Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mercy: Shake the World

   You will find few writers in comics who will challenge the reader more than J.M. DeMatteis (and yes, that's a good thing).

   Now back in print is Mercy: Shake the World, his graphic novel with artist Paul Johnson (originally published as part of DC's Vertigo line).

   It's that true rarity in modern comics - a story that's filled with hope and a positive view of life.

   The story could easily have gone in a different direction - it uses some classic horror tropes to set up the focus on the mysterious woman (or force of nature) known as Mercy.

   The story is told from an unusual point of view - that of a man who is in a coma, and finds his spirit floating through a dreamlike world.

   He is drawn to others who face pivotal moments - a married couple who are about the split apart; an elderly woman who lives with the literal ghosts from her past; and a young man facing a traumatic - and possibly life-ending - change.

   Where most writers would take the easy way out (perhaps a grim and gritty analysis of the dark side of the spirit) but DeMatteis makes it an exploration of the spirit, a message of love and hope - it's inspired work.

   Johnson's art is a perfect match for the story - evocative painted images that convey the story while keeping a unique artistic vision. From the stunning beauty of Mercy to a myriad of strange, twisted environments and the raw emotional experiences of the characters, he captures it with a flood of pages, any one of which would look great framed and hanging on the wall.

   I should add that this story isn't for everyone - there are no superheroes, no capes, no city-shattering fights between godlike figures - but you will find a thought-provoking story that is surprising and moving.

Grade: A



Monday, June 29, 2015

Surface Tension #2

   As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of the well-worn "in the future, everything goes to hell" kind of story.

   But I'm willing to make an exception - so far - with Surface Tension.

   That's because it's a story loaded with interesting characters, some romantic interests, and a clever story.

   It manages to mix disaster with an unusual horror story. Most of mankind has been afflicted with something called the "Sea Sickness," which forces them to walk into the ocean.

   Not everyone contracted the disease, so the survivors try to deal with the new reality - and then a young couple walks back out of the ocean, with blue skin and jumbled memories.

   It's all tied in, somehow, to changes in sea coral - and their return has lured a monster to the surface world.

   So there's a lot going on in the excellent story written and drawn by Jay Gunn, and the artwork is terrific - kind of a Frank Quitely look, with striking environments and excellent character designs.

   It's a story with lots of mysteries to analyze, interesting characters to discover and some sharp moments of horror.

   So far, I'm impressed!

Grade: A


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Daredevil #16

   Have I mentioned how much I enjoy Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's work on Daredevil?

    They somehow manage to capture a classic, almost Silver Age feel to the comic, while making it at the same time cutting edge, with sharp characters and dialogue, stunning visuals and surprises behind each turn of the page.

   This issue brings back some classic DD villains (including his most infamous opponent), confronts the ever-frustrating problem of Matt's public identity (which they've been having a heck of a lot of fun with), and promises a (potential) final solution to the threat that hangs over his life and his loved ones.

   It ends with a heck of a cliffhanger.

   It boils down to this: you'll have a tough time finding a better comic on the market right now from any company.

   So you really should be buying this comic.

Grade: A


Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Flash #41

   It's taken a while, but apparently DC has realized that the TV show based on The Flash is a hit, so they're working to bring the comic book version into line with the version that appears on the small screen.

   That's not a bad idea - and certainly the TV show has been superior to the "New 52" version of Barry Allen - but I really can't tell if the changes are new or if they've been there all along and I just didn't remember them.

   (The key word for this series so far is "unmemorable.")

   For example, we see Barry working to solve the mystery of his mother's death, and he talks to his father, who is in jail after being convicted of her murder. (Was this in place in the comic before? No idea.)

   We also see the return of the classic Flash villain, the Reverse-Flash (or Professor Zoom, if you prefer) - one of the main villains from the TV show, and also involved in the death of Barry's mother.

   Whew! But aside from Zoom's quick appearance, it's the usual business for Flash - he's barely able to defeat a Grade "D" villain, he complains about his roommate, and doesn't seem particularly... heroic.

   The series needs a better supporting cast, some characterization for the title character, and better opponents.

   You know, like the TV show.

Grade: C+


Friday, June 26, 2015

Ant-Man: Larger Than Life #1 (One Shot)

   As much as I've enjoyed the Marvel movies, I was surprised when it was announced that they were working on an Ant-Man movie.

   He's not exactly the most likely candidate for the spotlight.

