Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Classics - Sub-Mariner #8

   If a casual reader wondered why Marvel Comics became such a hot commodity - especially in the '60s - this issue of the Sub-Mariner is a perfect example of why the House of Ideas was the place to be.

   In an issue that's part flashback (as Namor discusses his early career and his first human friends when he came to New York in the 1940s) and part donnybrook.

   The story is being narrated by a mysterious woman writing the events in a diary. She relates how the police recovered a mysterious helmet - the one that powered one of Namor's foes, and would cause even more problems in the future for the entire world.

   The helmet is being carried to a safe place by the wise-cracking  Thing, which gives legendary artist John Buscema a great excuse to craft a heckuva knock-down, drag-out fight between the two characters.

   And it's worth noting that, at this point, this was one of the few times we saw someone other than Jack Kirby drawing everyone's favorite member of the Fantastic Four. I remember being surprised at how different Buscema's version was - but I liked it. Which was good, since he'd eventually take over the title after Kirby left.

   At any rate, the battle finally concludes as an unexpected figure intervenes - and the twist on the final page, as the identity of the narrator is revealed, is genuinely moving - something that's all too rare in comics.

   I can probably count on one hand the number of comics that actually left me choked with emotion - and this is one of them.

   It was that combination of action, great art, humor and a lot of heart that made Marvel the best in the business.

Grade: A


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Justice League United #0

   I admit that I was going to pass this comic up - does the world really need another Justice League title?

   But when I saw it at the comics shop, I picked it up - because there on the cover was one of my all-time favorite characters, Adam Strange.

   So I bought Justice League United - and enjoyed it quite a bit.

   Writer Jeff Lemire is actually creating Justice League Canada here, including a new character and quite a few old favorites, including Martian Manhunter, Stargirl, Green Arrow, Animal Man and (eventually) Supergirl.

   The team is called together to investigate an apparent alien invasion, and the story is told with humor and sets up an interesting mystery.

   The art by Mike McKone is very good, with strong visuals and layouts and some lovely environments - and I like his heroic character designs.

   The only thing I don't like is the handling of Adam Strange. The original character was the thinking man's hero, outwitting menaces and traveling across the gulf of space to Rann (and his beloved Alanna), where he was a planetary hero. Back on Earth, he was unknown.

   But in the "New 52," that's all been pitched. Instead, he's an archaeologist on Earth who stumbles onto alien artifacts. Alanna is his research assistant. He's not particularly capable or interesting here (though, granted, we're in the early part of the team's origin).

   It's discouraging, but hopefully it'll be rectified soon. If not, I'll be dropping this one quickly.

Grade: B


Monday, April 28, 2014

Fathom: Kiani #2

   It's good to shake things up from time to time.

   Up until this point, the character Kiani has been something of a force of nature - a fighter with few equals.

   Being from the undersea race known as The Blue, she's spent virtually her whole life in that realm - but now she is trying to take control of her life, so she comes to the surface world and makes new friends.

    But her life is soon disrupted by an insistent Russian scientist who reveals he's from the same underwater race - so (for somewhat mysterious reasons), Kiani decides to cooperate with his research - but the results will be explosive.

   It would be easy to criticize this comic for having virtually no action in it - there's a lot of backstory revealed and a new ally (or is he?) to discuss - but I've had a peek at the next issue and it'll more than make up for the calm tone here.

   As always, Giuseppe Cafaro's art is excellent, loaded with strong layouts, great characters and (naturally) beautiful women.

    And give writer Vince Hernandez credit for taking this story in an unexpected direction - the comic book standard would have included a mindless brawl - instead, we get a thoughtful exchange.

Grade: B+


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fantastic Four #3

   It's just my opinion, of course, but I don't think the Fantastic Four lend themselves to dark storylines.

   Which is not to say that they can't be part of stories wherein bad things happen. But at their core, the team is built on a sense of optimism - and that aspect is not much in evidence (so far) in this story.

   Of course, you have to expect that from a story titled "The Fall of the Fantastic Four."

   So we've seen New York suffer under an attack by a strange army of inhuman creatures (not to be confused with the actual Inhumans) - an attack that seemed to originate in the Baxter Building (the FF's home).

