Monday, September 30, 2013

Wonder Woman #23.2

   I've been mostly avoiding the "Villain Month" tie-ins from DC Comics - I suppose I'm more interested in the heroes than the bad guys.

   But this was an issue that held a lot of promise. It's written by Brian Azzarello (the writer who's done excellent work on the Wonder Woman title since it was rebooted with the "New 52"), and provides an origin story for the mysterious character only known as First Born.

   That's a welcome development, since we know almost nothing about the character (except that he's a fallen god, a powerhouse and very angry).

   Here we discover the reason for his anger, the prophecy that led to his exile, and the interesting (if grisly) mythological tale of his birth.

   As has become standard for this series, this isn't a tale for young readers - but it is a powerful tale.

    With strong artwork by Aco and the usual excellent script, it's one of the few "Villain Month" tales (that I've seen) worth tracking down.

Grade: B+


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy 6

   From time to time writer Brian Michael Bendis hauls out the classics - and this issue of Guardians of the Galaxy uses three of them.

   First, he uses the classic "heroes meet and fight because of a misunderstanding" bit to pit the mysterious Angela against the lethal Gamora (and then throws the rest of the team into the mix just for fun).

   Then he throws in a cameo by Thanos, one of the biggest bad guys in the Marvel Universe (on loan from the Infinity mini-series).

   Finally, he throws in a guest spot by Marvel's first cosmic entity, the enigmatic Watcher.

   It all adds up to another fun issue, although it doesn't really move the story forward much - the only real point is to show what an amazing fighter Angela is.

   The art chores are shared by Sara Pichelli (who does most of the issue) and Olivier Coipel (who tackles the Thanos sequence), and it's excellent - their styles don't really mesh, but the scenes are so different that it doesn't matter.

   My only complaint about this series is that it seems to be moving very slowly (despite the raucous battle in this issue) - but it's taking a long time to get the story of the Guardians against the galactic empire in gear.

   But that's another hallmark of Bendis - sometimes you have to be patient. The good news is, the story is almost always worth the wait.

Grade: A-


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Avengers 20

   Those who've been following this blog since Jonathan Hickman took over the Avengers are no doubt tired of hearing me rave about his work (though to be fair, you may have tired of my raves when he was writing Fantastic Four or Secret Warriors, too).

   But the simple fact is, his writing has amazing complexity and depth to it, as he crafts stories that build over the course of years, without forgetting the human emotion at the heart of it all.

   He's doing it again in this series, weaving a story that runs over 16 issues in about six months. And that doesn't count all the groundwork laid in issues before that.

   Here we have a cosmic sage worthy of E.E. "Doc" Smith, as several galactic empires join forces with the Avengers to fight back against the Builders, an ancient race that has turned into a world-destroying force. (Though we're not sure why yet.)

   So there's a lot going on, but one of the things I like best is the role of Captain America, who shows his skill in wartime strategy.

   This series is more science fiction than superhero (well, sorta), and that's ok with me, because it's good science fiction.

   This issue marks the halfway point in the series - I can't wait to see where it goes from here. This is shaping up to be a classic along the lines of the Kree-Skrull War and Steve Englehart's origin of the universe (and the Vision).

   Great company to be in! 

Grade: A


Friday, September 27, 2013

Saga 14

   What a great series this is.

   Saga is that rare book that is absolutely, delightfully unpredictable. It virtually defies description.

    At its heart is the story of an infant - the child of parents from two different alien races - both which are at war. It's also about love, and friendship, and ghosts, and wooden spaceships, and robots with TVs for heads, and multiple bounty hunters, and hurling writers, and mothers-in-law - you get the idea.

   It's just an explosion of ideas from writer Brian K. Vaughn, with amazing, expressive and vibrant art by Fiona Staples.

   I hasten to add that it's not for kids - there are disturbing images, naughty words and adult situations.

   But it's all part of an adult tale that will keep you on your toes - and loving every minute of it.

   Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, September 26, 2013

TV Review - Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

   The good news is, last night's premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a big hit - in fact, the episode is being re-run again this week.

   The better news is: it's actually a good show.

   I'll admit this first episode wasn't quite as high-octane as I was hoping, but considering that it's spinning off from the excellent Avengers movie, it would be difficult not to enter it with high hopes.

