Friday, October 31, 2014

Wonder Woman #35

   At long last, after three years and the start of the "New 52," we've reached the end of the story by Brian Azzarello.

   It's a tale of gods and mortals, all centered around Wonder Woman, who is both Amazon and newly-crowned Goddess of War.

   Since the first issue she's been fighting to protect a baby who is the last son of Zeus and a mortal. So for 35 issues, Diana and her allies have fought to protect mother and baby from virtually the entire pantheon of Greek gods - Apollo, Hera, Ares, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hermes - you get the picture.

   The rise of the (otherwise unnamed) First Born has been the final opponent to face. Incredibly powerful and fiercely determined, he has murdered gods and plans to take his place as the ruler of Olympus - but first he has a baby to kill.

   This issue gives us the final confrontation, and answers some questions that have been lingering since the beginning.

   The issue features terrific art by Cliff Chiang, who has given the series a wonderful, stylized work. I look forward to seeing what title he tackles next.

   I have to admit that I really liked this series, even if it was a bit too graphic in places. Frankly, the story ran too long - it covered pretty much the same ground more than once - but the writing has been strong and the art so good that it's easy to forgive these minor problems.

    Next issue, a new creative team takes over. They have mighty big shoes to fill.

Grade: A-



Thursday, October 30, 2014

All-New X-Men #33

   I have to admit that, of all the X-Men comics in recent memory, All-New X-Men is my favorite.

   There are several reasons.

   For the most part, it focuses on a small group of heroes - namely, the original team (displaced through time to the present) - although they've swapped Cyclops (now in his own title) for X-23 (who sorta kinda has a thing with the Angel. Maybe).

   The characters are fun, with distinct personalities, and the dialogue is sharp and entertaining.

   The stories by Brian Michael Bendis are fast, breezy and unpredictable.

   The art (here by Mahmud Asrar) has been quite good.

   Did I already mention not having to deal with a cast of thousands?

    All of which brings us to this issue, which continues the adventures of the team on the Ultimate version of Earth. A confrontation with a powerful new mutant ends with the team somehow transported to this world - separated and scattered.

   Here familiar menaces are somehow different but just as dangerous - and even friends can be a threat.

   It's building slowly, but it's been a great ride so far. It's been a while since I felt that way about an X-Men comic.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Classics - Giant-Size Man-Thing #4

   It's an easy joke - the only question is, did the editors at Marvel realize they were creating a title that fans would be snickering about far into the future (coming up on 40 years and counting)?

   Whatever the case, Giant-Size Man-Thing (hee hee!) has (ahem) stood the test of time.

   The entire concept was improbable. Marvel's Man-Thing was created at the same time as DC's Swamp Thing. (There is much debate about who slogged out of the swamp first, but both owe a dinner to The Heap, after all).

   But where DC's creation had intelligence, the Man-Thing had none. A shambling mockery of a man, incredibly strong, it is driven by emotions, reacting to them, drawn to conflict. And it can't bear fear - so any creature feeling fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing.

   What that meant was that it took a terrific writer to make the character interesting - the burden was on the supporting cast or the characters created for each story.

   Luckily for us, the character's stories were crafted by Steve Gerber, an odd, unorthodox writer who was also a bit of a genius. He crafted all kinds of off-beat psycho-dramas that drew in the title character - like the "Kid's Night Out" story here.

   It's an oversized adventure that combines text pages, a dysfunctional family at a funeral, and their destructive attempts to get their revenge on an odd but determined girl named Alice. Her only defender is the confused but powerful swamp creature.

   But this issue's famous for a completely different reason.

   Behind the excellent Man-Thing story is the first solo story starring Howard the Duck.

   Howard would quickly become a sensation, and for good reason. His stories, written by Gerber (who created the character with Val Mayerick in an earlier Man-Thing adventure), were a terrific balance of humor, social commentary and action.

   It didn't hurt that the art was by Frank Brunner, one of the most talented artists in Marvel's history.

   The story pitted Howard against Gorko, the Man-Frog - a classic loser who transforms into a formidable foe, and forces Howard to take a heroic stand.

   The issue is worth buying for the main story, but it's one to collect because of Howard.

Grade: A


New Comics Day

    Here's what I picked up today at the comics shop:
- Fantastic Four #12 - An intervention for the Human Torch.
- Groo vs Conan #4 (of 4) - The final fight!
- Guardians of the Galaxy #20 - Escaping from certain death!
- Little Nemo in Slumberland #2 - A lovely book.
- Saga #24 - New faces!
- Wonder Woman #35 - The final battle. For sure!
- All-New Xen #33 - Crossing over with Ultimate Universe!
   And that's it - a light week for me!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

13 Coins #1

   Artist Simon Bisley has a well-earned reputation for doing edgy, in-your-face artwork that grabs you by the collar and demands your attention.

   Further proof can be found in his work on 13 Coins, a hard-edged cross between Biblical wrath and dystopian destruction.

   Written by Michael B. Jackson and Martin Brennan, the story begins with a classic (and gruesome) battle between the angels assigned to guard the Earth and a group of angels who fought back against God.

