Friday, January 31, 2014

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 #1

   As a big fan of the original Firefly TV show and the Serenity film (do yourself a favor and watch them in that order) I'm always happy to see the story continue - and thankfully, we're getting a story set after the feature film.

   For those who came in late, the story centers around the crew of a transport starship called Serenity. They take on assorted jobs to make money, and largely try to avoid the attention of the Alliance that rules the 90 (or so) terraformed planets.

   The series mostly works in a "real world," with no aliens or laser blasters - it's very much a space western (in the best possible sense).

   As this story picks up, the characters are dealing with the loss of certain members of the team - and a new addition!

   They're also being hunted by - well, just about everyone in the 'verse.

   It seems the Alliance doesn't much appreciate the fact that the crew of the Serenity revealed a certain dark secret - and a new movement is starting that hopes to latch on the the popularity of the crew.

   So Captain Mal and his associates are laying low - but events conspire to throw them back into the limelight. Can they survive the experience?

   The story is by Zack Whedon, and it "feels" right - the characters speak in the right voice, and there are some good surprises here (although this issue is mostly setting things up). The art is by George Jeanty and Karl Story, and it's quite good, with strong layouts and character designs. My only complaint is that the likenesses fade out a bit here and there.

   It's a bit of a slow start, but it's a promising beginning - and I'll follow the Serenity anywhere.

Grade: B



Thursday, January 30, 2014

Inhumanity #2

   Sometimes the best way to get a story going is to break everything down and start building again.

   That seems to be the approach writer Matt Fraction is taking with the Inhumans, who star (naturally) in Inhumanity.

   Their home city has been destroyed, in their exodus before its destruction they've been scattered across the world, and several key members of the Royal Family have been (apparently) killed.

   That leaves the queen, Medusa, in charge and dealing with serious issues.

   When the city was destroyed, the Terrigen Mist was released on the world, and it has trigged a remarkable change in an unknown number of seemingly-ordinary people. All those with Inhuman backgrounds have been wrapped in cocoons and are being transformed into... something else.

   It's causing widespread fear - and it's drawing the attention of certain powerful elements around the world.

   The art in this issue is by Nick Bradshaw with Todd Nauck, and it's quite good. The influence of Art Adams is apparent, but well done.

   The story is still in the building phase, but it's setting up some interesting conflicts for the months ahead. Here's hoping the creative team can build the Inhumans - and this series - into something special.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Classics - World's Finest #129

   As a little shaver, I had several favorites: the Justice League, of course, and I was a big fan of World's Finest.

   Perhaps one of the reasons was that you got more heroes for your 12 cents (the sound you hear is the howling of modern comics fans, who pay a bit more for their comics).

   I have to admit that Superman, Batman and Robin always seemed like an odd team-up - after all, why does Superman need Batman's help? But this issue made a good case for the fact that everyone needs friends.

   And apparently villains need friends, too, as this issue features a team-up of Lex Luthor and the Joker.

   The villains seem to embark on meaningless crimes, as they steal objects of little worth - but lest you think this menace is a lightweight, Luthor has devised a gun that turns Superman into a living ghost. The effects are temporary, but painful - and the Man of Steel may not survive repeated blasts from the weapon.

   At its heart the story is pretty silly - the reasons behind the robberies is mostly an excuse to bring the good and bad guys into conflict - but it moves along briskly, and I always enjoyed the genuine friendship between the heroes, as opposed to today's more edgy friendship.

   The issue also features a couple of fun (if somewhat goofy) adventures with Aquaman (including wonderful and uncredited Ramona Fradon artwork) and Green Arrow, who must tackle an arrow-firing robot.

    And perhaps that's why I liked this series - with five heroes in one comic, it was virtually an issue of Justice League!

Grade: B




New Comics Day

   Another cold day, warmed by the arrival of new comics.

   Here's what I picked up today: 

Aquaman #27 - A monster at the door.

Conan: People of the Black Circle #4 - The finale.

Flash #27 - Tracking a mass murderer.

Guardians of the Galaxy #11 - The trial of Jean Grey.

Inhumanity #2 - A tale of Medusa.

Miracleman #2 - It's Miraclekid!

Saga #18 - Don't mess with a Lying Cat.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 #1 - Picking up where the movie left off.

Thor: God of Thunder #18 - Taking on a dragon!

   And that's it!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BubbleGun #4

   This is a series that's all about growing up - although it's a process that's been forced on Molli (she who wields the BubbleGun).

    That's because her sister has been taken prisoner, and it's up to her to lead her team of mercenaries in two separate prison breaks!

    First they have to rebuild the team - so she makes arrangements for a fast ship, and then gathers some high-powered (and high tech) recruits.