   And this issue focuses on Johnny Storm, who's suffering some unexpected aftereffects in the wake of that attack. We also check in on the rest of the extended family as they go on a unusual tour - and Reed Richards makes a shocking discovery.

   To its credit, this issue finally kicks into high gear - but not until the final pages.

   The art by Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel is very good, with strong character designs and impressive environments.

   I'm trying to be patient - I know writer James Robinson is capable of excellent work - but this story is taking its sweet time in rolling out. But so far, I'm hanging in there.

Grade: B+


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy #14

   When it comes to numbering its issue, Marvel likes to have its cake and eat it, too.

   Thus this issue, #14, is billed as a "Double-Sized Anniversary Issue!" Ah, but what issue is it? Nowhere in the issue does it explain.

   I believe this is considered to be issue #200 of Guardians of the Galaxy, which would include all the issues from the '70s and '80s version of the team, and all the mini-series covering the adventures of the modern version of the group (which actually has very little to do with the original team of freedom fighters, as far as I know).

   This is the issue where everything goes wrong for the team, as the members are attacked while everyone's off following their own pursuits.

   (And why is Venom in this title now? Apparently he was traded to the GotG by the Avengers in a comic I didn't read - perhaps for a player to be named later.)

   It's written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Nick Bradshaw, one of Marvel's newest and brightest talents. The second half of the issue gives us a look at Groot's (strange) history, and another short story that sets up an interesting meeting that I can't talk about for fear of spoiling the fun (but it's a meeting that's long overdue).

   I've been enjoying this series so far, but it still needs to give us a good reason to like these characters (or even root for them to win). So far we haven't seen a lot of that - which is surprising, since characterization is Bendis' strong suit.

   But there's a lot of hoo-hah action, so that helps.

Grade: B+


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Flash #30

   I have to admit that this issue of The Flash confused me (though that's apparently the idea).

   It starts out five years in the future, as Iris is apparently badly hurt in an accident of some kind - and someone else has died. The Flash shows up too late to save the day.

   Then we jump to the present, where Central City (like the rest of the world) is still recovering from the Crime Syndicate attacks in the Forever Evil mini-series (which, we should note, hasn't actually ended yet).

   Then we jump further into the future, where we see a version of the Flash acting in an unstable way.

   So what's going on? No idea.

   Most of the issue is given over to Barry Allen attending a session with a psychologist to discuss the recent trauma the members of the police department have been through.

   While he's discussing his feelings, he keeps ducking out at super-speed to continue his work rebuilding the city, trying to make amends for the fact that he wasn't there when an army of villains attacked.

   This story should be of interest to long-time fans of the series, because it finally brings up a name that fans have been asking about since the beginning of the "New 52" stories (and no, I'm not talking about Mopee).

    The story by Robert Venditti and Van Jensen is ok, but it only manages to raise lots of questions (and may well cheese off some fans) - and provides no answers.

   The art by Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund is pretty solid, but there's not much variety - we either see page after page of Barry sitting in the doctor's office, or poster pages of the Flash running through the city - and that's about it. It would be nice if the story would give the hero more to do.

   So this series continues on the same track it's been on for two-and-a-half years, loaded with stories that are ok - but not much more than that.

Grade: B


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Original Sin #0

   It's time for Marvel's latest event, and I already hate Original Sin.

   To be fair, I don't hate this issue. It focuses on The Watcher, one of Marvel's oldest characters and one of the all-time greatest cosmic supporting characters.

   Considering that his race has always been dedicated to watching events, but forbidden to interfere (wink, wink), he's a fascinating character - and when he shows up, it usually means something big is about to happen.

   Mark Waid writes this issue, which is a great recap of the history and purpose of the character, as seen through the eyes of one of Marvel's newest heroes - Nova.

   Jim Cheung, Paco Medina and five inkers provide the artwork, and it's excellent, giving the Watcher a suitably alien look and environment, but instilling in the characters a strong heft and real-world grit. Lovely work.

   So what's not to like? It's the well-advertised promise that the event will focus on the death of the Watcher.