   It's never a good idea to oppose God - so for the side of evil, the battle is doomed to failure. But their evil lives on into modern times as the hand of evil rises again and again, and a select group of mortals with special abilities fight back against those forces.

   It all leads to a series of battles, giving Bisley plenty of space to work his grim magic. But is it a battle the good guys can win?

   This is definitely not a series for kids, but for those looking for a serious and gripping story of good vs. evil - and lots of terrific artwork - this is the book for you!

Grade: B


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Flash #35

   After reading this comic, I must admit: I'd rather be reviewing the TV show, which captures the fun, energetic potential of The Flash.

   Thinking back over almost three years of the rebooted version of this series since the "New 52" started, and I really can't remember much at all about the series.

   Has Barry Allen ever won a fight outright? (Surely he has. He doesn't here.)

   Have we seen any interesting or unusual uses of his amazing powers? (Probably, but none that spring to mind.)

   The star of the series has actually been the Speed Force. It's broken, if the Flash uses it he might break reality, exposure to it creates a group of Grade B heroes - that's been the series so far.

   In this issue, Barry's future self comes through time to the present to fix his past mistakes - and, yes, the Speed Force - by killing his modern-day incarnation.


   So here's the deal, DC: the Speed Force is just a convenient explanation for the Flash's impossible abilities, just as solar energy gives Kryptonians like Superman superpowers. It's been beaten to death.

   Focus on the hero, make him a real person, give him a supporting cast - make us care about him.

   It takes a lot to make me give up a series I've been buying since I was a tot. I gave up on Green Lantern a year ago - don't let the Flash follow in his footsteps.


Grade: B-


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Multiversity: The Just #1

   I think this issue can be summed up with the phrase, "Today's kids are slackers."

   Multiversity has been created by Grant Morrison to explore the alternate universes (there's 52 now!) that make up the DC universe.

   This issue - The Just - focuses on the children of the original Justice League (or their successors) on an alternate Earth (Earth-11, to be exact).

   They're mostly spoiled and idle - but there's a good reason for that. Their parents have seen to it that all danger has been eliminated from the Earth, so there's no crime to stop, no criminals to pursue.

   So this issue focuses on the ways they keep themselves entertained - though an odd mix of parties, love affairs, art pursuits and role playing.

   Ben Oliver provides some striking artwork for the story, and it's a clever twist on today's culture (the story is aptly titled "#earthme") and a sharp commentary on our iPhone culture.

    Either that or Morrison's just having a laugh. But just to be sure, I'd advise staying off his lawn.

Grade: B+


Saturday, October 25, 2014


   Perhaps I'm not the right guy to review the new TV series Constantine.

   That's because I'm really not much of a fan of horror.

   I like a scary story, but most "horror" just goes for the easy shock - severed limbs, gruesome creatures popping up, blood flying - that sort of thing.

   There's some of that on view in this show - it's a bit heavy on the grisly demons - but it also carries an internal logic and an actual story that feels true to its Vertigo origins.

   The character first appeared in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing series, and then graduated to his own long-running series, Hellblazer.

   Actor Matt Ryan plays the title role, and does an excellent job as the tortured but determined demon fighter (though I admit I always pictured Sting in the part). Constantine's life mission is to make up for his greatest failure - and redeem his own doomed soul.

   He's drawn to America to try to save the life (and soul) of a young woman who faces death and destruction at the hands of a very powerful demon.

   Fans will find some nods to other DC legends in the show - the most obvious one being Dr. Fate.

   I do like the visual look of the show (a peek into the afterlife / alternate reality for lost souls was striking) and the creatures are unique - but a few of the more grotesque scenes were a bit much. One character is badly mangled in a horrific car accident - I could have done without that image.

   But for TV horror, it's well done. Add in solid acting, as interesting supporting cast (assuming any of them stick around or survive), and you have a solid show.

   Any fan of the genre should enjoy this series. Fans of the comic book character may find it a watered-down version, not as blunt or cutthroat  or quite as much of a heel - but frankly, it's much better than I expected.

Grade: A-


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Avengers #37

      The "jump to the near future" story that Jonathan Hickman is spooling out here continues to offer a dark a dismal future where the team has been torn apart.

   New alliances are being formed, several members have gone missing (or perhaps gone over to the other side), and the cat and mouse game between the Avengers and the Illuminati continues to add to the tension.

   And then there's the Cabal - how do they fit in?

   It's all tied together with the usual amazing artwork by Mike Deodato - just stunning work here.

   The story has been a bit unrelenting in its grim attitude - and I'm not sure I care for the way Steve Rogers is being represented - but there are some nice moments, especially the twist at the end.

   So it's the same song - a great story (for those who have been following along), terrific art, and lots of exciting events pushing this complex and compelling story forward. I like it!

Grade: A-


   Hey, here's a bonus! Have you seen the trailer for the next Avengers movie? I can't wait to see this one! Check it out:


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Superman #35

   This series continues to excel under the craftsmanship of writer Geoff Johns and artists John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson.

