Friday, May 31, 2013

Justice League of America #4

I keep waiting for this comic to take off, to suddenly click and start working.

After all, it's written by Geoff Johns, the same guy who writes the excellent Justice League comic. It's drawn by Brett Booth, an excellent artist. It features a super-team made up of a variety of interesting heroes.

But so far, the Justice League of America has just been an average comic book at best.

The members of the team don't get along. They don't even know their true purpose, which is to fight back against the "real" Justice League if that team ever turns against humanity. Hardly a high goal to aspire to.

The team has become aware of a Secret Society of Villains and decides to track them down by infiltrating one of their members into the team, and then following that member into an assault on the bad guys.

All of which leads to a battle with the Shaggy Man (not the most inspiring villain) and a shocking final page that manages to be a surprise, but which the reader won't buy for a minute.

As I've said before, I love team comics - I want to like this one.

But the story is not doing its part to win me over. Pity.

Grade: C+


Thursday, May 30, 2013

X-Men #1

I have to ask: do we really need another X-Men comic?

The rundown in the ad at the back of the issue indicates there are no less than 14 X-related comics being published by Marvel. Even to the biggest fan, that has to seem like a bit much.

However, each issue should stand and fall on its own merit - and by that standard, this is shaping up to be a very good series.

I'm still not sure why it's called X-Men, since it focuses entirely on the women who are part of the team - most notably Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde and Jubilee. Shouldn't it be "X-Women?" (I'm not sure if I'm being chauvinistic or if the editors are.)

Of course, the reason it works is simple: the issue features an outstanding creative team. Writer Brian Wood gets things off to a shocking start as we find Jubilee on her way back to the Jean Grey School (apparently she's not a vampire anymore? Who knew?), and she's bringing a shocking surprise with her.

That leads to an action sequence aboard a train and a confrontation with more than one old foe.

The art is by Olivier Coipel with inks by Mark Morales and Coipel, and it's very good. He has a great sense of design and does excellent character work, making them all distinct, expressive and animated.

My only gripe is that the comic assumes I know a lot of things that I don't - for example, what are Rogue's powers now? Did she lose her Ms. Marvel-based powers? Is that Psylocke on the last page?

But those are minor quibbles - this really feels like a classic X-Men comic, with the focus on story and action, rather than losing the reader in a sea of characters.

More like this, please.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Comics Day

Here's what I picked up today:

- Captain America #7 - Against a city of death!

- Earth 2 Annual #1 - There's a new Earth 2 Batman?

- Indestructible Hulk #8 - Team-up with Thor - and Walt Simonson.

- Justice League of America #4 - Facing the Secret Society.

- King Conan #1 - It's the "Hour of the Dragon!"

- New Avengers #6 - Facing the impossible.

- Shadow Year One #3 - Building a team.

- Savage Wolverine #5 - The end?

- Wolverine and the X-Men #30 - Beginning the Hellfire Saga.

- X-Men #1 - An all-female team - so why isn't it called "X-Women?"

And that's it!

The Classics - Avengers #6

In the early days of comics collecting, it was difficult to acquire a complete run of comics. Take The Avengers, for example.

When the series first appeared in 1963, I didn't see any issues until #3, which I picked up (and, as this review reveals, is one of my all-time favorite comics).

I never saw issue #4 until it was reprinted years later. Perhaps the distribution improved, or I was more diligent in my searches, but after that I was able to track down most of the issues easily, and The Avengers was one of my favorite titles.

Out of the first 10 issues, #3 is my favorite, closely followed by #6, which featured the first appearance of the Masters of Evil and the return of Baron Zemo, Captain America's foe from World War II who caused Bucky's death. (Or so we thought at the time.)

It's the most natural storyline for any team comic - pit them against a team of bad guys. But it's safe to say that no one did that any better than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The story centers around Zemo, who discovers that Cap is still alive (having just been rescued from suspended animation two issues ago). He decides to assemble a team of villains to oppose the team, so he gathers the Radioactive Man (Thor's foe), the Black Knight (Giant-Man's foe), and the Melter (Iron Man's foe).

What makes it work is the combination of two things: Lee's dialogue - fast and funny at times, and downright inspiring (Cap's speech during his hand-to-hand fight against Zemo still gives me chills); and Kirby's amazing action scenes, as the two teams duke it out in the streets of New York - it's especially fun to see Thor cut loose.

It's smart, fast-paced and loaded with twists and turns - just a heck of a lot of fun. I defy anyone to read this comic and not fall in love with this title.

Grade: A


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fantastic Four #8

I've been enjoying Matt Fraction's run on the Fantastic Four, which has taken some odd turns.

The initial premise was that the team was going on a year-long exploration of... well, whatever they felt like exploring: the universe, alternate dimensions, all of space and time (surprisingly, they're not traveling in a Tardis).

But the story hasn't exactly followed that initial plan. Part of that is because of the Age of Ultron tie-in (which only gets the briefest of mentions here), and this issue throws another curve.

Here we jump away from the cosmic exploration and instead take a personal journey with a temporarily de-Thinged (un-Thinged? non-Thinged?) Ben Grimm as he takes a side-trip to his home town.

It's an emotional story that stretches credibility a bit, but has a heart-warming message.

As always, I love the artwork by Mark Bagley, who is equally at home with real-world settings as he is with the cosmic hoo-hah stuff.

The story also sets up a possible tweak of a pivotal moment in the team's history - we'll see how that plays out - but so far, this has been a strong series.

Fraction had a lot to live up to, following Jonathan Hickman on this series - and so far, he's holding his own.