   It's a story point with no bite. Even if it stands, another Watcher will simply be assigned to take his place. And it's difficult to believe that a cosmic being capable of watching alternate realities isn't able to protect himself from an attack from a mortal creature.

   I know, I shouldn't pre-judge.

   I'll read the series, because I love the characters - it also will include the original Nick Fury, which also causes concern, frankly, since these events are required to include one or more "shocking" deaths.

    So I'll buy it. And then I'll have good reason to hate it. (Kidding! Mostly.)

Grade: A-



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Classics - Sub-Mariner #14

With the resurgence of The Invaders, I started thinking about the earliest "reunions" of the members of that World War II team - the ones that took place before the team was actually (retroactively) created in the '70s.

   When Captain America was revived in Avengers #4, he fought against the Sub-Mariner in that same issue - but neither "remembered" the other.

   This issue was the second encounter between the team members, I believe - as Namor is attacked by an out-of-control Human Torch (but not the teenage member of the Fantastic Four).

   It's a classic fire vs. water battle, as the two fight in true Marvel fashion - and then team up to take on the villains behind the attack.

   This time around, thanks in no small part to writer Roy Thomas being attuned to the Golden Age origins of both heroes, they remember each other - Namor refers to him as "my uneasy ally of 20 years ago." (This issue was published in 1969.)

   The original (android) Torch was revived in the Silver Age in Fantastic Four Annual #4 - but he "died" at the end of that story.

   So this issue finds him revived by the Mad Thinker, the Puppet Master and Egghead, and used to power a weapon that threatens the United States - which puts the Torch in conflict with Namor. There are several other twists along the way, and the ending is a real surprise (though also a bit of a disappointment).

   The art is by Marie Severin with inks by Joe Gaudioso. I've always been of two minds about Marie's art - on one hand, the layouts are dynamic and it's loaded with terrific, action-packed panels. She's also a master at emotional impact. But some of her figures can be a bit rubbery in places. I think  her style was best suited to more comical efforts - but I must admit that her heroic work is a lot of fun, too.

   Perhaps this story struck a spark in Thomas' mind - just seven months later he included The Invaders in a time-travel adventure in The Avengers - and six years later the team received its own title, focusing on their adventures in WWII (eventually Thomas told the story of the fight between the Invaders and the Avengers from the Invaders side of the fight).

   If you love continuity, these are the kinds of stories that made Marvel so much fun to follow!

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

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

- Aquaman #30 - Fighting a mad Hercules!

- Conan the Avenger #1 - Shadows over Kush!

- Daredevil #2 - Two blind heroes.

- Fantastic Four #3 - One hero down.

- Flash #30 - What's the deal with Wally West?

- Guardians of the Galaxy #14 - Divided and conquered!

- Invaders #4 - Fighting the Kree!

- Justice League United #0 - Can't have too many Justice League comics.

- Original Sin #0 - Who is the Watcher?

- Powers Bureau #9 - A wild one.

- Shadow Now #6 - Bloodbath.

- Tomb Raider #3 - The nightmare returns.
   And that's it!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hulk #1

   The beauty of the concept behind the Hulk is that it's very flexible - so with great regularity the series takes sudden turns and moves in unexpected directions.

   So we have had a Hulk who was an Agent of SHIELD, a fugitive, a gangster, a hero and a mindless monster (to name a few).

   Writer Mark Waid may have come up with the most unexpected direction of all.

   The Hulk is, of course, virtually indestructible - and efforts to hurt his mortal side (Bruce Banner) tend to result in an immediate appearance by the big green guy.

   So a mysterious group tries a different approach - they use an assassination attempt to set up an even darker plan. The result is a terrible decision facing a surgeon - and more than a few surprises along the way.

   The new art team on the series is one of my favorites, Mark Bagley, with inks by Andrew Hennessy. Perhaps it's the inking and perhaps it's the subject matter, but this is a grittier look for Bagley, whose style is usually more slick and precise. Here's it's darker, edgier - but strong storytelling as always.  

   With that twist on the last page, it's hard to see where the series goes from here - but I'll bet it'll be well worth following.

