Saturday, August 31, 2013

Batman Superman #3

   This continues to be a heck of a lot of fun, as writer Greg Pak gives us a smart team-up between Superman and Batman and Superman and Batman (with a guest appearance by Wonder Woman).

   Nope, I'm not stuttering - the issue features the two heroes at the beginning of their career, and a parallel Earth version of them more than a decade further along.

   It's fun to see the young, idealistic Superman meeting his older, more confident (and somewhat jaded) counterpart, and we also get an exploration of the earliest meeting between the two - which hearkens back to Silver Age stories of the heroes as young boys.

   We finally get a sense of the forces at work here, as a familiar (and craggy) menace is revealed, and the heroes must find a way to join forces and overcome their biggest problem - distrust.

   The artwork is split between Jae Lee's wonderful, evocative style, which is very different from the usual Batman Superman fare - and the more conventional (but very nice) flashback art by Yildiray Cinar.

   As the story comes into focus, I find I'm enjoying this more and more - and next issue wraps up this story. A complete story in less than 10 issues - are they mad?

   Let's hope it's a new trend.

Grade: A-





Friday, August 30, 2013

Captain America #10

   Well, that stunk.

   I've been a fan of Captain America for a long time, and have been thrilled to see the country discover that hero through his recent film and his star turn in The Avengers movie.

   So when they announced they were relaunching this title with John Romita, Jr. art, I was very hopeful.

   Romita certainly delivered his end of the deal, with kinetic, powerful artwork that captured the desperate nature of the story while keeping Cap's inner nobility on display.

   But Rick Remender's story failed all across the board.

   It placed Cap in Dimension Z, where he was trapped by his old enemy, the robotic Arnim Zola. He rescues and raises Zola's son, Ian, for more than a decade, all while fighting for his life in an alien setting against a variety of monsters (In other words, it's Planet Hulk all over again).

   So after 10 long issues of torture for Cap, of the same "who will betray who" and "who will live or die" storylines, we reach the end, and it just makes no sense at all. (This story only needed four issues at most, even with the decompressed storytelling everyone uses these days.)

   There's no character growth here - we don't even get the interesting glimpses into Cap's early life that were featured in early issues. It's just all screaming and explosions and sturm and drang, characters acting out of character, plot points that are never explained. Was Cap there for decades or was it a hallucination / time shift / choose your own hoary science fiction explanation here?

    The conclusion treats a beloved character very badly indeed, and offers a pale attempt at a Twilight Zone finish.

   Hopefully the next storyline will feature the decisive, heroic Cap that fans have flocked to see - not this violent, grim and gritty substitute.

Grade: C-


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Justice League #23

   When it comes to modern comics events, the most important thing (it seems) is to "stick the landing" - in other words, to provide a powerful ending to the story.

   So for six issues we've seen the "Trinity War" play out in the pages of Justice League, Justice League Dark and Justice League of America, with assorted mysteries, murders and mayhem to sort out. Did Superman murder another hero? What is the secret of Pandora's Box? Who is The Outsider working for? What shocking event will happen at the end of this issue to catapult the DC Universe into the next big event?

   Surprisingly enough, all those answers are finally revealed in this issue!

   Writer Geoff Johns brings his "A" game here, pulling together all the plot threads he's carefully prepared over the course of this series. The issue is a series of big moments, with one revelation (or shock) after another.

   The art by Ivan Reis is terrific, loaded with splash pages, stunning visuals and great layouts. Very impressive!

   My only real complaint with the issue is that we get to the end of the "War" - and it doesn't end! It just jumps right  into the next event - but since it looks like a good one, we can forgive that oversight.

   I have to admit, I had my doubts about this series - and I still think it was more overcrowded than it needed to be - but give the creative team credit for putting together a strong finish, and a powerful start for Forever Evil!

Grade: A




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

New Comics Day

   Here's today's haul:
- Aquaman #23 - Undersea showdown.
- Batman Superman #3 - First meeting.
- Captain America #10 - The finale (finally).
- Executive Assistant Assassins #14 - Top of the class.
- FF #11 - Impossible, man.
- All-New Fathom #2 - A secret war begins.
- Flash #23 - What happens when Flash meets Reverse-Flash?
- Journey Into Mystery #655 - The last issue.
- Justice League #23 - The end of the Trinity War, the beginning of...?
- King Conan #4 - The Hour of the Dragon continues.
- Overtaken #1 -  A new science fiction tale.
- Thor #12 - A day in the life.
- Tom Strong #2 - Visit to a distant planet.
- Wolverine and the X-Men #35 - Wrapping up the Hellfire Saga.
- Uncanny X-Men #11 - A brutal fight.
- Young Avengers #9 - Broken hearts.
   And that's it!

