Saturday, October 31, 2009

Superman: Secret Origins #2 (of 6)

So how many additional origin stories does Superman need? Didn't Man of Steel and Birthright cover this ground already?

We can be thankful that this Secret Origin is in the hands of DC's current master of adjusting continuity, Geoff Johns.

Even though Clark Kent's backstory is well-trod ground, a good writer can always find a new angle or a previously undiscovered corner to explore, and that's pretty much what we're seeing here.

In fact, in this issue Clark seems to be stealing from Peter Parker - he's shy, an outcast, desperate for friends, clumsy with girls, and only comfortable when he puts on his costume and becomes another person.

Still, the story is touching as Clark tries to learn more about his own origins, and meets a team of super-heroes from the future who show up to say "Thank you."

Penciler Gary Frank seems to be having a blast here, mixing in dynamic splash pages with small, personal moments. His work is lean and powerful, and the young heroes look like kids - something many artist struggle with. Here Frank demonstrates an artist in total control.

I'm enjoying this series, and that's good, because right now it's the only Superman comic that's generating any interest from me. And considering it's yet another trip to the "origin" well, that's impressive.

Grade: A-

Friday, October 30, 2009

The New Avengers #58

Marvel seems to have a problem with its covers.

See that one on the right? That scene doesn't happen in this issue of the New Avengers. It might happen next issue, and it might not.

Some would call this false advertising, and it seems to be happening a lot to Marvel's books lately. I have no idea if it's a scheduling problem or just miscommunication with the artists. Or maybe they just don't care.

And it's not that there aren't dramatic scenes inside the comic to draw on - there just isn't a dramatic scene that includes The Hood. He does take part in a peppy one-page conversation, though.

So what does happen in this comic? Well, we have a story about Luke Cage, who's near death after being hit by a power drainer last issue. To get the medical treatment he needs, he surrenders to the Dark Avengers, which indicates just how dire his situation is.

At the same time there's a short but sweet battle between the New and the Dark teams, and a fun confrontation between the evil Ms. Marvel and the Night Nurse. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

A tight script by Brian Bendis, and excellent art by Stuart Immonen, although I'm not sure Dave McCaig's colors are the right match - some of the dark color designs don't seem to be matching up well.

I'm still holding out hope that we're getting near the end of the Dark Reign story - it's been a good run, but it's overstayed its welcome.

Oh, and Marvel - try to get that cover problem worked out, willya?

Grade: B+

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blackest Night #4 (of 8)

As we reach the halfway point in the Blackest Night, we finally meet the force behind the Black Lanterns (which I won't spoil here for the few who haven't heard the news online), as Earth's remaining heroes find themselves badly outnumbered by a murderous and powerful foe.

It's interested that the first three issues focused on Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and the Flash (Barry Allen), while here the focus is on the Flash, the Atom (Ray Palmer) and Mera (Aquaman's wife).

It seems an odd trio to bear the burden of fighting the army of the undead, but I have to admit I'm really enjoying the return of the Flash, both as a hero and as one of DC's most prominent characters.

That said, this issue doesn't really do much to advance the story, but it certainly shows the kind of overwhelming odds our heroes are up against. You really have to wonder if anyone is going to survive to see the final act here.

Oh, and we see what happens when the Black Lanterns reach the 100% power level. Needless to say, it's not a good thing.

Another outstanding issue by Geoff Johns, with more fantastic art by Ivan Reis.

Like any good continued story, I can't wait for the next chapter!

Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Dozen Comics for Wednesday

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

- Ambush Bug #7 (of 6)
- Heh.

- Astro City: Astra #2 (of 2)
- Good to see this series back on track.

- The New Avengers #58 - Worth it for the Night Nurse / Ms. Marvel confrontation. (You heard me.)

- Blackest Night #4 (of 8)
- The heroes are outnumbered and in trouble, and the big bad finally shows up.

- Fantastic Four #572 - A good start for the new creative team.

- Green Lantern #47 - More Blackest Night fun.

- Groo: The Hogs of Horder #1 (of 4) - Hey, Groo's back!

- The Incredible Hercules #137
- Amadeus Cho, back in the spotlight.

- Justice Society of America #32
- Death and destruction.

- Secret Warriors #9
- Love those countdowns to self-destruct!

- Superman: Secret Origin #2 (of 6)
- Hey, it's the (real) Legion of Super-Heroes!

- Ultimate Avengers #3 - Tony Stark has a brother?

And that's it!

The Classics - The Amazing Spider-Man #41

In looking at the history of The Amazing Spider-Man, it's easy to focus only on the incredible work done by Steve Ditko on the title, but this time around I want to focus on the guy who had the thankless task of following Ditko on Marvel's top book.

It wasn't the first time that John Romita would be called on to tackle an impossible job. When Wally Wood left Daredevil, it was Romita who picked up the assignment. Years later, when Jack Kirby left the Fantastic Four, it was Romita who followed him.

But it's easy to understand why Stan Lee would ask Romita to do the impossible. Romita is, simply, one of the best artists in the history of the medium.

As he tells the story, Romita initially tried to imitate Ditko's style on Spider-Man, but by this issue he had given up on that effort and started remaking the book in his own style.

Romita didn't have the unique vision of Ditko or the dynamic approach of Kirby, but he had a powerful, clean, professional style, and all the characters almost immediately became more attractive and heroic. Pete is more handsome, Spidey is more muscular, Gwen Stacy is a knockout - heck, even Aunt May is cuter!