   But budget constraints means this series must be a bit more down-to-Earth. This episode is really something of an origin story, as Agent Coulson gathers a special team to investigate extraordinary incidents - so we have to meet each one, learn a bit about them, establish their basic tools, some tantalizing mysteries, and throw in an actual adventure for good measure.

   The adventure has them tracking down a hooded figure who ran into a burning building and rescued a woman, leaping easily from the top of a tall building. But is he a hero - or a menace? 

   The investigating team includes a James Bond-like spy who doesn't work well with others, a pilot who has some secrets of her own, a couple of tech geeks who are adorably funny, and a computer hacker who may or may not be working for the bad guys.

   Coulson gives us an immediate mystery - how did he survive Loki's murderous attack in the Avengers movie?  (Don't expect any easy answers there.)

   There are wonderful comedic touches, some inside jokes ("Enjoy your Journey Into Mystery"), several good action sequences, a budding romance (or two), and actual continuity with the other Marvel movies (including a close tie to the Iron Man 3 film).

   So it's not perfect, but Coulson alone is a fun character to watch, and the others have lots of potential. I'll be watching this one faithfully, and I suspect any comics fan will enjoy it.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

New Comics Day

   In addition to picking up a few issues missed last week, I got:
- Avengers #20 - Defeat from the jaws of victory?

- FF #12 - Defining heroes and villains.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #6 - Throwdown with Angela.
- Jupiter's Legacy #3 - The End.

- King Conan #5 - Rescuing the Countess.

- Saga #14 - Inappropriate behavior.

- Strangers #4 - Deadly mmusic.

- Tom Strong #3 - Gathering allies.

- Wolverine and the X-Men #36 - Fighting yourself!

- Wonder Woman #23.2 - Secret of the First Born.
- Young Avengers #10 - Mommy issues.

   And that's it!    

Classic Comics - Guest Review - Hellblazer #1

   Here’s a guest “Classic” review from our man David Wright, who takes us back to the premiere of DC’s long-running Vertigo series Hellblazer

   Hellblazer is a DC horror comic, which eventually switched over to the Vertigo imprint in 1993 written by Jamie Delano with art by John Ridgway and covers by Dave McKean.  

   The protagonist, John Constantine, first appeared in Alan Moore's run of Swamp Thing, and this is his own spinoff title.

   The debut story opens in NYC as a guy that works for the post office has an odd, insatiable hunger to eat, so much so, he eats himself to death.  

   Shortly thereafter Constantine arrives home in NYC, finding a junkie friend of his, Gary Lester, has holded up in his flat. The place is infected with insects as well.

   Constantine calls up a mate for help and then he hypnotizes Gary to find out the source of his madness. We find out that his friend, while visiting Tangier, has come into contact with a demonic entity known as Mnemoth, and he traps it in a bottle. Somehow the demon followed Gary back to NYC and is infecting others with this curious desire for hunger.  

   This begins Constantine's search for Mnemoth the demon. Jamie Delano has a nice writing style, sort of  a mixture of hard boiled prose and horror poetry. The art conjures the mood perfectly as Ridgway employs scratchy, yet realistic looking art. The panels are quite innovative too as he breaks them up into expressionistic, puzzle-like swatches.  

   The trail for Mnemoth takes Constantine to Africa where he indulges in a psychedelic trip with a shaman, back to NYC to a nightclub owned by voodoo magician, then he meets up with the ghost of a former girlfriend, ending on a cliffhanger, which continues into issue 2. 

   Forty pages of horror with no ads - they don't make them like this anymore. Spooky stuff.

Grade A



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bubblegun #3

   We just have time for a quick review, so here goes:

   The jury is still out on Bubblegun.

   I love the title, the art by Mike Bowden is a bit rough about the edges but fun and energetic, and the characters have lots of potential.

   But the problem is with the story by Mark Roslan. Set in a high-tech future, the focus is on a band of specialists who tackle dangerous (and barely legal) jobs. 

   When they stumble on a young man who holds a mysterious secret, they find themselves in a war against an assortment of opponents - and they also suffer betrayal.

   The team squares off against a big bad named Craine and his cybernetic ninja assault squad, and the issue centers around several big fights - and not much else. 

   There are some attempts at giving us some insight into the characters, but three issues in and it's all still very thin.

   This series is leaning too hard on fight scenes and angst. What we really need is a reason to care about the characters.

