Saturday, February 28, 2015

Daredevil #13

   It's the humor.

   That's the secret behind the success of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's run on Daredevil.

   Well, that and the fact that they're telling great stories with interesting characters and fantastic art.

   But it's the humor that was missing before they came on board.

   This issue had all the earmarks of a tragic tale, as Matt goes public with the fact that he's in love.

   That hasn't gone well in the past - it's a deadly occupation, being Daredevil's sweetie.

   But give Waid and Samnee credit - they find a fresh spin on the topic, and take the story in unexpected directions - all while keeping a smile on our face.

   As should be obvious by now, if you're not buying this series, you're making a terrible mistake. It's one of the best in the business.

Grade: A


Friday, February 27, 2015

Batman #39


   For three years writer Scott Snyder and artists Greg Capullo and Danny Miki have been presenting the "New 52" version of Batman.

   They've created a new foe in the Court of Owls, and tried to re-establish the Joker as a true figure of menace.

   One was a great success - the other, not so much.

   This version of the Joker just hasn't worked at all for me. He's too much the mad sociopath with impossible resources (manages to survive with his face torn off? No problem! Want to stage a parade in downtown Gotham while the city is burning? Easy! Does he need to be everywhere at once? Sure!).

   The story revolves around the Joker's attempts to burn Gotham City to the ground - and the implications are far-reaching, as (if I'm reading this correctly) the Joker has developed a super-power of sorts - with odd implications that put him in Wolverine's class.

   A little tweaking is one thing, but making the Joker into a super-powered monster is a step way too far in the wrong direction.

   And don't get me started on what happens to Alfred here.

   It all reads like fan fiction, not the kind of story that advances the mythology. Instead, it's a story that will have to be "fixed" later.

   On the up side, the art is terrific as always.

Grade: B-


Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Avengers #30

   Marvel Comics has a long of history of "cosmic" stories - some on a more personal basis, such as Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) becoming cosmically aware, and some dealing with world-destroying menaces like Galactus.

   But I don't think we've ever seen a cosmic threat quite as all-encompassing as the one that's counting down in the ongoing "Time Runs Out" story unfolding in the New Avengers and The Avengers.

   That's because the threat of destruction hangs over not just the Earth, not just our universe, but every alternate reality in existence.

   Something is doing away with or destroying all the alternate universes - and this issue may provide the answer to the mystery.

   One of the original Avengers goes on a mission to find the reason behind the destruction of universes - and what he discovers may show that there's no hope of stopping the destruction.

   This is an epic story that just keeps getting bigger and bolder, as the new mythology being built by writer Jonathan Hickman grows.

   It's an impressive tapestry, and it's all building to the new Secret Wars in two months.

   In the hands of a lesser writer, I'd worry about how this is all going to affect (read: damage) the Marvel Universe.

   But since this is Hickman's creation, I'm happy to hang on for the long haul!

Grade: A


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Classics - Daredevil #6

   It's certainly possible to love a comic too much.

   The picture at right is not my copy of Daredevil #6 - mine is tattered and marked up - I was afraid the heat of the scanner might cause it to crumble into powder.

   When you hold it, it's like getting a grip on a rag - it's rubbery. My pal James refers to the condition of such comics as "BTH" - "Beat to Hell."

   The reason for the condition is easy to see - it's a terrific comic!

   Written by Stan Lee and drawn by Wally Wood, it pits "The Man Without Fear" against a new villain - Mr. Fear, who discovers a gas that induces intense fear - even in Daredevil's heart!.

   Mr. Fear teams up with two other second-rate (but entertaining) heavies - The Ox and The Eel - and the three form The Fellowship of Fear.

   This may be the only appearance of that team, but it's a dandy, showing off the amazing talent of Wood, who loads the issue with creative, entertaining fights, and Lee's gift for dialogue, as he keeps things moving with fast and funny patter.

   The issue is a heck of a lot of fun - which is why I read it over and over.

   The copy I own is one I picked up 51 years ago - in 1964 I traded for it, scoring it off my childhood friend Bruce (whose name is scrawled on the cover - he did that to all his comics. Some people).

   It may have virtually no resale value, but as a reading copy of a classic adventure, it's priceless.

   To me.

Grade: A+


New Comic Book Day

  It's been a roller-coaster day! I had a message this morning from my comics shop that the new comics wouldn't be in until tomorrow. 