   That's largely because they've returned Superman to his iconic roots, restoring Clark Kent to his role as a reporter for the Daily Planet, making Lois, Jimmy and Perry key supporting characters again.

   That helps center the character and make him more, well, human.

   But there's plenty of room for over-the-top super heroics, too, as the Man of Steel and Ulysses, the newest Superman on the block, team up to take on the mysterious munitions master named The Machinist.

   (Fans who were upset by the film Man of Steel and Superman's, uh, treatment of Zod will enjoy the discussion Superman has with Ulysses over the importance of preserving life.)

   With dynamic art are a couple of unexpected plot twists, this series has me once again - after far too long a dry spell - looking forward to the adventures of Superman!

Grade: A-



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Classics - The Warlord #21

   Since the success of the comic book version of Conan, there have been hordes of sword-and-sorcery, blade-wielding heroes of all shapes and sizes - but the best (and perhaps most unique) entry in the race was Mike Grell's Warlord.

   Created in the late '70s, the series featured Travis Morgan, a pilot flying a secret mission who crash-lands in the Arctic, passing through a hole into a strange tropical land inside the Earth. There he finds Skartaris, a land of dinosaurs, swords and magic.

    The inside of the Earth, it turns out, is hollow, like Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar.

   He has one lucky break - he has with him a large gun (a .44 AutoMag) and lots of ammunition. He quickly learns how to fight with a sword, leads a revolt of slaves and meets and falls in love with a princess named Tara.

   The stories in the series are an impressive collection of mostly single-issue adventures, with some sub-plots continuing over several issues.  Grell's writing combines adventure, humor and places it all in imaginative settings. His artwork seals the deal, working in a realistic style reminiscent of Neal Adams. With powerful layouts, great character designs and wild menaces, it was a terrific series.

   The Warlord's main opponent was the evil wizard / scientist Deimos, who kidnapped Travis and Tara's infant son and used arcane skills to age the child to manhood - but he was just a mindless killer. So Morgan is forced to fight his own son - to the death!

   It's a gripping story with several twists that actually had ramifications into the future as it set up a storyline that was finally resolved just a few years ago in the last Warlord series (to date).

   Grell managed to bring together all the elements of great sword-and-sorcery stories - lots of action, bizarre menaces, beautiful (and powerful) women, heroic men, great villains, exotic locales, mystery and intrigue - and package it up in a fantastic series that was always entertaining.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A



New Comics Day

   A light week for me, too. Here's what I picked up:
- Avengers #37 - A grim future with Avengers fighting Avengers!
- Flash #35 - Flash vs. Flash.
- Justice Inc. #3 - Putting the band together.
- Multiversity: The Just #1 - A very different Justice League.
- She-Hulk #9 - Taking on Daredevil - in court!
- Superman #35 - Two Supermen for one low price.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor #1

   So what do you think of the 12th incarnation of Doctor Who?

   I've just seen the first few episodes, but so far I like Peter Capaldi a lot - his version of The Doctor definitely feels like a classic approach to the character (fast-talking, funny and smart but with a slightly dark edge), with some interesting character quirks to make the role unique.

   He has big shoes to fill, even if you're just looking at the most recent versions - but I think he's off to a great start.

   Of course, I'm also crazy about Clara (Jenna Coleman), an intelligent, funny and darned attractive companion for the Time Lord.

   This series, too, is off to a great start. The Doctor takes Clara to an Ice Planet - but instead they discover a planet that has been altered into a jungle paradise.

   Or is it paradise? There's a dark menace lurking just below the surface, one that may have surprising ties to the Time Lords.

   The story by Robbie Morrison is sharp, with some interesting twists and turns, and some great dialogue (I love the Doctor's line about couches).
   The art is by Dave Taylor, and it's quite good, with strong likenesses of the main characters (with a couple of minor exceptions) and great environmental designs.

   I especially like the cliffhanger ending, which is so true to the spirit of the series that you'll expect to hear the squeal of the theme song as the episode ends.

   So, lots of fun, highly recommended for any fan of The New Doctor!

Grade: A-


Monday, October 20, 2014

Avengers World #14

   The Avengers World comic has been a wild ride from the beginning.

   Over the course of the last two years (or so), the series has introduced a number of menaces that have continued to escalate - and now each one threatens world-wide destruction.

   Among the problems: a massive dragon has been awakened. (How big is it? The city of Madripoor sits on its head!) The sorceress Morgana Le Fay has raised an army of the dead. The organization AIM has used technology from the future to set up an impregnable fortress and launch an attack on the U.S.

   Whew! Rather amazingly, all those stories are wrapped up in this issue - and only the solution to the AIM problem seems to be a bit of a cheat.

   So it's an action-packed story that goes from completely improbable (the fight with the giant dragon - how could Madripoor possibly survive that?) to speedy (Morgan's fall) to satisfying (AIM).

   I've enjoyed the series so far, but the next issue feeds into the Axis event, so I'll bow out for the foreseeable future.

   Not to worry - there are plenty of Avengers comics out there to choose from.

Grade: B+


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #27

   I've never been a big fan of all-powerful characters - including the Beyonder and Q (to name the two that immediately come to mind).