   But will all of it be enough to overcome almost impossible odds?

   That's all part of the fun, and the story by Mark Roslan zips along at top speed, rarely slowing down.

   The art by Mike Bowden is fun and high-spirited, though a bit rough in spots - but he brings this strange world of the future to life!

   Next issue wraps up the opening storyline, and then we'll see what the future holds for the attractive and fun BubbleGun!

Grade: B


Monday, January 27, 2014

All-New X-Men #22

   It seems a bit odd that Earth's heroes saved the universe in the Infinity series, earning the undying loyalty of a number of alien races - and within a month or two we already see stories where alien cultures like the Kree and the Shi'ar are attacking certain of Earth's heroes.

   Talk about fair-weather friends!

   This time around they attack the All-New X-Men (which is to say, the classic team now residing in the present day), and it's a no-holds-barred battle with fantastic visuals by Stuart Immonen.

   But before that, we get some fine character moments courtesy of writer Brian Michael Bendis, as Cyclops and Marvel Girl finally have a serious discussion - though it's done with comic results.

   This issue is setting up a multi-issue crossover event - the Trial of Jean Grey - and considering the guests who show up on the final page, it promises to be a heck of a lot of fun.

   So far, it's a very promising start!

Grade: A-


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Batman #27

   It's amazing to me that Scott Snyder, the writer who seems to be struggling so badly on Superman Unchained, is the same guy who's turning in such great work on the "New 52" version of Batman.

   This issue flashes back six years into the past to a Batman just beginning his career. He faces a deadly trap that could end his career almost before it begins, because he can't fight back when his attackers are law enforcement officials.

   And to make matters worse - they're aided by one of his deadliest enemies.

   And this is a refreshing take on that villain, along with some great character insights into Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and Bruce's relationship with them both.

   As always Greg Capullo provides outstanding artwork, terrific action sequences - and a few grisly moments.

   This continues to be one of the best of the New 52 books - and while it's not a book for kids, it's one mature readers will love.

Grade: A-


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Avengers #25

   OK, give this issue of The Avengers credit - it wasn't what I expected.

   The cover features the original Avengers team - Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp. So it was natural to assume it was some kind of time-travel story - which, given the fact that the original X-Men have traveled to the present and are starring in the All-New X-Men, seemed a bit overdone.

   Thankfully, writer Jonathan Hickman doesn't take the obvious path here - in fact, it's more in keeping with the story that's been running through the New Avengers.

   But it's an unsettling turn of events (including a surprising death) that promises big things - and some serious confrontations - in the issues ahead.

   As always, Salvador Larroca provides strong visuals, with some powerful nuance as the story takes an unexpected turn.

   Hickman continues to maintain an amazing mastery over several complex stories at once - yet he never loses the reader (well, as long as you're paying attention). Great stuff!

Grade: A-


Friday, January 24, 2014

Justice League #27

   Well, this issue of Justice League manages to keep the Forever Evil-related body count and grisly factor to a relatively small number - though it means the new Doom Patrol has a short run.

    But it's easy to forgive this issue's gnarly excesses because the rest of the issue is loaded with a more upbeat focus on Cyborg as he rebuilds and reinvents himself to prepare for the coming battle with the Crime Syndicate.

    We also get some tantalizing glimpses of something called the Red Room, some hints about the possible future for the Doom Patrol and a certain other Silver Age team (who shall go nameless here).

   Since it breaks from the ongoing depressing origins of the members of the evil JL, this issue by Geoff Johns gets a moderate
"attaboy" from me - though it spends more time setting the stage for upcoming events rather than actually moving the story forward.

    There's no denying the art by Ivan Reis is excellent, and I love his redesign for Cyborg - no doubt that character will follow Iron Man's lead and get a new look with great regularity.

   This issue continues to be subservient to the Forever Evil series - and with months to go before that ends, it's kinda sad that this has been the high point so far.

Grade: B



Thursday, January 23, 2014

All-New Invaders #1

   Through much of his recent DC work, I kept wondering, "What happened to James Robinson?"

   The writer who had done tremendous work on books like Starman and The Golden Age seemed to go missing. 

   So now he's migrated over to Marvel, and his first title to appear is All-New Invaders.

   That team featured five central characters - Captain America, Bucky, Namor, the Human Torch and Toro.

   At first I thought the book was going to be set during World War II, as with the original series (created by Roy Thomas and Frank Robbin), but it's set in Marvel's modern day. 

   Robinson seems to have an affinity for Golden Age characters, and this issue focuses on one of my favorites (and one of the most neglected) - the Golden Age Human Torch.

