Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Classics - West Coast Avengers #46

   Writer / artist John Byrne left his mark on virtually every title published by Marvel at one point or another - but one of his most offbeat additions to the Marvel Universe can be found in this issue of The West Coast Avengers.

   Byrne turned in a strong (and somewhat controversial) series of stories during his year-and-a-half on the series in the late '80s, but it wasn't all serious and grim.

   This issue introduced the Great Lakes Avengers, an odd group of heroes who had no real affiliation with the original Avengers - they were just some wannabe heroes who fought crime in - of all places - Milwaukee.

   The team included: Mr. I, their carefree leader (with a truly odd power); Big Bertha, a massive powerhouse; Flat-Man, an elastic hero; Dyna Soar, a flying female dinosaur; and Doorman, who becomes a living door - somehow.

   Add estranged couple Hawkeye and Mockingbird into the mix (both having just left the West Coast team), and you have an entertaining sidebar into the usual Marvel antics.

   The art is terrific, with Byrne and inker Mike Machlan loading up on (mostly) lighthearted action, including a classic "heroes meet and fight each other" sequence.

    One of the things that made Byrne such a strong storyteller was his combination of action, great characters and humor - and this issue had all that in spades.

Grade: A


Now Comics Day

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

- Archie #3 - The new girl in town!

- Captain America White #2 - Losing an old friend!

- Cavalry SHIELD #1 - Training mission.

- Justice League #44 - Who will die?

- SHIELD #10 - Howard, Duck of SHIELD?

- Sandman Overture #6 - The finale at last!

- Superman #44 - Secret ID no more!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Fathom Blue #4

   I may be wrong about this series.

   I've been assuming that Fathom Blue is a comic about a team, with the opening storyline giving us the origin of the group of heroes.

   It's been a bit difficult to follow, as the team is being assembled by shady forces in the military (of course) to tackle special missions - but this may not be a team of heroes.

   Circumstances - which have the team fighting for their freedom from the control of the leader of this military force - may force them into a fight against the nation, which will leave them branded as traitors.

   I think. It's all a bit muddled, and I admit I'm still trying to sort out the characters.

   Here the team works together to escape, only to turn themselves back over to the same forces. So why did they escape? Or did they do it to meet with a sympathetic agent? No idea.

   The series has a lot of potential, but it's going to have to work harder at giving us a reason to root for the team. Just having them manipulated by a sleazy military guy feels like lazy storytelling.

   Flesh out their personalities, give them some motivation, let them act like heroes. Or villains. Give us something to hold onto!

Grade: C


Monday, September 28, 2015

Doctor Who: Four Doctors #5 (of 5)

   It's always a special event when more than one version of The Doctor teams up - and Titan Comics has put together a special event of its own with this weekly comic, the five-issue-long Doctor Who: Four Doctors.

   The Doctor (he never calls himself "Doctor Who") is a Time Lord, a race that is very advanced and long-lived (he's almost 1000 years old). He travels through time and space in the Tardis,  a complex machine that looks small from the outside - but it's huge on the inside.

   He's usually accompanied by one or more "companions" - friends and fellow adventurers. They help those in need, seek out adventure and new discoveries.

   The character has been portrayed on TV over the years by 13 actors - after each actor finished his run, The Doctor is "killed" and regenerates in a new body - a different actor.

   On the original series, different doctors would occasionally meet - an easy stunt for a time traveler - and those stories were always entertaining, watching different personalities meeting, working together or jousting verbally.

   And that's what this comic mini-series is all about, as the 10th, 11th and 12th Doctors (the most recent three) team up with their companions to face what may be certain death, as they face the most unbeatable foe of them all.

   (Who's the fourth doctor in the title? That would be telling!)

   It's a fast, funny adventure with terrific art. The plot's a bit twisty, and probably doesn't bear close examination - but it's all in good fun.

    If you're a fan of The Doctor, you'll definitely want to catch this series.

Grade: A-



Sunday, September 27, 2015

Batgirl #44

   The "new" Batgirl series has been pretty strong up to this point, but it was about due for a stumble - and here it is.

   This issue finds Barbara Gordon running up against a tigerish female villain who, frankly, doesn't feel very menacing at all.

   Also, I'm not sure the creative team understands how tranquilizer darts work. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that once a dart is fired and delivers its load of sedative, it can't be plucked out and reused without reloading. And if it could, the amount of sedative used to knock out a tiger would probably kill a human.