   (Do I need to mention that Beyonder was the big bad in the original Secret Wars maxi-series, and Q was practically a regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation?)

   The problem with characters who are too powerful is: you can only stop them by tricking them or reasoning with them. They can only stop themselves.

   So I'm not entirely thrilled to see just such a character introduced in Uncanny X-Men. Matthew Malloy is a mutant whose incredible powers were suppressed by Charles Xavier - and now, his powers running wild, he seems to be a threat to everyone - human and mutant alike.

   The writing by Brian Michael Bendis is sharp as always, and the art by Chris Bachalo is excellent - his storytelling is clear and his layouts are dynamic.

   So basically I'm on the fence here - the story is well executed and has some interesting insights for Cyclops and his recent possession by the Phoenix Force - but I still don't like all-powerful characters.

   We'll see if the ending of this story changes my mind.

Grade: B+


Saturday, October 18, 2014

New Avengers #25

   As much as I've been enjoying both the New Avengers and the Avengers under writer Jonathan Hickman, it's getting more and more difficult to recommend the series.

   That's because the story has become so complex, so dark that no casual reader could possibly follow along (despite the sharp recap page that begins each issue).

   This issue picks up seven months in the future, as the Illuminati (including Mr. Fantastic, the Beast, the Hulk and Captain Britain) are on the run from the combined forces of the Avengers and SHIELD.

   Just why this is, and what has happened to cause old friends (and more than friends) to become such bitter enemies isn't clear. But it appears that some members of the team have fallen during the hunt (perhaps permanently).

   It's a vast tapestry being rolled out here, detailed and challenging to follow. Not at all designed for new readers - but I suspect long-time fans, and those who have been following along since Hickman began his run will love it.

   I am!

Grade: A-


Friday, October 17, 2014

Justice League #35

   Of the few "New 52" titles I still buy, the one I thought would hold up best is Justice League - but it's been running flat since the beginning of the Forever Evil event.

   That's because it's moved away from its most basic concept - to be a comic about a team made up of the company's greatest heroes.

   Recent issues have been more about Lex Luthor, who has contrived to gain membership to the League. That story continues here, as the team contrives to uncover information about Lex in hopes of coming up with an excuse to arrest him.

   For some reason this requires the entire team to stand around in disguise, not doing much of anything.

   The ending finally kicks off the next story arc, The Amazo Virus (though it's all still a mystery at this point).

   The good news is: the art is terrific, as Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke team up to provide the pencils, with a small army of inkers covering it; and the whole team is here (almost), with the newly reformed Power Ring taking the place of the long-absent Green (Hal Jordan) Lantern.

   Hopefully this is the storyline that gets the series back on track. I want to like this series, but they have to meet me halfway and actually include the Justice League in each issue.

Grade: B



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Death of Wolverine #4 (of 4)

   Alas, poor Wolverine.

   Cut down at the height of his popularity, his death leaves a gaping hole in a number of X-Men, Avenger and (of course) Wolverine comics that cannot be replaced. Not to mention all those movies - poor Hugh Jackman!

   Our sorrow will continue... at least until his inevitable resurrection (I give it four months).

   This issue wraps up the mini-series that has combined excellent art and a solid story to bring us to the point promised in the title.

   But it isn't really what I would classify as a "successful" heroic death.

   The real trick to a hero's death is that he or she must fall while giving their life to save others. Wolverine's death here almost manages that - but actually feels more like an accident on his part.

   But maybe I'm being too picky - the story brings Logan full circle and gives what seems to be a definitive end to his existence, with a nice sentimental splash near the end.

   Solid work by the creative team (and apologies for my cynical tone here - I'm just really jaded over the death of the hero bit. Perhaps I'm the only one).

Grade: A-



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Classics - Warlock #11

   It's difficult to explain what a revelation Jim Starlin's Adam Warlock comic was.

   It was a cosmic, trippy story unlike anything seen before in mainstream comics.

   Warlock's history goes back to an issue of Fantastic Four in the 1960s, as an artificial human known only as Him was created by a secret cabal of scientists.

   After a few crossover appearances, he was given his own comic, sent to an alternate Earth on the opposite side of the sun, and had several adventures. Then his comic was canceled.

   But in 1975, he returned to action under the guidance of writer and artist Jim Starlin. Now a galactic adventurer, he was given an Elric-inspired burden in the form of the Soul Gem, a mysterious gem that captured the soul of his opponents.

   As he came into conflict with the powerful and mysterious Magus, Warlock also picked up some unexpected allies, including the lethal Gamora, the degenerate Pip the Troll and the Mad Titan Thanos.

   After numerous adventures, which examined such cosmic ideas as the benefits of madness, the dubious concept of justice and the true nature of reality, the story wrapped up (sorta kinda) in this issue, as the final confrontation with the Magus results in a cosmic journey for Adam - and as promised on the cover, the death of Warlock!

   Even more disturbing, the series only lasted four more issues, and readers had to wait two more years to see the storyline resolved in a two-part story crossing between a Marvel Two-in-One Annual and an Avengers Annual.