Lots of writers actually hold this against Romita, claiming he changed the look of the characters too much, but since Ditko wasn't around to continue his vision of the book, Romita had to make it his own - and it's difficult to argue with success. Under Romita, Spider-Man became Marvel's top-seller, and it was because of issues like this one.

This issue almost reads like a primer on Spider-Man. We're introduced to the main characters, Pete's college life and friends are spelled out for us, and in addition we get a fun, knock-down, drag-out fight between Spidey and the Rhino, making his first appearance.

It was rare for Spider-Man to face an opponent who was a powerhouse like the Rhino, and the fight gave Stan lots of room to have fun with Spidey's dialogue. It's a fun, "done in one" issue that really set the tone for the "new" Spider-Man.

Romita was hitting his stride, just in time - the next issue marked the first appearance of none other than Mary Jane Watson, in a panel that certified John Romita as "the" Spider-Man artist for the foreseeable future.

It was sad to lose Ditko on the comic he co-created, but thank goodness we had Romita there to carry the torch!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Power Girl #6

Six issues in, and for the first time Power Girl stumbles a bit.

Let's just get this out of the way up front: the art is wonderful. Amanda Conner's characters are so expressive, her scenes so energetic that even a silent shopping spree is fun.

This time around, though, the story just doesn't hold up its end. It's not bad, it's just kind of pointless. And that's a shame, because the potential was there.

Picking up from last issue, Power Girl is on the trail of a trio of beautiful young women whose spaceship crashes to Earth and then explodes. They're being pursued by a guy who appears to be a lawman, and mayhem ensues.

Or at least it should ensue - but instead, the girls run off with a mobster and find themselves in the middle of a violent altercation. It's all played light and loose, but it's just not funny or wild enough to really live up to its potential.

I do like the tone of this book - it's fast and funny with a dash of sexy thrown in there - it just feels like the writing team (Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti) needs to amp up their game.

Bigger menaces, wilder action - go for it!

Grade: C+

Monday, October 26, 2009

Beasts of Burden #2

I should admit that I'm not a big fan of horror - unless it's done well.

And in this, the most unlikely horror comic around, you can see just that. Beasts of Burden is a great twist on the "Spook Squad" idea, as an unlikely team of animals works together to guard a rural community (Burden Hill) from the terrors that lurk on the edge of the real world.

Having animals talking to each other seems like a silly concept, but here it's played straight, in a Richard Adams manner, and it works.

Here writer Evan Dorkin serves up a disturbing tale that shows the team out of its league against a terrible foe - and it all begins with the heartfelt story of a dog who has lost her two babies.

From there the story goes to places you might never suspect, and it's as unsettling and horrific a story as any fan of the genre would want to read.

The art by Jill Thompson is fantastic as she infuses an amazing amount of emotion into the faces of the characters. She's doing terrific work here!

I can't recommend this for everyone. It's genuinely disturbing in places, and tough to read sometimes. But if you're a horror fan, this book is must reading.

Grade: A-

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Invincible Iron Man #19

Here we reach the finish of a darn good series called "World's Most Wanted," as Tony finally reaches the end of the line.

He's been on the run since the beginning of the Dark Reign, trying to stay out of the reach of Norman Osborn and H.A.M.M.E.R. (hilariously, they still haven't told us what those letters stand for).

With this issue, the Invincible Iron Man faces his final confrontation with Osborn (the Iron Patriot), and it's a fight he may not walk away from.

The series has worked on many different levels. At its most basic, it's been fun to watch Iron Man face off against an assortment of opponents, using most of his former armored incarnations in the process.

It's been tragic to watch as Tony Stark's mind has slipped away, since it's his genius that's his only real superpower. It's also taken away his personality, and it's been tough to watch him break apart piece by piece.

So the question that remains is, how can the pieces be brought back together? We'll have to wait 'til next month for the answer to that (though we have some delicious hints this time around).

As always, fantastic writing by Matt Fraction, and equally amazing art from Salvador Larroca. We can only hope this team stays on this book for a good long time - Iron Man has rarely been better.

Grade: A-

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Archie #602

So here we have the third issue (of six) of the story of what might happen to Archie in the future.

By taking the path to the left on Memory Lane, we've seen what would happen if Archie and Veronica got married.

I have to admit that I was surprised at the amount of ground covered so far. Since it's a six-issue story, I assumed most of the series would be taken up with the wedding - but instead they've moved past that and into married life and all the stuff that follows the wedding (or at least all the stuff they can show in the pages of an Archie comic).

I prefer not to give away too much info, but news stories have shown how they're going to fill out the next three issues, as we find out what happens when Archie takes the right path (so to speak).

So far, I have to say I'm surprised how much I've enjoyed this story. For an "imaginary" story, it's been a more-or-less straight look at what the future might hold for Archie, if it were ever allowed to happen.

With this issue the whole thing leans a little too much on sitcom-style humor, but it's all in good fun. And I must admit, I'm anxious to see how the alternate storyline plays out.

It's been a long time since this comic was on my must-buy list, and I've been enjoying my own visit to Memory Lane.

Grade: A-

Friday, October 23, 2009

Justice League of America #38

The big complaint with the Justice League of America in recent months (and years) is that the comic that was a leader for the DC Universe has been relegated to being a follower and reacting to all the mega-crossovers that have dominated of late.