   Then I got another message late in the afternoon that they'd arrived.

   So I hauled it to the shop - and here's what I picked up:

- New Avengers #30 - It doesn't get much more cosmic than this.

- Batman #39 - The Joker's master plan.

- Daredevil #13 - Here comes love.

- Darth Vader #2 - Searching for the pilot who destroyed the Death Star.

- Fantastic Four #643 - Fighting back.

- Flash #39 - Two worlds, two Flashes (but not the ones you think).

- Invaders #15 - The final issue (for now).

- S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 - Fighting magical enemies - where's Dr. Strange when you need him?

- Sirens #3 - The ladies go meta.

- All-New X-Men #38 - Things escalate.

- The Savage Sword of Criminal (One-Shot) - Barbarian epic or crime story?

   And that's it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

She-Hulk #12

   With this issue, we sadly reach the end of this seres starring the She-Hulk.

   And I'm sorry to see it go, because this has probably been the character's best run since John Byrne's version.

   In the series, writer Charles Soule has focused more on She-Hulk the crusading lawyer, while allowing plenty of room for super-hero action.

   It also gave her a much-needed supporting cast, including one of my sentimental favorites, Hellcat (Patsy Walker).

    Best of all, the stories were fast and fun, with surprising twists. This issue is a good example, as She-Hulk and her friends face an unexpected opponent who may - or may not - be a bad guy.

   The art by Javier Pulido is a bit out of the ordinary for super-hero action - but it's fresh and attractive, and I like it a lot.

   Hopefully this won't be the last attempt to bring the She-Hulk to her own series. A series about a brilliant, sexy, incredibly powerful woman who happens to be green? Surely there must be a creative team out there who can make that work.

Grade: A-


Monday, February 23, 2015

Batgirl #39

      Every comic dreams about the same thing: coming up with that shocking final page that leaves the reader suffering until the next issue finally arrives to alleviate his or her suffering.

   The truly successful ones are pretty rare. But if you've been following this series, you've been asking some questions - like, what happened to Batgirl? Is this really Batgirl? What's up with Black Canary? Why is Batgirl poor, in college, not in a wheelchair, etc. etc.

   Don't expect any answers quickly - but I'm hopeful that things may happen soon.

   So, no spoilers - but if you like surprises, you'll probably want to pick up this issue.

Grade: A-


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lady Mechanika #4

   Hey, look - it's Lady Mechanika!

   The series debuted - I dunno, years ago (OK, it was 2010) - and after long gaps between each issue, was last seen in December 2011.

   It enjoyed strong sales, largely on the strength of the terrific, lush, steampunk-inspired art by Joe Benitez.

   The series has finally returned, courtesy of Benitez's own publishing company, and promises monthly publication.

   The new company started by reprinting the early issues (#0, 1, 2 and 3), and now continues with the never-before-printed issues #4 and 5, and then will continue with a new adventure.

   As with previous issues, the story is difficult to sort out - there are quite a few characters infiltrating a flying fortress - and considering that it's supposed to be impenetrable, lots of people manage to sneak on board.

   But it's all just an excuse for page after page of lovely stunning artwork - and that's the best reason to pick up this series.

Grade: B


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Multiversity: Mastermen #1

   One of the things I like about Multiversity is that you never know what to expect.

   Which is the point, of course.

   This issue takes us to Earth-10 (or, as it was originally tagged, Earth-X), where the Nazis won World War II, but were opposed by a group of Freedom Fighters made up of the heroes from Quality Comics, including Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, Doll Man, Doll Woman, Black Condor, The Ray and the Human Bomb.

   But you might be surprised at who their super-powered opponents are.

   It's a grim tale, but not without hope, as one character tries to overcome an evil upbringing.

   The story by Grant Morrison takes an interesting approach to the World War II setting - and the art by Jim Lee takes an iconic approach to the larger-than-life events.

   It's a tough issue to review, because to talk about it would spoil some of the key moments.

   It's not the best of the Multiversity comics - it's covering some grim territory, and starts with a truly disgusting image on the first page - but as always, it's a powerful story.

Grade: B+


Friday, February 20, 2015

Uncanny X-Men #31

   What a cop-out.

   As near as I can tell, writer Brian Michael Bendis arrived at this issue of Uncanny X-Men and realized he had painted himself into a corner - so he cheated.