   And let me tell you... having lived through it, those were two long, agonizing years!

   By breaking new ground and taking comics even further into the territory of mind-bending cosmic concepts, Starlin opened new frontiers for comics and set a standard that has been rarely (if ever) equalled.

   (By the way, did everyone caught that glimpse of Warlock in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie? Since every other comic character is getting a movie, let's hope there's room for Starlin's Warlock one of these days. Might be more than two years, though.)

Grade: A+


New Comics Day

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

- Avengers World #14Lo, an ending!

- Daredevil #9 - Out of control.

- Death of Wolverine #4 - He's dead, Jim.

- Fantastic Four #11 - Fun in prison.

- Justice League #35Matching wits with Luthor.

New Avengers #25Heroes on the run.

- Uncanny X-Men #27 - Facing an unbeatable foe.   

   And that's it - a light week for me! 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Winter World #3

   If you're looking for big-screen, high-octane action, you won't find a comic that captures that better than Winter World.

   The series first appeared in the 1980s in a mini-series, and has been off the grid ever since. Thankfully, IDW has revived it, bringing back original writer and creator Chuck Dixon and teaming him with Butch Guice, who was born to illustrate this kind of tale.

   The story focuses on three characters - a man named Scully, a young woman he's protecting named Wynn and the fierce Rah-Rah (that's her on the cover).

   They live in a world where the weather seems to have entered a new Ice Age, and survival is a constant struggle. But their troubles may be over as they discover a coastal village that offers a break from the ice and snow - but not all is as it seems.

   As always, Dixon writes a fast-moving story loaded with great characters and lots of tension. You'll also find some humorous jabs at the whole idea of climate change - and you can understand why the survivors on Winter World might take a different view of such things.

   I can't rave enough about Guice's art, which often veers into photo-realism, with great character designs and stunning environments - how does he do it?

   So, a terrific action series that you should be buying. What are you waiting for?

Grade: A


Monday, October 13, 2014

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1

   One of the things we love about Doctor Who is the fact that each actor who tackles the role brings a different take to the character.

   Titan Comics now holds the franchise, and they're taking advantage of the strengths of the actors by creating separate series based on each one.

   One of the first is the Matt Smith version of The Doctor - the 11th Doctor, to be exact. (Shouldn't he be the 12th? Are they still not counting the War Doctor? Why not?)

   In keeping for Smith's version of The Doctor as a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky adventurer, this "done-in-one" story introduces a new friend and a lighthearted mission as he tries to track down a runaway (and mischievous) alien dog.

   But it's also an interesting story about a woman in need of help - and how The Doctor sweeps her into his adventure.

   It's a fun story, with the proper "voice" for our favorite Time Lord courtesy of writers Al Ewing and Rob Williams, and I really enjoyed the art by Simon Fraser, which manages a nice balance between grim reality and a lighthearted adventure.

   We're sad that Smith has moved on, but happily, through this series, his adventures will continue on!

Grade: A-


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Flash

   I finally got a chance to watch the new TV series The Flash (I love you, DVR!), and thankfully: it's good!

   The series starts with an origin story and uses (more or less) the most recent version of Barry Allen's story.

   And I think that's one reason why it's so successful - it sticks to those original concepts.

   It shows us the backstory for Barry, as mysterious events when he's a boy result in the death of his mother - and his father is accused of the murder.

   That brings us to the present day, and "Police Scientist" (Forensic Scientist) Barry demonstrates his intelligence as he helps solve crimes - and what a delight to have an intelligent hero!

   After losing his parents, he was raised by Police Detective Joe West, who also happens to be the father of Iris West, who Barry is obviously in love with - but she considers him more of a brother. (Romantic conflict: check!)

    A strange scientific accident combines with a lightning strike to give Barry super-speed, and much of the episode is dedicated to him learning about his powers - often in painful ways.

   The series manages to provide a great explanation for the powers of the Flash and the Rogues Gallery of villains who will no doubt be popping up as the season goes on, and gives the hero something he hasn't had in his own comic in years - a solid supporting cast. And that final teaser scene is a real treat.

   The visuals are strong - the effects they're using to capture the Flash's super-speed are sharp, and I think they've done a good job bringing the costume into the real world. I also like the "look" of Central City.

   The acting is also quite good. Most of it rests on Grant Gustin's shoulders, and while he's not exactly the macho / he-man type, he is likable, sympathetic and believable as the clean-cut hero. The rest of the cast is solid, and they've sown the seeds for future allies and opponents.

   It's a strong start for the series - you get the sense that the creative team behind the series "get" what makes comics work, and they've made a good start at bringing one of my all-time favorite characters to life. Good on 'em!

Grade: A-


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Batgirl #35

   Sometimes continuity can be a burden to a comic series - not a help.

   Batgirl is a good example. When the series was rebooted for the "New 52," I was surprised that they kept the backstory for Barbara Gordon, including being shot and crippled by the Joker. (Apparently she got better.)

   So the early issues were plagued with concerns about her being injured again and how she overcame her injuries.

   With this issue, Batgirl apparently undergoes something of a reboot.