Grade: A-


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #20

   If you're going to be a fan of writer Brian Michael Bendis, then you have to accept the fact that his stories often spool out very slowly, taking months and months to get to the heart of the matter.

    Thus it is that we're 20 issues into this series and we're just now - maybe - getting to the heart of the secret behind the attacks on Scott (Cyclops) Summers' version of the Uncanny X-Men.

   Since the series began, SHIELD has been hunting for Cyclops - and at the same time, the X-Men have been fighting off attacks by ever-more-powerful Sentinels, the giant robots that track mutants.

   We may finally be seeing the source for those attacks - and it's quite a surprise (assuming it's not a false lead).

   As always, the art by Chris Bachalo (with six different inkers) is loaded with striking images and clever designs - and the storytelling on this issue is much improved.

   So has it been worth the wait? I can't render a final judgment on that until the conclusion. In many ways the story has been building nicely, but I admit the this one is straining my patience. Hopefully the finale will make it all worthwhile.

Grade: B+



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Batman #30

   I've been struggling a bit with the "Zero Year" story because it features a Batman who's just beginning his career, and as such he makes mistakes - and sometimes, actually fails.

   As this issue begins, we find a hero who barely managed to survive his last defeat. He awakens to find a Gotham City that has changed completely - it's now under the control of the Riddler (thanks to a number of those video game-esque improbable "Sword of Damocles" devices).

   Those who defy the Riddler tend to have a short life span - so what can a broken Batman do? The answer marks the point where this story really starts to take off.

   As always, Greg Capullo's art is terrific, with bold layouts and some amazing panoramic shots.

    I think my real reluctance with the "Zero Year" story is just that this is well-trod ground, with Frank Miller's "Year One" story being the gold standard.

   This story only suffers by comparison with that classic - on its own merits, "Zero" is quite good.

Grade: A-


Friday, April 18, 2014

Justice League #29

   We must note that the Justice League is the first "New 52" comic to slip on the schedule - while all the other titles that kicked off the DC reboot are at issue #30, JL lags an issue behind.

   Perhaps it's interference from the Forever Evil mini-series, which is also running late.

   For whatever reason, and despite all that, this issue is worth the wait.

   That's because it includes one of my favorite DC teams, the Metal Men. The groups is reimagined and modernized (while largely keeping the original team's personalities).

   Cyborg (the last standing member of the League) comes to them for help as he faces off against Grid, the evil digital force that took over his original mechanized body (don't worry, he has a new one now).

   I like the story by Geoff Johns, which manages a positive, upbeat approach that fits the Metal Men. But I didn't much care for the resolution - the stories up to now have indicated that Relic was searching for something - but that angle never pays off.

   Still, the art by Doug Mahnke is excellent - fresh and dynamic, with some great action sequences.

   The rumblings say that there are some shakeups on the way, leading out of the end of the Forever Evil series. Here's hoping they can get the team back to work - and the comic back on schedule.

Grade: B


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #31

   For 16 months (since January 2013) the Spider-Man comics have not featured the Amazing Spider-Man (which is why I haven't read an issue since the first in this "Superior" series).

   See, I'm a big fan of Peter Parker - the real Spider-Man. As a kid I bought issue #15 (Spidey's first meeting with Kraven the Hunter), and I was immediately hooked.

   Over the (ulp!) more than 50 years since, there have certainly been some ups and downs, with terrific stories balanced by lame stories.

   I stayed through decades of that sort of thing, staying loyal to the character who vowed to make up for his past mistakes by fighting crime and helping those in need.

   I finally started drifting away when Marvel started putting the character through ridiculous stories - such as allowing Mephisto to end the marriage between Peter and May Jane Watson.

   But even more insulting was the idea of having Doctor Octopus take over Peter's brain - co-opting his thoughts and memories along the way, and (apparently) killing off Peter's mind.

   That was actually resolved last issue, for vague reasons mentioned in the recap section on the first page of this issue. It's difficult to care, honestly.

   So this issue is given over to Peter ending the menace of the Goblin Nation (whatever that is), and confronting assorted Green Goblin-related villains (including GG himself), with the help of Spider-Man 2099, who has traveled through time somehow.

