Monday, June 30, 2014

Batman #32

   I have to be honest - I was never all that crazy about The Riddler.

   I liked Frank Gorshin's manic version on the '60s Batman TV show (what a terrific laugh), but other than that, the character just seemed like a bland version of the Joker.

   I'm happy to report that this "Zero Hour" storyline has done a lot to raise that character up - although I have to admit, the main reason he seems intimidating is because this is Batman at the beginning of his career.

   Thankfully, the Dark Knight is learning fast, and the fate of Gotham is riding on his ability to outwit Edward Nygma (with the aid of some allies).

   I suspect Scott Snyder's story will "read" better as a collection - the story has been cruising along for months now, and some elements (I must admit) have slipped away from me. (Your mileage may vary.)

   The art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki is excellent as always - they've maintained a very high standard on this title, and are among the top artists working at DC now.

   Next issue promises a brain-busting finale. I can't wait!

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy #16

   The Guardians of the Galaxy comic has been trundling along, getting mixed up in other bits of business (like the X-Men crossover, "The Trial of Jean Grey"), but the latest storyline is finally getting around to an important bit of business - namely, focusing on the individual members of the team.

   Speaking for myself, I'm not too familiar with the current versions of these characters (although I was there when most of them got started), and they've changed quite a bit over the years.

   Star-Lord, for example, has been through lots of changes - from serious space hero to space opera to light-heated cosmic hero - but if you've been reading this title, information about him has been slim.

   Same for Drax and Gamora (both of whom were created by Jim Starlin in his Captain Marvel and Warlock days), Rocket Raccoon, Groot and Angela. (I still don't know why Venom is now in this comic.)

   This story has the members of the team separated and literally fighting for their lives against a crazed assortment of alien menaces - some familiar, some not so much.

   You get the sense the writer Brian Michael Bendis is bringing the threads together just in time for the film being released in August. No doubt that'll bring some new readers in, and hopefully the creative team will have its ship in order by then.

   The art is by Nick Bradshaw, David Marquez and Jason Masters, and it's very good, with a unique look to the alien environments, and strong heroic designs for the team.

   This might be a tough issue for new readers to jump on board with - we're in the middle a lots of crazy events here - but it's fun to see each character get some moments at center stage.

   And the better we know them, the better the chance that we'll actually like them.

Grade: B+


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Savage Hulk #1

   I didn't know what to expect from the new Savage Hulk series - all I knew was that it was written and drawn by Alan Davis (with inks by Mark Farmer), and that was good enough for me.

   Somewhat surprisingly, it takes us back in time to the '70s (real time, not Marvel time), and to one of the most shocking issues I can remember buying.

   Issue #66 of the original X-Men title featured a crossover between the original team (Cyclops, Beast, Marvel Girl, Iceman and the Angel) and the Hulk, as the mutants tried to find a cure for an ailing Professor Xavier - a cure Bruce Banner could provide.

   But none of that made it shocking - it was the fact that #66 was the last issue of the X-Men series - the title was canceled!

   I was stunned - with stories by Roy Thomas and (usually) art by the amazing Neal Adams, how could it be cut short? But it was sadly true.

   The title didn't completely disappear - it immediately went into reprints of earlier issues in the series, and a few years later it returned as the "New" (and much more successful) X-Men.

   This series takes us back to the events after that last (pre-cancellation) issue and continues the story from there, adding in some classic Hulk villains and a few plot twists. At this time, the Hulk was a dim creature, given to simple sentences and bouts of rage - you know, "Hulk Smash!" and all that.

   Davis is at the top of his game here, often channeling Adams (or at least his version of the X-Men), and giving us a fast-moving and action-packed story that needs no set-up.

   With terrific art and a sharp story, what's not to like? It's as though the series was never canceled - just postponed.

   I'm enjoying this title - lots of fun for this old X-fan, and it's also fun to see the return of the original Hulk.

Grade: A-


Friday, June 27, 2014

Justice League #31

   I continue to struggle with the Justice League series.

   It suffered badly during the Forever Evil series, during which DC's top heroes were in exile and villains such as Lex Luthor and Captain Cold stepped into the limelight to take on the Crime Syndicate (the JL of Earth-3).

   Since I wasn't crazy about that event / series, I was hoping to get back to hero time in this title - but instead, the aftereffects of the event continue - and Luthor is still hanging around.

   The issue centers around Power Ring, the evil entity that is the Earth-3 equivalent of Green Lantern.  Aside from the potential destruction, it's kinda nice to see a GL back in this title, since Hal Jordan was written out months ago.