The Classics - Blackmark

     In 1973 - in addition to buying comic books -  I was also constantly scouring book stores (new and used) for reading material.

   Imagine my surprise in finding this paperback in one of those stores. I had no idea who Blackmark was, but I immediately recognized the cover art by Gil Kane, easily one of my all-time favorite artists.

   I picked up the slim paperback and flipped through the pages, shocked to find that it was, in essence, a comic book!

   Kane had created a classic science fiction / pulp adventure tale, set on an Earth devastated by nuclear war, now home to warring (mostly) barbaric races and assorted monsters and creatures.

   The art didn't include just word balloons - instead, the story was told through blocks of text that ran around the art. Word balloons were only used for dialogue, and none of it was hand-lettered - it used type instead.

    It was not a story for children. It starts from the very beginning, as a mysterious scientist somehow makes it possible for Blackmark's mother to conceive a child for the first time (he is, unknowingly, the son of a king). Early in life the boy witnesses terrible tragedy and must struggle through life until he finds his destiny on the field of battle.

   It's a solid pulpish adventure, loaded with rousing action, grim moments and larger-than-life concepts. It's also just the beginning of the story (though it does stand alone), and Kane added a later chapters in the pages of Marvel magazines some years later.

   Especially considering the tiny size of the publication, the art is terrific (it appears to be mostly Kane on pencils and inks, although it's easy to spot some Neal Adams inking on at least one chapter), and if the story creaks a bit in places, you have to admire the energy, enthusiasm and pure skill Kane brought to the project.

   It stands as (arguably) one of the first graphic novels, and a grand experiment by one of the industry's masters. I loved it, and read it to pieces.

   Well worth tracking down!

Grade: A


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fearless Dawn in Outer Space #1 (One-Shot)

   It's nice to see Fearless Dawn back in action, since it's one of the most over-the-top, offbeat comics around.

   Written and drawn by Steve Mannion, Dawn appeared in a mini-series that followed her adventures, fighting against assorted monsters and Nazis (yes, Nazis) while trying to keep her clothes on. It was a manic, sexy series.

   Mannion's style is a real delight - sort of a modern-day version of the old underground comics, with lots of beautiful, pin-up, sexualized depictions of women, gnarled monsters and extreme action sequences.

   Needless to say, this isn't a comic for children - there's harsh language (though the worst of it is censored) and violence - but even the invasion of the bad guys is done in a lighthearted, entertaining fashion.

   This isn't a comic for everyone - it's rude and hot all at the same time - but if you're looking for some straightforward fun, and a comic that's just loaded with energy and enthusiasm, you could do a lot worse.

    But if you're easily offended, look elsewhere.

Grade: B



Monday, August 26, 2013

Wonder Woman #23

   We're coming up on two years of Wonder Woman stories in which the Amazon Princess has been off in a world of her own.

   Well, we assume it's actually the "New 52" universe, but (unless I'm blanking out here) she hasn't had any crossovers with other mainstream DC heroes in this comic.

   She has encountered the New Gods, but they've only appeared here (although Darkseid and his followers have popped up in a few places, including Earth 1 and 2).

   But the focus here has been entirely on horror, as the gods and their squabbles leave behind a string of death, dismemberment and destruction.

   Diana is trying to protect a young mother and her baby - who happens to be the last child of Zeus - and as a result has fought virtually every god in the pantheon. Some more than once.

    This issue by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang features the final battle (for now) between Diana's forces and those of the "First Born" (shouldn't he have a name?). It's mostly all-out, brutal action, but War brings some interesting allies to the dance (including some blink-and-you'll-miss-them gust stars).
   It has some shocking moments, though the ending seems somehow unresolved.

   This has been an excellent series (though as always I hasten to add that it's not for children), though I'd like to see this storyline wrapped up, so maybe we can see WW interact with some of her fellow superheroes. Or anybody who isn't a murderous immortal.

Grade: A-


Sunday, August 25, 2013

X-Men #4

   This issue of X-Men is (more or less) split down the middle, with two separate stories filling the pages.

   One story is quite good, and the other one is pretty dull.

   Ironically, the action sequence is the boring one - it's the introspective personal tale that's much more interesting.

   The action sequence has this team of X-Men (made up of female mutants, including Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, Kitty Pryde and Rachel Grey) performing a mid-air rescue of a jumbo jet in danger of crashing - all while sniping at each other.

   It's a silly, improbable rescue attempt that never manages to make us feel like anyone is in any danger at all. And all the complaining is just tiring.

   The other story is much more fun, as Wolverine and Jubilee and her newly adopted child Shogo (not that she's filed any paperwork or anything) take a walk down memory lane as they visit her old neighborhood and relive her action-packed introduction to the X-Men.

   It's touching and real - where the other storyline doesn't seem to include real people at all.