   So yeah, it's a mess, loaded with riffs on old stories, a few glimmers of the real Spider-Man, and a story that makes no sense to this reader who just landed at the tail end of this story.

   There's an aftermath that tries to clean up loose ends, covering prior events and doing everything possible to give Peter a clean slate in terms of supporting characters.

   The story is by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, and the art on the first chapter is by Giuseppe Camuncoli and the second chapter is by Will Sliney.  Perhaps the story is affecting my opinion, but I'm not crazy about the art, either. It's loaded with energy, but the layouts are jumbled - the panels don't flow together well, and the character hurl around the page without purpose.

   I'm not sure if I'm back with this series yet (of course, it's about to reboot with a new issue #1). I want to like it, if just for old times' sake, and a relief that the brain swap story is finally over.

   But I have to see more evidence that the real Spider-Man is back. Imposters have been running the show here for far too long.

 Grade: C+



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Comics Day

   Another light week. Here's what I picked up today:
- Batman #30 - More Year Zero action, fighting the Riddler.
- Hulk #1 - Who shot Bruce Banner?
- Justice League #29 - Cyborg and the Metal Men team up!
- Ms. Marvel #3 - Learning about her powers.
- Superior Spider-Man #31 - Finally, the end of the Dr. Octopus nonsense.
- Thor #21 - The end of the Earth.
- Wonder Woman #30 - Amassing an army to fight a god.
- Uncanny X-Men #20 - The X-Men vs. SHIELD!
   And that's it!

The Classics - Justice League of America #1

   I've never owned a copy of the first issue of Justice League of America, but I've read it countless times.

   And here I'm not talking about reprints (though I do have those in my collection) - I'm talking about an actual copy of the issue.

   That's because of a good friend of mine when I was young - who was also named Chuck (the only other Chuck in my school).

   One time when we were at his house I was looking through some of his comics. He didn't have a big collection, but there among the other (unmemorable) comics was this issue - Justice League of America #1!

   I have no idea where he got it, but even in those days (this would have been the late '60s, I'm guessing) we knew that this was a rare gem for anyone's comics collection.

   I tried desperately to talk him into trading or selling it to me, but he wouldn't hear of it, so I had to settle for reading it every chance I got.

   It followed (or set) the pattern for JLA stories, as the League is captured by an alien named Despero (in his first appearance). The character wasn't the Hulk-like powerhouse as he's now depicted. He was a spindly alien who used his mental powers to capture the League - but his powers didn't affect the Flash, so he tricks the speedster into playing a game that he can't win.

   As a result, the members of the team - Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter - are exiled to distant worlds, and must team up to overcome assorted alien menaces and return to deal with Despero.

   Like most of the JLA issues by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky, the story is a bit formulaic - but a heck of a lot of fun.

   By the mid-'60s, the JLA was one of the few DC Comics I was still interested in - I was mostly buying Marvel by that point - and this issue was the holy grail for me.

   But even though I never managed ownership, it was a thrill just to be able to real the actual comic. I wonder if the other Chuck still has that comic?

Grade: A


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1

   To say that Iron Fist has had an erratic career would be an understatement.

   Created during the Kung Fu / Martial Arts craze of the '70s, he was an attempt to cross that genre with superheroes. Thus we have the costumed young man who can turn his fists into glowing, unbreakable... well, fists.

    The original series was quite good, and featured some top-notch writers and artists, including Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama and John Byrne.

   The character eventually teamed up for a long run with Luke Cage (Power Man). Some (largely forgettable) mini-series followed, but Ed Brubaker's series titled The Immortal Iron Fist was excellent.

   For the "All New" version, Iron Fist's adventures are written and drawn by Kaare Kyle Andrews, and he's off to a solid start here.

   We get a partial recap of Danny Rand's young life, a look at his (rather grim) existence in the modern world, and an over-the-top action sequence. I don't really care for Danny as a listless, idle hero - but events seem to be moving to correct that.

   I like the art a lot - it's very dark and edgy, with a Jae Lee feel to it. The layouts are fresh and the designs outstanding, and the story flows with lots of energy.

