Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Guest Review - Jungle Jim #2

   Hey, it's Guest Review time - and my pal Glen Davis is here with a look at one of the King titles (as in King Features).

   Today, it's back to nature with Jungle Jim:

   This second issue of Jungle Jim changes genre, from the horror-based first issue into a dime novel adventure.

   After he puts some clothes on, Jungle Jim explains his origin and shows us his personality, He seems to be something of a cross of James Robinson's version of Congo Bill, with a lot of Commander McBragg and some Harry Flashman thrown in for good measure.

   The story itself is very much like a dime novel adventure, nearly free of irony. There's sneaking about, explosions, fisticuffs, everything but a steam-powered Edisonade device, and I'm not so sure that one isn't coming later.

   The art, though, is a concern. Even with the simplified art, there are notable differences between each of the three artists who drew the book. At first, I wasn't so sure it wasn't some kind of meta device, but that doesn't seem to be the case. 

    All in all, a satisfactory book, but it needs more consistent art.

Grade: B+


Monday, March 30, 2015

Powers #2

   The genius of Powers (well, one of several) is that it keeps reinventing itself.

   It started out as a police procedural about a couple of police detectives assigned to crimes connected to people with super-powers - or as they're called in this reality, "Powers."

   The series is raw - grim and gritty, with enough bad language, nudity, extreme violence and sex to get an "R" rating - if it was a movie.

   (It's now a TV show, but I have to admit that I haven't seen it - yet.)

   The effort with this latest version seems to be to get the series back to its original concept - so the detectives have lost their own (temporary) Powers, and after a brief stint with the FBI (in the last version of the series), one is now back to work with the police force - and the other seems bent on self-destruction.

   And a major mystery is brewing, as a Power is apparently behind a mass murder, and the police must sort through all the bodies to track down the source of the murders.

   It's a great series as long as you can handle the adult, hard-boiled nature of the title.

   Great story, great art, great characters, and you never know what's going to happen next! Brilliant!

Grade: A-


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy #25

   As feared, by this point the whole Black Vortex storyline (which is crossing through various titles, including several I don't buy) is unraveling like a cheap scarf.

   You have assorted teams made up of mixed-up members of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the All-New X-Men - oh, and thrown Nova in for good measure (no doubt Spider-Man was booked up).

   They're all off on various missions that seem to have nothing to do with the mystery of the Black Vortex, which is the 2001-ish McGuffin that everyone's looking for but no one knows what to do with.

   And some of the events in this issue don't even make sense. At one point Nova grabs the Black Vortex, only to have it swiped by one of the generic bad guys - but at the end of the issue, he has it back, but we have no idea how that happened.

   There's massive destruction and death, characters who change attitude in mid-stream, and not much coherence in evidence.

   I was hoping for better from this series. It started out strong, but this issue doesn't fill me with optimism.

Grade: C+


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Uncanny X-Men #32

   As we draw to the end of writer Brian Michael Bendis' run on Uncanny X-Men (and All-New X-Men), we start seeing signs that he's wrapping up some loose ends.

   In this Cyclops-centric issue, that motion is captured in a heart-to-heart discussion between Scott Summers and his brother Alex (Havok).

   It's a low-key issue (though there are some fireworks as Cyclops prepares to shut down his School for Mutants), as he confronts his actions since the death of Professor Xavier - a death he may have caused.

    The issue lets us see the human side of the team of mutants, and settles some long-simmering issues.

   Best of all, it's loaded with some actual humor - something we don't see enough of in this series.

   Hopefully it's not too late to redeem Cyke (and restore Prof. X). But that may be asking for too much.

   (What's another resurrection between friends?)

Grade: A-



Friday, March 27, 2015

New Avengers #32

   Hoo boy, am I running late this week - the real world has made blogging difficult, so for the next few days I'll be posting mini-reviews to get back on track. 

   We should be back to our normal efforts soon - thanks for your patience!

     What's not to like about a battle between the New Avengers team of gods and a mysterious (and possibly invincible) cosmic opponent?

   This issue absolutely kicks arse, in a Seven Samurai-style showdown at the edge of the universe.

