Thursday, January 28, 2021

X-Men #17


   Up to this issue, writer Jonathan Hickman's been giving us an intelligent, unpredictable and complex new world for the X-Men.

   But with this issue, you get the idea that he said, "You know what? I just want to write an old school, classic version of an X-Men comic."

   And he delivers! This is a romp as Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm join a few of the New Mutants who now live on the alien Shi'ar planet - they're out to solve the kidnapping of the ruler of that race, which brings them up against a powerful enemy.

   The art is by Brett Booth and Adelso Corona, and it perfectly evokes that classic '80s / '90s era without satirizing it.

   The story also manages to evoke the best of the era - heroes being heroic, a cosmic challenge, twists and turns, humor - what's not to like?

   If you're a fan of the "good old days" for Marvel's Mutants, this is the issue for you!

Grade: A-



Friday, January 22, 2021

Legion of Super-Heroes #12


   The newest version of the Legion of Super-Heroes has been a fun, high-energy version of the team that's always a thousand years away.

   It has suffered a bit from overcrowding, a problem that afflicts this issue in particular as storylines are wrapped up, villains threaten terrible destruction and all the heroes are on hand to do their part.

   While previous issues have been moving along slowly, giving the reader time to get his or her bearings, here the volume is turned up to "11" as the team must deal with the powerful sorcerer Mordru and the returned (and somehow still alive) Rogol Zaar, who once destroyed Krypton and now threatens to do it again with New Krypton.

   And somehow he's become a giant, for reasons that elude me.

    So there's lots of punching and throwing spells and general chaos here. It's frankly difficult to keep everyone straight.

   The issue is written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Ryan Sook and Wade Von Grawbadger. I'm a big fan of both artists, but this issue looks incredibly rushed - some pages are stunning, and others I'm hard pressed to figure out what's going on.

   From here the series jumps into the Future State storyline, which I'll be passing on. Aren't they already in the future?

   Overall, I give high marks for the series as a whole. This issue, though, was a bit of a stumble.

Grade: B



Thursday, January 21, 2021

Iron Fist: Heart of the Dragon #1


   I've read (and enjoyed) the adventures of Iron Fist since his first appearance, but the main reason I picked up this issue is because of the writer: Larry Hama.

   I've liked Hama's work since I first saw it in one of the early issues of... Iron Fist.

   Hama started out as an artist - and a darned good one, too - but he eventually turned his attention to writing, making his reputation with excellent work on the original G.I. Joe comic with Marvel.

   He's known for clever, action-packed scripts loaded with great characters, and that's all in evidence here. 

   The story follows Iron Fist traveling via a mystic gate to the Heavenly Cities, where he finds a deadly attack under way, and a well-known villain (or two) on a deadly mission.

   It's fast and fun and feels like a classic Marvel comic (and boy, is that all too rare these days). 

   The art is by David Wachter with color art by Neeraj Menon, and it's classic storytelling, loaded with great action sequences. 

   The story is just getting going, of course, but with some great nods to the past and a major threat on the horizon, it a very promising start! 

Grade: A-


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Blade Runner 2029 #2


    It's not easy to adapt a thoughtful, intense movie series into comic book form, but the creative team is doing just that with Blade Runner 2029.

   The series follows the woman named Ash (Aahna Ashina) as she tries to balance her job as a Blade Runner - tracking down the artificial humans known as Replicants - and her own feelings for her lover, Freysa, who's a leader in the Replicant Underground.

   Her search for information leads Ash to a "speakeasy" (of sorts) for Replicants, and she finds herself in a chase - one that could have fatal consequences.

   Written by Mike Johnson, the series does a great job capturing the grim world of the future, but keeps the focus on the characters and their relationships.

  The art is by Andres Guinaldo and color art by Marco Lesko, and it's powerful stuff - great environments, terrific character designs and smooth storytelling in evidence.

   It's a series that continues - and builds on - the film's vivid world of the near future.

Grade: A-


Friday, January 15, 2021

WandaVision - TV Review


   After quite a drought, we finally have a new Marvel production to enjoy, as the TV series WandaVision started today with the first two episodes.

    It's a show steeped in mystery, as we find the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) and the Vision enjoying married life in a reality based on '50s sitcoms - at least for the first episode. (By the second episode we're in the '60s.)

   It's not a new concept, but it's very well managed as the cast brings a typical sitcom setting and characters to life in a way that rings true - and still manages to sneak in some low-level superheroics.

   Obviously, "something is up" with all this - but we're just given a few clues about it all, which makes it even more enticing.

   It doesn't hurt that Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have great chemistry together, and they're given a chance here to show their acting chops, fitting into each era perfectly with proper intonations and posture - even the way they walk is spot on.

   The rest of the cast is terrific, and the settings are spot on - it's obvious that the production team has done its homework on sitcoms.

   Of course, there are many questions still to be sorted - including how it is the Vision is still alive, given that he was killed by Thanos in the Avengers: Infinity War movie (and was not revived in Avengers: Endgame). 