   Of course, I had the same reaction to the Guardians of the Galaxy announcement, and that worked out well - so now I'm anxious to see Marvel's tiniest hero on the big screen.

   Naturally, Marvel is going to try to capitalize on it by releasing several Ant-Man tie-ins, including this one-shot special, Ant-Man: Larger Than Life.

   I snapped it up when I realized that it featured the original version of the hero, Hank Pym - but unfortunately, only half of the comic is really worth the price of admission.

   That's the second half, which reprints the first two appearances of the character in Tales to Astonish, including the Stan Lee / Larry Lieber story "The Man in the Ant-Hill," which introduced Hank (but not Ant-Man), and the sequel eight months later, wherein Hank donned the terrific Jack Kirby-designed costume for the first time (with inking by the legendary Dick Ayers).

   But the first half of this comic is a "new" adventure looking back at the early days of Hank's career (though oddly he wears the movie version of his Ant-Man uniform), as he tries to learn to control the ants.

   The story's very thin and paints Hank as the dimmest scientist around. The art by Andrea Di Vito is solid, but there's not much to work with there, aside from some menacing insects.

   It's not a bad introduction to the character for new readers, but for those of us who are big fans of Ant-Man, it's pretty disappointing.

Grade: C+


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Superman #41

   Writing about comics without spoiling the contents keeps getting more and more challenging, because the companies seem determined to spoil the stories before anyone else gets the chance.

   So the new issue of Superman starts a new storyline, which will culminate in what would be a shocking event, if not for the fact that we all know about it. 

   (No, I'm not going to spell it out.)

  I'm not looking forward to the event because in several other instances where similar stories have been tried, the series had to jump through hoops to correct the mistake.

   So far the new story is interesting as Clark receives guidance from a mysterious ally, which leads him up against some powerful opponents.

   It's a strong first issue by writer Gene Luen Yand, and the art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson is terrific, keeping the action moving right along.

   It's still too soon in the story to determine if this story will be worth following - but so far, it's off to an interesting start.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Comic Book Day

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

- Ant-Man Larger Than Life #1 - Hey, it's Hank Pym!

- Batgirl #41 - Facing the new Batman!

- Daredevil #16 - Facing death.

- Flash #41 - Return of the Reverse-Flash.

- Howard the Duck #4 - The Doctor is Strange.

- SHIELD #7 - The return of Skye / Daisy / Quake!

- Superman #41 - Someone knows Clark's secret.

   And that's it! 

The Classics - Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #14

   What do you do when a superstar artist leaves a title?

   Sometimes the series can survive, but sometimes... not so much.

   A good example is Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. - a series that flourished under the creative juggernaut that was writer / artist Jim Steranko.

   During his relatively short (three-year) stint on the series in the late '60s, Steranko elevated it to being the best comic in the Marvel lineup, with amazing designs, pop art effects and terrific cliffhanger stories.

   But as suddenly as he appeared he stepped away from the series, leaving the comic in other creative hands.

   It was doomed to fail.

   Other titles Steranko left had the benefit of being handed over to other top-flight talent - such as Neal Adams taking over the X-Men (when I saw Adams' first issue, I wondered why Steranko had changed his name on the credits box), and John Romita and Gene Colan sitting in on Captain America.

   But the Nick Fury series had a series of artists, almost all of them doing their best to imitate Steranko's style - but they fell short. This issue is by Herb Trimpe, a terrific storyteller who does his best to fill the creative void - he uses vivid layouts, photo backgrounds, panel grids - but despite Trimpe's professionalism, it just feels like a thin imitation of the real Steranko.

   The writing struggled as well, as Gary Fredrich tried to cook up the kind of high-speed action and adventure fans craved.

   But those styles really didn't play to the strengths of the creative team, and the series would only manage one more issue before becoming a reprint book, and then being canceled.

   Perhaps they should have tried a completely new approach, rather than clinging so desperately to Steranko's style. Or perhaps they should have just cancelled the book outright when Steranko left.

   It would have been a mercy.

Grade: B-  


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Space Riders #3

   Now that is a comic like no other.

   Space Riders feels like an artifact from another time - it has that raw, underground comic feel from the '70s.

   And I don't say that as a slam against it - despite the rampant destruction and excessive adult language on display, I couldn't stop smiling when I read this comic.