   Which is to say, he used a lame, underhanded trick to fix the unfixable problem.

   Oh, it wasn't Deux Ex Machina (where God shows up and fixes it all), and it wasn't a dream or an imaginary story - but neither one of those guesses is far from the mark.

   The Chris Bachalo art is remarkably good, especially considering its covered by seven different inkers, but it can't make up for the bitter taste of the story.

   On the plus side, the ending of the story changes the status quo for this series, and it'll be interesting to see where it goes from here.


   (Oh, and that cover? That doesn't happen anywhere in this issue. Just thought you should know.)

Grade: C


Thursday, February 19, 2015

New Comics Day (One Day Late)

   Running a day late (thanks to the winter blast), here's what I got at the comics shop:

- Batgirl #39 - Now that's a twist ending.

- Groo: Friends and Foes #2 (of 12) - Granny knows best.

- Justice League #39 - Search for the cure to the Amazo virus!

- Lady Mechanika #4 - It's been a while since the last issue - how long to the next?

- Multiversity: Mastermen #1 - A team-up between Grant Morrison and Jim Lee.

- She-Hulk #12 - The final curtain.

- Silver Surfer #9 - A visit from Galactus!

- Star-Lord #9 - Star-Lord vs. Kitty Pryde?

- Wonder Woman #39 - Fight for the crown!

- Uncanny X-Men #31 - Wow. Can you say "cop out," boys and girls?

   And that's it!

The Classics - Conan the Barbarian #24

   When Marvel started its Conan the Barbarian series in 1971, I was a bit disappointed that the art was by Barry Smith.

   Two years later, it was announced that he was leaving the series, and I was heartbroken.

   In that short time Smith somehow went from being one of Marvel's lowliest art talents to one of its best - and he did it by developing his own amazing style which owed more to classic illustration than traditional comic art.

   And what an issue to end with! "The Song of Red Sonja" brought the recently-introduced swordswoman into the Hyborean Age.

   She and Conan are fellow soldiers in the city of Makkalet, and after an exuberant celebration, they decide to get together - to commit some larceny.

   Conan has more romantic goals in mind - an idea not exactly refuted by Sonja, but that's because she has a goal in mind, and she needs Conan's help. So she seduces him - and let me tell you, 12-year-old Chuck was a huge fan of the beautifully-rendered sequence where Conan and Sonja go for a swim - and she doffs her chain mail shirt.

   Of course, it's all handled discreetly - but I paid special attention to those panels.

   The team sets forth on a job that will put them in a fight for their lives - and introduce a interesting element from the Kull stories.

   The art in the issue - penciling and inking and coloring - was handled by Smith, and it's wonderful! Lush, exotic, rugged, sexy, with amazing character designs, stunning environments - it was his best work to date.

   He'd only draw one more Conan story - the epic "Red Nails" - so he ended his run on the character on a high point. (Wait, he also did a "Conan vs. Rune" story, didn't he? That was awesome, too.)

    Writer Roy Thomas also rose to the occasion, penning one of his best efforts in his much longer run on the series (and that's saying something - his work was top notch from beginning to end). The story is a great combination of action, humor, lust, monsters and surprises - just a real delight.

    To this day, it's one of my favorite single issues from Conan's four-decade run in comics - and it made me a Barry (Windsor-)Smith fan for life.

   A true classic!

Grade: A+


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No New Comics Today

   The winter storm that hit the East Coast also shut down the ever-vital delivery of comics to my local comics shop today, so no "New Comics" list for me!

   Hopefully we'll be back on track tomorrow!

Classic Comics - Conan the Barbarian #4

   I've written before about how excited I was in the '70s when I heard that Marvel was creating a comic book based on the adventures of Conan the Barbarian.

   But I have to admit I wasn't sure the series was going to work. The first three issues were "new" Conan stories written by Roy Thomas (with the third issue adapting a non-Conan story by Robert E. Howard story I hadn't read). As for artist Barry Smith - the art just didn't "look" like Conan - at first.

   It was silly, of course, to expect Smith (later known as Windsor-Smith) to match up to those Frank Frazetta painted covers, but instead we were getting art that seemed to be trying hard to be a combination of Jim Steranko and Jack Kirby (and not really succeeding at either one).