   I commented recently that I wasn't crazy about Jonathan Hickman's take on Dr. Strange (everyone has a weak spot), but I love his take on Thor, who's been showing his true warrior potential in the series (unlike his own title, which has been taken over by an impostor).

   There's a scene in here that made me laugh out loud with pure delight. You'll know it when you see it. There are also grim, sad moments, and amazing art by Mike Deodato.

   Great, great comic!

Grade: A


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Multiversity Ultra Comics #1

   Despite its serious tone, this issue of Multiversity had me smiling a lot.

   That's because this issue is trying to get into your head - and it succeeds!

   It's something comics have been trying to do for a long time. In the late 1980s I interviewed DC editor Julius Schwartz (what a character!), and he talked about the importance of a strong cover to generate sales.

   He said one of the comics that had strong sales was an issue of The Flash in the '60s that featured a closeup of that hero, holding up his hand and saying (in huge letters) "STOP! Don't pass up this issue! My life depends on it!"

   So here we have writer Grant Morrison, who has (with this series) been playing the comics medium like a maestro, going totally meta.

   So we meet the hero Ultra (or is he called Ultra Comics?), who talks to you, the reader.

   I know, it sounds silly - but it's so artfully done that you have to admire the way the story gets in your head, playing with your concept of how comics work and how you react to them.

   It doesn't hurt that the finely-crafted art is by Doug Mahnke (with three inkers), one of the best in DC's stable.

   This issue will keep you guessing throughout. You might even be tempted to put it down without finishing it - but it would take a stronger person that me to manage that.

   Just wonderful!

Grade: A+



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Classics - Guy Gardner Warrior #20

   All the rumpus about the recently pulled cover of Batgirl (which depicted her bound and at the mercy of The Joker) reminded me of a similar incident from 1994 that most readers may not know about.

    It happened in this issue of Guy Gardner Warrior - then in the hands of writer Beau Smith.

   As he once told the story, he and artist Mitch Byrd worked on this issue, but his editors weren't happy with the first two pages, which depicted something you hadn't seen in a comic up to that point - namely, Wonder Woman getting beaten badly by several monstrous aliens.

   "You can't do that with Wonder Woman," Beau was told. His response: "Why not? You wouldn't have said anything if it was Superman or Batman getting beaten up. Several other heroes are taking a beating in that scene - why should she be any different?"

   The editors had to admit that he had a point - and the scene was left in place (and I have to admit, it's still pretty shocking today).

   The story was smack in the middle of a difficult time for the comic. The Green Lantern Corps was being destroyed over in GL's comic, as Hal Jordan had gone mad and become a mass murderer. (How much did I hate that storyline? With a white-hot intensity.)

   So the creative team had to come up with a different power source for Guy. For a while (this issue included) he wielded one of Sinestro's yellow power rings, but that would eventually go away.

   The real treat this issue is the interaction between Guy and the assorted hero guest stars. Beau was one of the few writers (Chuck Dixon was another) who could properly write Guy as a tough-as-nails, put-up-with-no-guff, straight-talking, kind-of-a-jerk-but-a-hero-throughout kinda (ahem) guy.

   (He's also good-hearted under all that gruff, as a quick scene with Ice shows.)

   The art by Mitch Byrd and Dan Davis is terrific - powerful, with an organic, larger-than-life, pyrotechnic take to the life-and-death battle that faces this group of heroes.

   As much as I hated what was going on in Green Lantern's book, I loved the story unfolding here, as Guy Gardner became a hero in his own right - not just an imitation GL.

   Great fun - I'm amazed DC hasn't collected these yet!

Grade: A



New Comics Day

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

- New Avengers #32 - Battle of the gods!

- Daredevil #14 - A new look for the Man Without Fear?

- Elfquest: Final Quest #8 - A crucial decision!

- Flash #40 - The showdown!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #25 The true power of the Black Vortex.

- Lady Mechanika #5 - Yet another showdown!

- Multiversity Ultra Comics #1 - As Meta as all get-out.

- Powers #2 - Where is Walker?