   So yeah, it's that kind of issue - a little action, a little romance, but not a lot of actual story there. I have to admit that I'm also losing track of the ever-expanding supporting cast - who are these people again?

   Of course, this series is aimed at a younger audience. Maybe they have an easier time keeping up with such things.

   Like I said, for me, this issue was a bit of a misstep (it happens to every series - no reason to panic). Here's hoping it's back on the usual dance floor for the next issue.

Grade: B-



Saturday, September 26, 2015

Weirdworld #4

   It's only appropriate that the series titled Weirdworld is the strangest of the Secret Wars spin-offs.

   (Though to be fair, I should admit I haven't read all of them. Or even most of them. But I think it's a safe call.)

   The mini-series has followed Arkon (the barbarian) as he searches for his idyllic home world, Polemachus. He knows it is hidden somewhere on Weirdworld - but he can't find it.

   He's battled an assortment of enemies - both monster and human - but may have met his match in Morgan Le Fey's enforcer, Skull the Slayer.

   But as the cover indicates, they'll both have to survive an encounter with a certain mindless much-monster in the Land of the Man-Things.

   Despite being on the grim side (Arkon isn't the easiest guy to like), this has been an entertaining series as it touches on some of the most bizarre corners of the Marvel Universe.

   Somehow, the whole thing will wrap up next issue - I can't wait to see how (or if) the creative team manages to make it happen!

Grade: A-


Friday, September 25, 2015

Fury #1

   As past of Marvel's ongoing 50th Anniversary celebration of all things SHIELD, it's good to see them break off an issue for the character who started the whole thing off in the pages of Strange Tales - after all, that first adventure was titled Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD!

   (Funny that I can remember that - in those days - SHIELD stood for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage and Law Enforcement Division. I have no idea what it stands for now, and I'm too lazy to look it up. Google away, dear readers!)

   Of course, now there are two guys named Nick Fury - the real one and the Samuel Jackson one who, in the comics, is the son of the original.

   The real one has been (more or less) written out of continuity, sadly enough, but this issue manages to work out a team-up of the two super-spies.

   It's clever enough, although we could see the ending from a mile away - and the resolution is perhaps a bit too easy.

    Still, I'm happy just for the chance to see the original model back in action. Nothing against the new version - I like him in the Marvel movies a lot - but for this old fan, there's only one Nick Fury - Juniors need not apply.

Grade: B



Thursday, September 24, 2015

Astro City #27

   I'm a big fan of Kurt Busiek's Astro City, as it explores the mythology of super-heroes - but I have to admit, it occasionally hits on an area I'm not familiar with.

   This issue is a perfect example, as it centers around the character known as American Chibi (she's a childlike, Anime-style girl with great power) and a series of mysterious and destructive attacks by strange creatures.

   Even as the story explained the origin of that character, I thought to myself, "What the heck is a chibi?" 

   So I looked it up. 

   It turns out that I've seen them before, I just didn't know the term.

   Apparently "chibi" is a Japanese slang word meaning "short person" or "small child." In anime and manga fandom the term chibi refers to the "super deformed" style of drawing characters with oversized heads - or it can be used to describe child versions of characters. 

   That's the cover all over, as provided by the talented Alex Ross. 

   The interior art is by Joe Infurnari, filling in for Brent Anderson. The story and the art are just serviceable this time around - not bad, but not quite up to the usual standards - but as I've said before, an "average" Astro City story is better than some of the best you'll find in any other title.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Classics - Usagi Yojimbo #93

   In the past year I've finally started tracking down past issues of the long-running Usagi Yojimbo series, and thanks to comics conventions and eBay, I've almost completed my collection!

   With more than 200 issues in this series, every issue featuring amazing stories and art. To be honest, I feel ashamed that I didn't pick up on it sooner.

   The stories range from emotional confrontations to intense battles to political dramas to murder mysteries to supernatural conflicts - writer / artist / creator Stan Sakai demonstrates an amazing level of maturity and depth with each story.

   The series follows a ronin - a masterless samurai - who roams through Japan seeking for a purpose in life. Usagi isn't perfect, but he's smart, caring and a terrific fighter.

   Over the years he's built up a terrific cast of supporting characters who weave in and out of his life. You never know who will live, who will die, and the stories can take you in dramatic and unexpected directions.

   But perhaps no issue demonstrates the creative potential of this series better than #93 from 2006, in which Usaki and a friend share tea. And that's it.