   We also see Luthor uncovering a vital secret (it's one of those "will writers never learn that this trick doesn't work?" moments), and there's a fun bit of business between Cyborg and Shazam (Capt. Marvel).

   The art by Mike Manley and Keith Champagne is terrific, as always - and presumably this series is already starting to build toward the next "event" (since that seems to be the way of things these days).

   Let's just hope the next series actually includes the Justice League.

Grade: B+




Thursday, June 26, 2014

Superman #32

   Surely Superman is the most famous super-hero in existence (closely trailed by Batman and Spider-Man, I assume).

   As such, it's surprising that his comic books tend to lag in both sales and (to be brutally honest) quality. It seems a long-term trend for DC to allow the Man of Steel to limp along for years (or decades), relying on his famous name to provide sufficient sales to keep the franchise moving.

   But occasionally the powers that be seem to realize that attention is needed, and they make the effort to bring on some top creators.

   That's what we have with this issue, as writer Geoff Johns takes control and immediately starts correcting some of the most grievous mistakes made to date.  So we see Clark Kent back in the offices of the Daily Planet, interacting with his classic supporting cast (or at least most of them).

   We also see a lot more of Superman in action, facing surprising opposition and possible competition. (My only complaint is that the story unfolding bears a strong resemblance to the one in the recent-and-still-unfinished Superman Unbound.)

   But the real treat with this issue is the art by long-time Marvel superstar John Romita, Jr., with Klaus Janson inking.

   Romita's one of the best in the business, with a powerful, unique style that manages to combine the raw energy of Jack Kirby, the fluid craftsmanship of John Buscema, and the composition and beauty of his father's work.

   The final result is a terrific comic, and the perfect jumping-on point for new readers.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New Comics Today

   A monster week for me, as I had three weeks worth of comics to gather up! 

   Of the new issues this week, I picked up:

- New Avengers #20 - When worlds collide!

- New Avengers Annual #1 - (Dr.) Strange Tales!

- Batman #32 - Endgame (almost).

King Conan #5 - Ready for the final battle.

- Fantastic Four #6 - All hands against me.

- Flash #32 - A surreal opponent.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #16 - Fighting the odds.

- Savage Hulk #6 - Ah, the good old days - and Alan Davis!

- Justice League #31 - The new Power Ring.

- Saga #20 - Shocking turns!

- Serenity #6 - The finale (for now).

- Superman #32 - Enter Romita, Jr.

- Tomb Raider #5 - Return to the island.

   And that's it!

The Classics - Classic Star Wars #10

   When the movie Star Wars first made a splash, it quickly started migrating to other venues, including records, books and even comic strips!

   (Surprisingly, the original Marvel Star Wars comic book actually predated the movie - the 6-issue series started before the film was released.)

    When the comic strip started in local newspapers, the syndicate was able to attract to talent to the task. Actually, the list of creators on the strip, which ran from 1979 to 1984, is a short one: Russ Manning was the original writer and artist (with help on one story by writer Steve Gerber), and when poor health forced him to step down, writer Archie Goodwin and artist Al Williamson took over.

   Given the limitations of telling a big story in a tiny daily strip, the creative teams did a great job of capturing the feel and the adventure of the film.

   Dark Horse collected those strips in Classic Star Wars and The Early Adventures reprints - and they're worth it just for the artwork. Manning and Williamson were born for this kind of stuff, and their joy is evident in every stance, every bit of hardware, every alien creature.

   The issues are pretty easy to find, and the stories have been collected into even easier-to-digest stories. Some of the storylines (like the one in this issue, with a fake Obi-Wan Kenobi) may be a bit silly at times, but it's all in good fun, and well worth tracking down.

Grade: B+


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Classics - Dark Horse Presents #5

   As Dark Horse Comics first got underway in the mid-'80s, one of its most interesting titles was a rarity in comics - an anthology series.

   Dark Horse Presents was also the original home for one of the best comic creations from that decade - Concrete.

   Created by writer / artist Paul Chadwick, it chronicled stories about a mysterious figure who seemed to be a Thing-like creature made of concrete - but with an entirely different personality, appearing in stories that were more along the line of Will Eisner than Lee / Kirby.

   They're a rare example of a well-done series that brings a superhero concept into the real world. Many stories barely included Concrete at all - this issue's short story focuses on a painter who's obsessed with Concrete, for example.