   I'd love to see more stories like this, and less of the manufactured heroics.

Grade: B

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Superman Unchained #3

   Given the talent working on this series, I was surprised that I didn't like the last issue of Superman Unchained much at all.

   Sadly, this issue doesn't do much to rise above that effort.

   Once again, we have Superman fighting the United States military for no good reason. The Man of Steel shows up at a secret military base, asks questions which General Lane (Lois' dad) refuses to answer, he fights a powerful alien and then they all calm down and answer his questions. So why were they fighting?

   This is also one of those comics where I think I must be losing my memory. Among the side stories are one that follows Lois Lane as she attempts a crash landing in a big plane - I have no memory at all of why she's in the plane, and we get no clue here.

   There's another sub-plot that has a mindless, exo-skeleton-wearing Lex Luthor being somehow piloted by himself (you read that correctly) for reasons I can't remember. And some drones are attacking Tokyo, but I have no idea why or where they came from.

   Forgetting elements like that indicates that either I'm losing my mind (always a possibility) or the setup in the last issue wasn't memorable at all. (I'm hoping it's reason #2.)

   The art by Jim Lee is as impressive as always, and it's great to see a new character who's powerful enough to go toe-to-toe with Superman - but I think that character's name has been used more than once before in comics.

   At any rate, it's another split effort, as the art is impressive but the story seems to be spending all of its efforts in making Superman a badass.

   Personally, I always liked him when he was just the world's greatest hero.

Grade: B-


Friday, August 23, 2013

The Avengers #18

      So I was at lunch yesterday with an old friend and he asked, "Do you really understand The Avengers?"

    I had to think about it for a moment, because there's a lot going on in this series, and it's a huge story unfolding - so it's easy to get overwhelmed by the story.

   I do understand the story, but give writer Jonathan Hickman credit - he's creating a deep, multi-layered story that - like his work on Fantastic Four and Secret Warriors - is challenging for the reader, but pays off in wonderful dividends.

   With this issue the majority of the team travels into deep space to join forces with an array of galactic empires facing destruction at the hands of the mysterious Builders.

   The story gives us a glimpse of some of the alien races that have been part of the Marvel Universe for a long time. An interesting element of the story is the idea that Earth is a special place - a planet that has managed to resist numerous world-crushing menaces (including Galactus).

   It's an old science fiction conceit - and a personal favorite of mine. It's nice to think that we have a special place in this big ol' universe.

   But in this battle the Avengers are faced with overwhelming odds and it's tough to see how 18 heroes - however mighty - will be able to make a difference.

   The art is by Leinil Francis Yu, who has a unique style that I enjoy. It contains elements of Ernie Colon and Gene Colan, but with an original, dynamic take.

   They're creating a powerful story here -  not always easy to follow, but it's carving a unique and thoughtful space of its own. Highly recommended!

Grade: A



Thursday, August 22, 2013

Justice League Dark #23

      This series continues to careen toward the conclusion of the Trinity War (which apparently leads into the next big event), and perhaps the biggest surprise so far is that of the "Trinity" (Phantom Stranger, The Question and Pandora), only the last of the number has played any kind of significant part so far.

   But that's understandable, because hoo boy, is this event crowded. It teams up the Justice League, the Justice League of America and Justice League Dark.

   This issue finally gives us some hints about the true nature of the threat - a mystery that promises to rock the DC Universe.

   If only this issue had been a better lead-in to the final issue. It's mostly devoted to an all-out battle that's the equivalent of a nasty game of Hot Potato.

   It also requires almost all the heroes to act like dopes, with only a couple of the magic-based heroes able to make a difference.

   But there are some enticing moments - especially the splash page that shows some surprising characters being affected by a mystic force - and that keeps us in the game to see how the creative team wraps this up and launches the next event series.

 Grade: B+



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Comics Today

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

- Avengers #18 - Galactic war!

- Conan the Barbarian #18 - Facing dark forces.

- Daredevil #30 - Fighting the Silver Surfer!

- Fearless Dawn in Outer Space (One Shot) - Everyone hates Space Nazis.

- Justice League Dark #23 - Nearing the end of the Trinity War.

- Superman Unchained #3 - Evenly matched.

- Wonder Woman #23 - War is hell.

- X-Men #4 - Fun and flight!

And that's it!

The Classics - Fun With Peanuts

As further proof that we're living in the Golden Age of comic strip reprints, we only have to look at what passed for reprints when I was young.

For most of the '60s and '70s, most of the comic strip reprints that were available were in small paperback books, like this collection - Fun With Peanuts.

The books, of course, featured reprints of classic comic strips from the mid-1950s by the legendary Charles Schulz, and featured Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder and Pigpen (and a few others that didn't last long in the strip, like Violet).