   But with the fourth issue, published in 1971, my opinion started to change.

   Here was a story based on one of my favorite Howard stories, "The Tower of the Elephant," which picks up early in Conan's life, as he tries his hand at being a thief. He decides to break into a strange, mystic tower, where he encounters a surprising ally - and one of the strangest creatures he'll ever meet.

   It's an action-packed story, loaded with surprises and unexpected turns.

   And it's also the issue where Smith's art turned a corner - at least in my eyes. Perhaps it was the inking by the always-excellent Sal Buscema, or perhaps it was just Smith hitting his stride (he would improve with every single issue at a shocking - and delightful - rate).

   Whatever the case, the Hyborian Age really started coming to life with this issue, with lush (and gritty) environments, riveting characters, original monsters and an underlying reality about the proceedings.

   In other words, Smith was realizing his own potential, and his work was merging perfectly with Thomas' scripts. They were becoming that rare creative team that just clicks perfectly - and together they'd make Conan the top title at Marvel.

   And one of my all-time favorites, too!

Grade: A



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thor #5

   I was buying into the whole "female Thor" idea there for a while - it was fresh, it was different, and it had potential.

   But now, with the fifth issue, the whole thing just kind of fell apart.

   That's because it has devolved into what's known as an "idiot plot" - where everyone has to act like an idiot for the story to work.

   So we have Odin vowing to destroy this new Thor, despite assurances of her worth by his wife Freya and his own son, the god formerly known as Thor (now apparently going by Odinson, about which I can only say, bleh).

   In other words, Odin is now a villain - and to prove it, he's working with his brother Cul the Serpent, who managed to kill Thor a few years back.

   Meanwhile the mystery continues as to the identity of the new Thor. And worst of all, she faces off against the Absorbing Man (here filling the role of the despicable male chauvinist pig) and his wife Titania (who usually relishes such battles) in what is easily the dumbest fight in recent comics history (ending on a particularly mean-spirited note).

   And why did Thor give away his name to her? No reason. I can understand him agreeing that she's worthy of wielding Mjolnir, but I don't believe for a second that he'd give away his name like that. Doesn't she have a name of her own? If not, can't she make up one?

   Ah well. I want to like the series - I like the art a lot - but the writing is uneven. The only thing to recommend it is the enthusiasm of the new Thor for her new... Thor-ness... but that's not enough to carry a series.

Grade: B-


Monday, February 16, 2015

Usagi Yojimbo: Grasscutter #1

   It's great to see this series making its return (after a brief hiatus while writer / artist / creator Stan Sakai worked on other projects).

   And Dark Horse has provided the perfect jumping-on spot, with this "1 for $1" issue - yep, it only costs a buck. 

   It introduces the cast and sets up a major storyline, which centers around a plot against the Shogun and the search for the legendary blade known as Grasscutter. 

   We also meet some of the supporting cast, including a demonic killer and some of the allies and enemies of Usagi Yojimbo

   The downside is that this is a reprint of an issue that came out years ago - so to get the rest of the story you'll have to buy the "Grasscutter" collection or track down those back issues.

   For those who just tuned in, Usagi is a masterless samauri - a ronin - who wanders across the face of Japan in the early 17th century. The characters are represented by different animals - it's surprising how quickly you forget that, and focus on the characters, stories and adventures being presented. 

   It's amazing that the series has been running for decades, and just keeps getting better and better. 

   The stories blend heroism, humor, action, adventure, tragedy and tremendous heart - so if you like that sort of thing, you should be buying this series.

   Highly, highly recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Archie #664