   Jim Hammond has been enjoying a retirement of sorts, working in a small town as a mechanic - but when a Kree powerhouse shows up asking questions, he surges back into action, in a hoo-hah action sequence made all the better for the Torch's concern for the citizens of the town (a lesson a certain Man of Steel needed to learn in his latest movie).

   It's building up to a big story about gods and heroes - and so far, it's a heck of a lot of fun.

   The art by Steve Pugh is excellent, with powerful layouts and excellent character designs - his splash of the Torch swinging into action would make a great poster.

   So the good news is, for this issue at least, the old James Robinson is back! Here's hoping for more of the same.

Grade: A-




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Comics Day

      Wow, a big haul at the comics shop this week. I got:

Avengers #25 - More time-traveling heroes?

- Avengers World #2 - What is AIM doing?

- Batman #27 - Enter the Riddler.

- Doc Savage #2 - A life hangs in the balance.

- Elfquest: The Final Quest #1 - The return of the Wolfriders!

- FF #16 - Final showdown with Doom.

- Harley Quinn #2 - Bless the beasts.

- Hawkeye #16 - What happened to issue 15?

- Hulk #18 - Oh, the Inhumanity!

- Invaders #1 - The return of one of my favorite characters.

- Iron Man #20 - The Rings of the Mandarin.

- Justice League #27 - Cyborg reboots.

- Wolverine and X-Men #40 - War at the school.

- Wonder Woman #27 - The search for a baby.

- All-New X-Men #22 - The trial of Jean Grey.

   Whew! And that's it!

Guest Review - The Classics - Kings in Disguise

   Here with another Guest Review is our man Dave Wright - this time he takes us back to the days when there were Kings in Disguise:         

   In the late '80s I started getting tired of the usual superhero comics although I still bought my share. However, I started looking for something different.  

   Kings in Disguise was a six-issue limited series by James Vance  and was certainly unique. The art looked different and the story was based on real life.  

   Set around the beginning of the Great Depression, the story centers around a young boy named Freddie in Marian, California. Vance sets the mood for the period as we see Freddie and his friends at the 10 cent theater enjoying a James Cagney film.  

   We then get to see what his home life is like. His father suffers from alcoholism, which creates a certain amount of turmoil in the family. He does the best he can for his two sons, but due to there being no work around town, their father leaves not wanting to burden his sons. 

   Freddie's brother, Albert, is left with the responsibility to keep the concerns of the home going and protecting Freddie. Albert does the best he can in providing for Freddie as things around town grow worse. Eventually Albert gets in some trouble, which causes Freddie to flee instead of having to go to an orphanage.

   Without much of an idea of what to do or where to go, Freddie is on the road. His journey takes him down to the railroad tracks where he sees some hobos preparing a meal. They confront him, and one of them called the Joker tries to befriend Freddie, but we find out quickly it's only for an ulterior motive. There's a skirmish, and Freddie and another hobo, Sam, catch a fast rail out of town.  

   This begins Freddie's journey to adulthood, his learning of the hobo life, and how to survive.  

   For me, this series had a lot going for it. I enjoyed the artwork by Dan Burr, but it was the touching story that had me buying the full series.  

   In a lot of ways it reminded me of novels like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. When someone would ask me what I might recommend in comics, along with Art Spiegelman's Maus, and a few others, I'd mention Kings in Disguise.  

   I later learned it won a Eisner and Harvey Award, and not only that, but Vance has written a sequel graphic novel, On The Ropes. There's a preview of On The Ropes at Amazon, if you want to check into that.  

   I'll certainly want to pick up a copy.

Grade:  A+ 



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Daredevil #35

   You would be hard pressed to find a comic that is a better example of the complete package than Daredevil.

   The writing by Mark Waid is phenomenal, balancing great characters (including "regular" people and superheroes), a compelling story, humor and great action sequences.

   The art by Chris Samnee is some of the best in the business, with a creative, unique style that builds a compelling world, adds great character designs and clever layouts.

    The story has Daredevil up against the Serpent Society, a vast and powerful network of racists who come up with a unique way to attack the Man Without Fear.

   The issue also features a team-up with a key character from his past - while at the same time, his partner and career hanging in the balance.

   If you haven't been reading this one, I strongly urge you to track down the collections and give them a try - comics doesn't get much better than this.

Grade: A



Monday, January 20, 2014

All-New X-Men #21

   What an interesting artifact this is.

   This issue of All-New X-Men actually has a flashback sequence to one of the first Graphic Novels Marvel printed in 1982 - God Loves, Man Kills was written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Brent Anderson.

   It focused on a religious movement that hated mutants, used violence against them and tried to eliminate them altogether.

   The first four pages of this issue is a flashback to that story, and it's again drawn by Anderson (I'm pretty sure these pages aren't just reprints, but new pages created for this issue - though I could be wrong).