The strips weren't presented in chronological order and the Sunday strips weren't included (or if they are, they severely cut).

The big problem the book had to overcome was the change in format. Comic strips are, of course, typically long and flat, so to adjust each one to fit on the page, each one was re-formatted to remove the borders, add some Ben-Day highlights, change to borders and otherwise retool each one.

Here's a good example of how it worked:

But despite all those changes, I (and millions of readers starved for comic strip collections) scooped these up and read them to pieces (as the well-worn cover will attest).

Today, we have wonderfully complete collections with quality reproductions - I've been gleefully scooping them up - but I still have great affection for these ratty, read-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life paperbacks.

They were a gateway to a lost world at a time when such things were hard to find.

Grade: A+


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Charismagic: The Death Princess #3

Heroes are often at their best when faced with overwhelming odds.

That's exactly the position of the wizard Kon as this issue of Charismagic: The Death Princess starts, as Orlana, the Death Princess takes control of his allies - so to save the Earth, he must fight the powerful sorceress and his own lethal allies.

What follows is a no-holds-barred battle that provides answers to the mysteries behind the series, including the origin of the powerful villain Samsun.

The issue written by Vince Hernandez is an action romp, with some serious consequences (although the story makes a sudden turn from death-dealing brutality to "we don't want to kill anyone").

The art by Emilio Lopez and Jocelyn Dunn is entertaining (though the layouts in a few panels seem of bit off) - they seem to be having a lot of fun with this action-packed tale - and they also provide some nice good-girl art.

So if you're looking for answers to the mysteries behind the world of Charismagic, this is a good place to start.

Grade: B


Monday, August 19, 2013

Justice League of America #7

This issue of Justice League of America provides a textbook example of how tricky it is to have a crossover between more than one team comic.

The problem that arises is that the story gets so overcrowded with heroes that the story gets squeezed out of the picture.

That's the reason why the traditional method for crossovers was to break the teams up into smaller groups - then they'd gather together at the end for the big finale.

None of which is to say this is a bad comic. It moves the story along, though it does little to resolve the mystery at its heart - what caused Superman to (apparently) kill another hero?

So the teams are running around, checking out leads - and they finally get a clue about their true opponent.

The art is tremendous, as Doug Mahnke creates yet another issue filled with outstanding art and terrific character designs - he's one of DC's best right now.

But the credits box is as crowded as the comic, with two writers, five inkers and three colorists.

It's fun to squeeze a pile of heroes into one story, but it takes precision and clarity to make it work, and this issue doesn't quite succeed - though it makes a valiant effort.

We'll see how the last two issues in this event fare.

Grade: B+


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Batman #23

It's easy to forget that the "New 52" means we're reading about a new world, where even the most familiar events can unfold differently.

That's how it's playing out as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo tell their "Year Zero" version of Batman's origin, taking us back to Bruce's childhood and his attempts to fight crime after spending many years honing his skills as a fighter and a detective.

He struggles at first, especially when faced with the seemingly unstoppable army known as the Red Mask. As Bruce Wayne faces a terrible beating - and possibly death - he realizes his plan is not sufficient to get the job done.

To say more would spoil a powerful tale - both in words and visuals - so I'll simply say that this is an outstanding story and highly recommended.

I suspect it'll "read" better as a collection, because the story keeps stepping back and forth along Bruce's timeline, and it's not easy to keep track of things on a month-to-month basis.

But the creative team is putting an interesting and original spin on a well-trod story - not an easy task.

Grade: A


Saturday, August 17, 2013

THUNDER Agents #1

The T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comic was one of my favorites in its original incarnation in the 1960s, so every subsequent attempt (and there have been many) has to be measured against the original.

And boy, the reboot attempts have been all over the park. Some were quite good, with artist like George Perez and Dave Cockrum. Others have been less inspiring.

The problem is how to handle the team - should they be brought up to date, left in the '60s or used in a timeless sense?

Which brings us to this issue. Happily, writer Phil Hester seems to be moving toward a classic approach, but sets the comic in a modern era. The team is facing an attack by the beautiful but deadly Iron Maiden, but must gather its forces for the fight.

That leads us to an origin story of sorts for Dynamo, the powerhouse who tends to lead the attack. But the origin should probably have been put off for a while - we spend too much time learning about his mixed bag background, and not enough on heroics.

In fact, the entire issue is handed over to the whole "recruit the team" trope, instead of just diving into the story.

The art by Andrea Di Vito is solid superhero fare - strong, with good character designs, But backgrounds are almost nonexistent.

So the latest in a long line of reboots of the original, beloved series is OK, but it doesn't feel like the creative team has really "cut loose" yet. This comic has a long way to go to match the pure fun of the original.