   The fun, of course, is watching this all spool out in the episodes to come (and let me just add that I'm glad Disney+ releases these shows in weekly episodes - I'm not a fan of binge watching).

   So far, this is a clever bit of business. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Chris Claremont Anniversary Special #1


   Here's an unusual offering from Marvel - the Chris Claremont Anniversary Special.

   I'm not sure what anniversary it celebrates, because there's no indication anywhere in the issue, not so much as an editor's note to provide a reason for the tribute.

   Claremont is, of course, the writer who took over the New X-Men with the group's second issue and went on to build that title into the best-selling comic for decades. (That team was originally created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, of course.)

   This issue is a standalone story of sorts, focusing on New Mutants leader Danielle Moonstar not long after an Asgardian adventure left her with a winged horse.

   Hela, the ruler of Hel, challenges the young hero with a series of obstacles to overcome (across time and space), all of them centering around a classic New Mutants villain and a series of powerful Marvel heroines.

    It may be tad confusing for those who haven't read Moonstar's original adventures, but it's very much a typical Claremont story, focusing (mostly) on strong-willed women who will not be defeated, even while facing overwhelming odds and the nastiest of baddies.

    It's nice to see Bill Sienkiewicz providing some of the art - the chapters are divided between him, Sean Chen, Diego Olortegui and Brett Booth. Inking is provided by Marc Deering, Roberto Poggi and Adelso Corona. And lettering by Tom Orzechowski!

   So while it's nothing Earth-shattering or indispensible, this issue is a nice throwback to the days when the mutants - and Claremont - ruled the world of comics. 

Grade: B+



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Event Burnout

    For quite a few years on this humble blog I've tried to cover the big "EVENT BOOKS" that Marvel and DC have rained down in ever-increasing numbers.

    As someone once said, "I ain't doin' that no more."

   I think it's safe to say that I'm suffering Event Burnout, and the industry is suffering from it, too.

   There are so many similar can't miss / must-see / bound to be a collector's item-type series that it takes someone with more patience than I possess to keep up.

   Just in the past months we have Death Metal, Future State, Endless Winter, Sword of X, Empyre, King in Black, Joker War and probably a couple of others I've forgotten about. Some crossover inside their comics "family" of books, and others cut across all titles.

   I know I'm a geezer, moving into my golden years, yelling at kids to get off my lawn - but I really have no patience to try to track down these massive storylines that weave between several books (most of which I probably don't buy anyway) - it's honestly become exhausting.

   So I give up! I've often thought that the comics companies seem to be trying to drive away the long-time readers, perhaps hoping the young readers will pick up the slack (assuming any are able to penetrate the massive obstacle of decades of continuity and thousands of supporting characters).

   The old political line is, "I didn't leave the (name of political) party, it left me." And sometimes I feel that way about comics - maybe the companies would be just as happy if I'd clear out.

   But the fact is, there are always books that appeal, and others that don't. 

   Right now, I'm looking for non-Event comics that tell a story with great artwork. 

   OK, end of rant.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories - Guest Review


 My pal James Cassara is back with a Guest Review - this time with a holiday theme!  

   The history of holiday themed comics, specifically those marketed for and celebrating December 25, goes far back in the history of comic book publishing.  

   Some of the very best were the annual offerings from Dell Comics, written and drawn by The Good Duck Artist Carl Barks, and found in issues of Walt Disney’s Comics And Stories.  

   If you’ve never read “Christmas In Shacktown” I urge you to track down one of the many reprints available. I have no problem naming it one of the 10 greatest comic book stories ever created. 

   In conjunction with IDW Books, Craig Yoe, himself the co-publisher (along with his wife Clizia Gussoni) has designed and edited a solid collection of Christmas themed stories, dating from the 1940s through the early 1960s.  

   You won’t find any Carl Barks here - all the stories contained in this book are public domain - but you will find delightful tales by Walt Kelly, who later hit the big time with his comic strip Pogo, as well as famed Little Lulu artist John Stanley, who took Marjorie Henderson Buell’s creation to heights it hadn’t previously seen. 

   While the work of Kelly and Stanley are the highlights of this collection there are several that I was unfamiliar with that can easily hold their own. 

   Several tales are written and storyboarded by Kelly but finished by Dan Gormley, a longtime Dell and Fawcett workhouse whose career is sadly overlooked. His “Letter For Santa” originally published in Santa Claus Funnies from 1962 is a real delight.  So too is his adaptation of Clement Clark Moore’s classic “Night Before Christmas.” Gormley gives this familiar chestnut (roasting on an open fire?) a comical twist that had me laughing out loud. 

   Also noteworthy is a fun “Atomic Mouse,” a 1957 tale from Charlton Comics written and drawn by Al Fago, whose comic career spanned more than four decades. 

