Monday, February 19, 2018

The Chronicles of Corum: The Knight of the Swords Vol. 1

   When I began reading fantasy / adventure stories in the 1960s, I made the usual progression from Robert E. Howard's Conan stories to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter and finally to Michel Moorcock's Elric.

   The incredibly prolific Moorcock created a number of characters who fall under his concept of the Eternal Champion (a hero with many faces).

   One of those faces is Corum, the Prince of the Scarlet Robe, who is a pacifist - until his people are wiped out by an evil army.

   As you'd expect from Moorcock, this is not a typical story of heroism. Instead, it's an adventure tinged with love, tragedy, dark magic, grim gods and exotic locales.

   It's all brought to life expertly by writer Mike Baron and artist Mike Mignola, with inkers Rick Burchett and Kelly Jones.

   This collection is a reprint of a mini-series from 1987, so this is early work by Mignola - but it's impressive art, loaded with amazing visuals and flights of fancy.

   It's a treat to have this powerful work available again, and great to see the collection of "The Michael Moorcock Library" continue to expand.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Black Panther - Movie Review

   Occasionally a movie comes along that transcends the format and becomes a cultural event.

   We saw it this weekend with the premiere of Black Panther, which is not only a terrific action / adventure film, but also strikes a chord with - and sparks the imagination of - the public.

   Based on the character created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, it tells the story of T'Challa, who becomes king of the African kingdom Wakanda when his father T'Chaka is assassinated.

   The world doesn't realize that Wakanda hides a futuristic society, thanks to the influence of a huge Vibranium meteor that struck Earth in ancient times - but its rare properties have made the country wealthy, and the four tribes there are led by a king who takes on the powers of the Panther totem, wears a high tech suit and protects the country as the Black Panther.

   But as T'Challa (played with impressive gravitas, energy and heart by Chadwick Boseman) takes the throne, there are threats to be dealt with, including the machinations of the murderous Ulysses Klaue (played by a manic and vicious Andy Serkis) and the aspirations of the deadly Erik Killmonger (played by a dynamic and magnetic Michael B. Jordan).

   The film features an amazing cast, including powerful women (many of the tribe leaders are women) like Angela Bassett (as Ramonda the Queen Mother), Lupita Nyong'o (as Nakia), Danai Gurira (as Okoye) and Letitia Wright (as Shuri) - they are T'Challa's advisors, his guardians and the inventors of his high tech gear - there's not a shrinking violet in the bunch.

   You'd be mistaken to think that this movie is just another action film - it has heart-wrenching moments and tackles some challenging, thought-provoking topics. Is the safety of the people of Wakanda (read: America) more important than sharing that country's gifts with the needy around the world? Is violence justified in the pursuit of justice? Has the world turned a blind eye to the plight of the people of Africa (and of African descent)?

   There are no easy answers here, and the plot takes several twists and turns along the way. It's a tremendous film, and a real accomplishment by director Ryan Coogler and his production team.

   The film carries a powerful message of both heroism and heritage to audiences all over the world - it's a truly impressive accomplishment, and highly recommended!

Grade: A+

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Avengers #680

   There are several things about this issue of The Avengers I could easily dislike.

   It involves an alien power "stealing" the Earth and relocating it, which is more of a Doctor Who concept than a Marvel Universe event - but I can overlook it (after all, I do like Doctor Who).

   During the "No Surrender" event, the series is being published weekly and written and drawn by committee, which is typically not a great way to tell a cohesive story - but so far, they're managing to keep it together reasonably well.

   The cast is large, ever-shifting and spends a lot of time talking - but they're all in character and there are some nice moments, including a joyful reunion with old friends the Beast and Wonder Man, and the return of one of my all-time favorite (and criminally underused) characters.

   The story follows a battle royal between two alien super-teams and the Avengers, and it continues to build nicely.

   So against the odds - I like it!

   Go figure.

Grade: A-

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Marvel 2-In-One #3

   The Marvel 2-In-One series (or as it should be titled, The Fantastic Two-of-Four) continues to roll along in excellent form, as the Thing and the Human Torch continue to search the multiverse for their missing teammates (Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, natch).

   Of course, there are complications. For example, Johnny's powers are fading, and he doesn't know why. Also, Dr. Doom (in his Infamous Iron Man guise) - and a certain other classic villain - are also looking for Reed Richards, for their own nefarious reasons.

   All of which leads to a search for another hero who suffered similar power issues - and then to a fight with a surprise (and surprised) guest villain.

   With terrific art and solid writing, this series definitely "feels" like a Fantastic Four story - and we're long overdue for more of those.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Captain America #698

   The last time Captain America was frozen in ice, World War II was ending - and he woke up in the modern world.