- Thanos vs Hulk #4 - Considering the title, there's not much Thanos content here. Lots of Hulk, though.

- Uncanny X-Men #32 - A brotherly heart-to-heart.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Michael Moorcock Library: Elric of Melnibone

    Most sword-and-sorcery heroes follow a typical mold: they're strapping muscle men, killing monsters with a sword while canoodling with a beautiful, half-naked damsels.

   But writer Michael Moorcock took a completely different approach when he created Elric of Melnibone.

   The heir to the throne of a mystic kingdom, Elric is an albino, given to bouts of weakness, which he offsets with drugs and magic - and eventually by the use of the arcane sword known as Stormbringer, a blade that gives Elric strength by drinking the souls of its victims.

   This volume collects the six-issue 1980s mini-series by writer Roy Thomas, layout and ink artist P. Craig Russell, and pencils by Michael T. Gilbert - and what an amazing, gorgeous volume it is.

   It's the perfect combination of incredible writing (is there anyone better at crafting comics adaptations than Thomas?) and mind-blowing artwork.

   Gilbert and Russell are different artists, but their styles mesh vey well here, creating mystic, flowing environments, stunning character designs and shocking depictions of alien creatures and monsters. Sometimes lovely, sometimes gruesome - you never know what to expect.

   This collection isn't for everyone - it's a dark, adult story, with death, destruction, nudity and terror.

   It's an origin of sorts for Elric, and reveals his connection to dark gods and mystic forces, introduces some of his supporting cast, and describes how he came to possess his mystic sword.

   It's great to see this classic tale being made available to modern audiences. Part horror, part adventure, and all imagination - it's a terrific work and highly recommended!

Grade: A


Monday, March 23, 2015

We Can Never Go Home #1

   Here's a new title that offers a true rarity - a fresh look at what it means to be a teen with super-powers.

    We Can Never Go Home focuses on two kids in high school facing the usual pressures: peer pressure, sex, bullies, mean girls - but this is no after-school special.

   Madison is a beautiful girl who's part of the elite group at school, until a mysterious event reveals her secret abilities. As her so-called friends turn against her, she finds the only one who understands her is a smart-aleck "geek" named Duncan.

   The writing by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon is terrific - the characters are real, and their reactions are all too real. 

   I really like the artwork by Joshua Hood - I don't think I've ever seen his work before. The layouts are strong and original, and the character designs are fresh and believable. He's crafting a real world here, and the art meshes perfectly with the script.

   This is a comic for older readers - it includes profanity and adult situations.

    The first issue is a home run! I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here!

Grade: A


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Little Nemo Return to Slumberland #4

   There must be someone out there who doesn't love the classic Little Nemo in Slumberland Sunday comic by the great Winsor McCay - but I've never met such a creature.

   Obviously the folks at IDW are fans, so they've brought us a modern-day version that is a remarkable homage to the original.

   It must be at least intimidating to attempt to craft a sequel to that classic work - but I don't see any signs of the strain here.

   This mini-series, Little Nemo Return to Slumberland, is astonishingly faithful, while bringing its own charm and storytelling flourishes to the mix.

   It doesn't hurt that the creative team is perfectly matched to the series. It's written by Eric Shanower, a gifted storyteller with an amazing facility with classic creations like this. (You have read his Oz adaptations, haven't you?)

    The astonishing art is by Gabriel Rodriguez, with colors by Nelson Daniel. It's a wonderful journey of the imagination - bright and colorful and creative to a fault. It's not slavish in imitating McCay's style, but it evokes those glory days while carving out its own, glorious niche.

    Simply a wonderful series - hopefully just the first of many mini-series to carry on McCay's marvelous creation, sparking the imaginations of legions of future artists and writers, all of whom will dream of doing work like this.

Grade: A


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Superman #39

   Are secret identities old hat?

   That seems to be the decision modern writers and editors keep arriving at - but while it works for some characters to have their identities known (Iron Man, Captain America), for many others their secret ID is a crucial part of the character (or at least a fun aspect of the character).