   It tells the story of three members of the rough-and-tumble group known as the Space Riders. The leader is Captain Peligro, a bearded space pirate (of sorts) who leads the Mandrill-like beast-man named Mono and the robotic female, Yara.

   The issue kicks off with the three fighting for their lives against an army of robot killers - but their goal is to find the hidden tomb of the Space Gods.

   The story is by Fabian Rangel, Jr., who co-created the series with artist Alexis Ziritt. They've crafted a real oddity - it doesn't look anything like the typical slick science fiction series.

   Instead it's a raw, skull-melting collision of crude images and cosmic concepts.

   It's rough, but it's a heck of a lot of fun. Not for the faint of heart!

Grade: B+


Monday, June 22, 2015

Fathom Blue #1

   I really want to like the Fathom series, including the newest addition to the series: Fathom Blue.

   But the writers sure aren't making it easy.

   That's because they make almost no effort to bring new readers up to speed.

   This issue is made of vignettes, as we look in on the lives of five different people from different walks of life. They're all captured by a mysterious paramilitary force.

   Why? Well, that's where it gets tricky. The grizzled military guy behind the kidnappings reveals his secret goal - but the reader will have to wait until next issue.

   When I finished reading the issue, I thought: was Fathom even in the issue? Was she one of the people kidnapped?

   I'm pretty sure that she's the woman shown at the end, dealing out some overly-harsh environmental justice - but she's never identified (at last not with any name I recognize), so we just have to assume.

   The old saw was that every issue is someone's first comic book, so the writer must go the extra mile to make it all clear for the reader.

   What we have here is some nice art and (potentially) the first chapter in the birth of a new super-team. But I'm just guessing.

Grade: B


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Doctor Fate #1

   Whenever a beloved character is brought back in a new title, I have the same thought: "Please don't suck."

   I had high hopes for Doctor Fate, because it's written by one of DC's best writers, Paul Levitz (actually, he co-writes it with artist Sonny Lieu).

   But, I'm sorry to report - this first issue left me cold.

   I always liked this character - from the cool, full-face helmet to the yellow-and-blue costume (with cape and amulet), down to the bolts of lightning that fly from his fingers, it just seems like a character with limitless possibilities.

   Instead, DC almost always mucks with the concept - and this series is no exception (though I'll grant that we're early in the process).

   Here Doctor Fate is a young medical student named Khalid Nelson, who is offered the helmet by an Egyptian deity (Why him? No idea). He accepts reluctantly and then does... almost nothing, despite a terrible disaster sweeping the area.

   The ending is odd, too - the story doesn't really hook us into the next issue. It just... stops.

   The art doesn't really work for me, either. They're apparently going for a horror feel - and succeeding at that - but Fate doesn't look heroic at all. His figure is rubbery and distorted.

   It's just odd. Horror fans may love this, but I have to add it to my stack of "comics that disappointed."

Grade: C+


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Black Canary #1

   Having already grumped about the new Justice Society comic, now I get to beef about the new title starring one of that team's former members - the Black Canary.

   Longtime comic fans know that, in this business, nothing succeeds like excess - and if a new kind of a series succeeds, then the comics company will start cranking out copies.

   So what we're seeing here is the "Batgirl-ization" of Black Canary.

   When the "New 52" launched, a new Batgirl series was part of it - but it never really took off with the readers. So back in October, that series was rebooted - and the character within was barely recognizable as Barbara Gordon.

   The characters were all young and hip, hanging around with college-age students, living a fast life of nightclubs, no money and offbeat, ground-level villains.

   Now they're giving Black Canary (who appeared in several recent Batgirl stories) the same treatment. She's now the gritty and determined lead singer for a band named Black Canary. She has no money, so she needs to succeed with the band - but she keeps getting involved with fights, and that's hurting the band's reputation.

    I think every comics character can use the occasional change-up to keep things fresh and interesting - but you have to keep some connection to the character's past.

   You see none of that here. In personality, look and behavior, this fighting songstress has nothing to do with the beautiful, determined, confident Black Canary who's been fighting the bad guys since the Golden Age.

   The approach worked (mostly) with Batgirl, but I'm afraid lightning isn't striking twice for me. Perhaps this series will draw in female readers - I'm all for that - but it definitely isn't aimed at me.

   I'd rather read about Dinah Lance.

Grade: B-


Friday, June 19, 2015

Thors #1

   Of all the wacky concepts that have been created by the Secret Wars / Battleworld concept, one of the most off-beat - yet strangely compelling - can be found in Thors.