   They're wonderful little graphic gems. The character was about to receive his own series, but all his stories are highly recommended.

    This issue also includes two other fine stories: Roma, an offbeat and sexy story by the gifted John Workman; and Trekker, a futuristic science fiction story featuring great action sequences and some outstanding art by Ron Randall.

    The series was a great way for Dark Horse to try out new concepts, sending the most promising out to find new life in their own titles - and it helped put the new company on the map.

Grade: A-


Monday, June 23, 2014

The Classics - Tintin in the Congo

   While I was gone the past couple of weeks, I spent some time in exotic countries (which is to say, Europe) and I made a stop at one of the highly-recommended Forbidden Planet comics shops in London.

   At a rather late stage of the game (like, this past year) I've finally started picking up the beloved Adventures of Tintin volumes. (The cashier looked at this book and said, "A fan of the classics, are you?")

   This one (just the second volume in the 24-volume series), Tintin in the Congo, is apparently a bit difficult to track down in the United States - and it's easy to see why, since its portrayal of blacks in Africa is distasteful and unacceptable by modern day standards.

   They're depicted as grotesque, childish figures, with cartoonish lips and bulging eyes - sadly, a typical depiction at the time the book was created in 1931.

   There's plenty to find offensive in this volume, since it also takes Tintin on a number of game hunting outings, including one where he tracks and kills an elephant for its tusks! So animal lovers may want to skip this one, too.

    It's actually pretty crude stuff, though the creator, Belgian artist HergĂ©, is starting to find his voice and style here. A vast improvement over the first volume, he's included more action, an actual plot instead of a series of comic events (although those are also in evidence), and the young reporter Tintin is shown to be courageous and resourceful young man (if a bit foolhardy at times). His best friend Snowy (the dog) also gets some moments in the spotlight.

   It's just a preview of the greatness to come (according to friends who have read the later volumes). I look forward to tracking them down, though I'll probably stick a little closer to home for now.

Grade: B


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Reporting for Duty!

   Hey, guess who's back?

   Yep, your pal Chuck is back and ready to get back to his blog responsibilities!

   I want to thank our guest reviewers for filling in while I took off for a badly-needed (and wonderful) family vacation - they kept the "Comic of the Day" rolling along (in fact, they were so good that some may regret the return of the old regime).

   Thanks to Lyle Tucker, David Wright, Kyle Johnson and Ray Hill for their outstanding work - come back anytime, guys!

   Now, back to work!


Guest Review - Adventure Comics #353

   For the last of our Guest Reviews, Ray Hill is back to talk about an issue that continues to have an impact on the Legion of Super-Heroes.

   It's easy to wonder why the Legion of Super-Heroes continues to have a rabid fan base, considering most of the heroes involved have - let's be honest now - powers that aren't too impressive (not counting Superboy, of course).

   This issue of Adventure Comics is a good example of what sets the team apart. Published in 1967, writer Jim Shooter teams with superstar artist Curt Swan to tell the story of the death of a Legionnaire. At the time, it was almost unheard of for a super-hero to die, especially in a DC comic.

   They'd come close before, as both Triplicate Girl and Lightning Lad were apparently killed - but the writers managed to work around it, and the characters continued.

   But this story increased the pressure, as a powerful cosmic creature known as a Sun-Eater approached our galaxy. It would destroy our sun, and only a handful of Legionnaires were available to fight it.

   Seeking help, the team drafted a group of powerful criminals (who would join forces to become the Fatal Five, one of the Legion's greatest foes). The story's kind of an odd mix of silliness (as the villains plot to betray the heroes), action (as they try to stop the Sun-Eater) and surprises, as one hero makes the ultimate sacrifice.

   And that's what set the Legion apart - almost anything could happen. Heroes could die, they could betray the team, they could fall in love - even get married. It made for a wide-open field of story possibilities for the creative team, and proof that the Legion could tackle serious stories successfully.

   Who gets killed? Sorry, I can't say - we have to follow Chuck's rules. It's his playground (but a Google search will clear it up for you).

Grade: B+


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Guest Review - 1776 #1

   Sitting in the Guest Review chair today is Ray Hill. who's joined the team filling in while Chuck takes a short break.

   You never know what you'll find at a comics convention. I was at the recent Tri-Con in Huntington, W.Va., sifting through the 50-cent comics, and I stumbled on this comic put out by Charlton in 1973.

    It's an adaptation of the movie version of the Broadway show 1776. I was shocked, because I had no idea this comic existed.