Grade: A-


Monday, May 27, 2013

Jirni #2

I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying Aspen's new series Jirni.

It's the old danger of judging a book by its covers - most of which feature a beautiful warrior woman wearing the tiniest of costumes and wielding a sword. (This cover is surprising in that the sexy woman is quite small.) It all looked like a "She-Hulk with a sword" series.

But instead, it's more in the style of "Conan" (with some Arabian Nights thrown in). Granted, it's a very curvy Conan.

The story follows Princess Ara - she's on a quest to rescue her mother, who's been kidnapped by a powerful sorcerer. The princess discovers that she can transform into a powerful, purple-skinned warrior woman, and travels in search of her mother.

Her search has led her to one rescue mission, saving a young woman, Nylese, who now travels with Ara (so perhaps it's more of a Xena / Gabrielle type story), and in this issue she encounters a village that's suffered a terrible loss - and hides a more terrible secret.

It's a fast-paced adventure, with lots of action and a (mostly) done-in-one issue by writer J.T. Krul. The art by Paolo Pantalena is quite good, with lots of over-the-top action, beautiful women and powerful layouts.

There is plenty of cheesecake-type art on display, but you actually get an entertaining story, characters and an interesting setup behind the series.

Well worth checking out!

Grade: B+


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Daredevil #26

Daredevil has proven to be a difficult comic to review over the last two years - because it's always great!

You'd think Mark Waid and Chris Smanee would slip up occasionally, but there hasn't been a clunker yet.

The tension runs especially high in this issue as Daredevil finds himself fighting Ikari, an opponent he can't defeat - a killer with the same powers as our hero.

But in addition to DD's fight for his life, we also discover the mastermind who's been behind the attacks and tragedies that have propelled the story forward since the first issue by Waid!

Perfectly complementing the excellent story is the outstanding artwork of Samnee. His dramatic layouts, stunning use of blacks and amazing sense of storytelling makes this issue something special. He really is one of the best in the business right now.

Do I need to say more? This series boasts a top-notch creative team doing outstanding work.

You really should be reading this comic!

Grade: A


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Justice League #20

OK, I admit I'm a sucker for those stories where second-level heroes are forced to fight (and hopefully survive) against one of DC's most powerful villains.

Three new Justice League team members - Firestorm, the strange Element Woman and (the new and different and female) Atom - are alone in the orbiting Watchtower when they're attacked by Despero, an alien whose physical and mental powers make him a match for Superman.

So, exciting stuff - how will they survive?

Turns out, the answer is a bit of a cheat - but an exciting sequence just the same.

The story is by Geoff Johns, and it's a fun look at some new characters (new to this comic, at least). It drops lots of seeds that will no doubt pay off in weeks and years ahead.

The art is by Zander Cannon (layouts), Gene Ha, Andres Guinaldo and Joe Prado, with inks by Gene Ha, Rob Hunter and Joe Prado. There are flashes of genius in there, but there are also some average pages on display. But given the mix of artists, the pages never quite come together properly.

Even so, It's a solid story that continues the mystery of who's targeting the League - and just how powerful they are.

Grade: A-


Friday, May 24, 2013

Green Lantern #20

This giant-size issue of Green Lantern celebrates a few milestones, most notably the end of Geoff Johns' long run as writer.

(It also celebrates the wrap-up of several long-running story threads and offers some degree of closure and sets up the status quo for the next creative team.)

It's a shame to see Johns wrapping up his run because he's really taken this series to new heights. Personally, I'll always be grateful to him for bringing back Hal Jordan as Green Lantern.

Before his run, Hal had been dragged through the mud - driven insane, made into a mass murderer, killed, and brought back as the Spectre, it would have been easy for DC to just do away with the character.

But in the Rebirth series, Johns not only cleared away the mess the backstory had become, he also restored Hal to his rightful place in the Green Lantern Corps and was at the center of some of the biggest and best DC events in the last decade, including the Sinestro War and Blackest Night.

Which brings us to this issue, which wraps up the "Wrath of the First Lantern" story. It's a big, cosmic confrontation that somehow manages to jam in every significant character from the last 10 years, a confrontation with a god-like creature, another death for Hal (or is it?), and a glimpse at the future.

Most of the art is by the excellent Doug Mahnke (with a small army of inkers and several additional artists kicking in some excellent work). Considering how much his work resembles the amazing Brian Bolland, I continue to be amazed that Mahnke isn't a bigger fan favorite - but it'll happen eventually (his upcoming Justice League work should do the trick).

Johns leaves a tough mark for the next creative team to live up to - he's recast the series, created a vast number of new characters (and new Lantern Corps), and brought new life to the long-running series.

Best of all, he brought back "my" Green Lantern (and "my" Flash, for that matter) - and I'll always be grateful. Can't wait to see what he tackle next!

Grade: A-


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Avengers #12

I keep waiting for an issue of The Avengers to disappoint.

I'm going to have to wait a while longer.

Each issue focuses on a different combination of heroes, as the mysterious aftereffects of a recent attack by the alien Builders continues to change part of the Earth and challenge the team.

This story takes us to the Savage Land, where Hyperion has taken on the challenge of "raising" a new kind of life form - a childlike (and humanoid) group of young creatures.

To guide their new wards, the team takes on the role of teacher - though not all of them are cut out for the job. Thor is surprisingly adept at it, while Hawkeye and Spider-Woman seem to lack the knack.

Worst of all, of course, is the "Superior" Spider-Man (a nasty bit of character assassination about which the less said the better).