   The concept apparently includes every alternate version of Thor ever - and quite a few we've never seen - all serving as the law enforcement arm of Dr. Doom's creation.

   So, as you'd expect, the main storyline in this issue is a forensic crime investigation.


   The Ultimate Thor is partnered with Beta Ray Bill (who I'm always happy to see), as they try to solve the mystery behind five seemingly unconnected murders.

   The concept sounds wonky, but the story by Jason Aaron actually works really well, and the artwork by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story is terrific - sometimes gritty, always large than life, with terrific character designs.

   For some reason I expected this series to be silly - but it's a clever concept and very compelling.

   Go figure!

Grade: A-


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Justice League of America #1

   Bryan Hitch has been one of the industry's hottest artists for years, but only in recent years has he actively tackled writing.

   His specialty is the wide-screen, larger than life adventure, which is a perfect fit for his amazingly detailed, hyper-realistic style (which owes a lot to Neal Adams).

   He delivers that in spades in his first writer / artist effort for DC, as they create a new Justice League of America title just for him.

   And it certainly pays off!

   Operating outside that pesky thing known as continuity, he focuses on the primary team (as established since the "New 52)  - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Cyborg.

   The first half of the book actually feels more like a Superman comic, but that opening sequence is stunning - if you haven't seen Hitch's work before, it'll show you why he's considered the master of stunning visuals.

   This is an oversized issue, which gives him room to run with wild action sequences, a mysterious (and potentially catastrophic) threat, and great interaction between the team members.

   This is just the beginning, and it's impressive. We would expected the art to be outstanding, but the story also has several great hooks in there, puzzles to sort out, and shocking revelations.

   It's a series that takes advantage of the larger-than-life playing field Hitch's work is suited for.


Grade: A


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today: 
- Astro City #24 - Gorilla on the drums!
- Black Canary #1 - A new look, a new beginning.
- Dr. Fate #1 - Ditto.
- Groo Friends and Foes #6 - Some Sage advice.
- Justice League of America #1 - Going widescreen with Hitch.
- Thors #1 - What's better than one Thor?
   And that's it! 

The Classics - Nexus #5

   In the 1980s, the so-called "Independent" comics companies were on fire!

   The fledgling Capital Comics company didn't last long - their titles were quickly picked up by First Comics - but what they had was tremendous.

   Their top title was Nexus, an astonishing tour-de-force by the team of writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude.

   They were (and are) a match made in comic book heaven - two creative titans looking to shake up the norm and tell massive, cosmic tales loaded with imagination, wit, sex, terrific characters and amazing visuals.

   At the center of the series was a surprisingly dark element - Nexus was Horatio Hellpop, a mysterious cosmic-powered man who dreams of murderers - and is driven to track them down and kill them.

   Despite that grim angle, the series was loaded with humor and energy - like this issue, for example. The irrepressible Judah Maccabee (The Hammer) is bored, so he talks Nexus into going on an adventure, visiting some of the most dangerous bars in the galaxy.

   Hilarity follows, as they get involved in bar-fights, save the neck of Clonezone the Hilariator, face disaster and destruction - and get drunk.

   Oh, and the backup story with Judah taking part in the strangest wrestling (rassalin') match ever is a hoot!

   Balancing the spontaneous script is the incredible art of Rude - amazing character designs, somehow combining the spirit of Jack Kirby with the energy and power of Alex Toth's animation work (with a special nod to the classic Space Ghost). Rude is simply one of the best artists in the history of comics!

   There were few comics that matched this series - in a just world, this series would have run forever.

Grade: A



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Death Sentence London #1

   The new series Death Sentence London drops us in the middle of a post-apocalyptic event (those are aways fun!) that's connected to the appearance of people exhibiting "G-Plus" characteristics (in other words, they have super-powers).

   It's a brutal, hard-hitting world, as the police try to restore order in a London torn apart by riots, renegades wielding powers, and (apparently) a really big bomb.

   This is a series that's for adults - it includes a lot of violence, adult language and loads of general despair.

   But it's well-crafted violence, language and despair.

   Writer MontyNero crafts a clever, gritty story, and artist Martin Simmonds provides amazing visuals, with creative layouts and stunning use of color.