   In the '60s and '70s it was normal to see movies adapted into a comic book, in fact, in those pre-VCR days, it was standard procedure. But since there's virtually no action in this play, it seems like an odd choice.

   But I'm not complaining - I've been a fan of this show since I saw the film when it was released. I've even been part of a couple of community theatre versions of it. (If that's not love, what is?)

   The adaptation is labeled #1, but it's actually a one-shot. They squeeze the entire movie into a single 32-page issue! This is accomplished by trimming bits of business furiously, especially as it gets down to the final arguments over independence.

   The adaptation is by artist Tony Tallarico (who provides some strong caricatures of the actors here) and writer Joe Gill.

   I love the show because it brings to life a crucial moment in American history, and does it with intelligence and humor - not to mention some terrific songs. It's loaded with great characters (John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson - no slackers they) and clever writing.

   Like any adaptation, this is a pale version of the original - but it does a surprisingly good job of capturing the high points. And all for 20 cents!

   (Well, it cost me 50 cents.)

Grade: B+


Friday, June 20, 2014

Guest Review - Lazarus TPB Vol. 1

   David Wright returns for one more Guest Review as part of the team covering while Chuck takes a short break.

   Lazarus TPB, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.

   Image has published the first four issues of the ongoing Sci-Fi story, Lazarus. It also contains a four-page prelude to the story that ran in Previews, which sets the stage for this near-futuristic world.   

   It's a bleak, dystopian story told by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, and both have done well at their world building. Like the comic Saga, there's not a lot of set up to the story. The reader is just thrust into the world, and you learn what sort of world it is as the story unfolds. I can only assume you'll learn more about the world as the story continues as I still have a lot of unanswered questions. 

   In the future the world is ruled over by just a few wealthy families. They all have their own land areas, and enforce their own laws to the Waste (the average citizens), their own militia enforces laws, and at the head of each cartel or family is a Lazarus. The Lazarus, although treated as one of their own family members, is genetically grown and has super human abilities. They have fast healing characteristics (although presumably can be killed), and yet, are still not considered a true biological member of the family (at least in Forever's case).  

   Forever Carlyle is the Lazarus for the Carlyle clan. The father, Malcolm Carlyle, is the head of the Carlyle family, he has two sons, Steve and Jonah (who is a hothead). There are also three daughters: Beth, Joanna and Forever (their Lazarus).  

   In the first book we see that even though each ruling family has their own territories or domains, things are not peaceful. There is a raid on a Carlyle compound for goods by the Morray family, and Forever Carlyle is sent to control the situation. She gets hurt in the skirmish, and we learn of her healing factors, but also about the dysfunctional Carlyle family. Not only do the families of the world fight each other for power and control, but there is bickering and backstabbing within the Carlyle family as well. 

   In book two, Forever has been sent for diplomacy and peacekeeping between the Carlyle and the Morray family. She offers to set up a trade relationship between the two families as a compromise. She is met by their male Lazarus, Joacquim. In the past they have met before, they seem to have a good (maybe even romantic) relationship, yet under the surface are programmed to dispatch whatever it takes (even killing each other) if things get out of hand.  

   We also learn the treachery and scheming between Johan and his sister, Joanna. The peace talks go well, and Joacquim accompanies Forever back to neutral territory assuring her safe return home. They stop to share a drink in the desert before she continues onward, but are waylaid by an explosion.

   So from the beginning we see it's an unstable world full of treachery, deceit and the power of corruption. Who is to be trusted in such a world? The children of the Carlyle family are pampered spoiled brats, some are more than willing it seems to kill off their own father or each other if the situation arises.  

   Someone has set up Forever and Joacquim for termination, but who and why? One of the daughters, Beth, has set up a plot to get rid of her brother, Jonah. As book four ends, we learn that Forever's father may not even be her real father - is this the truth or another lie?  

   This is the world of Lazarus. The art by Lark is moody and well suited for the Sci-Fi setting.  It's a complex, compelling read, with many layers, and I'm curious to know where Rucka and Lark are going with it.  

Grade:  B+


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Guest Review - Velvet #5

   Taking the Guest Review post today is David Wright, who's part of the team hard at work while Chuck takes a short break.

Velvet #5 by Ed Brubaker, writer, and Steve Epting, artist.

   With the fifth issue of Velvet, Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting wrap up the conclusion to the first story arc or act, and I have to say, I've looked forward to each issue.   