Grade: B-


Monday, September 23, 2013

New Avengers #10

   Sadly, I'm reviewing this issue of New Avengers out of order - it should have been written before this week's issue of Infinity, since this adventure falls before that one.

   Ah well, let's push on.

   Despite having the smallest cast, this branch of the Infinity series (which also runs through The Avengers, natch) is perhaps the most tangled, since it includes severe tension between members of the team (as the Black Panther's Wakanda and Namor's Atlantis are at war), the threat of Thanos looming over the Earth (and Black Bolt's Inhumans in particular), attacks by Thanos' powerful Black Order, and the threat of another parallel Earth incursion that could destroy our Earth.

   Whew! It's a lot to absorb, but it provides a high-stakes drama.

   It's the usual excellence from writer Jonathan Hickman, with incredible art by Mike Deodato.

   This series is really walking the cosmic high wire, and it's amazing to watch - and a blast to read.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, September 22, 2013

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #2

   There are comics I pick up just out of nostalgia, and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is one of them.

   I loved the original series back in the '60s - the stories were over the top and a heck of a lot of fun.

   For years the title floated in comic book limbo as the question of who actually owned the rights was settled. Presumably that's all been sorted out, as DC tried its hand a few years ago (unsuccessfully), and now IDW is taking a crack at it - also, so far, unsuccessfully.

   This series is somewhat more successful than DC's version, if just because they've returned to the basic concept - T.H.U.N.D.E.R. is an organization dedicated to protecting the world from powerful terrorist groups, such as the one headed up by the mysterious Iron Maiden. 

   The reason the title doesn't work is - well, the good guys are all doofuses (or jerks). Dynamo (Len Brown) was never the brightest bulb, but here's he's just a lunkhead, thrown into a desperate effort to stop Iron Maiden from taking over a secret installation. 

   But the area is crawling with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, making the whole thing look like a training exercise. And after two full issues, we only get to the big confrontation at the end of this issue - and nothing is really resolved. 

   I applaud the efforts to include some humor in this series, but the whole thing just feels lackadaisical, with no sense of urgency. This series should have hit the ground running and built from there - instead, it's still advancing at a snail's pace. 

   Maybe the next revival will get it right.

Grade: C+


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flash #23.3

   I have to admit that I've only read a couple of DC's "Villains Month" issues (there are so many of them), but my impression so far is that they're the equivalent of the old "Dreaded Deadline Doom" fill-in issues.

   Which is to say, they're stand alone stories by writers and artists I (mostly) haven't heard of, and the story has very little (if any) connection to the Forever Evil series.

    Which brings us to this issue of The Flash (where the hero is only mentioned, never seen). The Rogues have gone from being a loose-knit groups of villains to its present incarnation as a family of sorts.

   The team includes Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Heat Wave, Glider, Trickster and Weather Wizard, and they spend most of the issue arguing about everything.

    And that's about all for this one. Not a compelling story, the art is fine but not much more than that.

   It's like the old World War II-era slogan: was this trip necessary?


Grade: C



Friday, September 20, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #12

   It's amazing what a difference writer Brian Michael Bendis has made to the X-Men titles.

   Before he took over, the series was all over the map, with an overwhelming number of mutants, concepts unfocused, stories rambling - it was virtually impenetrable.

   Bendis took control of the Uncanny X-Men title and focused it on the renegade team led by Cyclops and their battle to protect mutants. He created the title All-New X-Men and used it to bring the original team through time into the present, creating an upbeat series (mostly) that focuses on how the team has changed since its original appearance.

   There have been clashes along the way, but it all seems to be coming to a head with the current event, "Battle of the Atom."

   The question it raises is: should the original team return to its place in the past? The debate's been divided - but a new voice is chiming in - namely, a team of X-Men who have traveled from the future to warn the original X-Men that they must return to the past or face dire consequences.

   Their appearance - and the lineup of older versions of familiar faces (which I won't spoil for you) - make this event a romp and a lot of fun.

   With lots of twists (and more on the way), terrific art, serious consequences to events, and a dandy cliffhanger, this series is delivering the goods. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Infinity #3 (of 6)

   One of the big gripes about comics is that nothing ever changes - there's only the illusion of change.