Grade: B-


Friday, August 16, 2013

Saga #13

We're certainly happy to see Saga return from its self-imposed exile, as we pick back up with the sprawling story of a new family and their flight across the galaxy.

It's actually a rather quiet issue, with the net continuing to close around Marko and Alana and their daughter - the star of the series.

At this point she's not much of a star - her only action is to fill her diapers and be lovable - but we watch anxiously as danger threatens her loved ones.

We also check in with the mercenary know as "The Will" - he seems to be starting a new family.

And that's about it. As always, the writing by Brian K. Vaughn is terrific, and the artwork by Fiona Staples is stunning - lush and vivid with lots of great character deigns.

Throw in lots of unexpected events and you have another strong comic in this series.

Good stuff!

Grade; B+


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Infinity #1 (of 6)

You have to give it to Thanos - he's had a heck of a year.

Beginning with his guest appearance during the credits of The Avengers movie, he's enjoyed a resurgence. He's appeared in numerous reprints, the initial Avengers Assemble comic, and now he's the star of the latest event comic, Infinity.

This six-issue mini-series crosses over into the regular Avengers title and the New Avengers, so it's safe to say that writer Jonathan Hickman has a real challenge ahead.

But Thanos isn't the only menace in this issue, as an even older (and possibly more powerful) cosmic menace arises to threaten the galaxy.

So we have a huge battle looming, and a story that will weave through the main Avengers titles for months.

This issue gets it off to a powerful start, as it introduces the players, demonstrates why both menaces are to be feared, and shows us that Black Bolt is not to be trifled with.

With terrific art by Jim Cheung (with inks by Mark Morales, John Livesay, Davis Meikis and Cheung), the series is in great hands. Cheung delivers fantastic cosmic landscapes, dynamic hero (and villain) designs and sizzling action sequences.

It's the kind of big cosmic challenge that we'd expect to see from, say, Jim Starlin - the writer / artist who created Thanos. (Hopefully he's enjoying the return of his most famous villain.)

The issue may be a bit much for tiny readers (both in terms of violence and the scope of the tale), but mature readers will love it.

Can't wait to see where it goes from here!

Grade: A


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Classics - Tarzan of the Apes #174

Among the many comics that I didn't buy when I was young were those featuring Tarzan of the Apes.

That's mostly because, in the 1960s, I was more into superheroes, and was only familiar with the Tarzan as he appeared in the movies and on TV (which was mostly the "Me Tarzan, You Jane" version).

So yeah, I was an idiot.

In the late '60s / early '70s I picked up paperback editions of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories and became a big fan - but I didn't buy Tarzan's comics until DC took over the franchise and put Joe Kubert in control.

Which meant I missed years of great stories like the one in this issue. It's the first part of an adaptation of the novel Tarzan and the Ant Men, which pits the jungle hero against brutal cavewomen and a vast army of tiny warriors.

But best of all, the art was by one of my all-time favorites, Russ Manning! He seems an odd fit for Tarzan, since his style is more on the sleek and sophisticated side, but I don't think there's anything he couldn't draw extremely well.

I became a fan of his heroic art when he worked on Magnus, Robot Fighter (also for Gold Key), and if I'd known about his work on this title, I'd have bought it, too.

But in those days, promotion was virtually non-existent, so I was oblivious to all these wonderful stories.

Thankfully, many of these stories are now being collected in reprints (further proof that we're in the Golden Age of comic reprints.

Which is nice, because life doesn't always give you a chance to make up for past stupidity.

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

I picked up quite a few comics today, including:

- Astro City #3 - They also serve who stand and wait.

- Batman #23 - To all things a beginning.

- Buck Rogers #1 - Everything old is new again.

- Doomsday.1 #4 - Blessed are the meek.

- Fantastic Four #11 - A stitch in time.

- Infinity #1 - Something wicked this way comes.

- Justice League of America #7 - War is hell.

- Red Sonja #2 - You gotts have friends.

- Saga #13 - Back from the dead.

- Star Wars #8 - Fight or flight!

- Thor #11 - There shall be an ending!

- Thunder Agents #1 - Everything old is new again.

- Wolverine and the X/Men #34 - The infant terrible.

- World's Finest #15 - To fight the unbeatable foe.

- Uncanny X-Men #10 - Back to square one.

And that's it! Whew!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Charismagic #4

Just time for a quick review today, so here's the word on Charismagic: the story is slowly spooling out here, as chaos continues to reign on a magically-transformed Earth, while magicians Hank and Sudana (and the talking cat Sparkles) explore another reality looking for answers and allies.

In the meantime, evil forces are gathering, and it may be more than the good guys can manage.

It's a fun, imaginative series with excellent art, beautiful women, towering monsters and lots of fantastic events.