As a result, the cast of the JLA has been made up of second-tier characters, as the big five (among others) have been caught up in bigger events.

There seems to be some effort to turn that around, as the creative reins are handed over to two big names in DC's arsenal: writer James Robinson (who's still working on the JLA spin-off, Cry for Justice) and Mark Bagley, who recently wrapped the year-long Trinity series.

Unfortunately, the characters available still haven't caught up to events. So no Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or Flash.

In their place we have characters like Vixen, Red Tornado, Plastic Man and Dr. Light. Fine characters, but not the kind of high octane heroes you need for a great team book.

Right out of the box they're pitted against an incredibly powerful foe, just to emphasize their problems (as if it needed to be spelled out for us).

The art, of course, is outstanding. I'm a big fan of Bagley's, who turns in strong, clean storytelling with sexy women and powerful battles. His work is like a cross between Gil Kane and John Byrne (with a dash of Wally Wood) - strong layouts, great physicality - at its heart, fun comic art.

The story just seems to be continuing the title's tradition of marking time. Hopefully things will pick up in a few months with the end of Cry for Justice - but surely fans ran out of patience for things to get back to normal by now.

Here's hoping the future brings brighter things.

Grade: B-

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dark Avengers #10

In reading this comic I'm not sure if I've just missed some story points along the way (I don't read all the Dark Reign-based comics, so it's possible) or perhaps writer Brian Bendis is just working extra hard at making the life of the Dark Avengers a strange one.

For example, in this issue we see the team speed off to tackle a new, mysterious menace. Leading the way is the Sentry, who I'd swear got "killed" last issue (of course, it's happened to him more than once so far in this series, and he's still around).

The new Captain Marvel disappeared several issues ago and hasn't been seen since (though we have seen his alien pistol in action - see the "death" of the Sentry).

Norman Osborn was having some kind of problem while trapped in his lab last issue - but this issue, he "seems" to be back to normal (whatever that is).

Meanwhile, Ms. Marvel is making sultry eyes at one of her teammates, and Ares gets to dismember a well-known Marvel character from the '70s.

The art, as always is fantastic. Mike Deodato is in his element here, whether drawing the interior of a country diner or a close-up of those previously-mentioned sultry looks.

This issue feels like the moment in a video game where you face off against a big boss, and that seems to be what the team is up against. The group seems to be breaking apart from the inside out - and by the time this story is over, they may be broken on the outside, too.

And strangely, that's what I'm looking forward to - seeing this team crash and burn. Or at least make a bit more sense.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Wednesday - That Means New Comics!

Here's what your pal Chuck picked up at the comics shop today:

- Archie #602 - Apparently Archie has solved the "who to marry" problem - he's going to be a bigamist!

- Dark Avengers #10
- The team faces one of those boss levels.

- Beasts of Burden #2 - Enjoyed the first one, so I'm back for more.

- Brave and the Bold #28 - The Flash (Barry Allen) and the Blackhawks? Silver Age Nirvana!

- The Incredible Hulk #603 - The kids are fighting again.

- The Invincible Iron Man #19 - The end for Tony Stark (sorta).

- Justice League of America #38 - A new beginning (sorta).

- Power Girl #6 - Girls just want to have fun.

- Spider-Woman #2 - Well, most girls...

And that's it!

The Classics - The Phantom #1209

When it comes to The Phantom, I've been lucky in a couple of ways - first, when I was growing up my local newspaper carried the daily comic strip starring The Ghost Who Walks.

Second, I have a friend in Australia. (Hi, Mark!) The reason that's lucky is because The Phantom is hugely popular there, and has starred in his own comic book for more than 60 years.

Mark and I have done some long-distance book trading, and as a result I've received quite a few copies of these outstanding publications from Frew Publications.

How wonderful they are! This issue was published in September 1998, and is the 50th Anniversary issue for Frew. It includes six black-and-white stories of the Phantom, including a new story created just for the issue, a complete daily story from 1950 and four Sunday stories from 1950, '51, '73 and '74.

The original story is written by Tony De Paul, with art by Joan Boix. The reprints were written by Falk, with art by Wilson McCoy and Sy Barry (my personal favorite - his stories were the ones I read growing up).

For those who came in late, The Phantom is considered the first comics hero to wear the traditional skin-tight costume and a mask with no pupils showing. His first daily comic strip appearance was on February 17, 1936.

Created by Lee Falk (who also created Mandrake the Magician), the "modern-day" Phantom is the latest in a 400-year-long line of heroes who have worn the mask and the purple tights, devoting their lives to fighting evil.

Operating out of a hidden jungle base, the character has a rich mythology built up around him, a vast number of supporting characters and an amazing history to draw on.

The character was always one of my favorites. Like Batman, he has no super-powers to draw on - but he's smart, saavy and tough as nails. Oh, and he carries two pistols.

I was sad when I moved to a town that didn't carry the strip. It's wonderful to know that the legend lives on around the world, and I'm grateful to my pal Mark for sending these my way.

Hopefully someday, we'll see a local reprint along the lines of the Peanuts volumes dedicated to the Ghost Who Walks.

It's the least we can do for one of the Founding Fathers of comics heroes.