   While most of the strips are drawn in a bigfoot “funny animal” style there are two fascinating outliers. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” illustrated by DC Silver Age steady Mike Sekowsky and “The Christmas Story” illustrated by Alberto Gioletti, best known for his long tenure on Turok Son of Stone

   As you’ve likely gathered there are no superhero stories here, although Atomic Mouse certainly comes closest, but for those willing to widen their horizons and try something different this 170 page hardcover is a great place to start.  

   My only criticism, and it’s not a minor one, is the lack of historical background, something Yoe Books typically excels in. The original publication sources are only found on the indicia page, and in very small print. I only noticed them after several perusals of the book. I would very much have preferred them up front and center on the contents page.   

   Also lacking is any introductory material placing these stories into the context they deserve.  Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed the book but those absences felt like a missed opportunity.  

   As a reading experience The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories gets a solid B+ but its lack of an introductory framework and the hard to find sources of original publication may knock that down a half grade or so. Still, it’s a great way to introduce younger readers to the joys of Christmas Comics, and you just might find them every bit as fun.  

   Christmas may be 11 months away but it’s never too early to start assembling your gift list!

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Fire Power #7


    I was talking to an good friend this week and he asked, "What's good out there?" (In other words, what are the best comics to read.)

   I hesitated, because there aren't many comics out there that really fire up my enthusiasm. But there is one that I really look forward to every month - Fire Power!

   Written by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Chris Samnee with color by Matt Wilson, it manages to be a rollicking kung fu / action / adventure / story and a family drama.

   And if that sounds like an odd mix, I agree, but it also manages to be a fresh and fun take on those classic concepts.

   It focuses on Owen, who spent his young adulthood learning martial arts (and a special power) in a hidden temple. But these days he's a dad with a terrific wife, Kellie (a police officer) and two kids nearing their teens (or thereabouts). 

   Their happy lives in suburbia are cut short when they're attacked by members of his old clan - and his former master is (apparently) killed. So the family goes on the run and they're trying to decide what happens next.

   The comic is safe in the hands of two pros. Kirkman plays the story like a musical instrument, always keeping the reader involved, surprised and anxious to see what happens next. Samnee is quite simply one of the best artists working in comics today - each page crackles with energy and enthusiasm. 

   The series is, so far, a real treat, and one of the best comics on the stands. 

   Don't miss it!

Grade: A



Friday, January 8, 2021

The Eternals #1


    Back to serve as a preview, perhaps, for the upcoming film (hopefully it'll be safe to return to movie theaters by the time it's released), Marvel has revived The Eternals in a new series.

   The focus here is on Ikaris, the point man and powerhouse for the race of immortal humanoids that were created by the incredible powerful (and gigantic) race known as the Celestials.

   Originally created by writer / artist / editor Jack Kirby, the series is much like Kirby's DC creation, The New Gods, in that no one other than the King seems to know how to use the concept. (Although there have been some fair attempts, including one by Neil Gaiman.)

   Also interesting to note that the original story, issued in 1976, had the Celestials arriving to judge the Earth - a process that would take 50 years. So just five more years to go!

   Anyway, on to the new series. It's a reasonable start (with a dandy cliffhanger ending), but it suffers a bit from a grim tone (though it does include some humor). There's a lot of ground to cover, and despite its large size, the first issue really just scratches the surface.

   The art is excellent and there's a lot of promise, so I'm going to hang with this one for a while. It's not Kirby - what is? - but it's a well thought-out take on the series, and it has potential. 


Grade: A-



Thursday, January 7, 2021

Action Comics #1028

    Your pal Chuck is back from the holidays and ready to get back to work - so we'll start... with an ending.

   Writer Brian Michael Bendis has, sadly, just wrapped his run on the Superman comic - and this marks his final issue of Action Comics

   I know, he can be controversial, some of you don't like his work - but I'm a fan.

   His writing is always interesting, his characters well crafted and fun to read, and he manages to be innovative on a regular basis. Considering how long he's been in the business, it's an impressive run.

   And he's been an excellent fit for the Superman titles, which were long overdue for a dose of enthusiasm.

   In this final issue, with powerful art by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, he wraps up several dangling storylines and sets the stage for the next creative team.

   So we learn the fate of the Daily Planet (which faced termination after a scandal with the previous owner - and a hat tip to Matt Fraction for providing the solution in his recent - and excellent - Jimmy Olsen maxi-series), some answers about the (clone) Superboy's future, and the fate of the Invisible Mafia (the criminal group that tried to run Metropolis in secret).

   It all feels a bit rushed, but it's a satisfying ending to a terrific run on the book - one that presented great challenges to the title character (not an easy feat), managed to incorporate the vast Superman Family, made Lois Lane into a more interesting character, and made this series a "must buy" for the first time in a long time.

   (OK, I didn't like the part where they revealed that he's actually Clark Kent - a terrible idea that trashes a beloved tradition. No one's perfect.)

   Best wishes to the next team, whoever picks up after the upcoming "Future State" series that I'll be passing on. (I'll talk about why in my next post.)

   I look forward to whatever title Bendis works on next - there are plenty out there that need his inspiration!

Grade: A-