   That's largely true about classic characters - but Jonathan Hickman certainly must be the writer who manages to pull off the biggest surprises while working in those constraints. Here he's ably supported by the outstanding art by Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.

   With this issue of Infinity we hit the halfway point in this mini-series, and the issue features a couple of major events: one in deep space as the Avengers face off against the virtually-invincible fleet of the Builders; and a confrontation between Thanos and Black Bolt, with shocking consequences.

   As always, this is not an easy story to follow - there's a heck of a lot going on here. A galactic battle that involves numerous alien races and exotic settings fighting a nearly-hopeless fight against against a massive cosmic opponent. A down-to-Earth fight against one of Marvel's most powerful villains and his own powerful pawns. All involving a small army of heroes, both familiar and new.

   It's not a story for the faint of heart, and it may be that you'll have to wait until the end of the event to put all the pieces together - but it's well worth the journey, and (if experience is any indicator), your patience will be well rewarded.

Grade: A


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Partial Shipment of Comics Today

   My shop only got part of its weekly shipment today - apparently there was a terrible wreck that destroyed a significant part of the East Coast's shipment (and claimed at least one life).

   Here's what I was planning to pick up - but wasn't there:

- Conan the Barbarian #20

- Daredevil #31
- Powers Bureau #7
- Thor #13
    Here's what I picked up today:
- Flash #23.3 - Villain month. Meh.
- Infinity #3 - Thanos faces off against Black Bolt.
- New Avengers #10 - Searching for a missing person.
- Shadow Annual 2013 - Who wants to live forever?
- Thunder Agents #2 - Taking on ol' Iron Pants.
- Uncanny X-Men #12 - The Battle of the Atom continues.
   And that's it!

The Classics - Daredevil #25

   While I freely admit my love and admiration for Marvel's Silver Age output, I will quickly admit that not every issue was destined for greatness.

   It fact, some of them are downright dopey.

   Our first exhibit for the defense is Daredevil #25.

   You might think it gets that distinction because of the so-called villain ol' Hornhead fights - the Leap Frog.

   As you might have guessed, despite the best efforts of Stan Lee and Gene Colan (inked by Frank Giacoia), this was not an opponent destined for greatness (in fact, a decade or two after this 1967 issue, the character would be revived as comic relief for Spider-Man).

   Oh, the action sequences are fun - Colan was a master of this kind of high-speed, high-flying battle - but it was pretty weak sauce for the House of Ideas.

   But the bad guy wasn't the silliest thing in the issue. Lifting a well-worn concept from Superman's comic, Daredevil faced the ultimate trap - somehow convincing his friends Foggy Nelson and Karen Page that, despite evidence they'd received, he was not secretly Daredevil (heaven forbid he should admit the truth to his most trusted friends).

   So he took the craziest way out possible - he invented a twin brother to be Daredevil - the swinging Mike Murdock. (This always tickles me because of the fact that I have a good friend with the same name.)

   It was an idea worthy of Clark Kent - but at least it had some comedic potential, as Matt pretended to be a hep, cool, crazy cat - and like Clark, he achieved this by putting on (jazzy sun)glasses and changing his hair a bit.

   It was a goofy concept, and it didn't last long - within a year or so Matt's brother Mike was "killed" and never mentioned again.

   No one mourned.

   It's just proof that no one bats a thousand - and even Stan and Gene made an occasional misstep - but given the usual high level of their work, it's easy to forgive this good-hearted (if wrong-headed) bit of fun.

Grade: C+



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest Review - Lazarus #1

   Stepping into the Guest Writer spot for the first time (with more reviews on the way) is David Wright with a look at Lazarus:

   Lazarus is a comic by writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark. It is the beginning of an interesting SF comic.  

   It's set in a futuristic world where society has broken down into several kingdoms (more or less) ruled over, not by the government anymore, but by wealthy families. The rest of the world's population is depicted as a dystopian ghetto known as the waste.

   Each  family has their own protector, which are scientifically created, known as a Lazarus. Forever Carlyle (the female on the cover) is the protector for the Carlyle family.  

   The Lazarus is similar to the Marvel character, Wolverine, in that they are hard to kill, have a fast healing factor,  and are more fit and powerful than normal people. This is about all we know by the first issue.

   It opens as a group is breaking into one of the Carlyle warehouses to steal supplies, and Forever is dispatched to take care of the situation. The action is fast and we quickly learn how deadly and brutal this world can be.  