   If you like this kind of dystopic tale (I'll resist the urge to say "here it is"), this is a well-crafted one, with additional layers of super-powered elements added in.

   It's a little too grim for me, but your mileage may vary.

  Grade: A-



Monday, June 15, 2015

Unity #19

   Every self-respecting comics company needs a super-hero team, and at Valiant that group is known as Unity.

   Other than a lineup of top heroes, what else is required? How about some backstory - and a nice jolt of continuity!

   That's what arrives in this issue, as we learn the secret, never-before-revealed history of (presumably) the first Unity team and their battle against an unconventional villain - which sets up a modern-day confrontation.

   It's a story that has a little bit of everything - from aliens and monsters to knights and demons.

   It's a sharp story by Matt Kindt (if a bit heavy on bleeped expletives), and the art by a small army of artists - including Jose Luis, Sandro Ribeiro, Alisson Rodrigues and Jefte Palo - holds together well, with some powerful (and sometimes brutal) action sequences.

   It's a strong issue and a good jumping-on point for new readers (which would include me), as it kicks off a new story. Recommended!

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Earth 2 Society #1


   DC seems determined to put a bullet in the head of my dreams of a comic that stars the Justice Society.

   I admit my prejudice - I loved the original concept of Earth-2, as a great way of bringing the heroes of the Golden Age back into the mainstream.

   The Justice Society of America was the first super-group, of course, and if we can wrap our minds around the continued rejuvenation of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so many others (all of whom have been around since the 1940s), then certainly there was a way to revive the other heroes from that era.

   But ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths, the team has been jacked around, re-invented, exiled, un-invented, rejuvenated, shipped off to an alternate Earth and mostly ignored.

   I had high hopes for the "New 52" version of Earth 2, but they were quickly dashed as the JSA heroes, updated to modern times, were virtually unrecognizable. I dropped the series before it ended, but from what I gather the final story ended with the virtual destruction of Earth-2, with a few million people managing to escape in makeshift rockets.

   This new series rolls right out of the Convergence series, wherein the surviving Earth-2 heroes have acquired a new, uninhabited Earth - and this issue picks up a year later, as the resettlement moves along and the heroes are busy fighting crime and holding the pieces together.

   Each series only gets one "first" issue, and this was a chance to instill some hope, some energy, some fun into the series - and get back to the roots of the original team. Instead, we have more grim, humorless sturm and drang.

   So once again, with sadness, I'm walking away from a JSA comic.

Grade: C-


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weirdworld #1

   Weirdworld certainly seems like an odd choice for a Secret Wars spin-off.

   The original version was a Lord of the Rings takeoff by gifted writer Doug Moench and the amazing artist Mike Ploog (later the legendary John Buscema took over the art chores). I loved it, and was sad when it ended its short-lived run.

   Now it's back - at least the title is back - as it serves as home for all the strangest monsters, magical creatures and other odds and ends from Marvel's Universe.

   Our guide (literally) is Arkon, a barbarian king (very much along the lines of Conan) who has fought the Avengers in the past.

   Now he finds himself constantly fighting for his life as he searches for his kingdom, Polemachus - but how can he survive the constant assault by monsters, trolls and dragons?

   Writer Jason Aaron keeps the story moving at top speed, and throws in a good jolt on the final page.

   The art is by Mike Del Mundo, who also worked on the color art with Marco D'Alfonso, and the result is a painted look that's raw and brutal - a perfect fit for the harsh story and environment.

   Even though it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the original version, Weirdworld is an entertaining trip so far. I'll hang around for this one.

Grade: A-


Friday, June 12, 2015

Starfire #1

   I've alway liked Starfire - ever since her first appearance in the Marv Wolfman / George Perez version of The New Teen Titans.

    She's an alien princess who took refuge on the Earth. She can fly, she can fire blasts of energy, and she's very strong. Oh, and her skin is orange.

   She was a controversial character when DC started the "New 52" because the creative team changed her from a sweet, innocent warrior woman to... well, a slut. (At least that's what I heard - I didn't read the Red Hood comic.)

   This series, thank goodness, returns her to her original state (with no mention at all of her previous attitude, which is probably for the best).

   She is (for reasons that are unclear) taking up residence in an island community in Key West, where Sheriff Gomez helps her learn about the community and helps her settle into a new home.

   It's a fun, (mostly) lighthearted issue as we get to know more about Starfire and we see the world through her eyes.