   The rest of the issue is set in modern times, drawn by the excellent Brandon Peterson.

   But you get the sense that this issue is just marking time, perhaps getting things ready for the upcoming "Trial of Jean Grey" (whatever that is). The story by Brian Michael Bendis is surprisingly straightforward - the X-Men are captured by the fanatics, and then escape - and that's about it.

   It's almost worth picking up just for the art - but that's the only thing exceptional about it.

Grade: B


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Fantastic Four #16

   It's unfortunate that this 16-issue run of the Fantastic Four ended up being a bit of a jumble - it started out very promising, with the team embarking on an inter-dimensional family vacation / adventure.

   For whatever reason, writer Matt Fraction (more or less) jumped ship with a few issues to go, leaving the more than capable Karl Kesel to pick up the pieces - but by then the story had spun out of control, with a huge cast of characters (including duplicates), alternate dimensions, mysterious illnesses and suchlike.

   It wraps up here with more than one FF team facing the ultimate version of Dr. Doom - and while we see some heartwarming reunions and wrap-ups to more than one plot thread, it all just seems haphazard and rushed.

   The art by Raffaele Ienco is quite good (although the Mark Bagley cover is tough to beat), and the postscript by Joe Quinones and Mike Allred is fun.

      As the series gets set for a new creative team, a new first issue and a new storyline, here's hoping things get back on track for Marvel's first family.

Grade: B


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Afterlife With Archie

   Here with a Guest Review of a different take on Archie, the eternal teenager, is our man Dave Wright:    

   In the new horror series, Afterlife With Archie, all of Riverdale's regular cast characters are there.  If you've ever read one of the Archie comics throughout the years, you'll instantly remember and recognize the old gang and settings pretty quickly.  

   Not much ever changes within the Riverdale universe, and it's been that way pretty much since its origins. They are only updated to fit more inside the current timeframe when the stories are written.  In fact they have Best of the Archie Americana trades from the '40s, '50s,'60s, and so forth if one is ever in the mood for some of the older stories.  

   In this new comic series though we get to experience a bit of that nostalgia through horror and zombie tropes, and it's an awful lot of fun. It's Halloween, and Riverdale High is having a Halloween Dance. Archie has made plans to attend with Betty, and yes, Bettie and Veronica are still rivals over the attentions of Archie.  

   As the story opens Jughead is distraught over the death of his dog. Out of despair he takes his pet to a friend, Sabrina. She was a newer character to me, but you figure out quickly she's a teenage witch.  

   She brings the dog back to life for Jughead, but in doing so breaks the laws of the witch covenant.  This sets in motion the zombie infestation in the series. Things heat up at the Halloween dance. To give away any more story or plot would be a spoiler and you'd miss out on too much fun from reading the series.

   Afterlife With Archie is a romp down memory lane for those of us that have ever read Archie comics in the past. It's also a homage to the horror genre with different characters discussing which movie horror characters are better, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees and so forth.  

   The story is written well by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who also penned the story Archie Meets Glee, with some terrific artwork by Francesco Francavilla. I also have to say the coloring of the book goes a long way to create mood and atmosphere. 

Grade B+


Friday, January 17, 2014

Superman Wonder Woman #4

   I realize I'm a geezer, a fuddy-duddy, out of it, an old-timer - (you get the idea) - but I'm surprised that no one (that I've seen) has commented on the fact that, for the first time outside of Imaginary Stories (as far as I know), Wonder Woman has had sex.

   And with Superman, no less.

   Both characters have always been treated as virginal - although Superman (Clark Kent) obviously crossed that line when he married Lois Lane.

   But it's a subject that's always been avoided by Wonder Woman. She's had some romantic interests, but before the "new 52" version, she never crossed that line.

   The modern version, it has been implied, is much more modern in her attitudes about sex - she has had "relations" with the new version of Steve Trevor, and now the never-was-married Man of Steel.

   It's a more realistic version of the character, although the relationship still feels hollow - the two characters are so different (especially now) that they're barely plausible as teammates, much less as lovers. But it makes for an interesting story.

   The series is addressing the effect their relationship is having on the world, so that's interesting, and it's setting up a confrontation with General Zod, the writing is sharp and the art is quite good.

   It's a good series, and one imagines Wonder Woman has to be happy to finally break through that "no sex" barrier.

Grade: B+


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Miracleman #1

   At long last, Miracleman!

   But shouldn't it be Marvelman?

   What a long, strange path this series has traveled. The character began life as Fawcett's Captain Marvel, but when DC's lawsuit ended that series in the 1950s, publishers in Great Britain decided to come up with their own twist on the character, so Mick Anglo created Marvelman, a science-based (sorta0 version of the same character.