The issue is clever and introspective, with a clean science fiction edge and some challenging philosophical questions, too.

The art by Mike Deodato, as always, is wonderful, with amazing detail, nuanced emotions and stunning creature designs.

Jonathan Hickman shares the writing credit this time with Nick Spencer, and it's another top-notch effort.

There's not much in the way of crazed action in this issue (at least not until the end), but there's a good workout here for your mind. Great stuff!

Grade: A


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New Comics Day

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

- Aquaman #20 - Return of the Others.

- Avengers #12 - Class is in session.

- Daredevil #26 - Run for your life.

- Fantastic Four #8 - A normal day.

- Flash #20 - Return of the Reverse-Flash.

- Green Lantern #20 - The oversized end for Geoff Johns.

- Journey Into Mystery #652 - Sif and Beta Ray Bill.

- Justice League #20 - The "B" team faces Despero.

- Powers Bureau #4 - Going undercover.

- Uncanny X-Men #6 - Dealing with some serious demons.

- Young Avengers #5 - The showdown with evil parent doubles.

And that's it!

The Classics - Jimmy Olsen #106

How popular was Superman in the '50s, '60s and '70s? So much so that even his supporting characters got their own titles.

Surely the strangest example had to be Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (though perhaps he just barely edges out the comic dedicated to Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane).

The problem was, Jimmy didn't have much in the way of personality. He was plucky and dedicated to his super-friend, but otherwise he was just a cub reporter. To make him interesting and/or entertaining, the creative teams had to really mess with him.

As a result, Jimmy underwent regular transformations into everything from a giant Turtle Man to a Werewolf or a superhero (Elastic Lad) - he even disguised himself as a "beautiful" girl more than once.

It was rarely done in a serious fashion - often Jimmy succeeds despite himself.

For example, in this issue he's summoned to the future (he's an honorary member of the 30th Century team, the Legion of Super-heroes. Why? Beats me). They need his help with an important mission - assembling stories for their newsletter.

So he wanders the city of the future, looking for stories (and failing, despite an array of odd adventures) - but thanks to a silly twist at the end, all ends well.

The story features nice artwork by Pete Costanza, though it suffers slightly in comparison to the art in the issue's second story by one of DC's best, Curt Swan.

The backup story (featured on the cover) has Superman exhibiting an inexplicable fear of common superstitions.

Jimmy is mystified as he urges his pal to smash a mirror or allow a black cat to cross his path - but Superman trembles with fear.

You'll be shocked to hear that it was a ruse to protect the Earth from an alien menace - but the real strength of the story is the terrific art by Swan, which includes one of the most dramatic panels I can remember of Swan's Man of Steel! (And that's saying something.)

Don't get me wrong, I love the "classic" Jimmy Olsen comics. They're lighthearted, fun, clever and completely over the top - the kind of thing you just don't see in comics these days.

But they are pretty silly.

Grade: C+


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wolverine and the X-Men #29

Apparently you can't tell an X-Men story these days without including some time traveling element.

Thankfully, this issue of Wolverine and the X-men handles it well.

It does that by not actually traveling through time, except as a story function (in other words, no one except the reader makes the trip).

The story takes us from the modern-day dedication of a time capsule at the Jean Grey School to the day, 25 years in the future, when the capsule is retrieved by a grayer Wolverine.

The story manages to give us some nice teases about the future: who has mutant children, what other characters are revived or killed or become active heroes.

It's a fun, clever bit of business that puts Wolverine (old and new) at the heart of a mystery and sets up several storylines for the future.

The art is by Ramon Perez, and it's packed with all kinds of characters, exotic details and fun moments. It's a bit rough around the edges but a perfect fit for this story.

Predicting the future can be tricky - will the school still be there in 25 years? Will Wolverine still be running the place?

But it's a fun story by Jason Aaron - fast and funny, thought-provoking and well worth following.

Grade: A-


Monday, May 20, 2013

Wonder Woman #20

I've been enjoying the "New 52" version of Wonder Woman (though I continue to regret the fact that it's too filled with violence and horror to be appropriate for young readers).

The story continues to spool out - and that's the problem.

We started in the first issue to follow Diana's attempts to protect a young mother and her child from attacks by assorted figures from mythology. The reason for the attacks is because of a prophesy around the child - whose father is Zeus.

All well and good, but that same story continues to be the focus of the series, and to be honest - it's getting a bit tired. You do get the sense that we're near the end, and that's good, because each issue feels like deja vu.

Once again, Wonder Woman faces off against Artemis while other forces close in on the infant.

Cliff Chiang provides the strong breakdowns and the finishes on five pages, with Goran Sudzuka covering the rest. It's not a perfect mix, but still entertaining.

So hopefully writer Brian Azzarello is ready to move on to bring this to a close - the adventure is getting mighty thin.

Grade: B+


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Doomsday.1 #1

One of the treats to be found in the present age of comics (whatever it might be called) is that we occasionally see the return of some of yesterday's better comics series.

I would definitely rank the original Doomsday + 1 in those ranks (published in 1975).

Featuring some of John Byrne's earliest comics work, the series published by Charlton Comics was an interesting mix of science fiction, a smidge of fantasy (in the form of a caveman revived from his icy prison) all set in a post-apocalyptic world.

It focused on a team of space explorers who return to an Earth devastated by nuclear war - they confront an assortment of menaces and monsters.

It was a clever, entertaining series - but sadly, it only lasted for six issues (though it was reprinted often).