It may be a bit tough to pick up on the series in the middle, but once you get your "sea legs," it's a lot of fun!

Grade: B+


Monday, August 12, 2013

Earth 2 #15

For more than a year now I've been buying Earth 2 out of a sense of hope.

I've been hoping that the writer named James Robinson would return to his earlier, Starman-worthy heights. Sadly, it hasn't happened.

I've been hoping that the Justice Society of America would reform. Nope.

I've been hoping that the new version of the Golden Age heroes would hold a spark of the original characters. Not even close.

I've been hoping the stories would be interesting. This issue focuses on a war between the forces of Steppenwolf and an assortment of heroes who seem intent on fighting each other, instead of their enemies. So it's difficult to buy into the conflict.

There are side stories with Hawkgirl and Mr. Miracle, but they don't really go anywhere.

The only part of the series that has left me with hope is the artwork by Nicola Scott (with Trevor Scott inking). Her style is dynamic, with great character designs and strong layouts.

But that alone doesn't make this series worth buying. I'm going to try to hold on to the end of the war storyline, but that's going to be it for me.

As a fan of "Earth 2" since it was created in the '60s, I was hoping for a series I could love. With a heavy heart, I can't recommend this comic.

Grade: C+


Sunday, August 11, 2013

All-New X-Men #15

One of the sillier tropes that Marvel fell into when the Silver Age kicked into gear was an overdose of the soap opera angle - so you'd have more than one hero all in love with the same woman.

The strangest version of that had Professor Xavier, in a single, never-to-be-repeated thought balloon admitting that he was in love with Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey - just like Scott (Cyclops) Summers (who spent years wishing he had the nerve to tell her) and Warren (Angel) Worthington III, who chased her unsuccessfully for years.

Thankfully, Stan Lee must have realized that the Prof. X thing was terribly inappropriate and dropped it.

Which brings us to this issue, where we find out that yet another member of the team had a crush on Ms. Grey. The cover kind of gives it away.

It just seems silly and out of left field, and further muddies the whole time-travel tale. We wonder, how long will this last? Will it alter the present, if Jean falls in love with someone other than Scott? What about their kids? Is Cable fading away in a photo somewhere?

I find that the longer the original team is in the present, the less I like them. Instead of being one of Marvel's premiere teams, they've become a bunch of teens who seem out of their league and floundering in the present.

It all leaves me hoping this storyline wraps up soon - but that's probably asking too much.

Grade: B-


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Avengers A.I. #2

I'm having trouble putting my finger on why this Avengers: A.I. series isn't working for me.

Perhaps it's because the focus is entirely on a new Artificial Intelligence menace so close on the heels of Age of Ultron.

Perhaps it's because we aren't seeing any characters we can root for - Hank Pym is virtually the only hero (who's human) involved, and all the others are either cyphers or comic relief.

Perhaps it's because the menace is a well-worn science fiction trope - an A.I. that turns all machinery against humanity (Terminator, anyone?).

Perhaps it's the widespread destruction in Washington, DC that's hard to watch in these days of terrorist attacks.

Perhaps it's because the art is uneven - some scenes are dynamic, but some of the faces are just a bit too cartoony.

Or maybe it's all of the above. The team is gathered, the menace is revealed, but so far, it's just an ok comic.

Hopefully it'll all come together as this initial story spools out - but that seems to be a thin hope at best.

Grade: C+


Friday, August 9, 2013

Lords of Mars #1

It's surprising that Edgar Rice Burroughs never teamed up his two most famous characters - Tarzan and John Carter of Mars.

Dynamite continues its public domain versions of those characters, this time teaming them up in the new series Lords of Mars.

The difficulty with such a team-up, of course, is managing to bring the two heroes together. And it actually doesn't happen in this issue.

We look in on Tarzan as he tries to adapt to a more "civilized" way of life in England (and not exactly succeeding at that task), and we check in on John Carter, who has undertaken a major operation on Mars - but one that seems to be causing concern among certain enemies of the Warlord of Mars.

So it's a slow start to the story by Arvid Nelson (though it promises to pick up quickly). The art by Robert Casto is solid, but he doesn't get much room to show off here - there's a lot of standing around going on.

But the promise is there, and it should be interesting to see how Tarzan adapts to Mars - and how he reacts when he meets the White Apes.

Grade: B


Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Avengers #17

Since the first issue of this new version of The Avengers, writer Jonathan Hickman has been building.

The mantra for the team has been the need to "get bigger." With that in mind, they're recruited some of the most powerful heroes either on the planet or from near the planet.

But as big as the team is, with this issue, it gets even bigger, adding some surprising characters to the lineup.

But there's good reason for the growth, as the team is outmatched by a mysterious new being - as the world faces a monstrous threat both internally - and from deep space.