   In the mid-'80s the series was revived by writer Alan Moore (here referred to only as "The Original Writer") and artist Garry Leach with a modern, very adult take on the concept - but to avoid conflicts with Marvel Comics, the series was (eventually) retitled Miracleman.

   (Of course, Marvel bought the rights to the series some years ago - but the title is still Miracleman. Perhaps that's to distinguish the Alan Moore-written series from a more Marvel-friendly version that might eventually appear? Who knows?)

   This issue is a nice package, starting with a classic Miracleman story, then jumping to the "present," where the adult Mike Moran is suffering from terrible dreams and headaches. Now a reporter, he's caught in the middle of a terrorist event when he remembers the secret he had forgotten - one that returns the classic hero.

   But is the silly, comic book origin of Miracleman true - or is it hiding even darker secrets?

   It's wonderful to see this series back in print again - I collected the first "return" in the pages of Warrior magazine, then the continuation in Eclipse Comics. The stories are clever and powerful, but fair warning - they get much darker and downright gruesome - but they're deserving of a wider audience, and hopefully we'll finally see the full storyline by Neil Gaiman, who picked up the series from Moore - but the series was cancelled before he finished his run.

   This is Moore (excuse me, "Original") at his best. This series ranks right up there with Watchmen and Swamp Thing as some of Moore's best work.

   Marvel has assembled a sharp package here, with lots of background material and reprints of early Marvelman comics.

   This series isn't for young kids, but mature readers will love it - highly recommended!

Grade: A


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Classics - Tales to Astonish #53

   This week's news included a few features about the upcoming movie Ant-Man (which I'm looking forward to if just because of the director, Edgar Wright), so it seemed like a good time to dig out an old issue of Tales to Astonish for this week's "Classic" review.

   As I've mentioned before, I was a big fan of the original Giant-Man series (by the time I discovered the series, Hank Pym had just changed from Ant-Man to Giant-Man), even though, in retrospect, the stories were just average at best.

   This issue, published in 1964, was a favorite for several reasons. It has a terrific cover by Jack Kirby, the script is by Stan Lee (though not his best work), and it features the Porcupine, a villain I particularly liked, even though he never rose about the "D" list.

   He was (basically) the equivalent of an evil Iron Man, with a mechanized suit loaded with weapons. But when he took the suit off, he was just a dumpy guy with a beard.

   In this issue's lackluster battle, he actually comes close to defeating an injured Giant-Man, but (in a clear indication of how ho-hum this series was), he actually defeats himself (and was rarely seen again after this issue).

   And yet I loved the series! Perhaps it was the warm (if chaste) relationship between Giant-Man and the Wasp, perhaps it was the clear storytelling by artist Dick Ayers, perhaps I just always wanted to be taller.

   Whatever the reason,  I have nothing but fondness of this series, and I have high hopes for the film - hopefully it'll spark that same fondness in the hearts of fans everywhere.

Grade: C+


New Comics Day

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

Astro City #8 - Winger Victory under attack!

Daredevil #35 - In deep against the Sons of the Serpent.

Fantastic Four #16 - The grand finale!

Miracleman #1 - Wait, shouldn't that be Marvelman?

Shadow Now #4 - Dark and darker.

Superman Wonder Woman #4 - The secret's out - and so is Zod.

Thor #17 - Showdown with Malekith.

Worlds Finest #19 - Meeting "Dad."

Uncanny X-Men #16 - Magneto breaks loose.

All-New X-Men #21 - Trapped!

Amazing X-Men #3 - The Beast runs wild!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Earth 2 #19

   Earth 2 is yet another "New 52" title that has been teetering on the edge of being dropped from my list.

   That it has lasted this long is mostly a tribute to how much I like the Justice Society and the original concept of Earth 2.

   But this series has struggled throughout, meandering about without real direction. Heck, the team (such as it is) doesn't even have a name yet.

   I decided to hold on for a few more issues while the new creative team settled in - and I'm glad I did, because the story by Tom Taylor seems to have more of a purpose - though the story has become dark indeed.

   Once again, Earth 2 is under attack by Apokolips as vast armies of Parademons strike.

   But there is hope, as Batman (whoever he is) rounds up a number of heroes, including a real surprise.

   The art by Nicola Scott and Robson Rocha is quite good, with powerful layouts and great character designs.

   I'm still not crazy about the dark nature of the stories in this series, but I admit I'm curious to see where the series will go from here.

   So in terms of my list, this series lives to fight another day!

Grade: B+


Monday, January 13, 2014

Green Lantern #27


   If I had to sum up the recent adventures of one of my long-time favorite characters, that would be it.