   Many times heroes have revealed their identity (most notably Spider-Man) only to force a future writer to jump through numerous hoops to reestablish it.

   Is Superman about to join their ranks?

   Last issue he revealed his secret identity to one of his human (non-super-hero) friends, and this issue we see how that works out - especially since Superman is temporarily de-powered.

   So it's a day in the life of Clark Kent, who shows what it is to be a hero, powers or not.

   It's a solid issue, with strong art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson, and a good script by Geoff Johns.

   I'm still not convinced that Clark should be going around revealing his identity like that - but if you can't trust your best friend, who can you trust?

Grade: A-


Friday, March 20, 2015

All-New X-Men #39

   You get the sense that Marvel is struggling mightily to keep the ongoing story of "The Black Vortex" on schedule.

   So far they're been successful - but only just barely.

   For example, All-New X-Men #38 (also a Black Vortex tie-in) came out before #37 (which was not) in order to keep on track with the scheduled releases of this series that hops around from title to title.

   Also, Guardians Team-Up has been a weekly book, in order to get issue #3 out in time.

   But, it's to their credit that they've been keeping up so far.

   As for the stories - well, they're a mixed bag. They're actually following the classic structure of the original Justice League stories, where a menace arises, and the large group of heroes (in this case the X-Men, Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy) split up to deal with the problem.

   The series feels padded though, with side-trips that are just there to provide action sequences - they don't really move the story along.

   The art is this issue is impressive - Andrea Sorrrentino has a painted, Jae Lee-inspired look the her art. It's quite a departure from the other issues in this series, but it's very good.

   So far this series is still fun, but it's starting to get that familiar "four issue story stretched into a dozen issues" feeling. We'll see.

Grade: B



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Batgirl #40

   Fans of this series have wondered if the "new" Batgirl was entirely on the "up and up."

   Since the new creative team arrived, the character has gone through quite a few changes - a new look, a new group of supporting characters, a new location - and she looks like a completely different character.

   The clever cliffhanger last issue brought all those questions to the fore, and (without giving away the plot twist), this issue brings it all to an exciting, city-hanging-in-the-balance, can-Batgirl-and-her-friends-save-the-day conclusion.

   I have to admit that I've been enjoying this series - it's not always easy to follow, and I'm not sure why Barbara's cut ties with her Birds of Prey allies, but the stories are fresh, the approach is unique, and the art is original.

   It's not for everyone, but if you're looking for something fresh, this well worth trying.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Classics - The Golden Age

   I've been giving writer James Robinson a rough time for his recent work on the Fantastic Four, but there are plenty of examples of excellent work on his part.

   One of my favorites was the DC limited series The Golden Age.

   Taking advantage of its Prestige format (and collected afterwards into the handy edition pictured here), the story is set in the period of time between the end of World War II and the early 1950s.

   It's a time of struggle for the heroes and villains from that time period, including most of the All-Star Squadron (or the Justice Society of America, if you prefer).

   Many of them have lost their way and they struggle to find a new purpose. Others are haunted by their war experiences - and some will never be the same.

   It's a complex, adult story (in the best sense of the word) - as heroes like Hourman, Manhunter, Starman, Green Lantern and Johnny Quick try to overcome their own demons. The story nicely weaves their stories together and wraps up in an intense battle that will decide the future of the nation.

   And, oh, that last page!

   I would be remiss if I failed to mention the wonderful artwork by the legendary Paul Smith, who brings these characters out of the world of four-color cartoons and into an intense, incredible story.

   The story isn't for everyone - there's adult language and some intense sequences and imagery - but it manages that true rarity in comics: a serious, adult story that's both moving, thoughtful and uplifting.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


New Comics Day!

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today: 
- Batgirl #40 - Will the real Batgirl stand up?