It's all leading into the next big event - Infinity - which features Thanos, perhaps the most powerful villain in the Marvel Universe.

The story just seems to get bigger and more important with each issue - it's fresh, original and dynamic. You really should be reading this comic.

The only thing I didn't like about the issue was the mix of artists - three different artists chipped in here, and the results are a bit uneven.

But the story more than makes up for any problems there, and sets up the coming war, which promises to have some deep-felt repercussions.

Grade: A


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Comic Book Day!

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

- A.I. #2 - Battle of the artificial life forms.

- Avengers #17 - Ready for Infinity?

- Earth 2 #15 - A war with unexpected results.

- Green Lantern #23 - Tracking a killer.

- Iron Man #14 - Against a big opponent.

- Lords of Mars #1 - Tarzan meets John Carter.

- Manhattan Projects #13 - Strange research.

- Emerald City of Oz #2 - The enemies gather.

- Shadow #16 - Margo is trapped by a killer!

- All-New X-Men #15 - Love is in the air!

And that's it!

The Classics - Tales of Suspense #88

This issue of Tales of Suspense absolutely shocked me when it was published in 1966.

It wasn't because of the stories. Both written by Stan Lee, they were pretty standard superhero fare. The opening story has Iron Man fighting to save Pepper Potts from the Mole Man (on loan from the Fantastic Four). The second story has Captain America fighting Power Man, the Swordsman and a mysterious opponent in an action fest.

The artist isn't the issue on the Iron Man story - it features lovely, flowing and dynamic pencils by Gene Colan.

The shock was in the artist on Captain America. The 10-page story was penciled and inked by the living legend, Gil Kane.

But in 1966 - as far as 10-year-old Chuck knew - Gil had only drawn for DC Comics, turning in iconic work on Green Lantern and the Atom, among others. I was shocked that a DC artist would be working at Marvel. (And yes, I know now that Gene Colan did the same thing - hiding for a while under the Adam Austin byline - but I didn't know he had worked at DC before Marvel.)

The idea of writers or artists jumping between companies was alien to me - Marvel had always been Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Don Heck, while DC had always been Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Joe Kubert.

But this was just the start of a seemingly never-ending line of writers and artists jumping back and forth between the two companies. It's old hat now, but at the time, it was a shock.

The good news was, it helped prepare fans for the biggest shock - when Kirby left Marvel and moved to DC Comics.

It made the companies seem a bit less stable - but it also kept a flow of new ideas and new energies crackling, too - so despite my initial misgivings, I eventually realized that it was good trend.

But it took some time to adjust to it.

Grade: B


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

King Conan #3

I've been a fan of the barbarian Conan since I first discovered the paperback books as a teenager, more than 40 years ago.

That character has been a comic book staple almost as long, and he's had some terrific creators handling his adventures, including Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Kurt Busiek, Frank Brunner and many, many more.

Ranked among that list of the best should be the creative team on King Conan: writer Tim Truman and artist Tomas Giorello.

They've created a true version of Howard's rough-hewn hero, and this issue focuses on a key moment in Conan's career - his first encounter with Zenobia, the second true love of his life.

They share a fight for their life, a daring escape, and one of the hottest kisses ever depicted in a comic book.

Giorello's art is tremendous - a classic style loaded with detail, great character designs, sexy women, heroic ideals and amazing environments.

It's an outstanding comic - truly the best version of Conan in a long, long time.

Highly recommended!

Grade: A+


Monday, August 5, 2013

X-Men #3

There's a lot to like about the new X-Men series.

I like the lineup, which focuses most of the powerful female mutants, including Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Pixie, Rachel Summers, Psylocke and a few I don't really know.

I love the artwork by Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales, with terrific character designs and wonderful layouts.

I like the characterizations by writer Brian Wood - each character speaks with a distinctive voice, and I like the "new" take on Jubilee as a Mom.

The only thing I don't much care for is the villain of the piece, which is the old "alien organism invades and takes over a bunch of people and seemingly can't be stopped until it is."

It's just a well-worn concept and, to be honest, the wrap-up here doesn't really make much sense.

However, the stage is set and this "new" team is settling into place, so hopefully the creative team will hang in there and keep improving on this promising (if imperfect) start.

Grade: B


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril #1

I'm very happy to see Tom Strong return, even if Alan Moore isn't handling the writing chores (happily, co-creator Chris Sprouse is handling the art chores).

The issue kicks off at a dead run, as a medical emergency hits home: Tom's daughter Tesla is pregnant and having severe problems - which one might expect when a mortal woman marries a volcanic prince.

Tesla is tough, but her life - and her baby's - hangs in the balance. It's up to Tom to devise an answer - one that will involve some old friends and a classic (and clever) comic book device.