   What writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher have done is largely ignore past continuity and instead focus on telling fresh stories.

   So Babs gets new roommates in her apartment, she's forced to change her Batgirl costume, and the focus is on a fresh mystery, with nary a super-villain in sight.

   The other change is the look of the art, which takes some getting used to. Babs Tarr (working over Stewart's breakdowns) gives the series a fresh, fun look - though it's something of an adjustment. The style gives Barbara a new look by simply drawing her in a very different style. Gone is the curvy, buxom redhead. Instead we get a more lithe, normally-proportioned young woman.

   Tarr also creates  clever design for a double-page splash that gives a neat visualization for Barbara's incredible memory.

   There's one slightly distressing fact to note - it makes Babs looks 14. But don't worry, apparently she's still an adult.

   I have to admit, I enjoyed this issue more than the "New 52" reboot (which I dropped after a few issues). We'll see how long this new version maintains its fresh, unusual approach.

Grade: A-


Friday, October 10, 2014

Batman #35

   Wow, this comic made the Internet blow up, if just briefly.

   That's because the price on this issue of Batman jumped to $4.99 - and the word got around that the price increase was permanent.

   One Facebook group I follow almost immediately erupted in cries of protest, as one after another, comic fans vowed to drop the title.

   Either the story wasn't true or DC quickly backed down - but the word came down that the price increase was temporary.

   Which begs the question: how much is too much? DC vowed at one point to "Hold the line at $2.99," but any longtime reader can tell you that price increases are part of the hobby.

   Most of Marvel's line has already jumped to $3.99, and DC seems to be following along, as several titles have made the jump.

   For me, every time there's a jump in price, I try to trim down the number of comics I buy. There was a time when I bought almost everything the "Big Two" printed (and lots of Independents besides), but these days I just buy a fraction of the available titles.

   And if the price takes another jump? We're getting close to the point where I won't be picking up enough comics to have one to review every day. And when do the companies reach the breaking point, where they can't sell enough copies to justify the printing costs? I'd hate to think that day is fast approaching, but you certainly have to wonder.

   What was I talking about? Oh, Batman. Nice art as always, the story's mighty thin (it's the old "heroes meet and fight" bit), but it does have a good twist at the end.

   Not sure why they added the extra pages - frankly, the story doesn't justify them or the extra cost.

Grade: B


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #1

   I almost didn't buy this issue.

   I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm suffering from event fatigue. Perhaps it's because I just don't seem to connect with Rick Remender's stories.  And I was never a fan of Onslaught (the powerful character herein merged with the Red Skull).

   But the art is by Adam Kubert, whose work I love - and I felt it was my duty to review it for the ol' blog here - so I plunked down my five bucks for Axis. (Am I the only one who reads the logo as "Sixis?")

   And for that money, I got to read what is, so far, the worst comic book I've read this year.

   I say this because: the story made no sense at all. I've talked before about the tendency in comics today for writers to play Calvinball (in other words, make up the rules as they go along). We get that in spades here, in a stream-of-consciousness tale that reads like a fever dream.

   So as near as I can tell, the Red Skull stole Professor X's powers (a good trick, since the Prof is dead). Then the Skull kidnapped a bunch of mutants and put them in a prison camp. Magneto then killed the Skull, but instead of dying, the Nazi was somehow transformed into The Red Onslaught. (I swear I am not making this up.)

   There's apparently a lot of side-story along the way with an alternate future (that no longer exists) involving the Uncanny Avengers and Havok marrying the Wasp (really?), but I haven't been reading that comic, so I have no clue what that's all about.

   So the comic is all about all the Avengers fighting each other (it's a Marvel tradition!), then the X-Men show up, and the Scarlet Witch almost alters reality again, but then... I dunno, I kind of shut down at that point. It's just all sturm and drang and bad jokes and no actual story content or characterization or characters you care about at all - just a big goulash of action figures with lots of screaming and fighting and no reason to care about any of it.

   I've been waiting for the event that finally breaks this never-ending stream of events. Original Sin came close, but if we're lucky, perhaps Axis will put us over the line.

   Avoid at all costs.

Grade: D


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Classics - Adventure Comics #465

   The biggest event - or perhaps the most memorable - in the history of DC comics may have been the DC Implosion.

   In 1978 DC tried to expand its line of comics, and promised bigger and better comics in what it labeled the "DC Explosion."

   But within two months, the powers that be realized that they had made a big mistake - and in short order, more than half the comics in the expanded line were canceled.

   Some wag referred to it as the "DC Implosion," and it rocked the industry.

   In its wake, DC experimented with different formats and prices. One that was apparently not too successful (judging by the fact that it didn't last long) was Dollar Comics, with 52 pages of story for the price. (I should add that the comics are fondly remembered today by collectors, because they were featured lots of fan-favorite characters.)

   The books also provided a home for some of those heroes who were suddenly homeless.

   For example, this issue of Adventure Comics from 1979 includes stories with the Justice Society, Deadman and Aquaman, and it also stars the Flash, whose solo title was one of the survivors.