Thankfully, IDW has revived the title with Byrne returning as creator, writer and artist. The new version, slightly retitled as Doomsday.1, allows room for some updating, factual adjustment and assorted fine tuning.

The crew has been expanded and their mission is a bit more real-world (they're assigned to the Internationsl Space Station). The cause of the "Doomsday" is also a more modern, reality-based version of how that might happen, as is what happens during and after the disaster (obviously I don't want to give away too much of the fun here).

Byrne sets up several upcoming story lines here and provides an interesting and diverse cast.

The art, of course, is terrific. What little Byrne may have lost in youthful enthusiasm in the almost 40 years since the original he more than makes up with skill and craftsmanship.

It's a terrific start to a new series and requires no knowledge of the original version. But fans of the original will enjoy the return of an old favorite, all decked out for a modern audience.

Grade: A


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Iron Man #10

Longtime fans (like yours truly) may remember a character called Mopee.

In an early episode of The Flash, the character appeared to announce that he had given super-speed powers to the hero, not the accident that had long been accepted as the origin for The Flash.

The story was so hated by fans that readers generally ignored it completely, and it was the butt of jokes forever after.

Which brings us to this issue of Iron Man, as we learn the "Secret Origin of Tony Stark." It's too soon to say we're in Mopee territory here, but it's looking very similar.

The story focuses on the discovery by Tony of a film with his father telling a dark secret about Tony's past. We flash back to see his parents discovering the unsettling news that their unborn child has a serious medical problem and will not survive birth.

That sends Howard Stark on a mission to "fix" the problem, one that takes him into strange, "Oceans 11" territory and the promise of an extraterrestrial solution.

So is Tony only exceptional because of his alien assistance? Can we buy him as a genius if his mind is attributed to an almost-supernatural intervention?

It all treads very close to the kind of story readers will reject outright, as it takes the character away from his "self-made billionaire" origin and into science fiction territory.

There's still plenty of story to be revealed, so perhaps the story will end up being terrific - but right now, I'm smelling Mopee.

I hope I'm wrong.

Grade: B


Friday, May 17, 2013

Age of Ultron #8

Well, this one has me conflicted.

On the one hand, this issue of Age of Ultron is the usual action-packed, mystery-laden adventure by writer Brian Michael Bendis, with lots of great dialogue and characters along the way.

On the other, it's another example of the kind of time-travel mumbo-jumbo that I'm really not crazy about.

The series has split into two fields of combat - the one in the future (not seen this time around), and the one in the present - but the present reality is completely changed because of the actions in the past by the unlikely team-up of Wolverine and the Invisible Woman.

After their trip to the past (during which one of the two killed a certain key player), they return to a world that seems only slightly better than the Ultron-devastated one they had left.

A different menace threatens humanity now, and there may be no defense against it. And Logan and Sue Richards are prisoners, suspected of working for the enemy.

So the story's a bit of a muddle, with lots of alternate reality / timeline alterations playing hob with the "real world."

The art, however, is terrific. Brandon Peterson provides the finished art, and it's outstanding, with lots of personal moments, big hoo-hah events, great character designs and a new look for New York.

Even though the story's kind of all over the place, I have to admit that it's still compelling enough to keep me coming back for the rest of the series, just to see how they untangle this mess.

Grade: A-


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Dreamer: The Battle of Brooklyn Vol. 1

Originally printed in 2011, this is a series I discovered recently - and I'm glad I did!

The Dreamer: The Battle of Brooklyn (Vol. 1) reprints the first six issues in a series written and drawn by Laura Innes - and it's an impressive collection!

It tells the story of a teenager named Beatrice Whaley whose life revolves around school and friends. She loves theatre, dreams about the guy she's had a crush on for years, struggles to work up the courage to talk to him, fights with her cousin, plots with her friends - in other words, she's a real person in the real world.

But suddenly, when she falls asleep, she finds herself experiencing a completely different life as a woman during America's Revolutionary War. She has the same name, but she's a bit more... mature (she's a young adult), and she finds herself falling in love with the handsome soldier who saves her from British captivity.

Of course, when you say it out loud like that, it sounds completely improbable - but the characters and the situations seem real.

I'm certainly no expert on the late 1700s or the War for Independence, but the characters, the uniforms, the settings and the dialogue all seem authentic - and that's part of the problem Bea has. She finds herself preferring to be in her dream world, and she's surprised to discover that her experiences there actually correspond to historic events.

The story and the characters are wonderful. The teens act and talk like real teenagers, and their reactions (especially Bea's) are spot on and believable.

And I love Innes' artwork - it seems to be inspired by John Byrne but is never a slavish imitation. Her characters have loads of personality and are expressive, the action sequences are original and fun to follow, and the characters are unique and lively - she's a real talent to watch.

This is just the first collection - there's at least one other one, which I'll be tracking down ASAP.

It's a fun, sexy story of impossible love (and real-life romance), told with humor, adventure and and eye on historic accuracy.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A


New Comics (One Day Late)

I finally made a visit to my comics shop, where I picked up:

- Age of Ultron #8 - The past has been changed, but things are not better.

- Conan the Barbarian #16 - Nightmares abound.

- Doomsday .1 #1 - End of the world (again).

- FF #7 - Is Medusa a traitor?

- Iron Man #10 - The secret origin of Tony.

- Nova #4 - Battle in deep space.

- Shadow #13 - Who is the Lady Phantom?

- Sword of Sorcery #8 - Final fight with Eclipso!

- Wolverine & the X-Men #29 - Back to the future.

- Wonder Woman #20 - Fighting with the gods.

And that's it!

No New Comics?