- Doc Savage: Altered States One-shot - He's always angry.
- Groo and Friends #3 - Which witch is which?
- Guardians Team-Up #3 - It's a Black Vortex crossover.
- Hulk #13 - Deadpool horns in.
- Little Nemo Return to Slumberland #4 - What a delight this has been.
- Princess Leia #2 - A visit to the planet Naboo.
- Superman #39 - Human for a day.
- All-New X-Men #39 - It's a Black Vortex crossover.
   And that's it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Doctor Who: The 12th Doctor #6

   I've been doing some volunteer work with a local youth group, and I've noticed an interesting trend lately. A surprising number of them - especially girls - are big fans of Doctor Who.

   Perhaps it's just further proof of the growing interest in science fiction, or perhaps it's an indication of the quality of the TV show.

   Whatever the reason, it's certainly great to see, and gives us hope that we'll be enjoying the adventures of the Doctor for years to come.

   Which brings us to the Titan Comics version of the the Doctors, which have also been impressive for both their quality and their skill at "capturing" the personalities of the different actors who filled the role.

   This issue starts a new story arc as the Doctor and his companion Clara start in the middle of an alien invasion on a distant world, and then return to Earth to find a bigger mystery - one that involves a resurrection, a strange new menace, and the possible end of life as we know it.

   It's a fun, fast-paced adventure by writer Robbie Morrison and artist Brian Williamson. They capture the show and the characters perfectly, and they even give us a cliffhanger than just needs the music cue (Oooooweeeeeoooooo) to fit in.

   Fans of the show - like my kids - should be following this comic, too!

Grade: A-


Monday, March 16, 2015

Ninjak #1

   This was a happy surprise.

   I was sorta kinda a fan of the original Valiant Ninjak series - it was a solid action series through and through.

   But I really really like the new version here - it's a great combination of intense action sequences (such as the opening prison break sequence), sharp characterization (he's very much a the James Bond type of character, if Bond was a bit more mercenary and more wealthy), and terrific artwork.

   The story by Matt Kindt doesn't slow down for a moment, but manages to work in some humor, some good character beats, and sets up a deadly mission for the hero to tackle.

   The art is by Seth Mann and Ulises Arredla, and it's powerful, sexy and dynamic, with fresh layouts and strong character designs.

   The series is off to a great start! Recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fantastic Four #644

   Sorry for the scarce posting this week - I'm running behind (work has been crazy lately), so let's get caught up with some quick reviews, and hopefully we'll be back to normal soon.

   Here we are at the next-to-the-last issue of Fantastic Four (yeah right), and the sad thing is: for the first time in about a year-and-a-half, it's starting to feel like an issue of the Fantastic Four.

   The team has finally (apparently) unmasked the villain behind their near-destruction, and they've joined forces with an army of allies and friends to fight back against a global invasion.

   It's all a bit manic, and the art by Leonard Kirk and Karl Kesel is excellent as always, but it feels like it's all coming together far too late - the members of the team have been dragged through the mud, and they're just now finally sorta getting back control of their lives.

   This should be Marvel's best comic, and instead it faces (apparent, yeah, right) cancellation.

   It's a crime.

Grade: B


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Guardians Team-Up #2

   After a strong start to this series, this issue, frankly, falls on its face.

   First of all, no Art Adams artwork.

   Since he drew the first issue, it was reasonable to expect he was drawing the opening story arc - but no such luck.

   The art by Stephen Roux and Jay Leisten isn't bad at all - it only suffers in comparison to Adams.

   But the story is equally weak, which is surprising, since it's written by the usually-reliable Brian Michael Bendis.

   The first issue of Guardians Team-Up featured the Guardians of the Galaxy crash-landing on Earth, where they were confronted by the Avengers.

   A familiar villain pops up to kidnap a member of the team, and this issue is all about the rescue.

   Sadly, there's not a surprise to be found in here (outside of a few funny lines here and there). It all plays out according to the book, and we never really understand why the kidnapping happened in the first place - the explanation we're given doesn't make any sense at all.

   So, a rough start for this new series - two issues in, and it's only batting .500.

Grade: C+


Friday, March 13, 2015

Howard the Duck #1

   Nice to see Howard the Duck back in the spotlight again!

   I was a big fan of his original run. Howard was created in the '70s (as a one-off gag) by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik in the pages of a Man-Thing story.