   It's been typical through Iron Fist's past series that his stories start out strong and then eventually fade - but I'm a fan of the character, and hope this series will break the trend. It's off to a promising start!

Grade: A-



Monday, April 14, 2014

All-New Doop #1

   Well, I wanted to like this issue.

   Doop is the odd creature - presumably a mutant - who looks like a cross between a potato and Slimer, doesn't speak English, and is a complete mystery.

    He serves in a mysterious function (tutor? guard dog? janitor?) at the Jean Grey School for Gifted Children (and has appeared most recently in issues of Wolverine and the X-Men), but his motives and methods remain unknown.

   Now he has his own series - All-New Doop, of course, because everything at Marvel these days is "All-New" (just ask the Invaders or the Ghost Rider) - and I'm not quite sure if it's intended to be a comedy or just plain weird.

   The story by Peter Milligan succeeds at the latter, but not the former. It gives us a look at events during the recent "Battle of the Atom" mini-series to see the effect Doop had on the proceedings - and if you didn't read that mini-series, you'll be totally lost here.

   It's very clever and breaks the fourth wall in interesting ways, but ultimately, it never really manages to be much more than some clever vignettes.

   The art by David Lafuente is a lot of fun and loaded with energy and comic potential.

   I admit it, I just don't see how this character can sustain an ongoing series - but I could be wrong. Maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully I'm wrong.

   If you're looking for a comic that's daring and different, here you go.

Grade: B-


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Superman Wonder Woman #7

   While I'm willing to believe that Superman can survive an atomic blast, I'm not so sure I'm willing to accept Wonder Woman is quite that tough.

   But obviously I'm wrong, as this issue is mostly consumed with both heroes recovering from last issue's fiery conclusion, which (apparently) ended the threat posed by General Zod (who managed to escape the Phantom Zone in an earlier issue).

   There are some nice calm moments for the super-couple, which will come in handy given the nature of the menace revealed in the closing pages of this issue.

   The Superman Wonder Woman title continues to be one of the better of the more recent vintage "New 52" series - which surprises me, because I still don't "believe" them as a couple.

   But writer Charles Soule is mixing exciting stories, genuine menaces and the mythologies of both characters in clever and satisfying ways.

   The art is quite good and meshes well, which is a bit of a surprise since it's credited to three different pencilers - Paulo Siqueira, Eddy Barrows and Barry Kitson - and is inked by two others - Eber Ferreira and Kitson.

   This issue is a prelude to an upcoming crossover event that will cross over into four different issues:. I'm generally opposed to the idea of being strong-armed into buying issues of a series I don't follow, so I'll be missing most of those. Let me know how it comes out.

Grade: B+


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Nightcrawler #1

   Marvel seems determined to swamp the market with new series, and while I like the character, I almost passed on this issue (following one of Chuck's Laws of Comics: You can't buy everything).

   But then I saw that this issue of Nightcrawler was written by Chris Claremont - and as a result, attention must be paid.

   It's a bit of a surprise - Claremont has been under an exclusive contract to Marvel for some time now, according to reports - but they haven't given him much to write in recent years.

   For those who came in late, it was Claremont who took over writing the New X-Men in the mid-70s (after the first issue by Len Wein), and who, working with artists like Dave Cockrum, John Byrne and Paul Smith (among many others), took the mutant franchise at Marvel to the top of the sales charts.

   He wrote the series for a decade or so, finally moving away to tackle other projects - and it's nice to see him at work in that corner of the comics market again.

   That being said, this issue isn't anywhere close to his best work. It reintroduces Kurt Wagner, the mutant who can teleport and goes into battle with a swashbuckling style, as he is getting adjusted to life at the new school for mutants (run by Wolverine).

   Kurt has been "dead" for a while, so he spends some time catching up to old friends - including someone named Amanda, who I must admit I don't know (and who is only introduced by that name). The two are immediately attacked by an armored creature, and the fun begins.

   The reader (or at least this reader) needs a little more information to go on - I felt lost through most of the issue.

   The art is by Todd Nauck, and it's solid work - though the layouts don't always flow well. But the character designs are spot on.