   It's a solid first issue from writers Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Emanuela Lupacchino, who has a lovely, fresh style that conveys Starfire's sexy nature without being in any way unseemly.

   I have to admit, I enjoyed this issue - it's great to have the "real" Starfire back. Let's hope she sticks around!

Grade: A-


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Batman #41

   Just over three years into the "New 52" version of Batman, and it's time for someone to try to fill the shoes of that hero.

   After last issue's wrap-up of the latest confrontation with the Joker, the survival of Bruce Wayne (and the Joker) is in doubt, so the Gotham Police decide to make their own Dark Knight.

   Yeah, I had the same reaction.

   But that's not the best part - the person filling the new suit is... well, that would be telling. But let's just say that it's the most improbable choice since Alfred pulled on the cowl back in the Silver Age.

   The story by Scott Snyder is solid and imaginative (if a bit difficult to swallow), and the art by Greg Capullo is terrific as always.

   I always struggle when creative teams take away the original hero and bring in a substitute. My first reaction is to drop the series until the original returns - but I admit, the last page of this issue makes me inclined to return next issue.

   But it's hanging by a thread.

Grade: B+


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Comics Day

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

- Batman #41 - Who is the new Batman?

- Earth 2 Society #1The latest incarnation of the Justice Society.

- Fox #3Like father, like son?

- Saga #29Not for the faint of heart.

- Silver Surfer #12Living without the silver.

- Starfire #1 - Hey, the real Starfire is back!

- Weirdworld #1 - It's so different from the other Weirdworld.

   And that's it! 

The Classics - Mystery in Space #89

   I've written before (and will no doubt write again someday) about how much I enjoy the Silver Age adventures of Adam Strange, the ordinary earthman who teleports to an alien planet - Rann - where he uses his wits to rescue the world from assorted menaces.

   It was a clever idea for a comic and also boasted terrific artwork by Carmine Infantino, who was born to handle a series loaded with alien architecture, exotic weapons and locations and beautiful women.

   But as much as I liked the Mystery in Space comic (which was home to Adam during his heyday in the '60s), I became an even bigger fan when Hawkman and Hawkgirl took over the other part of the issue - especially as drawn by the great Murphy Anderson!

   Even when the villains were sub-par, the visuals were so strong that it was easy to forgive. In this issue, a crook (named on the cover as the Super-Motorized Menace - I think this was his first and last appearance) uses some advanced weaponry and a souped-up motorcycle to commit highway robberies.

   Hawkman manages to track him down, only to get caught in a mini-tornado generated by the cycle. A bit silly, but the visuals are stunning, and Hawkman's method of escape is a lot of fun.

   This is an issue I picked up as a kid, and it became an immediate favorite. Two terrific, smart heroes drawn by two of the top artists in the business - how could it miss?

   Of course, it didn't last forever. A few years later, Hawkman got his own comic, and eventually Anderson moved to another assignment - and Infantino left Adam Strange to take over Batman. Both books held on for another year or so under different artists and writers, but without those creative powerhouses, both titles faded away.

   But it was great while it lasted!

Grade: A


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Airboy #1

   Well, that wasn't what I expected at all.

   Airboy is a classic Golden Age hero - a young aviator who flies an airplane that flaps its wings like a bird. Most modern readers have fond memories of the Eclipse revival from the 1980s.

   But writer James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle have taken, shall we say, an unorthodox approach to the character.

   Which is to say: instead of adventure stories about Airboy, they've created a semi-autobiographical story (or mostly tall tale) about their attempts to create a new Airboy comic for Image.

   I'm really torn between the impulse to call this brilliant - and the urge to dismiss it as complete crap.

   It feels like a '70s-style underground comic, as we follow the despairing creators as they go out for a night of debauchery - drugs, sex, more drugs, alcohol, and lots of male frontal nudity.

   It's at the same time funny (both creators are good sports, poking fun at their own work and their reputations) and repulsive and clever.

   So, your mileage may vary. One friend of mine raved about the book. I'm totally on the fence here.

    I picked it up hoping for a new Airboy adventure. You won't see much of him here.

   This is not a comic for kids or for the easily offended. It's a completely different approach to the storytelling process - you'll either love it or hate it.

Grade: B


Monday, June 8, 2015

Justice, Inc. - The Avenger #1

   I came this close to not picking up this title.

   That's because the Dynamite adaptations of beloved pulp heroes  have been - mostly - very disappointing.