   Look, Green Lantern should be all about big adventure, heroism (since the hero is a man without fear), science fiction, cosmic threats - with some romance thrown in for good measure.

   Instead, for months - years, even - this has been a comic about a shallow, thinks-with-his-fists hero who seems ill equipped to be a leader.

   When a Galactus clone shows up and says that there's a limited amount of green energy, and using it up threatens to destroy the universe, Hal believes him without reservation.

   That storyline completely undermines the Corps, its purpose and its future. That story was followed up with an adventure where the entire Corps is needed to subdue a single ring-slinger, and in this issue a mysterious alien manages to undermine the Corps even further by sending out a single message. Right.

   The art is nice, with Dale Eaglesham doing his usual strong work - but the story just falls flat.

    I've been following this series for a long time, and it feels like it's time to give it a rest. I'll come back when they get around to bringing back Hal Jordan.

   The rest of the Corps makes for an interesting supporting cast, but for too long, it's been the focus - and Hal has been lost in the crowd.

Grade: C


Sunday, January 12, 2014

All-New Marvel Now Point One #1

   Give Marvel credit as they publish a comic that previews six upcoming titles, sprinkles in a little bit of story, some fine art and charges the reader six bucks for what is, at its heart, a big commercial.

   But it's a nice commercial!

   It previews the upcoming comics featuring:

- Loki, no longer a teen and now back in his movie-style adult version. His story provides the framework for this issue (kinda sorta);

- Silver Surfer, in a funny vignette that has nothing to do with the rest of the issue;

- The All-New Invaders, which previews a cosmic angle to the modern day adventures of the World War II team;

- Black Widow, in a fast if slim adventure;

- Ms. Marvel, the newest hero on the block with some truly strange powers (oh, and she's a Muslim); and

- Avenger's World, because there cannot be too many Avengers comics.

   So there are some nice snippets to see - the Loki part of the story is probably the best, but the whole thing really doesn't add up to a whole comic, much less one that costs double a single issue.

   I'd advise holding off until the individual issues show up.

Grade: B-


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Black Widow #1

   Here's a character who has to be a challenge to continuity fans.

   That's because the Black Widow has been all over the map.

   She started out as a villain in the early days of Iron Man's adventures. Then she teamed up with Hawkeye, reformed and became an ally of the Avengers. She was given some solo adventures, she spent some time teamed up with Daredevil and the Winter Soldier, she's had a few mini-series along the way, but mostly she's been connected to the Avengers - and certainly the feature film cemented the association.

   So now - finally - she has her own title. So how is it?

   Thankfully - it's pretty good.

   It ignores all the past continuity (though it doesn't actually cast it aside) and launches Natasha right into a separate, deadly adventure where she operates as something of a mercenary - though one who tackles dangerous jobs as a way to redeem her past misdeeds.

   So the story by Nathan Edmondson focuses on super-spy action to good effect, well matched with stunning art by Phil Noto.

   As Scarlett Johansson has demonstrated in her film appearances, the Widow has tremendous potential (her confrontation with Loki in the film is an amazing scene). This comic is a good first step in bringing that character into the comics.

Grade: A-


Friday, January 10, 2014

All-New X-Factor #1

   I haven't read X-Factor in quite a while, but as a comic reader I'm apparently required to buy every first issue, so I picked up this issue of the All-New X-Factor.

   (I should admit that I don't really buy every first issue - I'm just being snarky about the whole renumbering thing.)

   It's promising that the series is being written by Peter David, who's had a long run at the wheel of this title - and, needless to say, is a seasoned pro.

   The question is: what form is the team taking?

   The answer is: they're part of a corporation.

   The mutant members of the team are being hired by a (reportedly) philanthropic corporation to help those in need.

   It's a setup that doesn't smell right - and David makes the most of it.

    But like most first issues, this one suffers from the "get the team together" drag. It takes a while to sort out three of the members (presumably more are on the way) and explain the new organization of the team - their first adventure is barely underway when we run out of pages.

    The art is by Carmine Di Giandomenico, and I have to admit that it didn't quite click for me - I'm not crazy about the new uniforms, and the art feels busy and a bit jumbled. Your mileage may vary.

   So it's a surprisingly average start for this new version of the long-running series. But we'll have to reserve judgment until we get a little more mileage on the new vehicle.

Grade: B


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Avengers World #1

   This is where I start worrying that Marvel is over-extending its Avengers brand (gee, do you think?) and - more dangerously - burning out its top writer, Jonathan Hickman.

   So I approached the new Avengers World with some trepidation.

   The first thing we notice is that they're brought in a co-writer, Nick Spencer - that's a smart move.