Writer Peter Hogan devises a story here that will please long-time fans and keeps readers coming back for more. New readers may find it a bit tougher to follow, because none of the characters are introduced, and we only get the briefest glimpse of Tom's origin.

But you don't really need much intro - the characters are such solid pulp / science fiction constructs that it's easy to sort things out as you go.

The issue's biggest surprise is that it's lumped into the Vertigo family of comics. I'm not sure if that's because the series is creator-owned or if it's because it actually features intelligent writing, but it seems an odd choice for a comic that's (as near as I can tell) an all-ages series (would that more were like it).

So, terrific art, a great story, wonderful characters - in a just universe, this comic would be a hit!

Grade: A-


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Guest Review - FF #10

Stepping into the Guest Review batting box is my pal James Cassara, who gives us a look at the companion comic to the Fantastic Four: FF.

A comics reading friend of mine (of course most of my best friends are comic readers!) says he is prepared to give up on the Future Foundation, feeling it is “just too weird.”

On the one hand I see where he’s coming from. Weird is an adjective that is frequently attached to many a Mike Allred project, and while he is providing only the art - with regular Fantastic Four scribe Matt Fraction providing scripts - somehow this title seems to be his baby.

There are so many subplots and back stories going on - even though each issue does an excellent job synopsizing the one before it - that a casual reader would have a tough time making heads of tails of this. Johnny Storm an old and seemingly insane man? Dragon Man a reptile-like version of the Family Affair’s Mr. French? There’s also a cross dressing alien named Tong and a bevy of strange characters populating the Baxter Building: it’s all a bit much and I readily admit to being at times confused as to what is what.

But there’s no denying this title is also a lot of fun, and issue 10 is no exception. Alex Power, whose parents are being held captive by Dr. Doom, is exposed as a mole.

Ant-Man continues to try and hold the group together but, fearing his criminal past might return to haunt him, is clearly losing his grip on things.

At times She-Hulk and Darla Deering (who gave up a successful superstar singing career to join the group) seem the only ones in control. They’re two of the strongest female voices in comics, which only add to the pleasures found herein.

This issue also features “guest stars” series editor Tom Brevoort along with Fraction and Allred. It brings to mind the occasional fourth wall appearances of Stan and Jack. And if you have to ask “Stan and Jack who?” you’re reading the wrong column!

Circling back to my friend’s concern I do wonder where all this is going. There’s an awful lot going on - often to the detriment of the main story line - and I don’t get the sense that things are really moving forward.

In that regards FF may just be the comic book equivalent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: it often seems weird for weird sake.

But I stuck with Twin Peaks to the bitter end, so, despite my reservations, as long as Fraction and Allred are on board I feel inclined to do the same here.

Still, a bit of normalcy (as normal as any comic about super powered beings can be) would go a long way.

Grade: B


Friday, August 2, 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy #5

It's pretty standard for the written word to get all the attention in a comic by Brian Michael Bendis, but in this issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, the nod has to go to the spectacular artwork by Sara Pichelli.

It kicks off with a dynamic double-splash introducing Angela, and rollicks through an adventure that's loaded with wonderful characters (and terrific designs), well-crafted facial expressions (often telling the story with a wry look), over-the-top battles and lots of strong subtle touches.

None of which is to take away from Bendis' story, which is all about moving characters into place.

We meet the mysterious Angela, a character created by Neil Gaiman in Spawn a couple of decades back. After an extended lawsuit, the character was returned to her creator, and now is (apparently) under contract to Marvel.

Here she jumps into the Marvel Universe with both feet (and a big honkin' spear) as she searches for the source of the time rip that happened in Age of Ultron. It's a mystery Star-Lord is also trying to solve, and he tracks down some surprising sources for information.

So, another strong issue, with lots of humor and action - in other words, a typical Marvel comic. We can only hope next year's film will follow suit.

Grade: A-


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Batman Inc. #13

This is the final issue in writer Grant Morrison's long run on Batman (and Batman Incorporated), and he deserves credit for wrapping the series up neatly while laying the groundwork for future stories.

He manages to squeeze in a final confrontation with Talia, a meaningful discussion between Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon, a quick check in with a major big bad, cameos by all the members of Batman Inc, and nice review of why Batman is awesome.

Not bad for a single comic book.

I continue to be somewhat surprised at how crude and violent this series has been, and this issue is no different, with lots of blood, destruction and rough language on display.

Chris Burnham's art is quite good (if a bit grisly in places), and there are some outstanding layouts and designs on display.

It'll be interesting to see if the concepts from this series (of an international "League of Batmen") are carried over into other Bat-series, or if it ends here.

The whole "Bat Inc" idea has been interesting, but perhaps a bit too unwieldy for any but the best writers - I'm not sure anyone but Morrison could manage it.

Grade: A-