Grade: A

LATE NEWS: Talk about wishes coming true! As reader -> Ray points out in the comments, the collection The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies Volume 1: 1936-1938 is coming in December from Hermes Press! Is this a Golden Age of newspaper reprints or what? Thanks for setting me straight, Ray!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7 (of 8)

One of the many real delights in stories about Hellboy is how he reacts when faced with his dark destiny.

Can he change his future? Do the whispers in the shadows truly reveal the end of the world? Can a creature like Hellboy fight fate, or is he doomed to follow the path laid out before him?

That's the powerful story Mike Mignola is unfolding before us, and it's one not to be missed.

And if Mignola only has time to draw the covers, we can be thankful that the interiors are in the skilled hands of Duncan Fegredo, whose style complements Mignola's while offering his own dark, detailed and powerful visions.

And that splash panel on page 12? Just amazing.

Here Mignola draws Hellboy into one of England's most potent mythologies (and my personal favorite), and there's no telling where the story goes from here.

Isn't that great?

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Incredible Hercules #136

I continue to be amazed that a comic book starring Marvel's character Hercules can be so darned entertaining - but it is!

That's a credit to the talent of the writers - Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente - and to the way they've turned the book (temporarily, I assume) into a split story, rotating between the adventures of Hercules and his newest ward, his father Zeus (who has been changed into a young boy and had his memory wiped clean), and the cerebral adventures of Herc's friend Amadeus Cho, as he seeks to solve a mystery involving his sister.

The stories have been fast-paced, fun and clever. In this chapter, for example, we find Hercules disguised as Thor, inadvertently finding himself leading an invading army of Elven warriors - only to find himself in battle with Thor, who's disguised as Hercules. (Thus the title: "Thorcules Versus Hercuthor!"

Those two powerhouses have faced off before, but never in a battle this funny.

The art team is penciler Reilly Brown and inker Nelson DeCastro who do an excellent job with both the battle sequences and the (sometimes priceless) expressions on the characters.

This comic just proves that the right creative team can make any concept work. This is a consistently outstanding comic, and well worth checking out - as long as you don't mind some humor mixed in with the slugfests.

Grade: A-

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Adventure Comics #3

I suppose it should be reassuring that writer Geoff Johns doesn't hit a home run every time he comes to bat.

Three issues in, and I have to say that I'm finding Adventure Comics to be very forgettable. It's not really bad, it's just that not a whole lot happens.

In this issue, for example, Superboy catches up with Robin (now Red Robin) in a minor escapade in Paris.

It looks like things are going to pick up next issue with the return of a particularly hateful villain (or two or more), but so far, this is coming off as an average effort by a team that's capable of much more.

The art by Francis Manapul is good, with a strong sense of fun and energy - but since everyone mostly sits around and talks, he doesn't have much room here to swing for the wall. (Sorry for all the baseball comments - it's the playoffs, you know.)

The Legion of Super-Heroes backup is, quality-wise, similar to the Superboy section - lots of standing around, a little bit of action, with the only point being to make fun of Polar Boy's status as a former leader of the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

The promise of greater things is evident, but so far, we're just seeing bunts and singles. (OK, I'll stop now.)

Grade: C

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Marvels Project #3 (of 8)

I have to admit that I'm severely under the weather here, friends - not sure if it's just a cold, the flu or the dreaded swine flu (the first two are making their way through the building I work in - not sure about H1N1).

The point being, I dragged myself to the computer to write a review, but it's going to have to be a short one.

The Marvels Project tells the story of the earliest days of Marvel's super-powered heroes, and continues to find interesting corners we haven't really looked at before.

The writing by Ed Brubaker is strong, the art by Steve Epting is powerful and captures the time period well.

A darn good series that continues to entertain.

Sorry to be terse - I'll hopefully be back to my old gabby self tomorrow.

Grade: A-

Friday, October 16, 2009

Green Lantern Corps #41

That has to be one of the most disgusting covers I've seen on a mainstream comic book. A baby holding a living, dripping heart - it's like something out of EC Comics.

Granted, the story within is pretty grisly, as the Blackest Night continues and things are looking bad for the members of the Green Lantern Corps.

On every front they're being attacked by the deceased, including former lovers, family members, friends and former members of the Corps.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's mostly a big mess. There are so many things happening, so many characters involved, and so much grisly business to cover that artist Patrick Gleason seems overwhelmed in places (although I should add that most of the issue is drawn very well).

For example, the splash panel on page two seems to have a disembodied hand plucking the heart out of a character, but I have no idea why or who or how all that happened. The rest of the issue plunges from one scene to the next, and without a scorecard it's not easy to keep up.

The story by Peter Tomasi just feels like it's marking time until the next step in the storyline, and we can only see so many near-deaths and characters being taunted by Black Lanterns before it gets old.

Love the main storyline of Blackest Night, but this sidebar leaves me as cold as that gory cover.

Grade: C

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Uncanny X-Men #516

Several different writers have maade attempts to "clean up" the convoluted continuity at the heart of the Uncanny X-Men - but so far, no one has managed it.

Perhaps it's just too messy to sort out.

We now have all the mutants who still have their powers hanging out on the island created from Magneto's Asteroid M, which was raised from the bottom of the ocean and I'm not sure if it's floating or what, and I'm not sure how so many mutants have powers when the Scarlet Witch wished them away at the end of the House of M mini-series, but here's the formerly depowered Magneto showing up in this issue with his powers back but Professor X, who seems to have misplaced his eyes and become something of a jerk, doesn't trust his old enemy, but here we get the explanation for how Magneto managed to get his mojo back (no, not that Mojo) - basically by jumping through some improbable plot hoops - and hey, the team is about to be attacked by a mysterious group of non-mutants and... well, you get the idea.