   Really! The entire issue is a farewell between Usagi and his friend and sometimes fighting companion, the lovely Tomoe. It depicts, in great and loving detail, the formal tea ceremony known as chanoyu.

   It's a sweet and lovely tale, brilliant in its detail and in the emotions bubbling beneath the surface - is romance involved, and can it be expressed in this setting?

   If, like me, you somehow missed this series, you're really missing some terrific tales - some will have you on the edge of your seat, panting for the next chapter - and some, like this issue, will (as the kids say these days) punch you right in the feels.

   Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A+



New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #27 - Am I the only one who doesn't know what a Chibi is? (Yes, I'm old.)

- Batgirl #44 - Eye of the Tiger!

- Elfquest Final Quest #11 - Everybody's doing it!

- Flash #44 - He's in deep trouble!

- Hellboy in Hell #8 - Family matters.

- Nick Fury SHIELD #1 - A meeting of two Furys.

- Weirdworld #4 - A meeting of Man-Things!

   Also, a couple of freebies:

- Batman Day - Happy Batman Day, everyone!

- Vertigo 2015 Preview - As my comics dealer said, "I'm giving you this because I know you're a big fan of Vertigo." Then he laughed.

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rai #10

   Like the Magnus: Robot Fighter title, Rai is set 2000 years into the future - and it's not a happy place.

   Instead, it's a grim existence where our protagonist and his allies must fight constantly to survive.

   It's been especially difficult for Rai, who fights for the people of New Japan (that nation now can be found in orbit) - but the intellect that rules that land has cast him out - literally - and he must fight to survive.

   In order to prepare for his return to New Japan, Rai goes in search of a possible ally - but it's a quest that may prove deadly - or impossible.

   It's pretty grim going in this story by Matt Kindt, but he keeps things fresh, original - and moving briskly along.

   The art by Clayton Crain is dark and moody, a perfect match for the story rolling out - but it does perhaps get a bit too murky in places.

    It's a powerful story, so if you don't mind (or are a fan of) the grim and gritty storytelling, you should be reading Rai.

Grade: B+


Monday, September 21, 2015

Jirni: 2 #2

   I really enjoyed the first issue in this Jirni: 2 mini-series - but the second issue didn't live up to the first.

   The comic follows the sword-and-sorcery adventures of a woman who transforms into a massive, purple-hued warrior woman (think She-Hulk meets Red Sonja).

   It's one of those "get acquainted" issues, giving us the life story of Boro, the captain of the (pirate?) ship she's hitched a ride on.

   It's possible that this story will pay off in future chapters, but as a stand-alone issue it really drags. Things pick up by the end of the issue, as the ship fights for its life against a deadly attack - but despite that and some striking art by V Ken Marion and Mark Roslan, it's not enough to bring this one up to the creative standards of the first issue.

Grade: C+


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hawkeye #5

   It's amazing how quick a comic can gain your interest - or lose it.

   I was late picking up on the Hawkeye comic written by Matt Fraction (thank you, collections) -  but once I started buying it, I was hooked.

   The follow-up series by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Ramon Perez has been pretty solid - until this issue.

   Each issue has been split between a story of Clint Barton's childhood, as he and his brother Barney seek refuge from an abusive foster father by running away with the circus - but is their new mentor, the Swordsman, a better role model?

   In the present, the two Hawkeyes - Clint and Kate Bishop - are faced with a big problem, as they try to protect some strangely-mutated children from the hordes of Hydra.

   And that's where this series jumped the shark, as Clint and Kate make a horrific decision - one that's completely out of character, one they would never make - except in the pages of a comic book that didn't understand the stars of the book.

   So, just as fast as I was pulled into the series, I find myself booted out - these are not characters I want to read about.

Grade: D


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Agent Carter #1

   When Marvel tries to deal with the real-world timeline, the whole continuity thing gets all mushy.

   So you might expect this Agent Carter one-shot (celebrating the 50th Anniversary of SHIELD) to follow the lead of the (excellent) TV show and set this adventure right after the end of World War II.

   Instead, the issue is set in 1966. In the our world, that would be right after Nick Fury first joined the organization, so that works - but then the issue introduces the Asgardian warrior Sif - and we feel continuity wobble.

   In order to keep its characters from being terribly aged, Marvel has (rather unofficially) set its continuity so that the modern-day heroes became active about seven years ago (that being the point when the Fantastic Four first gained their powers). So Captain America was on ice until about seven years ago, Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider at the same time... you get the idea.