   The stories feature great art, including Don Heck and Joe Giella on the Flash, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Dick Giordano on Deadman, Joe Staton and Dave Hunt on JSA, and Don Newton and Dan Adkins on Aquaman.

   The stories are mighty slim (perhaps because the stories are 12 to 16 pages long), as such craftsmen as Bob Rozakis, Paul Levitz, Len Wein and Cary Bates handle the chores.

   The attraction is the volume of heroes you're getting (and some excellent art), but more pages doesn't always translate to better comics.

   Within months, the books would revert to a typical side and a smaller price. But it was fun while it lasted.

Grade: B-



New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #16 - Teaming up with a bitter enemy.

- Avengers #36 - The future is a strange place.

- Axis #1 - The next event, natch.

- Batgirl #35 - A new beginning for Barbara.

- Batman #35A new story, and a new price!

- Grendel vs Shadow #2 - What happens when titans clash?

- Miracleman #12 - Meet Miraclewoman.

- Ragnarok #2 - Walt Simonson having fun.

- Rocket Raccoon  #4 When raccoons clash!

Winterworld #3 - Winter no more?

   And that's it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Death of Wolverine #3

   Still not dead yet.

   But someone has put a huge bounty on Wolverine - and since he no longer has a healing factor, any encounter with an enemy may be his last.

   Which is a real problem, since this series seems determined to bring back every deadly foe from Logan's past. Luckily, it also brings a valuable ally. (Or does it?)

   Once again, we have terrific art from Steve McNiven and Jay Leisten, with some lovely imagery balancing against the brutal fight sequences.

   Charles Soule provides an excellent story and spot-on dialogue.

   I have to say, I'm surprised at this series - mostly because I expected to hate it. But instead of being the usual grim march to death, we're getting an actual story and characterization here.

   So far, it's been very good. Wonder how it will end?

Grade: A-


Monday, October 6, 2014

Gotham Academy #1

   Well, I wasn't sure what to expect from the new series Gotham Academy - and after reading it, I'm still not sure.

   I assume this series is aimed at young females, and if so, kudos to DC for reaching out to an audience that has, shamefully, been virtually ignored for years by the major comics companies.

   It follows a couple of girls - silver-haired Olive and young Maps - who are enrolled at the huge school (the kind of sprawling structure you might find in a video game).

   It's based in Gotham City, of course, and they must cope with rude classmates, frightening teachers and the dangers they find while exploring the forbidden sections of the ancient school.

   Of course, there's an apparent connection to Batman and Bruce Wayne - but at this point, I'm not sure what it is (more thorough Bat-fans will probably pick up on it more quickly than yours truly).

   But for a first issue, it doesn't really give us a lot to go on - we barely meet the main characters, and the supporting cast just gets a quick check-in.

   There's a lot of potential here, and I hope it finds its audience, but I have to admit, this isn't a series aimed at a geezer like me.

   But if it brings more female readers into the business, I'm all for it.

Grade: B


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sally of the Wasteland #3

   This would definitely qualify as a guilty pleasure.

   Frankly, Sally of the Wasteland reminds me of the kind of low-budget exploitation movies we tracked down when I was in high school and college.

   Set about 80 years after a big disaster (of some kind), it follows a small group of allies as they try to make their way to New Orleans (where they hope to find a technological marvel). But first they must fight past monsters, cannibals, pirates, raiders and assorted horrible creatures.

   The main character (according to the title of the book) is Sally, a tough, vulgar and violent young woman who's mostly interested in protecting her young man - and she isn't shy about using shotguns, axes or her (ahem) feminine attributes.

   The thing that strikes me as odd is this: the series uses the most vulgar language available, it doesn't shy away from extreme bloodletting (severed heads and limbs are the norm), but it draws the line at nudity, allowing only bare bottoms.

    The saving grace of the book (other than the usual dystopic future fun) is the fact that it has a sense of humor about itself.

   It still has some rough edges to work out, and the body count seems high (even for this sort of thing), but I have to admit, writer Victor Gischler and artist Tazio Bettin have crafted some entertaining, low-brow fun.

   Not recommended for kids, of course, but for those who can enjoy this genre, "Sally" is a lot of fun.

Grade: B



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Guardians 3000 #1

   The only troubling thing about the huge success of the Guardians of the Galaxy is that, to long-time readers, the present-day team isn't the "real" Guardians.

   The original GoG first appeared back in 1969 in a one-shot story in the short-lived Marvel Super-Heroes title. Each member of the team was a sole survivor of a different race or era, and included Vance Astro, an astronaut who wakes from suspended animation to a very different Earth in the 31st Century.

   He teams with Charlie-27, a powerful resident from Jupiter's moons, Martinex, a crystal creature from Pluto, Star-Hawk, a mysterious and powerful cosmic humanoid, and Yondu, an alien savage who controls his arrow by whistling. (Honest!)

   Together they fight the invasion of the bestial aliens, the Badoon.

   The original series led to guest-star appearances and eventually to a regular series, which had a long and respectable run.

    Then in 2008 the team was revived in a modern-day version with the lineup from the movie (and a few others along the way).