   In the first issue we also meet some of the Carlyle family, and find out they are quite a dysfunctional family. It gives you just enough information to hook you to pick up another issue, and a glimpse of things to come.  

   What also I thought was interesting about the first issue was that Rucka gives you some of his impetus and thoughts on how he came to write the comic.  

   The art by Lark was great, the story was tense. It certainly made me want to know more about this world.

Grade: A


Monday, September 16, 2013

Executive Assistant Iris #5

   A revenge story can be fun, and this issue brings a finale - and some sweet revenge - to "The Executive Extinction" story.

   It's a team of Executive Assistants (a group of beautiful women trained to be guards and / or assassins) working together - mostly - to track down the man who murdered their friends.

   But the road to revenge isn't easy, and they'll have to form an uneasy team, invade a fortress and survive a final, brutal confrontation.

   The story by David Wohl ties the story together in a grim bow, though the story seems abbreviated somehow - like the setup was more important than the conclusion.

   Even the art by Siya Oum seems rushed. It's technically solid, but the figures are stiff (and sometimes simplified), and the backgrounds are (with a few exceptions) pretty basic.

   But it wraps up the story well and sets up the next series of Executive Assistant stories.

   So if you enjoy spy-genre action and adventure that includes beautiful women, this series is worth a look. 

Grade: B-


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Brain Boy #1

   This is one of those titles I never thought I'd see again.

   When I was a kid I picked up an issue of Brain Boy, little realizing that it was the last issue in the series (#6) - it was odd, a bit creepy, but compelling (in fact, I reviewed that issue right here).

   Now Dark Horse has revived the title. It stars Matt Price, a young man who has telepathy and limited telekinesis abilities. Not the most visually exciting powers, but he works as a security specialist, and uses his powers to keep people safe.

   The story by Fred Van Lente is a cracking good yarn, with political intrigue, action sequences, humor, plenty of surprises and an interesting take on the lead character's personality.

   The art is by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean, and it's quite good, bringing real-world characters and situations to life - no long underwear outfits here - all with great character designs and strong action sequences.

   I had no idea what to expect here, and it's nice to find the series is a pleasant surprise - it stays true to the original concept, but builds it into a story that is modern and a heck of a lot of fun.

Grade: A-


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Captain America #11

   Just as we all have our opinions about the best artists, we can also agree to disagree about which writers are the best.

   There are a few creators in both categories whose work I just don't seem to connect with, and with this issue of Captain America, I've decided one of those writers is Rick Rememder.

   After suffering through the interminable "Dimension Z" story that staggered along for almost a year and accomplished nothing (aside from torturing Cap and killing a terrific character), I was ready to give up on this series.

   I decided to give it one more issue to see if anything was resolved, if mistakes were corrected.


   Instead we get an issue about Cap recovering from his nearly-fatal wounds, we see him refuse any counseling as he copes with having just suffered 10 years of hell (a great example for young readers - real men don't use therapy, kids).

   Even worse, we see him destroy priceless personal artifacts to make a superficial point. Does Remender realize how most comics readers feel about their collections?

   Like the previous 10 issues, the art is quite good - this time provided by Carlos Pacheco and Klaus Janson - but that's not enough to keep me coming back.

   I've been buying Cap's comics since he returned to the Marvel Universe in the '60s - but this past year has just been painful. As difficult as it may be, it's time for me to take a break until a new writer signs on. I'll miss him - in many ways Cap is my favorite hero. But I just don't see much of the hero I've admired in these pages anymore.

Grade: D+


Friday, September 13, 2013

Kings Watch #1

   Anytime the Phantom shows up in comics, I try to be there - and the deal for the mysteriously-titled Kings Watch was sweetened by the inclusion of Flash Gordon and Mandrake.

   And while this introduction is a bit vague about details, it seems that we're meeting these heroes (and members of their supporting cast) early in their careers - at least Flash seems to be just starting out.

   A mysterious threat is menacing the world, and each hero is investigating on his own turf - leading to a powerful action sequence with the Phantom facing a monstrous menace.

   The story is by Jeff Parker, and while it's too early to make a final decision, it's a solid start and a good introduction for the cast.

   The art is by Marc Laming, and it's quite good, with strong designs for each character and clear storytelling.