I'm not sure what the answer is to all this - though I'd suggest getting the team back to its roots in New York, and possibly splitting off the swarm of young mutants into a new incarnation of the "X (Xavier) Academy" so the cast can be pared down to something more manageable. Then you can have relationships, character advancement, conflict, that sort of thing - and lose a lot of the confusion that hangs over the book now.

With all that said, this isn't a bad issue - it has the usual solid Matt Fraction story and dependable art from Greg Land - but it's mostly set-up for what promises to be a fun time next month.

A solid ending, but most of the issue was just meh. Sorry.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Slim Day for Comics

The pickin' at the comics shop today were mighty slim. Here's what I got:

- Adventure Comics #3 - A team-up with Red Robin, sorta.

- Green Lantern Corps #41 - One of the nastiest covers in recent memory.

- Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7 (of 8) - What a good comic this is.

- The Incredible Hercules #136 - Thor vs. Hercules - but which is which?

- The Marvels Project #3 (of 8) - Namor vs. the Human Torch - always fun!

- Uncanny X-Men #516 - Magneto - with a twist!

And that's it!

The Classics - Magnus, Robot Fighter #15

When I was in Elementary School, one of my classmates brought this issue of the Gold Key comic Magnus, Robot Fighter to class, and I was an instant fan.

The first thing that caught my eye was the painted cover, which was unlike any other I'd seen (up to that point).

Then I looked at the interior art, and became an instant fan of Russ Manning, whose style was futuristic, clean, detailed and powerful. His men were handsome and his women were beautiful - I still consider Leeja one of the sexiest ladies in comics, if just for her dress with the transparent hem. To this day, he's one of my all-time favorite comics creators.

I also loved the design of his robots, which were sleek and dynamic, and the costumes were futuristic but practical. Magnus' "uniform" is a classic design that's surprisingly simple but iconic - it's a belted red chain-mail tunic with white boots. Everything about the strip holds up to today's standards.

The story inside takes Magnus and Leeja to another dimension, where an evil genius maintains an army of nearly-indestructible robots, and has plans that will spell doom for Magnus. It's clever with a dark edge and features lots of great action sequences and unexpected twists.

The comic included a recap of Magnus' origin on the inside cover, which was handy since I'd never read the comic before. Briefly: in the year 4000 AD, an intelligent robot rescues an orphan child and trains him to physical perfection - he can smash metal with his bare hands. Magnus will defend humanity against the danger of evil robots and the threat of mankind becoming too dependent on robots.

And that was the panel that really shocked my young self - this image, which depicts a problem that's all too real today:

Well, we don't have robots waiting on us like that, but our society does have a problem with a lack of emphasis on fitness and proper nutrition - it's easy to visualize this becoming a reality. (In place of robots, put TV, computers and video games.)

Magnus' run in comics was all too brief, but there are several years worth of outstanding stories that are thankfully available in collected form from Dark Horse, and well worth tracking down.

It's so rare to see a story set in a happy, optimistic future, as opposed to the usual dystopian lot - and the Magnus stories - especially the ones by Russ Manning - were outstanding and lots of fun.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I really need to go run on the treadmill.

Grade: A+

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Grimjack: The Manx Cat #3 (of 6)

It's great to see Grimjack back with new stories by the original creators, writer John Ostrander and artist Tim Truman.

For those who came in late, Grimjack is actually John Gaunt, a lone wolf who hires himself out for mercenary jobs. Part fighter, part soldier, part detective, he lives by a hard but fair code, he takes no guff and gives as good as he gets. Think Bogie with a big sword.

He lives in Cynosure, a city that sits at the crossroad of dimensions, and is constantly changing. This allows him to venture into any setting and any situation, from sorcery to science fiction.

The one thing that doesn't change is his hangout - Munden's Bar, a rundown club that Gaunt owns. Let's just say that it has some colorful customers.

This issue is the third chapter in his search for the Manx Cat, a statue that has deadly qualities - and a large number of dangerous people looking for it.

As always, the writing is fantastic - hard-boiled, edgy and lots of fun. The art is also amazing - nobody does this kind of over the top, action-filled comics noir like Truman.

And if you buy this comic, you not only get a great read - you're also offering a helping hand to Ostrander, who's fighting an expensive battle against glaucoma.

You can find out more ways you can help at this web site:

Hey, it's not every day you get to read about a hero and be one at the same time!

Grade: A-

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sherlock Holmes #5 (of 5)

Comic books do not have a great reputation for managing stories based on literary characters.

Too often the stories are cut down or dumbed down with the idea of appealing to a wide audience.

Far better is the tact of writing an intelligent story and trusting the reader to sort it out.

Thankfully, that's the method used by Leah Moore and John Reppion, the authors of this mini-series based on literature's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.

In this issue, Holmes is finally brought to trial on the charge of murder, having been caught red-handed in a locked room with the murder weapon in his hand.

We arrive at this issue with lots of questions and loose plot points, hoping that all will be resolved.

The art for the series has been outstanding. Aaron Campbell captures the era well, and manages the difficult task of rending the cast clearly, so we can tell the players apart. I look forward to seeing more work from Campbell.