   This fifth issue was a bit delayed, as Brubaker said in the back letters page, because he had to move twice, so it's understandable. Plus I'll admit, I feel like I really should have re-read issue #4, as I'd forgotten a bit about what had happened previously. 

   Even so, I think this is going to be a great story for a collected trade book once it finally gets completed and collected.  

   In the previous books, Velvet works for a British spy agency ARC-7, and she has been tracking down someone who murdered another ARC-7 agent - someone she was close to.  During her uncovering that mystery she has become a target set up by someone.  

   Book five opens with a flashback in the Bahamas in 1956 as Velvet and her husband, Richard, another agent of ARC-7, are on the beach. There are a lot of flashbacks in the story, but it helps to establish the characters' past lives, and story.  (Whenever things take place in the present, Epting puts a gray streak in Velvet's hair to clue in the reader.)  When Richard goes for a swim in the ocean, a waiter brings drinks for them both, but Velvet notices there's a note on a napkin for Mockingbird with a number. Could her husband be a double agent?  It seems there's a bit of treachery at hand.

   Another flashback takes us to Switzerland to 1946.  This early subplot fills us in when Velvet is 17. She is sent away to school and meets the headmistress and her mentor, Pauline.  This part of the story shows how Velvet was trained and brought up, and how she wishes to be like Pauline - independent, leading an intriguing double life. It's very seductive, though the illusion is always better than the real thing (as we find out).

   There are moments in the book like the previous books, that are quiet and hushed when there are espionage elements of the story happening. I like these moments where the story is told in the artwork alone with no dialogue where Velvet has to sneak around to track down certain people or to find out information. It adds a nice dimension to the storytelling, and Epting does well in these passages. And then wham, the next minute, you are thrust into an action sequence. It's all very James Bond at times with bits of other spy genre thrown in as well. It doesn't come off sappy or campy though, which I can appreciate.   

   So far the story has been fun - it's been a pretty complex plot, and the art has never been better. It looks like in the next issue, Velvet will be going back to London. I do think in the single monthly issues a synopsis on what has happened previously might be a good thing to include, but so far, I've enjoyed the ride, and look forward to future issues.  

Grade:  A


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guest Review - Godzilla: The Half Century War

   Stepping into the Guest Review duties today is David Wright, who's part of the team covering while Chuck takes a short break.

   Godzilla: The Half Century War by James Stokoe.

   I'd never heard of James Stokoe before, however, a quick Google search told me he also was the creator of the indie book, Orc Stain, which I wasn't familiar with either. Since the new Godzilla movie came out recently, I thought I'd read the first issue of The Half-Century War and really enjoyed it.  

   I've picked up some other Godzilla comics in the past, and they really didn't do too much for me.  Some of the artwork in them was fine and fun to look at - I recall one from Dark Horse which was done by Art Adams - but the stories didn't have much to say about the giant lizard.  

   Stokoes' story, however, did. It was fast paced, full of action, and that helped.

   The year is 1954 and Lieutnant Ota Murakami is on hand when Godzilla first makes landfall in Japan. He is part of a tank patrol in Shinigawa, barely out of his teens and working for the Japanese defense program. Their mission is to aid in some sort of disaster relief, though the details are not fully disclosed. They are just told to expect very bad weather. This is when we first see Godzilla, and he is enormous, powerful, and awesome.  

   Of course the shock of the situation alarms both Ota and his pal, Kentaro. They makes a desperate attempt to save lives, and in the process begins an obsession with the King of the Monsters and Ota that lasts 50 years.  

   It is a retelling of the Moby Dick story brought into modern times.  The second comic takes place in Vietnam with the second sighting of the monster.  If you enjoy stories about Godzilla and giant kaiju, this might be for you. 

   I enjoyed the art a lot too. It's big, kinetic, and highly detailed. It seems to be influenced by some of the early manga that I remember. If you enjoyed the latest Godzilla movie, you might want to give it a shot. 

Grade:  B


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Guest Review - Deadhorse #1

   Back one more time in the Guest Review spot is Lyle Tucker, who's part of the team filling in while Chuck takes a short break.

   Deadhorse #1, Deadhorse Press, 2012. Written by Eric Grissom, drawn by Phil Sloan.

   The prologue takes us to snow-covered Denali, Alaska in 1877. After three months of searching, a small group of men come upon an encampment of The Gadsworth Company, littered with corpses. In one of the tents a dead man is found clutching a locked box in his hands. It is the original Gadsworth, the father of the leader of this search party. Ripping the box from the clutches of his father's corpse, the younger Gadsworth sets the tent afire and gives orders to burn the encampment to the ground.