   A resident of a funny-animal dimension, Howard was pulled through the Nexus of all Realities - and almost immediately (seemingly) fell to his death.

   Fan response was loud and favorable, so he was brought back by Gerber and artist Frank Brunner and quickly landed his own incredible popular (and extremely collectible) series. Gene Colan soon took over the art and was the main artist through the rest of the run of the series.

   His stores were an interesting mix of action, social commentary and lots of humor.

   Howard pops up in a new series every now and then, with varying (and usually disappointing) results. Perhaps the character is just too closely connected to Gerber's unique genius to work in other hands.

   After his oh-so-brief appearance in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Howard's due for another shot - and judging by the first issue, this series has a pretty good shot at making it.

   This series finds Howard starting a new career as a detective, growing a new supporting cast and being his usual gruff self. His first case (in this issue) pits him against a well-known criminal - and his plan to recover a stolen item is pretty funny.

   The story is by Chip Zdarsky, who has an excellent grasp of Howard's character, his "voice" and the effect he has on others. The art is by Joe Quinones, and I like it a lot - it manages a great balance between humor and straight super-hero action.

   I'm not completely sold on the series yet - the first issue is all about setting up the framework, so we'll see how it goes from here - but that final page (and the teaser for next issue) certainly are enough to bring me back for more.

Grade: A-



Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Avengers #31

   For years now I've been heaping praises on Jonathan Hickman's writing, but with this issue we find the one area where he's not quite up to snuff (in my humble opinion, of course).

   He can't write Dr. Strange well.

   To be more accurate, I'm not crazy about his take on the Sorcerer Supreme.

   A lot of that is because I'm an "old school" fan of the Doc, who (in my book) uses his powers to protect life from the powers of darkness.

   There's a wonderful scene during the Steve Englehart / Frank Brunner run in the '70s where Doc waxes poetical about what an honor it is to protect even the smallest life form. That's "my" Doc.

   In Hickman's New Avengers stories, Dr. Strange is a very dark magician indeed, using his powers to kill his opponents in more than one story - and expressing no remorse at his dark acts.

   This issue features him leading an army of dark mystics against a powerful opponent, all to search for the most fearsome foe of all.

   On the up side, the revelation at the end is unexpected, and we once again see some huge events bringing the upcoming Secret War into line.

   As for Hickman - well, no one's perfect, but that's easy to forgive, as the rest of the series easily outweighs this stumble.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Classics - The Flash #137

   One of my first "favorite" super-heroes was The Flash, as rendered by Carmine Infantino and written by John Broome and Gardner Fox.

   And one of the things about that series that set it apart from most DC Comics was something that's very common today: crossovers.

   When this comic was released in 1963, there were specific titles built for that purpose: World's Finest teamed Superman and Batman, Brave and the Bold teamed different heroes - but in their own titles, guest appearances were virtually nonexistent.

   (Did Superman's titles ever feature another hero in the early '60s? Did Batman's? Aquaman's?)

    But editor Julius Schwartz knew the value of bringing heroes together, and The Flash led the way with the first-ever crossover between Earth-1 (the home of the Silver Age Flash) and Earth-2 (the home of the Golden Age Flash).

   The Flash also had adventures with Green Lantern and the Elongated Man - it made the series a lot of fun, and made the adventures bigger and better.

   But this issue took it all to a higher level, as the two Flashes team up to battle the immortal villain Vandal Savage - and in the process they rescue the Justice Society of America. (Not long after, that team would start its annual crossover series with the Justice League.)

   Marvel was better known for its tight continuity, with lots of crossovers and guest appearances, but for at least one DC title, it was a standard feature - and it made for some great stories.

Grade: A



New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #21 - Facing the end of the road.

- New Avengers #31 - The Doctor is in!

- Fantastic Four #644 - The penultimate issue.

- Guardians Team-Up #2 - With the Avengers again - but alas, no Art Adams artwork.

- Howard the Duck #1 -  Howard the Detective?

- Ragnarok #4 - More Simonson action!

- Silver Surfer #10 - How to stop Galactus?

- Star Wars #3 - Against the Empire's army.