Your pal Chuck hasn't picked up any new comics this week - work has me on the road at the moment - but I'll have a special review later today and then we're back to the new stuff tomorrow.

As Stan always says, "Hang in there, True Believers!"

(Or was that "Excelsior?")

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Classics - Adventure Comics #371

The Legion of Super-heroes seem to go through ups and downs on a regular basis.

The team has gone from being the most popular title in DC's lineup to cancellation more than once. (In fact, the "New 52" title has just been canceled by DC.)

It all seems to hinge on the creative team (as such things always do) - when the right team is working on the series, it hits new heights. Here I'm thinking of Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, Keith Giffen, Paul Levitz, Curt Swan, Jim Shooter, Adam Hughes - you get the idea.

At other times, the creative team just doesn't quite work, and the results are less than impressive.

For example: this issue from 1968. There are no credits on the story, but the Comics Database says the first story is written by Jim Shooter (who also did layouts), drawn by Curt Swan with Jack Abel inks.

It feels like a rush job - definitely not the best work by any of those creators. The story has Colossal Boy blackmailed into betraying the Legion (and his method for doing so is silly at best)

Worst of all, the 11-page story is continued to the next issue. All this for some inept blackmailers? Surely the Legion can manage bigger stories than this.

The backup story is actually a reprint from Superboy's comic in 1949, with two panels added to shoehorn the Legion into the story (we never do find out what terrible menace they need help with).

Written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by George Papp, it certainly feels like a Golden Age story - it's silly, as Superboy and heroes from other worlds are lured to a distant planet, where they thwart their captives... by throwing temper tantrums.

So a below-average issue at best. In fact, the only good thing about it is the cover by Neal Adams - and it's spoiled by a goofy word balloon, wherein Superboy says, "That's the way the kryptonite crumbles." Yeah.

Luckily for the Legion, there were better days ahead - this was definitely a low point for the series.

Grade: C-


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Executive Assistant: Assassins #10

It's surprising to realize that Executive Assistant: Assassins is the only ongoing title Aspen publishes.

The company has quite a few titles on its roster, of course, and Fathom has been published in a number of mini-series over the years - but this title is the only regular comic they publish.

It follows the dark adventures of a group of beautiful women trained to be the perfect assassins-for-hire. Each woman is named for a different flower (Rose, Iris, Aster and Ivy, for example).

But just because they're in the same business doesn't mean they all get along - in fact, this issue wraps up "Executive Extinction" - a war against the organization.

And as you'd expect from a war, there are casualties.

The story by Vince Hernandez would be a bit of a challenge for new readers - there are lots of characters running around and it's not always clear who we should be rooting for. But my biggest complaint is that we get to the end of this five-issue storyline with no real resolution.

The art by Jordan Gunderson and Charlie Mok is good, with clear depictions of each character (not always easy, since they're all beautiful women dressed in (mostly) black.

Like most of the series, this issue offers lots of action and destruction... but the story could use some tweaking.

Grade: B


Monday, May 13, 2013

Wolverine #3

I've been critical of the body count in this new Wolverine series - mostly because the people getting killed have been (by and large) innocent bystanders.

Not much has changed with this issue - lots more people die (they are apparently being mind controlled), the mystery behind the controller deepens, and Wolverine continues to pursue the solution, with a assist by the (new) Nick Fury.

What I do like about this series written by Paul Cornell is that Wolverine isn't just depicted as a murderous, animal-like superhero. Instead, he's an intelligent, thoughtful character - he exercises surprising caution and gathers a group of... unusual... friends to help solve the mystery.

But the best thing about the issue is the artwork by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer. Even on a silly fight with a bunch of Mandroids, the action is clear and dripping with energy. The layouts are creative and clever, and it's all in service to the story.

Next issue promises to resolve this storyline, which I'm all for. It seems wrong to complain about death in a Wolverine story, but I generally prefer that if characters die, they should (in some form or another) have it coming.

Grade: B+

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Justice League of America #3

I've always thought that team books had a definite advantage.

By mixing different characters and different personalities the writer has a never-ending supply of interesting possibilities for interaction, romance or conflict.

Unfortunately, in the new Justice League of America comic, it seems that all we get is the latter.

Which is to say, none of the characters get along, seem to like each other or are generally admirable at all.

To make matters worse, the entire foundation of the team seems to involve dirty tricks on the part of a government agency (very much along the lines of Suicide Squad).

So one of the only likable heroes, Stargirl, is treated like a cheerleader. Hawkman is unrecognizable as a rage-filled beast. Katana seems to be channeling Elric. Green Arrow is a foul-up. Martian Manhunter is downright scary. Vibe is likable but somewhat inept. Catwoman is just here to provide cleavage. Green Lantern is absent.

The team is planning to infiltrate a mysterious society of bad guys so they hatch a plan to send Catwoman undercover. Their plan is amazingly lame - so, of course, it works. Sorta.

Look, the art by David Finch is very good, and the dialogue by Geoff Johns is sharp - but it's just difficult to get behind a team that doesn't seem to want to be together - why should we care?

I'm amazed that Johns can create a strong Justice League comic - and a Justice League of America comic that just seems to be going through the motions.

Grade: B-


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Batman #20

For most of the first 20 issues of the "New 52" version of Batman, we've been enjoying some epic stories.

But the latest storyline is a bit more compact - only two issues long - and it has a nice Silver Age feel (at least on the cover), as Batman fights Bruce Wayne.

It's all part of a sinister plot by Clayface (which one? That would be telling), as Batman learns how difficult it is to fight himself.