   And while we can accept that SHIELD and Peggy and Dum Dum Dugan and Nick Fury have been around since World War II (two of them are ageless), but how can Sif be introduced before Thor first appears?

   Even in the real world, the timeline is wobbly - Sif didn't show up until a bit later.

   Ah well - other than that it's a fun issue, with Sif and Peggy dealing with a mysterious attack - and both showing how capable they are.

   So if you can get past the continuity, it's entertaining - but despite the bigger action scenes, it's not really up to the level of the TV show.

Grade: B+


Friday, September 18, 2015

Star Wars #9

   I've read lots of Star Wars-based comic books, and I'm surprised to realize that the current stories filling the pages of the new Marvel Comics version may be the best ever.

   Writer Jason Aaron continues to take the cast of the original trilogy in surprising directions, and keeps the action fast and frenetic - and fun!

   So we follow Luke Skywalker as he continues to look for information about how to be a better Jedi knight - and finds himself facing a powerful gangster - and a deadly trap!

   Meanwhile, Princess Leia and Han Solo are nearly captured by the Empire, and their only hope for escape is a woman who hates - and loves - Han!

   And oh, that last page!

   Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger's art is stunning - amazing alien vistas, strange (and familiar) creatures, and excellent likenesses.

   The key word here is "fun" - this series captures the sense of adventure, the spirit of wonder, the pure entertainment that any good Star Wars-based story should include.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Captain Ameica: White #1

   Fans had to be patient for this one.

   Captain America: White was first promised some seven years ago, and we even saw an issue #0 previewing it - and then, nothing.

   Until now!

   It's the latest in the "color" mini-series from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. Past efforts included Spider-Man: Blue, The Hulk: Grey and Daredevil: Yellow.

   Each one focuses on the early days of each hero - but none earlier than this series, which takes us back to Cap's adventures in World War II, including his first team-ups with Bucky, and his introduction to the "modern" world.

   (It's somewhat chilling to realize that, in the real world, Cap was revived in the mid-'60s, about 20 years after the end of World War II - and 50 years have elapsed since then.)

   This series is really a love letter to this character - from Loeb's loving efforts to show us why Cap and Bucky were such a terrific team, and to explain why Cap would take a "kid" into combat. (Interesting to note that this version of Bucky is based on the original concept, not the "near adult" version in Ed Brubaker's stories leading up to the Winter Soldier stories, or the "actual adult" version in the Marvel films.)

   Tim Sale's art is a pure delight. His enthusiasm for the character - and the classic artists whose work inspired him - shines through. There are several homages here to Kirby, Steranko and others - and plenty of iconic images that are pure Sale.

   This has been a great series of stories from these creators, and this is shaping up to be another excellent addition to the line. (Oh, and the issue includes a reprint of that long-ago zero issue.)

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Classics - Ditko Monsters: Gorgo!

   One of my (not so) guilty pleasures is movies that feature giant monsters, thanks in no small part to the movies I watched on late night TV on Saturday nights when I was a kid in the '60s.

   One of my all-time favorites was Gorgo, the tale of a giant lizard who emerges from the ocean, comes ashore and causes widespread destruction. He (it?) is captured and put on display, just like King Kong.

   The twist is when we discover that Gorgo is just a child - his mother comes to his rescue, and she takes the destruction of London to a new level!

   I loved it just as much as the wonderful and wacky Godzilla movies, but there was something about the mother/child storyline that made Gorgo memorable (and I loved the iconic image of Gorgo's head rising up out of the ocean).

   Gorgo was popular enough to warrant his own comic, although it was published by Charlton Comics (sort of the low-rent district for comics).

   Astonishingly, the art for 10 issues was provided by Steve Ditko - at the same time that he was making history at Marvel Comics working on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange!

    The scripts by Joe Gill were a bit silly, but there's no doubting that Ditko was really hitting his stride - there are some amazing sequences here, as Gorgo (and mom) fight for their lives against attacking armies, aliens and other odd menaces.

   These issues can be tough to track down, but thankfully we live in the Golden Age for comic reprints, and the lovely and talented Craig Yoe has collected Ditko's Gorgo issues in this hardback, Ditko Monsters: Gorgo!

   (And don't miss the companion volume dedicated to the adventures of Konga, who owes a dinner to King Kong.)

   What a treat! For sheer, light-hearted carnage, these issues stand head and shoulder above most titles.  And thanks to Ditko's amazing art, these stories tower above the usual comic book monster mash-ups.