    Stepping in with a Guest Review is my pal James Cassara (if you'd like to send in a review of your own, just use the email address in the column on the right). He passes along some thoughts on everyone's favorite teenager. Thanks, James! 
   Within the “regular” Archie Comics universe (put in quotes as I do acknowledge that Archie and company are fictional characters) there exists a subset of “imaginary” Archie tales, generally set outside of Riverdale and often set in entirely different times.  
   Archie Versus Punisher is probably the most well known (and an Archie Versus Predator title is forthcoming) but our carrot-topped crooner has been to other planets, other realms, and all sorts of alternative universes. 
   So there’s plenty of precedent for Archie #664 and “Game of Phones.” I’m unfamiliar with the George R. R. Martin-created books, as well as the hugely successful television franchise based on said books, but the beauty of the Archie spin-offs is that one need not be a fan of the source material to enjoy them. 
   When they’re done well the humor and situations are self-contained, faithful enough to the Archie characters that adherence to the subject of the parody is unimportant. 
   Unfortunately “Game of Phones” is a bit of a jumbled mess. Set in the ancient kingdom of Riveros (populated by the usual Archie cast of characters) it pits two warring families - the Logister clan, whose daughter Veronsei longs to be Queen, versus the Starch group, whose bumbling son Archie hopes to succeed the retiring King Weatherby.  
   Not a bad premise and one which, with loyal but conniving subjects on both sides, could easily replicate the antics of the Riverdale we know and love. 
   But the story is derailed by a convoluted subplot of phone texting and messaging (hence the “Game of Phones”) that feels contrived and lacks a clear focus. The inclusion of a race of giants, who are forced to choose sides, further muddies the waters of an already thin plot.
   There’s a lot of potential here but I get the sense that this would have worked better as a two or three part mini-series.  Cramped into a 20 pages it reads like a rush job. 
   Oh well. Archie Comics are known for their consistently entertaining stories, a prescribed structure that allows for occasional detours, some of which work better than others.  
   If you’re a fan of the Archie Universe you’ll probably excuse this issue as a miscalculation. 
   If this is your first Archie in a while you’ll likely be left scratching your head, to which I say “try them again next month!”
Grade: B-

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy #24

   Be careful what you wish for.

   That old warning is at the heart of The Black Vortex story that's playing out across the Guardians of the Galaxy and All-New X-Men titles.

   The teams have recovered a cosmic artifact (apparently created by the mysterious Celestials) that alters everyone who looks in its mirrored surface.

   Being more powerful sounds like a good thing - but is there a down side, and can the two heroic teams resist the easy solution to their problems?

   It's an interesting problem, and one that promises no easy solution.

   So far, I'm really enjoying this crossover series - and boy, is that a rare thing!

Grade: A-


Friday, February 13, 2015

All-New X-Men #36

   It's been a busy weekend, so your old pal Chuck is running behind - so here are some quick reviews (and an upcoming guest review) to get us back on schedule).

   I've been complaining that the latest, universe-hopping story in All-New X-Men has been taking too long to get going.

   The story started with the team made up of the original X-Men team that's been brought to modern times, with X-23 taking the place of the absent Cyclops. They meet a powerful new mutant who transports everyone to the Ultimate Universe, where they're all separated and faced with new menaces.

   Luckily, they have allies, too, including Spider-Man and the Ultimate X-Men.

   After a slow start and middle, the story kicks into high gear with this issue and brings the whole storyline to a fast and fun resolution (providing some enticing glimpses into alternate realities along the way).

   It's a good wrap to the story, and gets us ready for the next big event - the Black Vortex. Recommended!

Grade: A-


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Darth Vader #1

   It's difficult to do a comic book series that stars a villain.

   The comic book graveyard is littered with past attempts, but Marvel's giving it a shot with the iconic heavy from the original Star Wars movies: Darth Vader.

   The issue actually ties in with the story rolling out in the new Star Wars comic, as Vader reacts to his encounter with a capable and brash band of rebels, including Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca.

    The adventure is set shortly after the events in the original (first) Star Wars movie, A New Hope. The Death Star has been destroyed and Vader has failed for the first time - and Emperor Palpatine is not pleased.

   Vader's attempts to redeem himself brings him in contact with some familiar faces, and he gets to show just how formidable he can be.

   The script by Keiron Gillen is quite good, setting up several storylines for future issues - and the art by Salvador Larroca is terrific, capturing the look and feel of the Star Wars universe with amazing skill.

   Can the series succeed? I'm dubious, because it's tough to stay invested in a character who is fighting so fervently for the side of evil. The only way to overcome that is to create stories compelling enough to overcome the lack of sympathy for the central character.

   We'll see! But this is definitely a strong start.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Classics - Captain America #100

   As Marvel hit its stride in 1967, a change in the company's distribution method allowed for a sudden expansion of the line, and they managed it by the simple method of taking all their "split" titles - Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales - and giving both stars of each comic his own title!

   Half of those titles started with new numbering (a new #1), and the other half continued the original numbering of their "parent" title. (I have no idea why this is so.)