As always, Greg Capullo and Danny Miki provide some excellent artwork, with expressive characters and strong layouts.

Scott Snyder's been doing great work writing this title, although this Clayface adventure didn't quite come together for me - mostly because I've got a low tolerance for the whole "will the bad guy discover the good guy's secret identity" stories.

Still, a decent issue and a good run on the series by the creative team, who will also be guiding things through the upcoming "Year One" story.

Here's hoping the title will get back to its former heights with that epic adventure.

Grade: B+


Friday, May 10, 2013

The Avengers #11

After 10 issues of big, cosmic events, this issue of The Avengers takes us down to Earth for some ground-level action.

Six members of the team go undercover to investigate some kind of weapon sale - but that's just the excuse for a series of (mostly) fun encounters between the good guys and the bad guys.

I'm a longtime fan of Shang-Chi, the Master of the Martial Arts (and son of Fu Manchu), and it's great to see him in the spotlight in this issue. His part of the story is written in a delightful, stylized fashion by Jonathan Hickman - a real treat.

Also included is the Black Widow (with an especially dark - but accurate - take on the super spy), Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Cannonball and Sunspot.

The other star in this issue is artist Mike Deodato, who seems to be having a blast here. From the ninja-packed action scenes to a showdown over a gambling table to a fun encounter between newbie heroes and nerdy villains, the visuals are lush and powerful.

I also love the cover art, a nice whimsical version of the heroes by Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor - it would make an excellent poster.

So, yet another outstanding issue in one of Marvel's best titles. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Iron Man 3: A Review

I finally got a chance to catch the year's biggest movie (so far): Iron Man 3.

I enjoyed it a lot, although it doesn't match The Avengers for sheer fun.

The movie really belongs to Robert Downey, Jr. - he's crafted a terrific character in Tony Stark. It's only his sheer force of personality (and terrific sense of humor) that keeps Stark from coming across as a complete jerk (though he still has his jerkish moments).

The cast is terrific. Gwyneth Paltrow does a great job as Stark CEO Pepper Potts and gets to take part in some of the action sequences as well. I like the loving (and sometimes long-suffering) relationship between Pepper and Tony.

Don Cheadle has a lot of fun as James Rhodes (aka the Iron Patriot). Ben Kingsley is also terrific as The Mandarin - though the character is quite a departure from the character in the comics.

The film gives us a Tony Stark who's struggling with the aftereffects of his superhero battles - especially the finale to The Avengers. At the same time, he becomes embroiled (thanks largely to his big fat mouth) in a battle with the terrorist known as The Mandarin - and his link to a number of bad guys powered up by a process known as Extremis, which allows "normal" humans to be a credible threat to Iron Man.

It's all a bit fast and loose and there are a few holes in the plot that never quite add up - but the movie keeps things moving along briskly, so you have to work to get hung up on such things.

The film gives Downey lots of chances to play real-life action hero - he spends relatively little time actually wearing the Iron Man armor - but it certainly doesn't hurt the movie.

I did think the movie was a bit too violent (though it's mostly bloodless, there is a considerable body count). It's especially worrying considering the number of kids going to see this. Oh, and there are quite a few improbable action scenes, as Stark somehow gains Spider-Man-like agility near the end of the film.

But those are minor complaints. The movie is a lot of fun, mostly because Stark is such a smart character, able to think or talk his way past any obstacle.

This one is better than the second Iron Man film, and probably better than the first one - though it's close. If just for the spectacle, it's well worth seeing on the big screen.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Today's Comics

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

- Avengers #11 - Hey, it's Shang-Chi!

- Batman #20 - Bats vs. Bruce Wayne?

- Executive Assistant Assassin #10 - Final duel!

- Justice League of America #3 - Going undercover.

- Legend of the Shadow Clan #4 - Revelations!

- Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror #4 - Paging Dr. C'thulu...

- Star Wars #5 - X-Wings vs. Tie Fighters!

- Thor God of Thunder #8 - Thor teams up with himself - twice!

- Wolverine #3 - Teaming up with Nick Fury!

And that's it!

The Classics - Strangers in Paradise #1 (of 3)

I have to admit that this is not a series I picked up on from the start.

Strangers in Paradise first appeared in 1993, but it was a couple of years later before I bought my first issue.

Thankfully, it was a series that was often reprinted in a variety of formats - in fact, it's still available in trade paperbacks.

It was one of the most unusual "independent" comics in the '90s - no superheroes, no science fiction, no fantasy, and no impossibly-built, scantily clad heroines (well, there were some scantily clad moments - a couple in this issue alone - but Francine isn't the usual pneumatic sex object, and the moments are used for humor and dramatic purposes, not just to spark sales). This series was a straightforward drama about two women and their friendship.

And that's it.

Created by writer / artist Terry Moore, the series focused on Francine Peters and her friend Katchoo, two somewhat eccentric (but in a real-world way) friends who take part in assorted tumultuous romances, family turmoil, squabbles and life's challenges in general.

The series enjoyed a long healthy run for several good reasons: great characters (you love Francine because she's real, you love Katchoo because she's kinda crazy), strong stories (this issue focuses on Francine's attempts to hang on to her lousy boyfriend), and terrific art (Moore's art is wonderful - comic, sexy, with a great touch of the real world, strong layouts and loads of imagination, overcoming any real world limitations).

I would be remiss not to mention the sexual tension that existed between the two leads - would they or won't they? No spoilers here.

That the series enjoyed a long run is a tribute to Moore's talent and the strength of his unique concept.