 Grade: A



New Comics Day!

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

- Agent Carter SHIELD #1 - It's the swinging' '60s!

- Captain America White #1 - It's the frantic '40s!

- Groo: Friends and Foes #9 (of 12) - It's Pal 'n Drumm!

- Hawkeye #5 - Making tough calls.

- Miracleman #2 - What's love got to do with it?

- Spirit #3 - Some answers at last!

- Star Wars #9 - Searching for Luke's stolen lightsaber!

- Usagi Yojimbo #148 - The one-armed swordsman!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Eternal Soulfire #3

   Here's the issue for those who have been having trouble figuring out what's going on in this series.

   Eternal Soulfire centers around a young woman named Cassidy whose life takes a shocking turn when she suddenly sprouts wings and finds herself a target of the usual evil government forces.

   She is rescued - and finds refuge with - a (seemingly) young woman, and this issue offers up Miya's life story - and a long life it is!

   It also explains (in part) about the origins of the winged race and their magical abilities.

   The art by Angel Tovar, Alex Konat and Mark Roslan is quite good, but the story by J.T. Krul just feels terribly slow and plodding - it takes us away from Cassidy and into a history lesson that doesn't really make much sense.

   It's nice to get some explanations, but perhaps it shouldn't require an entire issue.

Grade: B


Monday, September 14, 2015

Unity #22

   Argh. I have more than once remarked that it's important for a series of stories to "stick the landing" - in other words, come up with a great conclusion to the story.

   Even the best story can be undone by a weak ending - and, I'm sorry to say, that's what we have here.

   I've really been enjoying this story in Unity, as the individual members of the team confront a woman called War-Monger. She's apparently immortal and may be unbeatable, as she easily dispatches Ninjak, Livewire, GIN-GR and the Eternal Warrior.

   She's a master of sowing unease in the world, and is well on her way to starting another world-wide conflict - can Unity stop her? And how?

   Sadly, despite a sharp script and excellent artwork, the story stumbles at the end, taking an idea that is terribly impractical and not very heroic.

   The series has great potential, but this story gets low marks from me. Such a great beginning and middle, but a stumble at the end.

Grade: B




Sunday, September 13, 2015

Starfire #4

   I'm not sure why I like this comic.

   Perhaps it's just sex appeal. Certainly Starfire (as presented in this series) is beautiful, sexy and sweetly innocent.

   Perhaps it's the storytelling style, which takes a different approach to the typical super-hero tale - it's sort of a freestyle approach, with the big bad villain being dispatched by the middle of the comic - but the quiet moments afterward are entertaining, too!

   I also like the way the story is broken into tiny "chapters" - it gives the comic a fast, breezy look.

   And then there's the setting, in the Florida Keys - it's nice to see not everything happens in metropolitan locales.

   Kudos to writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti for taking a fresh approach to the character and her adventures, and I like the equally fresh look to the art, here crafted by Emanuela Lupacchino, Mirco Pierfederici, Ray McCarthy and Trevor Scott.

   Oh, and I like the team-up / guest star take this time around, as Conner and Palmiotti bring back their heroic version of Terra, who first appeared in their Power Girl comic.

    Perhaps best of all, this series is not weighed down by continuity - it stands (mostly) alone in the overburdened "New 52" universe.

   It's an approach that more of DC's comics should follow.

Grade: A-


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Batman #44

   Apparently Batman's comic has run into the "dreaded deadline doom," because this is a throwback story that features the real Dark Knight, not the pretender who's been filling his cowl in recent months.

   Ordinarily this is the kind of Batman story I like, with the focus on the detective side of the equation - but this story just didn't work for me at all.

   It begins with the death of a young man - he's been shot and then dropped from high in the sky. Batman vows to solve the crime and track down the murderer - but he doesn't actually find any clues to solve the mystery, he just talks to assorted bad guys and apparently believes every word they say.

   The story follows the typical TV detective show model, as probable suspects appear and are eliminated.

   Unlike most such shows, though, the villain at the heart of the murder isn't caught or even uncovered - it's all just setup for a story that may or may not be told in the future.


Grade: B-


Friday, September 11, 2015

Quake: SHIELD 50th Anniversary #1

   It's interesting to watch the impact the movies and TV shows based on Marvel Comics have on the actual comic books.

   Some of the film and TV versions are pretty close to the original (Iron Man and Captain America, for example), so no real tweaking is necessary.