   Lots of us remember these characters from the Defenders of the Earth cartoon, and it's good to see the band getting back together again, taking on their old job.

   A good start - let's hope for more of the same.

Grade: B+



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mighty Avengers #1

   As a longtime fan of Luke Cage, I'm happy to see him back in action.

   Same for Monica Rambeau, the former (second) Captain Marvel who now goes by the much more boring name Spectrum (though to be fair, it's more accurate).

   They're joined by Power Man (a relatively new character using Cage's old superhero name) and White Tiger. Cage has formed a new team - the Heroes for Hire.

   Which makes no sense. Has Cage retired from the hero business to focus on his wife and baby? Isn't that why he left the Avengers? Does he just need the money?

   The supporting characters are just annoying. White Tiger seems to have no interest in the team, and Power Man is just another angry man who yells a lot.

   The villains in this issue are (mostly) deadly dull - The Plunderer and the Blue Streak? Was Paste-Pot Pete busy? Throw in the odious Superior Spider-Man, and I find myself turning against the series before it really starts.

   The real threat shows up late, tying into the Infinity series (not a bad idea), but it's too late in the game to save the issue.

   I continue to be confounded by Greg Land's art. He's a gifted artist, his character designs are strong, and I love the realistic renderings of the faces. But... each panel looks like it was drawn individually and then pasted onto the page - there's no flow, even on pages with unique layouts, and there's no weight behind the fight sequences - each panel has the hero posed at the end of the punch, and the villain flying. They seem to be dancing.

   So, a disappointing start - a great cast, lots of potential, but still lots of elements to be sorted out.

Grade: C+


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New Comics Day!

     Lot o' comics today, including:
- Astro City #4 - All is not as it seems.
- Avengers #19 - The war continues.
- Brain Boy #1 - Never thought I'd see this one again.
- Captain America #11 - Back to the real world.
- Fantastic Four #12 - Monster mash!
- Flash #23.2 - Spotlight on the Reverse-Flash.
- Hulk #13 - It's all about time.
- True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #4 - Stranger and stranger.
- Kings Watch #1 - The Phantom, Mandrake and Flash Gordon, together again!
- Manhattan Projects #14 - Speaking of strange...
- Mighty Avengers #1 - Can't have too many Avengers teams.
- Red Sonja #3 - It's a hard-knock life.
- Shadow #17 - Showdown (part one).
- Spider #14 - Up against a man of iron.
- Star Wars #9 - A Princess without a planet!
- X-Men #5 - The Battle of the Atom continues!
   Whew! That's it!

Batman Black and White #1

   Yesterday we had our "Classic" review, so let's take a look at a new title today.

   I was happy to see this series return. Batman Black and White is an anthology series, presenting five short stories outside of continuity, all presented without color.

   And the first issue is loaded with talent. Chip Kidd and Michael Cho create a terrific throwback story (of sorts) featuring the classic Batman and Robin team, as the junior member faces a serious mystery. It's a delight.

   The second story is written and drawn by living legend Neal Adams, and it's a clever statement about crime and reality - with amazing art, of course.

   Mary Wicks and Joe Quinones provide a fun romp with Harley Quinn at her zany best, with delightful, sexy art.

   A fast-paced (and delightfully odd) tale of a race gives us a look at Bruce Wayne's love affair with the Batmobile.

   The last story is the most straightforward Batman tale in the book, as Howard Mackie and Chris Samnee pit the Dark Knight against a murderer. Worth it for the outstanding art alone, but the story is solid, too.

   If they can maintain this level of talent, this will be a series to watch. (A word to the wise: next issue includes a story by Alex Nino!)

Grade: A-




Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thor's Top Ten - and a Milestone!