In the second panel of this first issue, an actor in a play says, "Without love we're never more than Strangers in Paradise." That's the series in a nutshell right there.

Highly recommended, especially if you're looking for a break from the usual long underwear crowd.

Grade: A-


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

World's Finest #12

As much as I hate to admit it, the World's Finest series has been a bit disappointing.

That despite including work by some of the industry's top talents, including writer Paul Levitz, who is (usually) one of DC's best writers, and Kevin Maguire, a fantastic artist who specializes in beautiful women.

And I like the main characters - Power Girl and Huntress - so what's wrong?

I think part of the problem is that the "New 52" version of the characters are from Earth-2, exiled to Earth-1 during a battle with Darkseid, and they've had virtually no contact with the other heroes of Earth-1.

You'd think Superman's cousin and Batman's daughter would reach out to their counterparts - especially since they've been on Earth-1 for years now.

The other problem is that they're completely focused on finding a way back to their reality - and that seems to be the only driving force in their life. They often don't win the fights they get involved in (they certainly don't win in this issue) and they seem to spend a significant portion of each issue running away from something.

The other other problem (sorry) is that the art in each issue is fragmented between two or three artists. That's OK when the artists are top-tier like Maguire and George Perez, but with this issue we have Maguire doing seven pages, and the rest provided by Geraldo Borges and Robson Rocha - good enough artists, but they don't match up well to Maguire's mastery.

I think it's just been a bit of a miscalculation in the original concept (I'll blame editorial interference, just for the heck of it). With some fine tuning, a stronger sense of fun, a little less death and destruction, a different direction, some decisive victories and the vision of a single artist and I think this series can turn things around.

They did finally put Power Girl back in her traditional costume - but that's just a baby step.

Grade: C+


Monday, May 6, 2013

Charismagic #1

Magic-based heroes have been around since the beginning of the Golden Age of comics, but there are surprisingly few successful magic-based characters.

Perhaps that's because magic operates with no rules, no boundaries - so it's easy for the story to feel like a bit of a cheat.

Charismagic (Vol. 2) goes all-in on the magic (and no boundaries) concept with a series that stars a professional magician (think David Copperfield) who discovers he has actual magical powers.

His name is Hank Medley, and in his first adventure he gathered magical allies, managed to stop an attack by a powerful enemy and rescued the Earth's population after it was banished to another reality.

This series starts with the world starting to return to normal - at least until a new invasion of demons begins, and it's time to get the magical band of heroes back together.

There's a bit of a learning curve here, as writer Vince Hernandez throws quite a few characters at the reader at once and we're not given a lot of information to sort them out.

But the stakes are certainly high and it looks bad for the good guys. The cliffhanger on the final page certainly amps up the threat.

The art is strong - Vincenzo Cucca and Mark Roslan give an interesting, dark and stylized look to this demonic tale.

This is the latest issue in Aspen's "10 for 10" series, so the comic only costs a dollar - a good investment to see if this is your kind of magic.

Grade: B


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man #9

So here's what I don't understand about the comics companies. (OK, it's one of many things.)

Iron Man is starring in the world's top movie this weekend - a film that's bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars. Last summer he was the star of that year's biggest movie, The Avengers.

It seems like a great opportunity for Marvel Comics to make the most of the attention by making sure that the Iron Man in the comic book is as similar as possible to the Iron Man in the film.

There have been some attempts along that line - certainly most writers are trying to give Tony Stark the same distinctive "voice" as Robert Downey, Jr. - but otherwise, anyone racing from the movie to the comics shop to pick up the new Iron Man comic wouldn't recognize the setting or the hero.

The latest adventure has Iron Man in a different style of armor, exploring space, tracking down a mass murderer and getting an unexpected history lesson.

It's not a bad story (though I admit I'm not crazy about retcons), but it seems like a wasted opportunity - a new reader would be absolutely lost reading this issue.

A space adventure would be fine most of the time - but perhaps the series would have been better served by providing a more familiar setting this month.

Or perhaps they're already looking ahead to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

Grade: B


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013

   Happy Free Comic Book Day!

   Our favorite holiday continues to grow - this year there are (by one count) 52 free comics being offered out there.

   I'm just one guy, so there's no way I can review 'em all - but I'll try to hit some highlights here with some pocket reviews.

   Special thanks to my pal John at my local comics shop for sliding my comics to me a couple of days early this year.

   If you picked up any comics I missed (and there are many), feel free to let us know what you thought - you can comment at the link at the bottom of this post or email your thoughts to us at and I'll add it to the list here.

   Now, review time:

Infinity (Marvel)

   Marvel has two comics being offered this year, with the best of the bunch being Infinity, a preview of a mini-series that hits this fall.

   It features Thanos (natch) as he prepares for an attack on Earth.  It's a chilling look at what's sure to be a strong story - especially since it's going to be written by Jonathan Hickman.

Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (Marvel) 

   Marvel's other comic is actually promoting two new cartoons that premiere this year.

   The art seems to be taken from the actual animation for the shows.

   Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. features an odd mix of the Hulk Family, including Red Hulk, She-Hulk and Skaar, fighting an assortment of monsters.  

   The issue also features a preview of the new Avengers Assemble cartoon (which is a relief, because the most recent Avengers cartoon was quite good - here's hoping for more of the same).

Superman (DC)

   DC also has two free comics - the first one promises a preview of the upcoming Scott Snyder / Jim Lee Superman series, but it's actually a reprint of a (quite good) story by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner (the director of the Christopher Reeve Superman movie) and Adam Kubert, with a short interview at the back with the new creative team.