   But, at the last second, I picked up Justice, Inc. - The Avenger. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that it was written by Mark Waid. That was very comforting.

   The Avenger is Richard Benson, a man who is stricken by tragedy when he loses his wife and daughter - it leaves his face a frozen (but malleable) white mask, his hair bleached white.

   He dedicates his life to fighting against the kind of evil that took his family, and he builds an unusual team to help in his fight.

   If you didn't know any of that before picking up this issue, don't worry - Waid's story clearly identifies each character and sets up a strange and unearthly menace - a classic, horrific pulp monster / mystery.

   The art by Ronilson Freire is solid work, with good characterizations of the team members (while smoothing off some of the more stereotyped aspects of the originals).

   So far, this is the best of the pulp efforts I've seen to date - which is great, because The Avenger is one of the all-time great pulp heroes. He's long overdue for star treatment.

Grade: A-


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Star Wars #6

   Being the cynical old comics fan that I am, it's rare for a cliffhanger at the end of one issue to leave me anxious to see the next one.

   But that's exactly what the creative team managed with the latest Star Wars adventure.

   Writer Jason Aaron has been taking advantage of the creative freedom to pit characters against each other earlier than we might expect - so we saw Luke Skywalker facing off against Darth Vader a few issues ago - and now Luke must survive an battle with Boba Fett!

   It's an action-packed confrontation that will keep you on the edge of your seat - thanks in no small part to the outstanding artwork by John Cassaday, who was born to handle this kind of high-octane, wide-screen adventure.

   There's another startling revelation in the issue, as Han and Leia search for a new rebel base and encounter - well, let's just say it's someone whose identity is guaranteed to shock the reader.

   It's been a terrific series so far, though this is sadly the last issue for Cassaday. Here's hoping the future artists can maintain the high level that has been set in this opening story!

Grade: A


Saturday, June 6, 2015

All-New X-Men #41

   In his recent autobiography, actor / comedian Billy Crystal talked about a good piece of advice he once received - that you should always leave a "tip" for the audience. In other words, give them something to think about.

   This issue of All-New X-Men does just that - it provides a juicy tip for the readers.

   The story throws the original X-Men into another mutant problem, as SHIELD asks them to investigate Utopia, the supposedly-abandoned mutant community on an island near San Francisco.

   There they find some disgruntled former teammates (and other mutants) - none of whom are inclined to depart willingly.

   The solution is a clever one, and leads Jean Grey to pose a very interesting question.

   All this is leading up to Uncanny X-Men #600, the final issue before the all-encompassing Secret War kicks in. I believe it's also the final issue for current X-writer Brian Michael Bendis, who's turned in strong work on this title.

   With a sharp story and terrific art by Mahmud Asrar, and a potential sea-change for the series in the offing, it might be a good time for those of you who've strayed from the series to check in.

Grade: A-


Friday, June 5, 2015

Justice League #41

   When the Justice League kicked off in the "New 52," I admit I had very high hopes - it included a top creative team, a "classic" lineup for the team (only replacing J'onn J'onzz with Cyborg), and a serious threat to challenge the team (Darkseid).

   But as the series went on, the usual continuity glitches set in. Green Lantern left the team early on, and the lineup has been in flux ever since.

   Happily, GL is back and this issue kicks off a threat worthy of the team (in fact, it may well end up being too much for the team).

   Coming back up to bat is Darkseid, confronted here by another New God (one of my faves). Then another menace (worse than Darkseid?) shows up on Earth - one that threatens to end life as we know it.

   And then yet another threat shows up that may end the lives of the Justice League itself!

   It's a story loaded with shocking turns, deadly forces moving into position, and a Crisis on Infinite Earths-level threat to the Earth.

   In other words, the "real" Justice League is back! A powerful story by Geoff Johns, terrific art by new regular artist Jason Fabok - if you dropped this title, now's a good time to get back on board.

   Words to the wise!

Grade: A


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Secret Wars #3 (of 8)

   After a solid start for the Secret War series, this issue finally brings us some solid answers about the origins of Battleworld.

   Why is Dr. Doom in charge (and apparently a god)? Why is Dr. Strange his second-in-command? How long has Battleworld been around? What happened to the heroes and villains who tried to escape the final destruction of Earth-616 and the Ultimate Earth (1610)? And where is Reed Richards?