   September 10 marks a milestone for this humble blog - it’s our 5th Anniversary!
   Hard to believe we’ve been creating daily blog posts for all that time - I thought sure your pal Chuck would burn out long before now. But what started out as a writing experiment continues to be a heck of a lot of fun.
   Special thanks to my guest reviewers who have shared their thoughts (and provided some much-needed help) - if you’d like to write one, gentle reader, you can send it to me at the email address on the right. There's no money involved, but you get bragging rights!
   I wanted to do something special for the big day, so here it is: in this special “Classic” review, I’m going to list my picks for the Top Ten issues of Thor by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. (The Thunder God has a new movie coming out later this year, so the timing seems right.)
   As always, I don't expect anyone to agree - but these are the ones that I picked. (You can also see previous “Top Ten” lists for Spider-Man (here, here and start at the bottom here)  and Fantastic Four.) 
    Note that Thor originally appeared in the comic Journey Into Mystery, and continued the same numbering when the title became The Mighty Thor
   Here’s my list:
#10 - Journey Into Mystery #83
   This one gets the nod just because it’s Thor’s first appearance - and it’s a solid story, as we get an alien invasion (the rock-like Saturn Men), and an unlikely hero - the frail Dr. Donald Blake, who tries to escape from aliens by hiding in a cave in Norway. He discovers a walking stick, but when he strikes a boulder in anger, he is transformed into Thor, the Norse God of Thunder (the stick becomes his hammer, of course). It’s a quick, clean story that leaves lots of room to build on. (To be fair, I should add that this issue was drawn by Jack and plotted by Stan, but scripted by Larry Lieber.)
#9 - Journey Into Mystery #103

  This is where Stan and Jack really started to figure out how Thor worked. After an assortment of science fiction and super-villain menaces, they upped the ante with an attack by the Enchantress and the Executioner, two powerhouses from Asgard who could go toe-to-toe with the Thunder God. The Executioner was a terrific design and a wiley character, and the Enchantress also added raw sex appeal - she was easily one of Kirby’s sexiest creations. 
#8 - Journey Into Mystery #104
   With the next issue, the stakes went even higher, as Odin ventures to Earth, leaving Loki in command (which doesn’t sound like a great idea at all). Loki immediately unleashes two monsters from Asgard to attack New York City, and a massive battle follows as father and son (and Balder) face the massive Skagg, a Storm Giant and Surtur, the fire demon. It’s an imaginative and fierce fight, and you can sense Kirby really starting to hit his stride.
#7 - The Mighty Thor #133
   This issue is a great example of the unbridled imagination at work by Stan and Jack: the alien race of Rigellians threaten to enslave the Earth unless Thor can help them overcome the mysterious threat from the Black Galaxy. When Thor arrives there (in the company of the robot known as The Recorder), he discovers a strange Bio-verse, and the source of the menace - a living planet known as Ego! So how does Thor fight a being capable of creating any weapon or environment, including a instant army, hurricane-force winds and volcanic heat? It's a visual romp for Kirby, as he creates alien vistas (including a stunning two-page spread at the beginning of the issue) and amazing, mind-bending battle sequences. Oh, this issue isn't perfect - the story wraps up a bit quickly, as Thor invokes a level of power we hadn't seen before - but it's all very entertaining and satisfying. It's just a great example of the incredible concepts and creativity that Stan and Jack (with Vince Colletta's inks) were able to cobble together, and one reason why these characters are still in use - and loved - to this day.

#6 - Journey Into Mystery #112

  OK, I admit it - this issue is just in here because I love it so much. The favorite question for any true-blue comics fan is, “Who’s stronger?” When some kids ask Thor if he’s stronger than the Hulk, he tells about the first confrontation between the two, in the pages of Avengers #3 (which was published about nine months before this issue). Most of the fight happened “off-camera” in that issue, so here we get the rest of the story. It’s just a fun, over-the-top slobberknocker between Marvel’s strongest characters. Loved it!

#5 - Journey Into Mystery #111

   This issue is something of a hidden gem, crammed full of characters, amazing action sequences, heartbreaking moments and loads of drama. Jane Foster is at death’s door, and Thor faces death in a house loaded with booby traps, while being attacked by Mr. Hyde and the Cobra. At the same time, in Asgard Balder undertakes an amazing quest in hopes of saving Jane. Heck, this issue is worth it just for the cover!
#4 - Journey Into Mystery #119

   Here’s another issue that I absolutely loved when I plunked down my 12 cents to buy it in 1965. It’s the wrap-up to Thor’s first battle with the Destroyer, a killing machine created by Odin - and a creature far more powerful than Thor (it actually damaged Thor’s hammer). This is the kind of story that you would expect to end with Odin stepping in and saving the day - but instead, Thor finds a way to defeat an unbeatable foe. Terrific art, lots of excitement and court intrigue - just an amazing story!