   But others have little in common, with perhaps the biggest "offender" being the characters depicted in the Agents of SHIELD TV show.

   Mockingbird is very different from the TV character, and so is Quake (Daisy Johnson) - who is nothing like the character Skye in the show.

   But to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the creation of SHIELD, Marvel's releasing a series of one-shots starring different characters, so here we get a closer look at the comic book version of Quake.

   It's a pretty solid comic, depicting a past event where Quake actually worked with the Avengers. Here she's depicted as unsure of herself, not feeling prepared to work with the top-tier of superheroes - and since most of them are depicted herein as jerks or monsters, she has good reason to feel that way.

   But at least she gets a chance to have some heroic - and human - moments.

   But she really is nothing like the TV character. This Quake has usually been depicted as extremely capable and a natural leader, unlike the rookie superhero (and somewhat reluctant SHIELD agent) presented on TV.

   This is a pretty solid adventure, with good art and a strong story - we can even forgive the badly-placed ad page that disrupts the layout for one splash page.

   Presumably, they're not going to try to rewrite this Daisy's somewhat-sketchy past to line it up with the TV show. It's just as well - there's plenty of room for both, and no need to tie one or the other character up in knots to try to make sense of it.

Grade: B+


Thursday, September 10, 2015

A-Force #4

   I've been disappointed with this series so far - it just hasn't always made sense and it hasn't made good use of its cast of terrific characters (some of the company's most famous female heroes).

   But with this issue, A-Force seems to be back on solid ground.

   That's probably because this issue dispenses with the mostly nonsensical story and focuses on that old standby, the donnybrook!

   The female version of the Avengers have been dealing with a hidden traitor - but hey, who needs surprises? That mystery they've been building toward for three issues? THE COVER GIVES IT AWAY! (See yesterday's review of the Thunderbolts premiere issue.)

   (Ahem.) Despite that, this is a fun issue. Lots of fighting, some satisfying punching, and some strong artwork.

   The story's a bit thin, but it's an entertaining issue - finally!

   Apparently this series will survive the end of the Secret Wars (whatever that means), so here's hoping the improvements continue!

Grade: B+


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Classics - Thunderbolts #1

   It's rare, in the modern day, for a comic to surprise the readers.

   That's the curse of the Internet - news travels immediately, and secrets are spilled al the time. In fact, fans revel in uncovering secrets ahead of time. (To be fair, there are many positive things about the Internet, too. This blog, for example.)

   Even worse, the companies now spill the big events to the news media, so you can read about Captain America's death or Spider-Man's unmasking before the issue even goes on sale.

   I think one of the last times - and maybe the last time - a comic book managed to deliver a shocking story was in the pages of the Thunderbolts, a new team hero comic launched in 1997.

   This was the time of "Heroes Reborn," as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were apparently killed (though they suffered a worse fate as they "started new" in a different universe).

   To fill in the gap, new heroes appeared to fight the bad guys - including the Rat Pack (hi-tech thieves) and the Wrecking Crew.

   As crafted by writer Kurt Busiek and artists Mark Bagley and Vince Russell, the issue seemed to follow the usual setup for a team comic. It included the big strong guy (the size-changing Atlas), the beautiful innocent (Songbird), an energy-casting powerhouse (Meteorite),  the tech guy (Techno), the armored guy (Mach-1), and the brilliant leader (Citizen V).

   But the team harbored a secret - one not revealed until the final page, and it was a genuine shock (which I won't reveal here, of course). How had they kept it a secret? No idea, but thank goodness it worked out that way.

   It made the issue immediately memorable, and put it at the top of my "must-buy" list.

   Sadly, I don't think it could happen today. No one can keep a secret, and no one seems to appreciate the joy of being surprised by a plot twist. It's sad.

Grade: A


New Comics Today

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

- A-Force #4 - Who could the traitor be? (The cover tells all. So much for the surprise inside.)

- Batman #44 - Did the Dreaded Deadline Doom return?

- Quake: SHIELD #1 - I always liked Quake better than Quisp. (Old cereal joke.)

- Red Sonja / Conan #2 - There will be pain.

- Starfire #4 - Teaming up against a big ol' monster.

   And that's it - a slim week for me!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ninjak #7

   This book has been taken over by a quest story.

   Ninjak is tasked with tracking down some powerful creatures known as The Shadow Seven - they're the leaders of an organization called the Weaponeers, which supplies advanced weapons to criminals around the world.

