. In lesser hands, he can be a joke (as you can see in his appearances in the Saturday morning "DC Nation" spots).

Even in this early appearance, the potential is there. It just took them a while to figure it out.

Grade: B


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Flash #18

OK, this is going to have to be my last review of The Flash for a while.

It's just too aggravating.

Let me be clear: I love this character, and I'm thrilled that it's once again Barry Allen under the mask.

But ever since the "New 52" reboot, the stories have been terribly thin and the characters even thinner.

It's really baffling. While other DC characters like Batman and Aquaman are being redefined, the Flash has been muddling along with interminable stories about the mystical Speed Force (which is a useful explanation for the hero's amazing powers, but not especially interesting when placed under a microscope).

As Barry Allen, he has a different love interest (Why? Who knows?), he's suspended from his job as a police investigator (a great springboard for stories - just look at all the CSI shows on TV), and now he works as a bartender in a dive frequented by villains.

This issue focuses on his attempt to collar The Trickster and his encounter with some would-be heroes (how did they get their powers? Speed Force). Instead of being helpful to these hopefuls, the Flash plays the schoolmarm and lectures them against using their abilities to fight crime.

Then it all ends with a crossover to a comic I don't read.

There's so much potential here, and the series has been enjoying some fine artwork (Marcio Takara does an excellent turn in this issue), but a-year-and-a-half into the run and there have been no memorable stories, few spectacular feats by the hero, and no progress on his personal life.

So I'm laying off the reviews of this series until it kicks things into gear. So far, it seems to be stuck in Neutral.

Grade: C+


Monday, April 1, 2013

Young Avengers #3

Three issues in and Young Avengers finally seems to be coming together - both the team and the concept.

The story by Kieron Gillen has the members of the team (at least the ones who have stepped into the spotlight so far) facing off against their ultimate opponent: their parents.

Ah, but it's not the usual "teens against the grownups" scenario - those parents have been replaced by mystical dopplegangers, and they're both powerful and devious.

Assistance arrives in the form of "Kid" Loki - but can they trust the god of mischief for a solution?

The team so far includes Hulkling (a shape-changing alien), Wiccan (a magician) and Miss America (a powerhouse from another dimension), with Hawkeye (the female version) and Marvel Boy (Kree genius) waiting in the wings.

It sounds a bit silly on the face of it, but considering how powerful some of the parents are (Loki's real father is a frost giant, after all), not to mention the emotional aspect of being threatened by a parent, and you have a story that's really getting interesting - especially considering the cliffhanger ending.

The artwork is by Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton, and it's quite good, with nice, clean lifework and sharp storytelling. The characters are clearly drawn and their expressions speak volumes. I'd like to see a little more variety in the width of the lifework, but that's a minor complaint - I like the art a lot.

With some nice humorous touches and a smart script, I'm enjoying this series so far. It was a little slow getting into gear, but (especially with the addition of Loki) this is shaping up to be a lot of fun.

Grade: A-