   The key to managing a series loaded with mysteries is to cut the readers some slack and actually give them some info to chew on (it's one of the things the Lost TV show did brilliantly through most of its run).

   Not to worry - there are still loads of mysteries to be unraveled.

   I admit, I'm not reading most of the spin-off series - but this comic is so well written and so strongly realized, I don't feel like I'm missing anything (though obviously I am).

   The art by Esad Ribic and the writing by Jonathan Hickman is terrific - and the sheer magnitude of creating what is, for all intents and purposes, an all-new Marvel Universe, is simply stunning in its complexity.

    An impressive accomplishment, and we aren't even half-way through yet!

   The slam on the original Secret Wars maxi-series was that the story was simplistic. You'll find no such complaints here.

Grade: A


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

New Comic Book Day

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

- Airboy #1 - Pretty disgusting.

- All-New X-Men #41 - The road to Utopia.

- Justice, Inc. #1 - The Avenger returns.

- Justice League #41 - The New Gods arrive!

- Princess Leia #4 - Showdown with the Empire!

Secret Wars #3 - Too many Reeds!

- Star Wars #6 - Luke vs. Boba Fett!

   And that's it! 

Classic Comics - Marvel Feature #4

   I have to admit that I just barely missed Ant-Man the first time around.

   The first comic I picked up featuring Hank Pym's superhero side was Avengers #3, by which time he had become Giant-Man (the change from Ant- to Giant-Man had occurred a month or two before).

   It worked out fine, because I was a big fan of Giant-Man, and eventually I tracked down some of the Ant-Man adventures (loved that original helmet).

   But the character never caught on, and he was bumped from his half of Tales to Astonish, then he left the Avengers - only to return as Goliath (stuck at the 10-foot-tall size). He later became Yellowjacket - and then he left the team again.

   In 1972, Marvel decided to give Ant-Man another shot in the pages of the try-out comic, Marvel Feature. The twist this time around - he's trapped at ant-size, unable to change back to normal size (sound familiar?).

   I wish I could say it was a terrific issue, but the whole thing just feels terribly rushed. From the scrambled script by veteran Mike Frederich (pulling in elements from Spider-Man's title - including the hero) to the art by Herb Trimpe (who provided pencils and inks - he's usually a clear, powerful storyteller, but this one is beyond saving).

   The seven-issue series actually improved as it went along, bringing in the Wasp and giving the story better direction - but it was a rough start.

    But it was great to see Hank back in action, whichever hero's mask he decided to wear. Despite the best (or worst) efforts of more than one writer at Marvel, he's still one of my favorite heroes.

   If only they'd write him as a hero more often.

Grade: B-


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

S.H.I.E.L.D. #6

   Leave it to writer Mark Waid to throw us some curves.

   So we have S.H.I.E.L.D. (which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division) waging a war against a powerful mystic opponent that's usually reserved for Dr. Strange.

   But the good Doc (who shared space with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the pages of Strange Tales in the 1960s) has been taken out of action, along with every other magical hero - so it's up to Phil Coulson and his agents to find a way to save the world.

   What I love about this series (other than the sharp writing and excellent artwork) is that Coulson and his agents are very smart, and use their intelligence - and  S.H.I.E.L.D. assets - to win the day.

   This series, in addition to tying into the excellent TV series, also serves as a team-up comic, as the agents work with different super-heroes (and sometimes super-villains) to win the day.

   It's a heck of a lot of fun - if you've missed it so far, you really should be reading this comic.

Grade: A



Monday, June 1, 2015

Convergence: Shazam #2 (of 2)

    After a promising start last month, the Convergence: SHAZAM two-issue micro-mini-series ends up slogging its way to the finish line.

   It's a shame, because I love the Fawcett characters so much, and who knows how long until we see the real Marvel Family back in action?

   But after finally bringing back Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. (the hero who cannot speak his own name), the story pits the Marvels against Steampunk Batman (revived from an Elseworlds tale I've either forgotten or never read).

   It's not much of a fight, as the two team up to fight an odd gathering of bad guys.

   As before, the art is terrific, and there's a nice sequence where Billy and Cap have an internal dialogue - but it all just kinda runs out of gas at the end (not unlike the entire Convergence idea, perhaps).

   We can only hope that someday, somehow, DC will see its way clear to bringing back the Marvels in a setting befitting their strengths.

   I can dream, can't I?

Grade: B