   Last issue he took down an (almost) unstoppable juggernaut, while this time around he's up against Sanguine, a living buzz saw who is impervious to pain.

   I enjoy these kinds of stories, as they build on the hero's mythology and give him lots of chances to show his abilities (and take a lot of punishment).

   The story by Matt Kindt indicates that there's a lot more going on than we realize - but he's being stingy with the details. (This is not a bad thing.)

   The art by Juan Jose Ryp is raw, intense and emotional - this isn't a story for kids.

   This is just the second chapter, and the (brutal bloody violent) fun is just starting!

Grade: A-


Monday, September 7, 2015

Plutona #1

   If you're looking for something different, allow me to recommend Plutona.

   But I should add that I'm not really sure what the series is.

   On the face of it, it seems to be a "slice of life" for five young students as they go through a normal day.

   There's Teddy, a boy who is fascinated by super-heroes (and apparently heroes and villains exist in this series). Diane is a girl who allows herself to be pushed around by her friends. Mei is a flinty, difficult girl who has to babysit her younger brother Mike. And then there's Ray - he's kind of a jerk, but for good reason.

   Most of the issue is given over to introducing the cast - but the shocking event on the last page will make it tough to pass up the next issue.

   The creative team is artist Emi Lenox and writer Jeff Lemire. They created the story together, and Lemire provides the script.

   They make a great team - the script it solid and the dialogue believable, and the art, while somewhat cartoony, is striking and expressive - I like it!

   It's hard to tell where this series goes from here - is it super-hero based or fashioned for the real world? Whatever the case, the element of the unexpected is what makes it fun!

Grade: A-



Sunday, September 6, 2015

Thors #3

   The real trick to a police procedural story (or a detective story) is that the writer must play fair with the audience - in other words, give them a chance to figure out the solution to a mystery.

   While Thors has been surprisingly effective as a police story, with this issue it - by all appearances - jumps the tracks.

   That's because it offers the (apparent) solution to the mysterious deaths the Ultimate Thor has been investigating - but it never really gives the reader a chance to figure it out - which is to say, there are no clues that lead us to the answer.

   That makes this issue a bit of a disappointment, but it does benefit from the excellent art by Chris Sprouse, Goran Sudzuka, Karl Story and Dexter Vines.

   It also features some powerful scenes, including an interrogation between Thor and Loki - but they don't even know that they're brothers.

   This is one of the better books (of the ones I've read) to spring out of the Secret Wars series, but its success rests on the wrap-up to the series.

   So it's a "wait and see" on this one.

Grade: B+


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Silver Surfer #14

   While other Marvel comics are fighting to fit into the ongoing Secret Wars event, the Silver Surfer is happily skirting around the mini-series.

    Or not so happily. Having avoided the universe's final destruction, the Surfer and his companion Dawn Greenwood encounter some cosmic beings who make a shocking offer - to restore the universe, including all the friends and loved ones of the Surfer and Dawn.

   But what price will they have to pay?

   This series is something of an oddity - it operates apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe, and it has a distinctive '60s flavor.

   A large part of that is Mike Allred's expressive, unique and energetic art. He's had lots of room to run wild in this series with wild (sometimes psychedelic) art, just as writer Dan Slott has crafted flights of imagination and originality.

   Put them together and you get a comic that's unique and a heck of a lot of fun!

Grade: B+


Friday, September 4, 2015

Daredevil #18

   The issue is wonderfully depressing.

   Oh, not the story itself - it's just wonderful.

   What's depressing is the fact that we're at the end of the terrific run on Daredevil by co-creators Mark Waid and Chris Samnee.

   Waid has, I'm surprised to read, just completed the longest run on this series by any author. Samnee is already one of the best artists in the business, and he just. keeps. getting. better!

   So this issue manages to wrap up just about every single loose end. It features Matt Murdock facing his greatest opponent, the Kingpin, who has trapped DD in an inescapable corner.

   Either Daredevil dies - or his loved ones do.

   It's a smart, dynamic and often touching story, with stunning art. In other words, just another issue for this team.

   If you haven't been following this series, you've been missing something very special.

   Here's hoping the next creative team can maintain this level - we Daredevil fans are spoiled!

Grade: A


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Miracleman: The Golden Age #1

   When Eclipse Comics picked up the publishing of Miracleman, Alan Moore was the writer - but when he wrapped his ground-breaking storyline, a new author took over - some guy named Neil Gaiman.