If you're a Holmes fan, this series fits in well with the Great Detective's existing adventures, while taking a different approach to the story. A collected version will be available soon, and is well worth tracking down.

It's intelligent, clever and well done. And thus, refreshing.

Grade: A-

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Irredeemable #7

I have to admit that there's a part of me that doesn't want to like this comic.

That's mostly because the central character is a hero who turns into the world's great villain, killing millions and terrorizing the world.

What can I say, I usually prefer comics about heroes.

Still, I have to admit that Irredeemable is a compelling read. In fact, each issue jumps to the top of my reading pile.

There are several reasons for that. For example, the comic is well written by Mark Waid, and the art by Peter Krause is excellent.

The characters are interesting, and the mysteries behind what happened to turn the Plutonian into a monster continue to unfold in clever and surprising ways.

And you just never know what's going to happen next.

The tension in this issue is powerful, as one of the few heroes still standing faces off against the Plutonian while his teammates explore their former friend's hidden base, which holds more than a few surprises.

It's an excellent series, and I recommend it without reservation (though it's probably not appropriate for young readers).

As long as the comic continues at this level of quality, I'll be reading (while ignoring that little voice inside my head - he can be a real stick-in-the-mud sometimes).

Grade: A-

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Planetary #27

You can add this comic to the list of those publications we had to wait a heckuva long time for.

Other examples: Camelot 3000 #12, Steranko's History of Comics Vol. 3, Ellison's Final Dangerous Visions, the next All-Star Batman and Robin and lots of others I've forgotten.

Luckily, the comic was worth the wait.

For those too young to remember this comic's earlier days, Planetary tells the story of a small group of super-powered heroes who roam the world, solving mysteries and putting together the pieces of a universe-shaking puzzle.

The series was the perfect team-up of two terrific talents. Writer Warren Ellis managed to work in an amazing number of references to past comics, pulps, science fiction and films, all bound together by a compelling story that stretched the bounds of comic books.

Artist John Cassaday used this comic to show that he's one of (if not THE) best artists working in comic today. With a style of his own, he also manages to combine the best of Steranko, Severin, Wood, Perez and McGuire. His images are big, bold and dynamic, and he brings iconic characters to life, evoking the inspiration without copying outright. If you doubt it, just pick up the comic and look at the fold-out cover, which recaps the series all by itself. What a poster it would make!

Which brings us to this final issue, which intelligently wraps up one last plot point and points the characters into the future in a touching way.

I'm not sure it would make a lot of sense to anyone who hadn't read any of the previous issues, but to fans, it's a great wrap-up to an outstanding series that should enjoy a long life in collected form.

Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A

Friday, October 9, 2009

Justice League: Cry for Justice #4 (of 7)

When this series first started, it was kind of intriguing - but now it's just irritating.

And that's because... nothing happens.

Oh, there are fights (between enemies and friends), confrontations, arguments, death, torture and mysterious goings-on, but this issue doesn't actually advance the plot a bit. At the end, the characters are in the same place they were at the beginning.

The story by James Robinson focuses on several heroes who are really angry because a friend or loved one has been killed by the big bad guy, and they want revenge. For the first time, we begin to see some glimmers of regret for the brutish ways they've been looking for answers - but they're still angry, and the bad guy is still on the loose.

The painted art by Mauro Cascioli is still dark and impressive, but it seems like the characters just spend most of their time standing around, posing for us.

Oh, and four issues in and the team still hasn't assembled. Congorilla and Mikaal Tomas (the blue Starman) are still tracking down some murderers halfway around the world.

If the idea of this book was to assemble a new Justice League, it's sure taking its sweet time.

I'm in this far, so I'll stay for the other three issues of this series, hoping things will pick up. Or at least that I'll find a character I like.

Grade: C+

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ultimate Spider-Man #3

After the mess that was the Ultimatum event, you have to give credit to writer Michael Bendis for taking a lemon of a story and making something that is tasty and new.

Here in Ultimate Spider-Man our hero finds most of his life has changed. Peter's girlfriend Mary Jane Watson broke up with him, and now he's dating Gwen Stacy.

He lost his part-time job at the Daily Bugle (which went out of business), and now he struggles with a job at a fast-food joint.

Instead of being hated and feared, Spidey is New York's most popular hero.

And now, one of his friends - another hero - is moving in on his home turf!

Add to that the new menace of Mysterio, who's more deadly than ever before, and you have a story that hooks you from the start.

All this shows that Bendis has an excellent grasp on what makes Spidey work - a series of personal and "professional" challenges, a lot of humor, loads of action and plenty of plot twists.

He's also lucky to have David Lafuente providing the art - it lands just this side of being too lighthearted in places, but it's loaded with energy and life, and the action sequences are outstanding.

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it as long as it's true - the Amazing Spider-Man comic could learn a lot from the Ultimate version.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Day in Comics

Here's what I picked up today:

- Batman and Robin #5 - Two Dynamic Duos duking it out.

- Black Panther #9 - Lots of fighting, but is the story going anywhere?

- Dark Reign: The List: Secret Warriors #1 (One Shot) - Some nice homages to Steranko in here.

- Doom Patrol #3 - I'm still not feeling it. Love the Metal Men backup, though.

- Grimjack: The Manx Cat #3 - I am feeling this one - just like old times!