   So it's nice to see the legendary writer back in action again - but here's hoping the future stories hold together a bit better.

Grade: B


Friday, April 11, 2014

Daredevil #1.5

   It's rather astonishing to realize that Daredevil is celebrating his 50th Anniversary - mostly because I clearly remember (as a kid)  buying the fourth issue.

   So how to celebrate such a milestone? Typically it's done with a big blowout action issue featuring the hero's most famous villains.

   But you can hardly expect "typical" from this series, at least as written by Mark Waid.

   So it should come as no surprise that this issue takes a unexpected turn. It's set in the future, as Matt Murdock celebrates his 50th birthday (of course, if he existed in the real world, he'd be celebrating - at least  - his 75th birthday. Thank goodness for "Marvel time!").

   We get some glimpses of his future life, including his family life, one of his greatest villains (who we haven't met yet in today's reality) and what may be his future fate. It's clever, touching and a heck of a lot of fun.

   The art is by new series artist Javier Rodriguez (with inks by Alvaro Lopez), and it's excellent - fresh and expressive, with open layouts and strong character designs.

   The issue also features a short prose story by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Alex Maleev - it fills in some gaps in DD's future - and another backup featuring Matt's other alter ego, the silly but entertaining Mike Murdock. It's written and drawn by Karl (and Kurt) Kesel and inked by the legendary Tom Palmer.

   It's an issue that shows how flexible DD can be - able to be concerned parent, a crusader, a vengeful hero, a lover, and a comedian - all in the same issue. It's a good reminder of what a terrific character Daredevil can be - in the right hands.

   Lots of good hands on display here.

Grade: A


Thursday, April 10, 2014

All-New X-Men #25

   A comic hitting issue #25 hasn't traditionally been a big deal, but in these days of constant renumbering, I suppose it's something of a milestone.

    Writer Brian Michael Bendis celebrates this "milestone" issue of All-New X-Men by gathering an all-star cast of artists to provide some terrific artwork.

   The story is a pretty thin (and actually somewhat grim) excuse for several poster images of the team and assorted members. But the art almost makes up for it.

   Among the artists included: Bruce Timm, Arthur Adams, Justin Posner, Skottie Young, JG Jones, J. Scott Campbell, Jill Thompson, Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek (among 26 total artists listed).

   It's an odd mishmash, but there's a lot of talent on display here.

   So what's the next milestone - #30?

Grade: B


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Classics - Swamp Thing Annual #2

   Before the creation of the Swamp Thing, most of DC's so-called horror comics were pretty tame.

   The original stories by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson pushed the horror envelope, and then in the '80s Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben pushed horror comics into new and frightening territory.

   This massive annual from 1985 is a great example of the power of that creative team. It takes the Swamp Thing on a quest that carries him to the gates of heaven, the depths of hell and all points in-between. He hopes to rescue his beloved Abigail - her body still lives, bot her soul has been cast into hell.

   During the journey he runs into a pantheon of supernatural characters in the DC universe, including Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, the Spectre and the Demon.

   Each is reimagined into a much more fearful or mysterious figure than ever before. Moore manages to pump more life into them in a few pages that most writers managed in years of stories.

   For the first time in a mainstream comic, we get a look at the true horrors of hell - and the Swamp Thing gets to see the suffering of some of his past opponents.

   The art is simply stunning. Bissette and Totleben create some amazing compositions here, but always with a gritty, real-world edge to the characters and settings. They were born to create stunning vistas and compelling stories - and it's amazing to see how effortlessly they go from horror to scenes of gentle beauty.

   After this story, none of these characters were ever the same. A door to a more adult, genuinely unsettling horror had been opened, and it was never to be closed again.

Grade: A


New Comic Book Day!

   Here's what I picked up today:

- All-New X-Men #25 - Special anniversary issue!

- Astro City #11 - Mistress of the mystic arts!

- Captain Marvel #2Adventures in space.

- Daredevil #1.5 - DD celebrates 50 years!

- Doop #1 Yep - Doop.

- Iron Fist #1 - Back again!

- Iron Man #24 - Up against magic and the Mandarin's rings.

- Magnus #2 - Jailbreak!