   Given the success of the new version, it should come as no surprise that they'd revive the original, and it's interesting to note that the new series is being written by Dan Abnett, one of the writers of the '08 series.

   The story finds the team (with a new addition) fighting for their lives against the Badoon - and the outcome might surprise you.

   The art is by Gerardo Sandoval, and while it has a lot of kinetic power going for it, it's also over the top in violence and teeth-gritting emotion.

   The issue mostly suffers from the usual first issue woes - the burden of having to introduce the members of the team, the opponents, the setting - it doesn't leave much room for the time-bending story - but it's a solid start to the series and a clever story.

   Long-time fans will probably enjoy it, and new fans should check it out to get in touch with the previous version of Marvel's newest sensation.

   Sounds like a "win-win" situation to me!

Grade: B+



Friday, October 3, 2014

Justice League #34

   I could be completely wrong here, but this issue of Justice League feels like a fill-in issue,

   That because, well... nothing much happens.

   It's a series of vignettes focusing on the newest members of the League - including Lex Luthor and Captain Cold.

   As Luthor separately fights alongside Superman or helps Wonder Woman or confronts Bruce Wayne, we get some glimpses into his motivations (you'll be shocked to hear that he's not exactly on the up-and-up with the members of the League).

   We also visit the young woman who's now wearing the demonic Power Ring, a scene in which we happily see The Flash acting like, well, The Flash (something we haven't seen enough of in his own comic).

   Even the art is by a fill-in artist - the excellent Scott Kolins, who worked with writer Geoff Johns on many classic Flash stories.

   The good news is, this all seems to be building toward something actually happening - but you'll have to wait at least one more issue to see it.

Grade: B


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thor #1

   One of the problems with being a longtime reader is that you tend to get inured to these stunts designed to lure new readers to a series.

   And let's face it, that's exactly what we have here: a stunt.

   The story finds Thor no longer able to pick up his hammer Mjolnir because he's no longer worthy.

   Why? We don't know. During the Original Sin mini-series, Nick Fury whispered something to Thor that has convinced him that he's not worthy - and apparently his hammer agrees.

   In fact, it seems that no male is worthy - but a mysterious female is.

   So why is her identity a mystery? Who is she? Why is she called Thor? For the answers, you'll apparently have to purchase future issues.

   In the meantime, the real Thor has taken up a fight against some gigantic opponents - but what can he do without his hammer?

   To be honest, I'm finding it hard to care. It's a story where everyone acts out of character - Thor is a whiner, Odin is a blowhard, and Freya is a shrew.

   The art by Russell Dauterman is good, although he seems to be trying hard to model Thor off of Chris Hemsworth.

   I'm a big fan of Thor, but for me, this storyline is off to a weak start. It's just so hard to care when the creative team doesn't give us a reason to care about these characters.

Grade: B-


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Classics - Space Adventures #33

   Artist Steve Ditko had an extensive career before his most famous work at Marvel, where he co-created Spider-Man and Dr. Strange with Stan Lee.

   Most of that work was in a variety of genres, but he actually did some super-hero work for Charlton Comics, most specifically co-creating the character Captain Atom with writer Joe Gill early in 1960.

   It's unfair to compare this effort to Ditko's Marvel work. Charlton was infamous for paying minimum rates, so the key to making a living was doing the work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

   But Ditko's work was always a cut above most, and that's in evidence here, even if the story itself is slim stuff - even by Silver Age standards.

   Here we have Captain Adam (get it?) being accidentally trapped in a missile that carries an atomic warhead. It launches into space and detonates - but somehow Adam survives and reforms himself - but he's glowing with radioactivity.

   With the help of a suit made of an impervious substance, he's able to control his radiation - and he finds he has incredible powers, including super-speed and (apparently) an atomic punch.

   The other thing that's impressive - this all happens in just nine pages.

   Ditko's art shows many of the touches that would mark his unique style - the creative layouts, the ability to capture emotional turmoil, the dynamic action sequences, and the amazing physicality of each character.

   Ditko would create (or reboot) other characters for Charlton, including the Question and the Blue Beetle - and he would return to those characters after his successes at Marvel, too.

   It's unfortunate that most of those characters have largely gone unused by DC (which now holds the rights). As fans of those early stories can testify, the characters have great potential - in the right hands.

Grade: B+



New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:
- Batman '66 & Green Hornet #5 - This has been fun.
- Death of Wolverine #3 - Well crafted, but grim.
- Fantastic Four Annual #1 - Looks like a regular issue of the series to me, not an Annual. (Looks at price tag.) Oh, I see the difference.
- Gotham Academy #1 - That is one wild school.
- Guardians 3000 #1 - Hey, it's the real Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Justice League #34 - Checking in on the team.
- Miracleman #11 - Shapechangers.
- Silver Surfer #6 - An eating tour of the universe.
- Star-Lord #4 - Fighting Thanos.
- Thor #1 - There's something different about Thor.

- Usagi Yojimbo Senso #3 - Is it a War of the Worlds?
- Wonder Woman #34 - The end is near.
   And that's it!