   We jump forward to present day Anchorage, Alaska, with the arc of the story being called "Dead Birds" and with chapter one entitled “The Sandwich Eaters.” The adult son of a member of the search party, William Pike, receives a letter from his father, containing a key to a locked box. “A box hidden in an abandoned city at the edge of the world.” However, William is stymied by the letter's arrival, as his father has been dead for close to 40 years. (It took me a while to figure out that the original date of 1877 in the prologue had to be a typo, and the year was meant to be 1977 - * sigh *).

   Nonetheless, William, whom it has been made clear is something of a sheltered recluse, resolves to solve the mystery being presented to him, and begins on a journey to Dead Horse, Alaska, only to be momentarily waylaid by some neighbors of his with possible murderous motives. The story takes something of an absurd turn here, signaling to the reader that the tone of this story will shift on a dime into the surreal.

   The art by Phil Sloan is much more cartoony than I usually go for, but he has a dramatic style that I like, which provides the story's action with strong visuals. The story is intriguing enough to make me want to read the next issue.

Grade: B


Monday, June 16, 2014

Guest Review - The Overman #1

   Returning to the Guest Review spot is Lyle Tucker, who kindly offered to join the team covering while Chuck takes a short break.

   The Overman #1, Image Comics, December 2007. Written by Scott Reed, drawn by Shane White.

   The year is 2135. The story begins in the rainy backwoods of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Our ostensible hero, Nathan Fisher - who seems to be a private detective - approaches an abandoned shack at three in the morning with gun drawn. Telling us his story in the past tense, he lets us know that when he broke into this cabin he set into motion the sequence of events that will end the world. It appears that he did so unwittingly.

   Inside he finds a complicated, cocoon-like machine large enough for a man to slip into. It's apparently been illegally re-fitted for some nefarious purpose. Our hero puts his gun into his overcoat, takes the coat off, and prepares to enter this machine, letting us know that the machine communicates in some symbiotic fashion with its occupant, causing him some nausea before he even enters. Once in the synthetic womb, the device covers him in an unsettling mixture of mechanical / organic feelers, and our hero tells us that the greatest teaching machine in history took over his mind at that point.

   The story now shifts radically to the doings of an extremely powerful family-run tech business called OMAKON, which has some dealings on the moon, presumably tied in with this end-of-the-world business. The connection between our hero and this organization will be the stuff of later issues.

   Scott Reed has written a first issue that has intrigued me enough to look into further installments. Shane White's art is quite good, capturing something of a cross between Darwyn Cooke and Steve Rude, but a couple of the main characters come off as too-cartoony in comparison with others, and I've never been a fan of that kind of cross-pollination (think: Buz Sawyer – Crane's art was impeccable but McSweeney belonged to a different visual universe than Buz's).

Grade: B-


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Guest Review - Batman Adventures #13

   Sitting in the Guest Review chair for today is Kyle Johnson, who kindly offered to join the team covering while Chuck takes a short break. 

   Back in 1992 an award winning new animated TV series (or cartoon as we used to say) starring Batman premiered.  

   I was completely hooked from the very first episode. 

   The show had a very distinct style labeled "Dark Deco" by the producers. It was very influential introducing characters like Harley Quinn and ended up spawning the whole DC animated universe which was still going strong in the mid-2000s.

   Around the same time, DC released The Batman Adventures comic to tie in with the new animated series. This was a separate continuity from the ongoing DC Universe. The series would change a little with each change of the animated series, becoming The Batman and Robin Adventures, Batman: Gotham Adventures, and finally just Batman Adventures.  I enjoyed them all, but have a great fondness for the first series which was primarily written by Kelly Puckett and with art by the late Mike Parobeck. 

   I cannot say enough about Mike Parobeck. During the 1990s the comic industry was dominated by the "Image Comics" style and its imitators. Parobeck's clear, clean art and storytelling was like a breath of fresh air. The stories by Puckett were also fantastic. They had some very adult, complex stories, yet nothing that would be inappropriate for children.

   Well, enough history, on to the issue... Batman is investigating a break-in and encounters Talia, the daughter of arch-villain Ra's al Ghul. She tells him she is searching for an object stolen from her father and they agree to travel together to Paris in search of it. 

   After arriving in Paris Talia coaxes Bruce Wayne into spending a very romantic day together, but in the end Bruce withdraws. That night the two of them set out to track down the stolen object. I won't give away the ending, but this leads to a final heart-breaking scene between the two.