- Irredeemable #7 - Good and twisty.

- Justice League: Cry for Justice #4 (of 7) - Lots of angry people here.

- Planetary #27 - Years in the making - the final issue!

- Sherlock Holmes #5 (of 5) - This has been very good so far - but can they wrap it all up here?

- Strange Tales #2 (of 3) - Hoo boy, is it ever strange!

- Ultimate Spider-Man #3
- Spider versus Spider (sorta).

- The Warlord #7 - Ah, an all-Grell issue. Nice.

And that's it!

The Classics - Justice League of America #47

As a kid reading comics in the '60s, I knew almost nothing about the Golden Age of comics (the stories printed in the 1940s).

That 20-year gap was a wide one - there were no old comics in my neighborhood (that I ever saw), and the only comic characters I knew about were the Silver Age heroes.

But there were a few places where we got some glimpses of that long-ago time. Green Lantern and the Flash would occasionally meet their Golden Age counterparts, but the most prominent appearances took place in the Justice League of America, where a crossover with the Earth-2 team, the Justice Society of America, became an annual event.

What a treat those were! Here was an entire team of brand-new (to me) superheroes to enjoy, and the menace they faced was always a true challenge.

In this issue (cover dated September 1966) the teams are facing several major problems. First is the earth-bound menace of the Hulk-like villains, Blockbuster and Solomon Grundy. Then a mysterious force is bringing Earth-1 and Earth-2 together - when they meet, it'll mean the destruction of both. And finally, a gigantic character called the Anti-Matter Man is nearing both Earths, and if he makes contact, it'll also mean instant destruction.

What follows is a fantastic series of battles involving 11 heroes, overcoming impossible odds and sometimes silly situations - what more could any kid want?

I always enjoyed the introduction of new characters - this story, for example, was the first time I read about the original Sandman, and I always enjoyed Black Canary, Wildcat, Dr. Mid-nite, the Spectre and Dr. Fate. They're all familiar faces now, but at the time they seemed fresh and new, while having the gravitas of a long history of heroics.

It was always a treat to see what the vastly underrated team of writer Gardner Fox and artist Mike Sekowsky could come up with for the summer event - and this was one of the wildest ever!

These days, reprints of Golden Age stories are widely available, and the JSA has its own comic (soon to be two comics). I'm not complaining - it's good to see the Golden Age getting its proper due - but I have to admit, I miss those special summer stories, and those brief glimpses into DC's glorious past.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu One-Shot (B&W) #1

Now this is a real oddity.

This comic is (I presume) an odd tribute to the classic black-and-white Marvel Magazines that starred Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu. As such, it includes the oddest mix of stories you're likely to encounter.

The title character first appeared in his own title in December 1973, written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Jim Starlin. It was a clever twist on the Kung Fu craze and the idea of creating a comic using the pulp character Fu Manchu, the classic Sax Rohmer villain whose rights Marvel had secured.

The irony is that Marvel no longer holds those rights, so these days Shang-Chi's father is never clearly seen and never referred to by name.

After an outstanding start, different creators took on the title to varying degrees of success. The high points would include outstanding runs by writer Doug Moench with artists Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck and Gene Day.

Of course, the Kung Fu craze finally waned, and eventually Shang-Chi's comic adventures did likewise (in 1983).

So this issue seems to appear out of nowhere, and like the character's original run, it's quite a mixed bag.

The opening story by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Kody Chamberlin looks great and is totally off the wall as Shang-Chi takes part in a motorcycle race with a bizarre collection of characters, including Deadpool. It's fun, it's insane, and it makes no sense at all. Nice art, though.

The second story by writer Mike Benson and artist Tom Coker is much more along the lines of an actual Shang-Chi story, as he faces an assassin looking for revenge. Outstanding art, and a lean but effective story.

The third story feels like something that's been sitting in the archives for 30 years. Written by Charlie Huston and drawn by Enrique Romero, it includes a resurrection, belligerent cops and a silly fight sequence.

The final story is a text page by Robin Furth filled with bits of info about the martial arts and featuring some terrific illustrations by Gulacy.

As a fan of the character, I'm glad to see him appearing in a new comic. I just wish it were a better comic. (And why is he wearing tennis shoes on the cover?)

Grade: C

Monday, October 5, 2009

Astro City: Astra Special #1 (of 2)

Here we see another Astro City comic telling the kind of personal stories that have made the series such a treat to follow. (And it's monthly again - how cool is that?)

Writer Kurt Busiek and artist Brent Anderson are on top of their game as they bring us an update on Astra, a member of the cosmic First Family. The last time we saw her (as I remember), she was trying to fit in with regular kids in a grade school.

Now she's grown up and graduating college (and without checking, I assume that the timeline matches the real world, as scary as that might be). As a super-hero without a secret identity, she's a target for the gossip rags, and must deal with life in the glare of the spotlight. She's used to it, but it seems to be a struggle for her boyfriend, the normal Matt Zimmer.

The issue gives us a look at the life of the grown-up Astra (her full name is Astra Jeannine Majestros-Furst) and a glimpse of the larger-than-life world she lives in.

It especially hits home for me, because my wife and I are going through the whole empty nest thing, with both our sons off living their own lives halfway across the country - one just graduated from college, and the other is in his senior year.

Hard to believe that they - and Astra - aren't kids anymore. Where does the time go?