   If I'm remembering correctly, that was the first American work by Gaiman (his Sandman series started not long after, I believe).

   At any rate, it was the first time I remember reading his work. Frankly, I wasn't expecting much. Who could match up to Moore's work?

   Needless to say, he was a great choice. Gaiman took the series in a completely different direction, crafting individual issues, each one a gem, examining the new world left in the wake of Moore's city-shattering series.

   Teamed with artist Mark Buckingham, the stories gave us insights into a world of wonders, where miracles were everyday events - but things are rarely what they seem.

   Gaiman built a new mythology - or religion, if you like - based on the godlike heroes in the Miracleman family.

   This issue follows a small group of people who undertake a massive challenge - climbing to the top of the temple the Miracles have built on the bones of London. Each one has a request - a prayer - to offer to Miracleman - but will they survive the experience?

   Buckingham's art is an interesting mix of amazing architecture and environments - stunning work, really - but some of his characters are surprisingly sketchy. But it works well for this story, bringing a world of mystery and magic to life.

   The series shows that Gaiman knew how to capture magic on the page practically from the start.

   Best of all, this series (I believe) will finally print the never-published stories Gaiman wrote some 25 years ago.

   It's about time!

Grade: A



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Classics - Swamp Thing #57 and #58

   As Alan Moore's ground-breaking run on Swamp Thing neared its end, in 1986 he took the title character into an unusual direction - into deep space.

    That allowed him to revisit some underused characters and concepts, including one of my all-time favorites - Adam Strange.

   It was also a step away from the usual horror format and into science fiction (don't worry, there are still some horror elements in there).

   When the Swamp Thing is forced to abandon the Earth, he (it?) hitches a ride to the planet Rann with Adam Strange, who travels to that alien world via the Zeta Beam (sort of like the Star Trek Transporter Beam).

   That's when the real fun begins, because Moore actually creates an alien language for the residents of Rann (I remember painstakingly deciphering the language when I first read these issues) - and a mystery involving visitors from the planet Thanagar, the home of Hawkman.

   The duo of Hawks includes a man and a woman (she was dressed in a rather impractical costume, with only suspenders covering her, uh, assets), and they're obviously up to no good.

   What was also shocking - and the only real change from the original version of Strange - was the attitude of the Rann people toward the Earthman. He still plays the part of hero (every time he visits Rann he must face and defeat a different menace) - although he doesn't realize that the altered Swamp Thing isn't an attacking menace, so they fight in the best Marvel manner.

   But it's also one of the few Adam Strange stories that focused on his intelligence and battle smarts, as he finds himself fighting two foes - the Hawks - who are much more skilled at aerial combat - and he must solve the mystery behind their true motives.

   It's just a terrific story, and one of the last to feature "my" Adam Strange - the smart, clever hero who has no powers, so he must use his wits to defeat each opponent.

   Moore's run on this series is legendary for good reason - it sets a remarkable standard for storytelling and reinvention that has rarely been equalled.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


New Comic Book Day

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

- Daredevil #18 - From the jaws of defeat...
- Justice, Inc. - The Avenger #4 - Fighting an invisible menace!
- Miracleman #1 - Beginning the reprints of Gaiman's run on the title.

- Mockingbird #1 - Celebrating SHIELD's 50th Anniversary.
- Plutonian #1 - Real life collides with super heroics. Maybe.
- Silver Surfer #14 - Building worlds!
- Thors #3 - Who is the murderer? Oh, hi, Loki.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

We Can Never Go Home #4

   Though I'm not a big fan of the grim and gritty style of comic, I have to admit that I've been enjoying this series a lot.

   We Can Never Go Home follows two teenagers - the nerdy Duncan and cool girl Madison - as they go on the run.

   When she gets angry, Madison generates sparks from her eyes and has super-strength and near invulnerability. When she accidentally kills Duncan's brutal father, they both go on the run - but as this issue shows, the noose is closing around them.

     They've been surviving by stealing money from drug dealers - and now both the dealers and law enforcement are after them - and there may be other interests, as well.

   It's a raw series - not for kids, with violence, language and adult situations - and it's intense, as the teens find themselves under attack - and Madison isn't the only one who has super-powers.

   This series has the advantage of the unexpected - the reader has no idea where the story is going to lead next - and there's enough humor in there to leaven the brutal action sequences.

   For some reason I wasn't expecting to connect with this comic - it's been a surprise to find how much I like this series.

Grade: B+