- Nightcrawler #1 - I was going to pass on this, and then I saw it was written by Chris Claremont.

- Star Wars #16 - Royal romance.

- Superman / Wonder Woman #7 - Recovery, and the return of a powerful foe.

- World's Finest #22 - Blast from the past.

   And that's it!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Caliban #1

   You can usually count on writer Garth Ennis to serve up a hard-edged story, and he does that (and then some) in the new science fiction horror comic Caliban.

   It's actually a straightforward tale focused on the starship named Caliban (natch), which is transporting a living cargo - workers for a mining colony.

   As the story begins we meet the quirky members of the crew, a mix of likable and not-so-likable characters.

   Their journey runs into a major problem - literally - when they encounter what appears to be an alien ship - and that's when the real horror begins.

   The art is by Facundo Percio, and it captures the dark, cramped conditions aboard the ship - and offers a sharp design for the alien encounters, too.

   Science fiction is all too rare in comics today (sad to say), so it's nice to see a smart SF story. It's not for kids - there are some grisly moments here - but it's a strong start for this new series.

Grade: A-


Monday, April 7, 2014

Real Heroes #1

   Bryan Hitch has made his name in the comics industry as a terrific artist, but for what may be the first time, he's also taking on the writing chores.

   The result is Real Heroes, and it's one of those comics where things are not what they seem.

   (The trick, of course, is talking about it without giving away any of the surprises.)

   The focus is on a super-team known as The Olympians and the connection between that team an a group of actors. What seems like fun and games suddenly becomes deadly serious, and the question is, who will be a real hero, and who will be a fraud?

   It's a clever bit of business as the characters are mash-ups of familiar heroes and real-life individuals (you'll recognize them as they fly past).

   As always, Hitch's art (inked by Paul Neary) is fantastic - taking comic art to a new level of realism while maintaining a dynamic energy.

   The good news is, his writing is also quite good (if a bit wordy in the beginning), as he sets up an interesting conflict and an intriguing cast of characters.

   When Hitch tackles a series, attention should be paid - and this is definitely a series to watch.

Grade: A



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

   If you'd told me 10 years ago that Marvel would be cranking out blockbuster films featuring some of my favorite Marvel heroes, I would have laughed in your face.

   But here I sit, having just seen the second Captain America movie, and guess what? It's one of "Hollywood's" best action movies since The Avengers.

   Is it better than that film? (That's the first thing everyone asks.) It doesn't quite manage that - but it's very close.

   Where the first Cap movie was a World War II period piece (with some science fiction elements thrown in), this is an espionage / action film, with some genuinely surprising plot twists, great action sequences (both real and CGI), some good character beats, well-placed humor and a lot of heart.

   The story starts with a rollicking rescue sequence on a highjacked ship at sea, and launches right into the mystery of who has infiltrated SHIELD and what their ultimate goals are.

   The movie is actually a team adventure, with the Black Widow getting more room to grow (glad to hear she's getting her own films), Nick Fury taking a much more active role in the adventuring and the Falcon joining the Marvel film universe.

   As the title gives away, Cap runs up against the Winter Soldier, a brutal opponent who has surprising connections to Cap (unless you've read the comics - or any articles about the movie, both of which give away those surprises).

   Better than being just another action flick, this is a movie with some ideas behind it, and it scores some points for hitting some thoughtful buttons about our digital society and the price of vigilance - and freedom.

   Since Cap has always been one of my favorite characters, I love Chris Evans' portrayal of him as a Gary Cooper-like good guy who's willing to tackle the dirty jobs to protect his country. But he's not humorless or a cipher - he has a sense of humor, he's intelligent, he's humble - but a great leader and extremely capable, and willing to go to great pains to protect his friends.

   If I had to complain about something, it would be the sometimes extreme violence - there's a lot of shooting going on here, and you have to think some innocent civilians got caught in the crossfire. But this film is never gory or repulsive - it's all about the action, not the violence.

   I wanted to see this before too many of the surprises could be spoiled - and I urge you to do the same. It's a terrific film - kudos to Marvel Studios for once again hitting it out of the park!

Grade: A