   Given "Marvel time," that was either 20 years (into the mid-'60s), or about seven years ago in comic book time, when flexes with the actual calendar.

   Either way, it's understandable that Cap would be upset by being frozen again.

   This time he wakes up in the future, and one in which the American dream is not faring well.

   The heroes are gone and an aristocracy has taken over, leaving an army to deal death and destruction on the population - until now.

   Once again, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee have crafted a gem of a story, which combines action and adventure with an examination of what America is all about - and Cap's role in the world.

   Amazing art, a terrific story - it's the complete package.

   You should be reading this comic. You are, right?

Grade: A

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Comics Day

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

-  ARCHIE #28 - Who's dating who?

-  AVENGERS #680 - Can Jarvis be saved?

-  CAPTAIN AMERICA #698  - A man out of time!

-  DOCTOR STRANGE #385  - Loki's still running things.

-  MAGE HERO DENIED #6 (OF 15) - Can Kevin hide from evil?

-  MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #3 - The fate of the Four!


      And I received these review copies:

-  ACTIONVERSE #5 STRAY - The future of the Actionverse is at stake!

-  ATHENA VOLTAIRE #1 - She's looking for an object that once belonged to the Pope!

-  ATLAS AND AXIS #2 (OF 4) - A showdown with the enemy!

-  BABY BADASS #1 - An escaped military experiment gone wrong!

-  BABYLON BERLIN - Set in the 1920s, it's a hardeboiled detective story in Germany.

-  BLACK BETTY #1 - She kills the unkillable.

-  BLOODSHOT SALVATION #6 - The Book of the Dead - Part 1!

-  CHARISMAGIC VOL. 3 #1 (OF 6) - The forces of magic return!

-  DOCTOR WHO 12TH YEAR THREE #12 - They're no angels!

-  JUPITER JET #3 - Can Jupiter escape?

-  MINKY WOODCOCK GIRL WHO HANDCUFFED HOUDINI #3 - The magician's assistant!

-  NINJA-K #4 - A female agent enters the picture!

-  QUANTUM TEENS ARE GO VOL. 1 - Collecting the mini-series.

-  ROBOTECH #7 - Launching into action!

-  TORCHWOOD THE CULLING #4 (OF 4) - The finale!

-  WARHAMMER 40000 DAWN OF WAR III - What can stop the Battle Brothers?

-  ZOMBIE TRAMP ONGOING #44  - Death draws near.

     And that's it!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Classic Comics - Fantastic Four #52

   To celebrate the opening this week of the new Black Panther movie, here's my review of his first appearance in Fantastic Four #52 (the review was originally posted on December 22, 2010).

   I was an instant fan of the new hero - in fact, I dressed up as the Black Panther for Halloween - this in the days before glow-in-the-dark costumes were created. What could be safer than dressing all in black for trick-or-treatring?  

   Here's my review:

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   This issue of The Fantastic Four was smack in the middle of the long run that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby enjoyed on this series.

   And by this point, both creators were at the peak of their powers. They had just wrapped up a long series of connected stories that introduced the Inhumans and brought Galactus and the Silver Surfer to the Earth for the first time. They followed that with one of the all-time best issues in the series (#51) - and then this issue, which introduced a ground-breaking new character, one who earned a spot in the history of comics. It marked the first appearance of the Black Panther.

   Cover dated July 1966, the Panther seems to be the villain in this issue. He lures the Fantastic Four to Wakanda, his kingdom in Africa, where they find themselves in an amazing, futuristic setting. 

   The Panther appears and attacks the team, quickly separating them and defeating the heroes one at a time. Each battle is a pure delight, as the Panther triggers special traps and uses his own skills to overcome Marvel's "First Family." 

   If there's a weakness in this comic, I can't find it. The action is inventive, the story rockets along at top speed, there's plenty of humor (The Thing is one of the few heroes who can be funny even while he's losing a fight), the dialogue is terrific, the characters are memorable, and the ending is a real surprise.

   This story is memorable for another reason - it's the first to feature a black super-hero. I don't remember feeling any kind of surprise about that - it made sense that an African Prince would be black, after all. But it was a ground-breaking event - though of course there were black heroes before, like Gabe Jones, a member of Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos who was also a black hero, just a non-powered one. 

   It's always a delight when a creative team really starts to click, and Lee and Kirby were on fire by this point in their careers. Lee's wordsmithing was never better, and Kirby was at the peak of his skills (ably assisted here by the great Joe Sinnott on inks - in my opinion, Joe is the all-time best Kirby inker).

   Each issue seemed better than the last - just an amazing achievement in comics. As a 10-year-old, by this point the FF was my favorite comic book of them all - and it would hold the title for years.

Grade: A+

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