Anyway, great comic, excellent story, incredible art - I'm looking forward to the next issue!

Grade: A-

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Secret Warriors #8

Crossovers as a general rule don't bother me, mostly because they don't work.

The idea of a crossover (in the mind of the publisher) is to get you to pick up a copy of a comic you might otherwise not buy, in the hopes that you'll add it to your list.

The most crass crossover is the one that forces you to pick up that comic in order to get the full story being told.

Years ago, I was susceptible to it, but one of those mega-events broke me of the habit. I don't remember which one it was - "Worlds at War" in the Superman books, maybe - but after reading a particularly weak story, I decided not to fall for it again.

So now, if there's a crossover, I just miss the issues of the story I don't collect, and use the story gap to decide if I want to keep buying the comic I did collect. (In the case of Superman, I dropped all those titles for years.)

Which brings us Secret Warriors, which took part in a crossover and I didn't even realize it. This issue begins with Nick Fury a prisoner of Norman Osborn and his Dark Avengers. Fury was apparently captured in a recent issue of Thunderbolts, a comic I don't buy.

Of course, I don't need to buy it - the paragraph above tells us everything we need to know to bring us up to speed on the latest story. (You can also get the info from Marvel's boring-but-useful recap page at the front of each comic.)

This issue focuses on the (dysfunctional) relationship between Ares and his son, Phobos (who is a member of Fury's Secret Warriors team), and that part I enjoyed a lot.

Actually, the whole book is good, although small doses of the mysterious spy discussions goes a long way. But there a few good "woo hoo" moments, and the issue ends with a heck of a cliffhanger.

I like Alessandro Vitti's art - it's dark and grim, with some solid dramatic scenes - but the art doesn't always seem to quite match up with the script (though I'm not sure if the artist or the writer get the blame there).

Still, it's a fast-moving story with some great moments.

This comic seems to be flying somewhat under the radar, but it's very good, and well worth following. Can't say the same for all of its crossovers, though.

Grade: B+

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Justice League of America #31

Under previous writer Geoff Johns, the Justice Society of America was (more or less) one big happy family - but it hasn't taken long for the new creative team to make that family quite a bit more dysfunctional.

In this issue Wildcat and Magog get into a knock-down, drag-out fight, the All-American Kid is grilled for apparently trying to kill Mr. Terrific, and the other team members are squabbling after they narrowly won a fight with an army of super-villains.

So there's a lot of kvetching and grouching, but not much else is going on here - the issue is mostly setting up the next part of the story, where (presumably) the JSA is going to split into two different teams - one that's more traditional and one that's more proactive against the bad guys.

It's still too early to render a judgment on the work being done by writers Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges, but the wrap-up to this story should tell the tale.

I do like the art by Jesus Merino - it's professional, tells the story clearly and makes it easy to tell who's who in the army of characters in this issue.

If I gave "Incomplete" grades, this issue would get one - it's not bad, but I can't register a full decision until the whole story is laid out. But for now, I'll give it:

Grade: B-

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thor #603

It's almost a shame to see J. Michael Straczynski's coming to an end, because he's certainly taken the God of Thunder to some new and different places.

On the other hand, I have to admit that I'm not crazy about some of the story elements he's created - for example, the ongoing "Exiled from Asgard" story just isn't working for me.

This issue is his next-to-the-last comic, with one special issue left to wrap it up, and then we get a new creative team taking over Thor.

This issue is all about moving the pieces in place for the upcoming Giant-Size Special issue, so it's a "quiet" issue (other than some shocking moments on the last couple of pages).

Straczynski has Loki (who's back to being a guy again) and Dr. Doom working together (though I wouldn't call it a team-up) on a particularly nasty scheme (which is still mostly a mystery), with Thor effectively blocked from fighting back.

The art by Marko Djurdjevic is solid and sharp throughout, though it seems a bit rushed in places. He paints a dark and dreadful mood over the nasty goings-on here.

I can't recommend this as a "jumping-on" spot for new readers, as we're drawing up to the conclusion of a long-running story, but next issue would probably be a great spot to catch up on Marvel's most powerful hero.

Grade: B

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Green Lantern #46

Geoff Johns is one of the most successful writers in comics today, and one of the reasons for that is: he knows how to plant seeds.

Which is to say, he manages to place information in earlier stories that seem to be insignificant at the time. Then he adds more information as the story builds, until he finally unveils the secret behind that seed, and the reader can only say, "Wow."

A good example in this issue of Green Lantern goes back to an earlier story that mentioned the loving couple at the heart of the Star Sapphires. They are unidentifiable and frozen like statues, and it's a bit of background information you don't give much thought to - until the secret behind their true identity is revealed, and all you can say is... well, you know.

And that's just a small part of this issue, as the Black Lanterns attack, Sinestro finally faces Mongul for control of the Yellow Lanterns, and... well, lots of stuff is going on here.

It's to John's credit that despite the numerous storylines running, you never feel lost as you follow along, and the story just keeps building on itself. The Sinestro War was an outstanding story, and Blackest Night is shaping up to be even better.

I don't want to overlook the outstanding work being done by artist Doug Mahnke, who's turning in excellent work on a heck of a challenging assignment, given the huge cast and the big events he's depicting. And that double-page spread at the climax of the fight between Sinestro and Mongul - it's the kind of thing that makes you say "Wow," too.

If you're not already, you really should be reading this comic.

Grade: A