   The Batman Adventures was a very solid and always entertaining series. They were mostly, if not all, self-contained stories and provided some top notch writing and art and some great new takes on the heroes and villains from the Batman mythos.

Grade: A

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Guest Review - Frankenstein Alive, Alive!

   Sitting in the Guest Review chair today is David Wright, who kindly offered to join the team covering while Chuck takes a short break. 

   Frankenstein Alive, Alive!  by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson.

   I read the first issue to the comic book limited series by Steve Niles, 30 Days of Night creator, with art by Bernie Wrightson, who is also the story collaborator. 

   Frankenstein Alive, Alive! was really pretty good and quickly captured my interest to read more of the series. It is currently on its third issue, which was just released recently on the IDW imprint.  

   The book is sort of on an irregular schedule, but when you open the book you'll understand why - once you see the artwork by Wrightson. First off, I've always admired Bernie Wrightson's artwork, and in this book, most of it is done in black and white, which really helps to showcase it. Some of the backgrounds are done with a blue monotone flourish, which also helps to make the artwork pop. Wrightson's art can be pretty varied, but here it's detailed and you can tell he's putting a lot into each page. If you've ever seen the text / illustrated Frankenstein book he did a few years back, the art is similar in tone to that.

  The story was pretty interesting as well, starting off with the monster not being dead, yet still fatalistic and wanting its deliverance from the living. It knows it does not fit in with life and never will fit in, but finds some solace and work as a freak at a carnival in a sideshow.  Here it finds a small, yet simple lifestyle among the other freaks of natures. 

   From that opening scene there's a flashback and we get to see some of the monster's life while in the Arctic wasteland. We see he is haunted by his creator, Doctor Frankenstein, for the killing of his wife, brother, and best friend. The doctor's ghost is vengeful and goads the monster to commit suicide, however the monster gets caught up in an ice storm, and encased in a block of ice. The monster is frozen in time.  

   As time passes, the monster's icy tomb is melted, and again his creator torments him. In the distance the monster sees a volcano, and decides to end it all by jumping into it. Again the spector of his creator taunts him to end it all. However, the book ends not with the monster's demise, but with something quite common to comic book fans: the cliffhanger.

   The remainder of the book is a discussion between both creators reminiscing about growing up and how they became fans of the Universal monsters and horror fans. There is also a reprinting of the original text from the Mary Shelley classic, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus

   I felt that the reprinted material of the original novel was a bit of a cheat, as I already own a copy, but if you've not read it, it's probably a worthwhile inclusion. 

Grade B+


Friday, June 13, 2014

Guest Review - Doc Frankenstein

   This guest review is by David Wright, who kindly offered to join the team covering while Chuck takes a brief vacation.

Doc Frankenstein by the Wachowskis, art by Steve Skroce.

   At comic book conventions I usually like to thumb through the cheapo boxes just to see what I can find. That is the best way to experiment with something that looks interesting without having to spend too much money.

   At a recent visit to the Dallas Comic Con I found this issue of Doc Frankenstein, which had an interesting cover, and I thought it might be part of the Franken-Castle comic, however, it turns out that it was not.  The Franken-Castle comic was sort of an odd mishmash of the Frankenstein monster and the Punisher (Frank Castle).  

   Doc Frankenstein, as it turns out, is a comic scripted by the Wachowski siblings who wrote the Matrix movies, among other films, with pretty nice art by Steve Skroce on the Burlyman imprint. 

   It is actually a pretty interesting take on the Frankenstein mythos brought into the modern world. The comic opens with a small introduction by the Wachowskis discussing how they still enjoy comics and grew up reading Jack Kirby who drew and wrote about the impossible while also name-dropping the Hard Boiled comic by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow from a few years back. They enjoy comics that take us places we've never been to before, and show us action we've never seen. 

   I can appreciate that, and that's a good beginning for their Doc Frankenstein title, which opens up with Frankenstein defeating a large alien-looking monster similar to something found in a Godzilla movie not far from the White House lawn with the President and staff looking on the scene by way of a security camera. 

   The scene shifts by way of a flashback, and we get a brief look at what the Frankenstein monster's life has been like over the years after his Arctic years of exile. He turns up in the Wild West as a lawman ridding the world of bad men, only to run into more trouble with life and humans along the way. He is still an alien and outsider to life stating, his father didn't give him tear ducts to cry at some of the failings of humanity and his sadness over trying to fit into our world. How does an eight-foot-tall, blue-skinned being resurrected by a lightning bolt do that? He realizes that he never will fit in, but rather he'll have to carve out a place of his own, and figures he'll have to defend himself from humanity for the rest of life.