- Thor #6 - Looking for a name.

- All-New X-Men #37 - Running into old enemies.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Princess Leia #1

   Star Wars always shows up in threes (eventually).

   Following the smash hit comic Star Wars (now back in the Marvel stable where it started) and Darth Vader, we have a solo title dedicated to the toughest Disney Princess of 'em all, Princess Leia.

   The creative team is top notch all the way - writer Mark Waid is one of the best in the business, and artist Terry and Rachel Dodson have a wonderful, classic heroic style.

   So it's a little surprising that this first issue is just... ok.

   Perhaps I was expecting too much - this issue has to wrap up business from the first (original / "A New Hope") Star Wars movie and set Leia on her own path for adventure - so there's a bit of business that must be dealt with.

   The new mission for Leia involves the survivors of her home planet, Alderaan (which was destroyed by the Death Star, natch), as she sets out to fulfill her responsibilities as the last member of the Royal Family.

   It's not a bad issue at all - the art is terrific and the story has a lot of potential - but it takes a while to get into gear.

   Leia manages to be tough but feminine, heroic but sympathetic. It's not an easy balance to manage, but the team has built a strong foundation for the future of her "long ago" adventures.

Grade: A-



Monday, March 9, 2015

Guest Review - Mandrake the Magician #1

   We have one more review from our pal Glen Davis, who has kindly provided a week's worth of excellent columns, giving Chuck a much-needed break.

   (Our invitation is open to one and all - if you'd like to send in reviews for this blog, just send them to us at the email address in the right-hand column.)

   Glen's post today is all about the most famous magician in comics history - Mandrake!

   Dynamite is giving the King's Features heroes another try in the world of comic books. It makes sense, seeing the wealth of characters controlled by the newspaper syndicate. 

   Even now, Dynamite is barely even scratching the surface.

   Since the days of the old Defenders of the Earth cartoon, Mandrake the Magician usually gets short shrift in these revivals. Even before that, in the 1970s, Flash Gordon and The Phantom got paperback prose book series, but Mandrake never did. This is a shame, as Mandrake was Lee Falk's first creation, and inspired dozens of other characters, including DC's Zatara.

   Now Dynamite attempts to redress this situation by giving Mandrake his own mini-series in what some are calling the King Comics explosion.

   The series starts out depicting a scene that led up to the events in the King's Watch mini-series, starting this comics line: Narda, Mandrake's love, goes to his arch-enemy (and half-brother Luciphor) The Cobra. Well, when you name a kid Luciphor, that's what you have to expect, I guess.

   Now five years later, after the invasion of Mongo, Mandrake puts on a benefit to raise money for charity. He gestures hypnotically, and puts on quite a show for his audience, when another magician, the beauteous Karma appears, and they combine in putting on the show. 

   In the comic strip, Karma is actually the girlfriend of Lothar, Mandrake's best friend. Lothar is currently moonlighting as the Phantom in the concurrent mini-series of that name by Dynamite. (Not to be confused with the Phantom series featuring the same property published by Hermes)

   Finally, it ends in a pretty good cliff hanger. 

   A good effort, and the cartoonish art by Jeremy Treece helps to sell the surrealist magic at work in the book.

Grade: B


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Guest Review - Jungle Jim #1

   My pal Glen Davis continues his stint in the Guest Review chair (thanks, Glen!) with a review of a character who's been changed drastically. 

   Jungle Jim was a character originally created by Alex Raymond to be the topper to his more famous Flash Gordon Sunday comic strip. 

   This was back in the days when a comic strip could expect an entire quarter page or even more space every Sunday, whereas today, a strip is lucky to get an eighth of a page.

   Originally, Jungle Jim was a safari hunter, based in South East Asia.

   Dynamite Comics, in this re-launch opted to take a radically different approach.

   Set after the events in the King's Watch and Flash Gordon mini-series, this issue takes more of a horror angle. It starts with a squad of Ming the Merciless' soldiers being killed by... something... in the jungles of Arboria. 