   As a result, Iron Man started out with a first issue, while Captain America continued the numbering of Tales of Suspense starting with #100.

   You get the sense that the expansion happened suddenly, as - instead of launching with a fresh new storyline - this story continues an ongoing adventure that teamed up Cap and the Black Panther.

   Of course, creative powerhouses Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn't miss a beat. They tossed in a three-page recap of Cap's origin at the top of the issue and launched right into the battle with an army under the command of Cap's enemy, Baron Zemo (who was responsible for Bucky's death during World War II).

   Add in a beautiful Secret Agent and tons of action, and you have an issue that's a heck of a lot of fun from beginning to end.

   And in yet another example of Marvel's ability to thread its continuity together, the story serves as a launching point to send the Panther over into the Avengers title, as Cap's introduction paves the way for T'challa to join the team a couple of months later.

   The only thing about the issue that doesn't work for me are Syd Shores' inks, which somewhat overpower Kirby's pencils (not an easy thing to manage). I was (and am) a much bigger fan of Joe Sinnott's work on Kirby - I believe that's who inked the cover.

   The new, feature-length Cap title would go through some changes in the months ahead, as Kirby eventually gave way to Jim Steranko's short but iconic run, followed by a short run by the great John Romita - and then a long run by the legendary Gene Colan.

   Of course, as one of the few heroes to survive from the Golden Age into the present, Cap deserved the very best!

Grade: A-



New Comics Day

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

- All-New X-Men #36 - Showdown with Dr. Doom!

- Astro City #20 - Getting old stinks, even for heroes.

- Darth Vader #1 - The price of failure.

- Guardians of the Galaxy #24 - What is the Black Vortex?

- Magnus Robot Fighter #11 - What a strange journey.

- Thanos vs Hulk #3 (of 4) - Battle with Blastaar!

- Thor #5 - So who is the new Thor?

- Usagi Yojimbo 1 - A reprint of a great tale for a buck!

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ant-Man #2

   So after being unimpressed with the first issue of Ant-Man, I reluctantly picked up the second issue - because I do like the character (or at least I did when Hank Pym was under the cool helmet), so I figured I'd give it another shot.

   And this time around I get what they're going for - it's another take on the Hawkeye-style comic, with a different tempo and approach from the typical superhero comic.

   But where it works for Hawkeye, it doesn't translate as well here. Perhaps it's because we can buy Hawkeye as a lovable loser who thrives in the Avengers but struggles in the real world - after all, he's on the most powerful team on the planet, so the humanizing works well.

   But Ant-Man is already working with a handicap - his power is just one step away from being invisible, and for his to be a lovable loser as a hero and as a human just makes him, well, a loser.

   The art by Ramon Rosanas is very good, very clean and attractive - but Nick Spencer's story just isn't working for me yet. I like this issue better than the last one, but there's nothing about this issue that compels me to buy the next issue.

   I might buy it out of loyalty, but I wish I was buying it because it's a great comic book.

Grade: B-


Monday, February 9, 2015

Miracleman #15

   Keep this one away from the kids.

   This issue of Miracleman reprints what was, at the time, the most gruesome and visceral comic I'd seen (outside of a few underground comics).

   It brings a dark conclusion to the story of Kid Miracleman. When Miracleman first disappeared decades ago, young Johnny Bates managed to escape destruction - so he grew to adulthood, wielding the power of a god, unrestrained by morality - and he became a monster.

   In their initial encounter, after Miracleman's return, Bates was tricked into turning back to his mortal form - and he apparently lost the ability to transform.

   But it was a temporary respite, as an assault by bullies led the KM's return - and he promptly went on a murderous spree that brutally, horribly killed millions and devastated London.

    The issue is a shocker - you have beautiful, evocative prose provided by "The Original Writer" (Alan Moore, natch), posted up against horrific, incredible charnel artwork by the talented John Totleben.

   When it was originally published in the '80s, the issue stunned readers, unaccustomed as we were to that level of real violence and horror. Even is this more jaded era, it still holds its power - but as I said at the top, it's definitely not for young readers.

   Fans should rejoice that they finally get to see this issue - it's been an expensive one to pick up on the back-issue market. It's a stunning bit of work that took super-hero battles to a new extreme - for good or ill.