#3 -  The Mighty Thor #136

  This was probably the most shocking issue in the series - perhaps ever. After years of opposing Thor’s romance with nurse Jane Foster, Odin finally consents to allow them to marry, so Thor brings her to Asgard. But the terrors she’s exposed to are too much for a mortal, and she fails the crucial test - and leaves the series! That had (as far as I can remember) never happened before. Almost immediately, a new love interest was introduced, and the series moved in a different direction. It’s a tribute to Stan and Jack’s skill that this radical move actually worked!

#2 - The Mighty Thor #127

    On the heels of his greatest defeat, Thor faced an impossible task - defeating an evil being who holds the power of Odin! The All-Father had “loaned” his powers to a trusted advisor, only to be betrayed by him. The realm’s last hope is Thor, who returns from Earth to find his friend immobilized by the Odin Power. He must fight through an amazing gauntlet of threats, including enchanted flames, planetoids and power blasts. Thor’s steely determination and unique solution to the challenge leaves him near death - and gives us this iconic cover.


#1 - The Mighty Thor #126

   Hey, it’s another iconic cover - and my all-time favorite Thor adventure. Hercules visits the Earth for the first time in ages, and he has eyes for Jane Foster. Thor objects, and the fight begins - and what a battle it is! It rages virtually from start to finish, and shows Kirby’s mastery of super-hero fight scenes. The two powerhouses rampage through the city, smashing trucks, toppling buildings, trading Earth-shattering punches and wreaking havoc. Not to be outdone, Stan provides dialogue that raises the story above a mere slugfest as he paints two different heroes - both filled with determination and self-confidence, and righteous fury. Most amazing of all is the plot twist that brings about a shocking defeat. Simply masterful work all around by two of the titans of the comics industry!

    So that's my list! Yours may vary - heck, if I looked at them again tomorrow I might change my mind again (I do love the first Absorbing Man story, and then there's the "Trial of the Gods.). But it was great fun revisiting these stories - some of my all-time favorites from Marvel's Silver Age!

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Star Wars #1 (of 8)

   As a long-time fan of Star Wars (as in, I was in the theatre the first day the original film played in my hometown), I was entertained by the thought behind this mini-series, which adapts the first draft of the original film as written by George Lucas in 1974.

   What that translates to is a very different cast of characters and places all transposed on a similar concept of a galactic battle between an Evil Empire and the resistance.

   I should admit that I wasn't expecting much here - there's a reason why most of the story was reworked for the final screenplay.

   Where the original film manages to take all kinds of strange concepts and streamline it into a fast, fun and easily-understandable story, this version is kind of a mess.

   We meet Jedi Luke Skywalker, who is an old man with two young sons - Annikin and Deak, both Jedi in training. They're being hunted by the Sith, an evil army that works for the Empire. It's all a prelude to an upcoming war between the Empire and the resistance.

   There's a lot to like here - writer J.W. Rinzler keeps things moving nicely, and he has a lot of information to impart here. Artist Mike Mayhew creates a striking world that is similar to the Star Wars we know - but with a unique design of its own.  

   But the end result is a bit of a muddle, with a cascade of names, places and conflicts - all a bit much to sort out, even for longtime fans.

   Thank goodness Lucas didn't try to put this one on film!

Grade: B-



Sunday, September 8, 2013

Infinity #2

   It's a marvel of precision to watch the Infinity series play out across two Avengers series and this "event" mini-series.

   It's been the downfall of many events in recent years - stories told out of order, revealing events before their time, confusing the reader and muddying the story.

   That hasn't happened here (so far), and the handy chart in the back of the book keeps it clear - what order the books are to be read in and where to go next.

   It helps to have the same writer - the ingenious Jonathan Hickman - in charge of all three series - and it doesn't hurt that the issues bring you up to date with a quick recap at the top (just in case your first issue is in the middle).

   The story continues the cosmic conflict threatening Earth on two fronts - the massive threat of the Builders, who destroy planets with Galactus-like ease, and the emissaries of Thanos, who offer a chilling ultimatum to Black Bolt and the Inhumans.

   I love the art by Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver - it has an epic and stunning (yet lovely) approach to this cosmic warfare.

   Look, this series isn't for everyone - it's complicated and thoughtful (the twist at the end was a shocker with an intellectual twist) and, yes, it's challenging - but I am loving every bit of it.

Grade: A