Then a troubled young woman asks Prince Barin for help in locating Jungle Jim. She needs the legend's help in rescuing her brother from Ming's prison. Barin reluctantly loans her a pair of beastmen trackers, and the trio tromp through the jungle looking for Jungle Jim.

   When they find him he is radically different than the character we know.

   A solid issue. We'll see exactly who and what Jungle Jim actually is in subsequent issues.

Grade: B+ 


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Guest Review - The Black Hood #1

   Our Guest Reviews continue as Glen Davis sends along a review of the latest incarnation of The Black Hood:

   I've always been a fan of the Archie, aka MLJ heroes, ever since I found a copy of High Camp Superheroes in a used bookstore when I was 10. 

   These heroes sort of come and go every 10 or 15 years or so, with a slightly different incarnation every time. 

   I really enjoyed the Red Circle books from the last couple of years, so I decided to take a chance on these Dark Circle books. 

   Duane Swiercynski seems to be one of those writers people either love or hate, and I'm afraid  I'm not in the "Love Him" camp. I like some of his novels, but I really think he was the reason that the Immortal Iron Fist was cancelled.

   This is a grim and gritty take on the old school MLJ hero, The Black Hood, who also had his own pulp. Altus Press published the entire run of the pulp in a book titled The Pulp Adventures Of The Hooded Detective, for those curious.

   It starts in Philadelphia, when a cop encounters the original Black Hood taking down some street thugs. During the melee, the officer takes a shotgun blast to the face and manages to shoot and kill The Black Hood.

   Hailed as a hero, but suffering a grievous facial injury and Post Traumatic Stress disorder, the cop becomes addicted to pain killers, falls in love with his therapist, and becomes the new Black Hood. 

   To be honest, I found it pretty much by the numbers and fairly tedious. The art and the black pages really make the comic gritty. 

   Also included are a couple of essays, one by Swiercynski and another by crime novelist Dennis Tafoya, about how terrible life in Philadelphia is.

   This comic doesn't seem to be for me. Too bad.

Grade:  C-


Friday, March 6, 2015

Guest Review - Prince Valiant #1

   Continuing our Guest Review week, my pal Glen Davis is back with a comic based on the star of the greatest comic strip ever - Prince Valiant:

    For some reason, Dynamite Comics decided to include Prince Valiant with the rest of the heroes in their Kings' Comics line-up. 

   A bit of an odd choice, considering that the strip is set hundreds of years ago, but Valiant remains one of the very few remaining popular adventure strips still active in the newspapers.

   The issue starts in a cave, with tales being told about a young Prince Valiant (then a squire to Sir Gawain) getting captured by Vikings, then ransomed by Sir Gawain, and getting thrown out of King Arthur's Round Table because he could not resist the lure of adventure.

   The ending is a bit somber.

   As first issues go, this one gave me no clue of where the series, or the character is going, and really no reason to buy the next issue. I certainly hope next issue is better.

Grade: C+ 


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Guest Review - Joe Frankenstein #1

   Hey, it's Guest Review week! My pal Glen Davis has provided a week's worth of reviews (giving your ol' pal Chuck a much-needed break) - thanks, Glen!

   First up, here's his review of a comic I'm looking forward to reading: Joe Frankenstein!

   Everybody is a fan of the Frankenstein Monster on some level, and the team of Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan decide to give their version of the monster, along with some other old-time movie monsters. 

   I'm glad they did!

   Joe Pratt is a foster child... well, teenager, delivering pizzas, when he makes a delivery to a group of lady vampires. When the vampiresses start making fangs, the Frankenstein Monster crashes in and puts the kibosh on them. Joe Pratt finds out that he is linked to the Monster.

   Not that it does him any good in his real life, where he is fired from his job, kicked out by his girlfriend, and humiliated in school. An organization of monsters sends out a hunter to find the Monster, and the boy as well.

   A great first issue. This is a different take on the Frankenstein Monster - the most unusual that I've seen in a long time. Nolan's art is excellent. There's a promise of appearances by most, if not all, of the Universal Monsters sooner or later. 

   There are a number of questions that need to be answered, and I can't wait for the next issue!

Grade: A