Beware the Batman / Go Teen Titans (DC)

   DC's other free comic also promotes two animation-style  stories, including a new and different look for Batman (collect 'em all) and a story based on the animated version of Teen Titans, which is being revived to replace the much-missed Young Justice and Green Lantern.

   Recommended for fans of this style - I have to admit that neither one does much for me.

The Walking Dead (Image)

      I should probably admit that I'm the holdout - the one guy who doesn't watch the Walking Dead TV show or read the comic book (except for the 100th issue, which I reviewed on this blog).

   I'm apparently missing out, since everyone seems to love both. At any rate, this seems to be a new story offering some backstory for several of the main characters.

   It's grim and grisly and pretty riveting - no doubt a must-have for fans of the phenomenon.

Worlds of Aspen (Aspen)

Aspen offers a flip book (those are always fun), with one half offering a leisurely recap of Fathom's history (while also setting up the upcoming "Elite Saga" storyline), and the other providing a series of ads / pinups of the assortment of beautiful women / warriors who will be starring in upcoming series (and mini-series).

   That list includes Legend of the Shadow Clan, Shrugged 2, Bubble Gun and Trish: Out of Water (among others).

Star Wars / Capt. Midnight / Avatar (Dark Horse)

Dark Horse also offers two free comics, each one with multiple stories.

    This one includes an excellent story about an assassination attempt on Darth Vader (with a guest appearance by Boba Fett), a pulpish story with Captain Midnight, and an animation-style story with Avatar: The Last Airbender.

   Worth it just for the Star Wars story (what better day to read it than Star Wars Day? May the Fourth be with you).

R.I.P.D. / Killjoys / Mass Effect (Dark Horse)

   The other Dark Horse offering includes R.I.P.D.,  a story about a couple of dead cops tracking down unruly spooks (the movie looks like a lot of fun), The True Lies of the Fabulous Killjoys (an interesting oddity), and Mass Effect (a tale from happier days).

   I liked this one.

The Strangers (Oni)

   I enjoyed The Strangers quite a bit - it's a quirky mix of Mission Impossible, the Man from UNCLE and the X-Men, all rolled into a fun spy / mystical adventure story.

   The idea is to promote the new series, and it worked on me - I'll be checking this out.

Valiant 2013 (Valiant)

   Valiant also offers two free comics (it's almost the standard this year), but there's no complete story in this issue - it's a series of short previews for the upcoming Harbinger Wars (which seems to involve quite a bit of death and destruction).

   There are also teasers for new series coming up down the road, including a new version of Unity.

Valiant Masters (Valiant)

   This issue is promoting several promised volumes that will collect the stories from the original Valiant Universe, including The Eternal Warrior, Shadowman, Ninjak and Rai.

    The excerpts include some outstanding art by Barry Windsor-Smith and Joe Quesada.

World of Archie Digest (Archie)

   Archie Comics offers two comics, natch, and the first one is a heck of a deal - it's a World of Archie Digest comic with almost 100 pages of classic Archie stories, gags and fashions.

   That makes this one of the best bargains in terms of getting the most for your (unspent) money.

    Lots of fun and a heck of a bargain!

Sonic / Mega Man (Archie)

   This comic previews an upcoming crossover between the two videogame stars, Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog.

   It seems like an odd mix, but the short stories included here are loaded with energy and animation, so fans of the characters (or their games) should get a kick out of this.


   So of the ones I read, on the basis of being entertaining, I'd recommend Infinity, The Walking Dead, Star Wars, The Strangers and the World of Archie Digest.

    And that's it for my reading - if you have other issues to include, drop us a note and we'll pass along your recommendations.

   Enjoy your holiday!


Friday, May 3, 2013

Aquaman #19

There's a rhythm to Geoff Johns' Aquaman series.

There's a setup issue that puts the pieces in place, and then the story kicks into gear over the next several issues, building up to the final confrontation.

All of which is to say, welcome to the setup issue.

Thankfully, it's also loaded with lots of neat bits of business, including the unexpected appearance of an old friend, the introduction of some new players, a new King arises, some new plots hatch and more than one mysterious figure is introduced (sorry to be so vague, but any more information would give away too many treats).

Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons provide some strong artwork that captures the undersea environment and keeps the story moving briskly.

Really, what Johns has done with this comic is nothing short of amazing. He's taken a character who has (unfairly) been the butt of jokes, and made him the star of one of (if not the) best comics in the "New 52."

Grade: B+


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Age of Ultron #7

Well, this mini-series has moved into unexpected territory - though that's not necessarily a good thing.

The Age of Ultron story has been building for years, and now that it's here, it somehow has become.... House of M. (Both are written by Brian Michael Bendis, so at least he's cribbing from his own work. Sorta.)

In other words, reality has somehow become jumbled, with characters and reality transformed into... something else.

It's obvious that there has to be some kind of "reality reboot / reset" at the end of this series, because Ultron has caused too much damage and too many deaths for the result to be otherwise - and this issue just ramps up the "things are messed up" quotient.

It's a result of time-travel, as one team went into the future to confront Ultron, and another went into the past on a darker mission. Don't they know how those things always turn out?

The art is tag-teamed by Brandon Peterson (the story from the past) and Carlos Pacheco (the present day story) with Roger Martinez inking. The art is good, although it feels a bit rushed.

I know, time travel complications are a time-honored tradition in comics (and Star Trek episodes) - but it's going to take a heck of a finale to tie this up - or use it as a launch pad for future stories.

It's still possible of course.

Grade: B