   And the artist is Stefano Caselli, who does great work here - dark, moody and imaginative.

   The story doesn't quite work for me, but that's probably because it's just getting underway - we're just seeing the setup here.

   I love a lot of things about the script - the return of strong characters (including a great surprise from one of Hickman's earlier series), a really massive menace, some great dialogue and plenty of surprises - this may end up being another terrific series to follow.

   It's just a bit too early to say for sure. But it's off to a promising start.

   But please, Marvel - enough Avengers titles for now, OK?

Grade: A-


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Classics - The Atom #19

   While team-ups were pretty common for both Marvel and DC in the '60s, it was generally only done as a one-issue event (Hawkman and Atom met often in each other's comic, as did Green Lantern and the Flash), or in a regular team-up comic like World's Finest.

   (To be fair, the annual Justice League / Justice Society crossover was typically a two-issue event.)

   But in 1965 editor Julius Schwartz and writer Gardner Fox had a unique idea - sort of a precursor to the mini-series. They'd create an ongoing crossover story that would start in one title and weave through several different titles, culminating in an issue of Justice League of America.

   The story also introduced a new character who almost instantly became a fan-favorite: the magician Zatanna. She was searching for her missing father, the Golden Age magician Zatara.

   The story started in Hawkman #4 and continued in this issue of The Atom (eventually continuing in Green Lantern, Batman and even an Elongated Man story). She recruits the Tiny Titan to help her journey into a magical book where she'll confront an evil magician who managed to defeat her father.

   Her ongoing story featured several surprising turns (although the opening part of this story is pretty standard "Atom versus dumb crooks" stuff). But the story kicks into high gears when Zatanna appears on the scene sporting her va-va-voom stage costume, complete with fishnet stockings.

   It's a fun story, loaded with lots of action. It doesn't hurt that the art is by the legendary Gil Kane and Sid Greene, working at the top of their game here. Worth the cover price for that first shot of Zatanna, which delighted a certain 9-year-old fan.

   It was a one-time-only experiment that (as I recall) wasn't repeated - and it must have been a challenge to coordinate, even with Fox handling all the writing - but as a fan, I loved it.

   It made the DC Universe seem more "real," as adventures overlapped and connected. That would become commonplace in the '70s and '80s - but I'm pretty sure the idea started here.

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

   A rough day at the ol' comics shop this week, as no comics arrived (my poor shop owner looked like he'd been shot). So I had to drive about a half-hour away to another comics shop - one that had a slim selection (it made me even more grateful for my shop).

   Here are the books I was intending to pick up today (I actually got six - you'll find out which ones as the week wears on. Hopefully I'll get the rest soon):

Avengers World #1 - It's their world, we just live in it.

- Black Widow #1 - Great character - but will the comic work?

Earth 2 #19 - Under attack by Apokolips!

Fox #3 - Talk fast!

Green Lantern #27 - Double trouble.

Iron Man #20 - Facing the future.

Star Wars #13 - Father vs. son.

X-Factor #1 - A new start!

- All-New X-Men #22 - Haven't seen it yet.

Young Avengers #15 - Same here.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril #6 (of 6)

   It's been wonderful to see the return of Tom Strong, the smart, pulpish science hero created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse.

   Since Moore departed the series, Tom's adventures have been continued by writer Peter Hogan and illustrated by Sprouse (whose work I adore).

   They've been doing good work, and that continues with this mini-series, which takes Tom and his son-in-law Val on a journey to an alternate reality where the Earth is faces a terrible fate because of a mysterious plague.

   Which creates a serious delay, because Val's wife (and Tom's daughter) Tesla is facing death - and even if they find a way to save her, they can't return home until they discover a cure for the plague.

   This series is always like a breath of fresh air, with tales of heroics, intelligence over brute force, smart science fiction concepts, with terrific characters, wonderful art and an ever-growing mythology.

   I certainly hope this won't be the end for this great, great series - there are many more great Tom Strong stories waiting to be told.

Grade: A-


Monday, January 6, 2014

The Flash #26

   I've made no secret of the fact that I haven't cared for the "New 52" version of The Flash, even though I'm happy to have "my" Flash, Barry Allen, back in the role.

   But despite some excellent art, the stories weren't compelling, and the changes to Barry's life seemed arbitrary. He leads an interesting life both in and out of costume (as a Police Scientist), but neither life was particularly compelling, and the exploration of the Speed Force that gives him his powers were equally muddled.

   So after two years of that, it's time for a new creative team, and so far, I'm happy to say, it's an improvement.

   New writer Christos N. Gage delivers a "done in one" issue that pits the speedster against a high-flying adversary, and adds a toxic component to the mix.  It's a breezy issue that's light on character development but heavy on the action.