Grade: A



Sunday, February 8, 2015

Star Wars #2

   So the big trick in creating a Star Wars series that takes place between the existing films is not violating the existing continuity.

   But this comic seems to have no concerns about that - so we see Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader long before their eventual (and epic) battle in The Empire Strikes Back.

   So the die-hard fans may object to the way this issue plays out - but for the rest of us, it's loaded with hoo-hah action and adventure.

   The story centers around the attempts by the Rebellion (in this case, Luke, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO) to destroy one of the Empire's main weapons-making facilities.

   But they find their efforts blocked by an army of Stormtroopers, led by Vader.

   The story by Jason Aaron works perfectly with the stunning artwork by John Cassaday - as a long-time fan, I just kept smiling through the whole story. The next one can't get here fast enough!

    Oh, and let me just add: continuity schmontinuity.

Grade: A


Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Avengers #41

   OK, the cover to this issue of The Avengers threw me.

   I thought: maybe they forgot to get someone to draw a cover, so they reused the one Bryan Hitch drew for the first issue of The Ultimates.

    But as you read the issue, you realize there actually is a connection to the Ultimate universe, as the various alternate universes continue to draw together.

   There's actually very little Avenger content here, as we see what happens to the evil Cabal (they were caught in a world-destroying death trap when last we saw them) and a new destructive force enters the picture.

   This series just keeps amping up the tension, and with just three months to go, the reader could be forgiven for beginning to wonder how the Marvel universe can survive.

    It's another fantastic story by writer Jonathan Hickman and amazing art by Mike Deodato - what an amazing, mature, complex tale they're weaving here. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Friday, February 6, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex #1

   I'm not sure if this qualifies as an "event" book or just a sweeping crossover series, since it's mostly restricted to the X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy books, but whatever it is, it's off to a rollicking start with this issue.

   Or at least a crowded one.

   It involves the discovery that a certain evil team has found the object known as the Black Vortex - a mysterious artifact that springs from the cosmic beings known as The Celestials (and perhaps owes a lot to the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

   The device is a source of staggering power - but can it be used for good, or only for evil?

   The issue moves all the players into position, ably served by the terrific art by Ed McGuinness, Kris Anka and a small army of inkers.

   I have to admit I almost didn't pick up this series - but I've been enjoying the Legendary Star-Lord series, and it led right into this issue - so I thought I'd give it a shot.

   With event books, by the end of the first issue you can usually get a sense that a series has potential - or it's going to be a waste of effort. So far, the signs are that this will be a fun, action-packed series.

    Hope I'm not wrong.

Grade: A-


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Superman #38

   With this issue we wrap up the first storyline by the new Superman creative team of Geoff Johns, John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson.

   And while the series has been a bit... well, erratic... it's been quite a step up from the usual Superman fare.

   On the good side, it's been an action-filled adventure pitting the Man of Steel against the mysterious Ulysses, whose power may be greater than Superman's.

   The origin of the new opponent may be a bit derivative, trying hard to be a reverse-Superman - but it's still entertaining.

   On the down side, the ending here is a bit too pat and easily managed - and you might be inclined to think that Superman has actually done a terrible thing here, causing the deaths of (possibly) millions (though he managed to save millions of humans in the process).

   But there are some surprises, including a new look (though not a drastic new look), some surprising discussions and an unexpected new weakness.

   Overall, I really like the new take on this time-honored character. Johns is managing a nice balance between bringing back classic concepts (Clark is back working for the Daily Planet again, finally) and introducing new foes.

   More like this, please.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Classics - Black Panther #1 (2005)

      By the time this Black Panther series arrived in 2005, the hero had already been through a few incarnations.

   T'Challa first appeared almost 40 years before that in an issue of Fantastic Four in 1966, making him the first black super-hero.

   He's had some terrific talents spinning his stories, starting with his creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Among others, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Don McGregor, Billy Graham and many others have taken a shot, but one of the best versions of the character was found in this series, courtesy of writer Reginald Hudlin and artists John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson.

   The first issue doesn't actually include the modern version of the Panther, but instead gives us a look at the amazing history of his African kingdom, Wakanda.

   We'd had glimpses of it in past stories, but here it comes to life by way of attempts by outside invaders bent on conquest. We quickly see why Wakanda has never been conquered - and we also see a battle between one of T'Challa's ancestors and a certain iconic super-hero.