   One of his oppressors is the church. I guess that's a pretty natural enemy for the blasphemous undead. As time has passed from the Wild West to the present, Frankenstein has built up a fortress of solitude so to speak, and found a girlfriend in the interim who accepts him. Peace is fleeting though, and the first issue ends as the church launches a full scale attack on his compound and the outsiders that live there.

   Doc Frankenstein is a fast and fun read if you like unusual comics. One of the things about the bargain boxes, however, is that you might find something that piques your interest and you'll be motivated to find the rest of the series. Which is the way I feel about this series. 

   It was nominated for the 2005 "Best New Series" Eisner Award, and to my knowledge has yet to be concluded. 

Grade: A


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Guest Review - Kult #1

   This guest review is by Lyle Tucker, who kindly offered to join the team covering while Chuck takes a brief vacation.

   Kult #1, Dark Horse Comics, 2011. Written by Jeremy Barlow, art by Iwan Nazif, colors by Michael Atiyeh.

   The cover depicts a guy in regular pants and a t-shirt fighting a multi-jawed demon coming out of the guy's floor with its ten-foot-long tongue wrapped around the fist about to be futility thrust at this Hell-spawn. The cover asks the age-old question: WILL HE SAVE THE WORLD... OR DESTROY IT? Even before starting this four-part mini-series I have a hunch as to the answer, but, hey, it's a coin toss, isn't it? Probably a two-headed coin, but still...

   We start off at a wedding. After the ceremony a man approaches the bride and grabs her by the wrist, asking her with a demonic smile, “Do you know what's at the bottom of the Abyss?” Apparently she doesn't, because he transforms in to a huge lizardy demon with a large Venom-like writhing tongue (ya gotta figure these monstrously long-tongued creatures have to always be chomping down on it by mistake – eating's gotta be a bitch), and he shoves his forearm through her head, grabbing onto and crushing the head of the person standing behind her for good measure.

   Yes, it's that kind of comic book. * sigh *

   We then meet the main character, Tomas Zenks, who's divorced and fights with his ex-wife over changing the dates of visitation by his two young daughters, and the dialogue is every bit as hackneyed as you would imagine it to be. Being a parole office, Tomas checks in on one of his charges, who is acting weird, and then decides to also turn into a long-tongued many-toothed demon, which sets off a string of events dragging Tomas deeper into finding out who he actually is and how he's gonna be the one to save the earth.


   The writing, art and coloring are nothing to write home about. There's nothing terribly bad with this comic except for its mediocrity (it didn't help that on the second page we find this grammatical error, “...moving toward an truth too terrifying to comprehend...”).

Grade: C-


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guest Review - The End League #1

 Our first guest review is by Lyle Tucker, who kindly offered to join the team to cover while Chuck takes a brief vacation.

The End League #1, Dark Horse Comics, 2007. Written by Rick Remender, art by Mat Broome.

   What to think of a comic book with the lead character of Astonishman? Who is patently based on Superman. And with a Lex Luthor-type villain named Dead Lexington. And with other characters that are obvious nods to both Marvel and DC heroes. Well, the first thing one thinks is, they better have a damn good story to pull off such a conceit. And if not, at least the art had better be top-notch.

   Sorry, wrong on both accounts.

   The book reads like it's written by someone who wants to be a writer but isn't, and drawn by someone who wants to be an artist but isn't.

   The story is all over the place, but begins with Astonishman screwing up mighty badly and killing off millions of people because of his arrogance. And then the world population starts to mutate, and Astonishman tries to mitigate the damage he's done the best he can by setting up a team of heroes by choosing the best mutated people in the world. Or something like that. 

   The story and dialogue are clunky, and I found myself embarrassed by how poorly most of it was put together. The reader is suddenly and jarringly thrown into action with a bunch of characters spouting inane banter with a sense of backstory that isn't there but which you're somehow supposed to know.

   And then there's the art. Broome's sense of anatomy and proportion are terrible. There's something drastically wrong with just about every figure and it usually involves the head. Wendy Broome, whom I assume is Mat's wife, does a wonderful job as color artist, almost hiding the deficiencies of her husband's work, but not quite.

   I tried, but I honestly could not bring myself to finish this comic. It was that bad.

Grade: D