   The art is by Neil Googe and it's a clean, modern-with-just-a-hint-of-traditional style that's very effective for this story. The layouts are fresh and the storytelling clear and easy to follow.

   It's not a perfect issue - what does the comics industry have against the Chicago Bears? - but it's an improvement, and I'm all for that.

Grade: B+



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dead Boy Detectives #1

   It's wonderful to see a bit of a Neil Gaiman resurgence in the world of comics - first the new Sandman mini-series and now the revival of the Dead Boy Detectives, two schoolboys who solve crimes despite the handicap of being, you know, dead.

   The ghostly crime-fighters first appeared in a 1991 issue of Sandman, and have made a few appearances since.

   The boys are Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine - they decided to stay on Earth as ghosts rather than enter the afterlife.

   This story starts out in one world and ends in quite a different one. It starts with an odd publicity stunt that turns into an actual robbery - thwarted by the Boys - and ends with the return to the school where they first met (and the source of many nightmares).

   It's kind of an odd start for a detective story, but it covers the bases - introducing the main players, setting up the menace (sorta), and establishing the setting.

   It's a strong first issue from writer Toby Litt, and it's always a delight to see Mark Buckingham's artwork (here with Gary Erskine's inks) - here's hoping for more of the same.

Grade: B+


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Superman Unchained #5

   So I've read all five issues of this series and continue to be surprised that it's really not working for me.

   Jim Lee's art is exceptional as always, but what's unexpected is that Scott Snyder's script isn't working for me - which I wouldn't have expected, since his work on Batman has been exceptional.

   But Superman Unchained is trying so hard to be a dark examination of the Man of Steel (rather like the film was, I suppose), that it doesn't seem to be a Superman comic at all (again, like the film).

   This issue even makes the cardinal mistake of pointing out the mortality of Superman's friends - which isn't true at all.

   Oh sure, in the real world Lois and Perry and Jimmy would age (perhaps Clark would, too) - but the reality of it is, they don't age at all. They've been around since the late '30s, after all, and they all seem just as young and vial as they were then (I'll grant that their fashions have changed).

   Add to that the menace of Ascension (whose motivations aren't clear at all), an alternate history for the Earth's technology,  and the menace of the Wraith, a coldblooded version of Superman.

   Perhaps what the series needs is some humor - a ray of hope. Right now, it's all darkness and gloom.

Grade: B



Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Avengers #13

   Like its counterpart book, The Avengers, there's no slacking off in the post-Infinity adventures of the New Avengers.

   The Earth is being threatened by incursions from alternate realities, as a cosmic incident is causing other Earths to intrude on Marvel's Earth - with the result that either one or both Earths are destroyed.

   There have been several such incursions so far, and each time, Marvel-Earth has survived - but this issue gives us a look at a couple of alternate Earths. One seems very familiar - but the other may feature an unbeatable defense.

   It's a great teaser for both the ongoing Inhumanity story and a great way to build suspense for the conflict that's coming.

   Once again, writer Jonathan Hickman provides a sharp script - there's a lot going on here - and the story nicely plays to the strengths of artist Simone Bianchi, with dark doings, fantastic vistas and grim battles to the finish.

   And while the story's a bit darker than I might prefer, it's certainly captivating, and I'm anxious to see the next chapter.

Grade: A


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Classic Comics - Avengers #100

   One of the great things about Roy Thomas' work is, you always get the sense that he approaches each story as a fan first.

   So when The Avengers hit issue #100 in 1972, he made sure it was an event by including every hero (or anti-hero) who had been a member of the team - even if that meant stretching things a bit.

   So for the first time since issue #2, the Hulk appears as a member of the team - even the Swordsman, who was a member of the team for part of one issue, shows up.

   The only hero who doesn't make it is Wonder Man, but he was dead at the time - he didn't return until issue #150.

   It takes a big menace to call for the entire team (and they had just finished fighting the Kree-Skrull War, so it was a busy time), so they were called to face an Olympic-sized problem - namely, the gods of Olympus were facing destruction because of the machinations of Ares and the Enchantress.

   What's funny, in reading this today, is how small the team was at the time. Where there are now hundreds of heroes (it seems) in the team, at this time the total number of Avengers was 13 (I think - I can't remember if the Black Knight was a member at this point, though he's in the story).

   It's a fun romp, all the moreso because of the art by Barry Smith, who also did some inking, along with Joe Sinnott and Syd Shores. Smith (who would soon become Windsor-Smith) was really starting to hit his stride here - the opening sequence where the team gathers is stunning.

   Amazingly, the entire story takes place in a single, 23-page issue. Could a modern team manage such a thing? I'm guessing "no."

Grade: A