   With a real sense of history and an epic scale, this issue (and the ones that followed) help re-establish the Black Panther as one of the most capable, unbeatable heroes in the Marvel Universe - one who deserves to be respected and honored.

   With the hero about to take the national stage - he has an upcoming solo film and a rumored appearance in the Avengers: Age of Ultron film - one hopes the filmmakers will take the best aspects of the past series and craft something that lives up to the promise of this series.

Grade: A


New Comics Book Day

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

- Ant-Man #2 - Life can be a bear.

- Avengers #41 - There's something familiar about that cover.

Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: Black Vortex Alpha #1 - It's crossover time! 

- Hellboy and the BPRD 1952 #3 - Death and demons.

- Hulk #11 - The girl next door.

- Miracleman #15A bloody mess.

- Saga #25 - Kidnapped!

- Star Wars #2 - Luke vs. Vader!

- Superman #38 - A new power and a new costume!

   And that's it!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ivar, Timewalker #1

   I'm glad to see the return of the Valiant line of heroes, and the retooling (some slight, some severe) of the original concepts.

   One of the bits I always liked was the two brothers whose lives cross the centuries - but by different paths.

   The Eternal Warrior has covered that ground by never growing old - but his brother Ivar Anni-Padda accomplishes the same thing by jumping through portals in time. Thus the name Timewalker.

   Think of him as Doctor Who without a Tardis.

   This first issue follows his attempts to save a woman who's about to change the world - but not necessarily for the better.

   She's about to invent time travel - an event that could change the world and threaten the planet. But will she get the chance? Her life is apparently being threatened by a number of robots (an homage to Terminator, perhaps) and her rescuer - Ivar - takes her through time and into more dangerous territory.

   It's a smart, fun, fast-paced story by Fred Van Lente, and fresh, inventive art by Clayton Henry.

   It's a promising (and mysterious) beginning to the series, which any fan of time-travel tales will enjoy.

Grade: B+


Monday, February 2, 2015

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #7

   One of the (not so) secret reasons for the success of Doctor Who is the character's amazing gallery of villains - and one of the more compelling of the modern additions to that list is the Weeping Angels.

   They look like statues of angels who are hiding their eyes, but they're actually assassins who moves at amazing speed - but only when you're not looking.

   So the key phrase from their origin episode was: Don't Blink.

   And they don't kill their victims - they relocate them through time, so the victims often die - eventually - of old age.

   The Doctor who introduced the characters on the screen (in one of the best episodes of the series, despite the fact that the Doctor himself played only the smallest part in it) stars in this version of the comics series - the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant.

   This adventure is set during World War I, a prime setting for soldiers to disappear mysteriously - and that's what happens, as the doctor and his assistant, a beautiful artist named Gabby, run into the latest incident / attack by the Angels.

   It's a fun (though grim) story, and writer Robbie Morrison and artist Dsniel Indro do a good job of capturing the manic energy of #10.

   It's great to see these characters back in action again!

Grade: B+



Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Phantom #1

   I'm a huge fan of The Phantom.

   That comic strip character, created by Lee Falk, was (possibly) the first costumed hero in American comics, and over the decades since has built up an amazingly fertile history and environment.

   The modern Phantom family is the latest in a long line of heroes, dating back hundreds of years.

   The sons of each Phantom have carried on the fight against crime into the modern day - it's the family business.

   So when I heard Dynamite was starting a new line with the hero (along with other classic King Features comic strip heroes like Mandrake, Jungle Jim and the returning Flash Gordon), I was happy to pick it up.

   What a shame it doesn't actually feature The Phantom.

   Apparently written by someone who's never read the original stories, we instead join the action in progress (never a promising event in a first issue). The story apparently spins out of a recent devastating attack on the Earth (I presume by Ming the Merciless), which included the death of The Phantom.

   So Mandrake's ally Lothar decides to take on the role (no idea why) until the actual heir to the role can be found. What follows is a series of fights with some mercenaries (Why? Who knows?), some strange animal-headed creatures (again, no idea what that's about) and then they run a scheme worthy of a bad sitcom.

   It's just sad to see a book with so much potential wasted. The Phantom is such a great character, with a terrific mythology to draw on. Why throw all that out in the first issue?

   Only a month into the new year and we already have a leading candidate for "worst comic of the year."

Grade: D