Friday, July 31, 2015

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #4

   I'm not much of a fan of horror comics, but several friends were urging me to pick up the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina - so I did!

    It would be easy to dismiss this series as an attempt at getting attention through shock - by dropping characters from stories for young readers into intense, adult tales of horror.

   But it actually works, thanks largely to the excellent writing by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. It's a story that would fit well into an issue of Hellboy.

   It has Sabrina facing a horrific ceremony - one that threatens her life, and that of her boyfriend, Harvey. The events that follow - and the aftermath - make for a grim, compelling story.

   We also get a guest appearance by other familiar faces from the Archie line - and the story may have a lasting impact on them, too.

   The other reason the story works is because of the evocative artwork by Robert Hack. He captures the grisly events and the real-life sadness that hang over the tale.

   So while I can't recommend this for everyone - it's certainly too graphic for young readers - but if you can get past the metamorphosis of Sabrina's character (it's certainly a logical progression), you'll love this book, too!

Grade: A-


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Superman #42

   One of the modern trends in comics is that the heroes who have secret identities are terrible at keeping that secret.

   It's downright disappointing to see Superman so afflicted. Throughout the Silver Age, Clark Kent was the master at covering up that identity, despite Lois Lane's best efforts.

   As the cover gives away, in this issue Lois discovers his secret - one that Clark made no actual effort to conceal, as he single-handedly smashes an army of robots - while still Clark.

   But that's just the beginning. Jimmy Olsen also knows his secret (though at least Clark told him), and so does everyone involved in the high tech organization known as HORDR.

   It may be a fixable problem (though it's difficult to see how), but if not, it's a terrible mistake. As we all learned from the short-lived story where Spider-Man revealed his identity, some characters work much better with a secret ID. Losing it cuts the hero off from his supporting characters and his "real world" life.

   It's s terrible thing to do, especially here, since Clark's personal life has only recently been returned to its optimal setting - with him reporting for the Daily Planet, working alongside Lois, Jimmy and Perry White.

   And as long as I'm complaining, I don't understand why Superman keeps using his new "explosive man" power, since it leaves him powerless and naked.

   Anyway, this series trundles on with great art from John Romita, Jr., and Klaus Janson - but the story by new writer Gene Yang is still on shaky ground.

Grade: B



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Classics - Secret Origins #1

   Every good hero has an origin story, and from time to time the comics companies revive the concept of a book devoted to telling (or reprinting) those classic stories.

   In 1986, with the company recovering (readjusting?) from the events in Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC brought back its classic title, Secret Origins.

   But this series had a twist - instead of reprinting the old stories (as previous editions had done), this time around they'd tell those origin stories, redrawn and somewhat rewritten.

    And the first issue had a real treat. Not only did it include the first adventures of the original, Golden Age Superman - it was drawn by the great Wayne Boring, a classic Golden and Silver Age artist on the adventures of the Man of Steel!

   Even at the peak of his powers, Boring's work could be a little stiff, but those weaknesses are mostly eliminated by teaming him up with inker Jerry Ordway! And I admit that Boring is a sentimental favorite for me - some of the earliest Superman stories I saw when I first started reading comics were drawn by him.

   The story, written by Roy Thomas, is a direct adaptation of Superman's first appearance in 1938 in Action Comics #1 - right down to a re-staging of the classic cover of that issue.

   The creative team manages to walk the line between being faithful to the original story and crafting a modern comic story.

   What's most amazing about this issue is: in DC's post-Crisis continuity, the Golden Age Superman no longer existed! Crisis merged the alternate Earths into a single planet, so the modern, redesigned by John Byrne version of Superman was "in" - and the classic version was "out."

   So it was great fun to have one last nod to that historic character! We didn't know that he'd eventually turn up in continuity again - but that's another story.

Grade: A-


New Comic Book Day

 Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today: 
- Batgirl #42 - Batgirl vs. Batman?
- Daredevil #17 - Cross and double-cross.
- Powers #4 - Walker's secret revealed?
- SHIELD #8 - Coulton's Angels?
- Sabrina #4 - Because my friends told me I should be reading it.
- Star Wars #7 - Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi!
- Superman #42 - A secret exposed!
- Thors #2 - A murder investigation - and a familiar face!
   And that's it! 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ivar Timewalker #7

   The temptation in reading an issue of Valiant's Ivar Timewalker is to dismiss it as a new take on Doctor Who.

   Both feature intelligent protagonists who travel through time and outsmart or outwit their opponents. And they both (usually) wear dapper suits.

   But there are differences - and certainly Doctor Who doesn't have a corner on time travel stories.

   For instance, Ivar doesn't have a time machine - and he has to deal with his brothers - two immortals who are great fighters but terribly annoying.

   And in this story arc, Ivar is trying to prevent a human scientist from discovering the secret of time travel - because if she succeeds, it'll result in the end of - well, everything!

   It's a sharp, smart script from the always-reliable Fred Van Lente and strong art by Francis Portela.

    It's a nice balance of action, humor and an intelligent story. Fun stuff!

Grade: A-


Monday, July 27, 2015

The Flash #42

   I continue to be mystified at this series.

   The Flash has been a strong success on television - the series will start its second season in the fall.

   So why does the comic book continue to struggle?

   The creative team seems to be trying to bring it into line with the TV show - Barry is now starting to show romantic interest in reporter Iris West (Unlike the show, here she's not his adopted sister).

   And his father is in jail, convicted of killing Barry' mother - but last issue, his father teamed up with several criminals to break out of prison.

   The Flash joins the search for the escapees, but the big concern is the return (and the mystery around) the Reverse-Flash.

   That description makes this issue sound better than it is. Once again, The Flash comes across as incapable and largely incompetent. (How can a big lumbering foe strike a super-speedster? It's silly.)

   The comic needs to embrace more of the elements of the TV show - namely, provide some supporting characters, an actual personal life for the hero (maybe he could go on an actual date with Iris), and let him use his powers in creative ways.

   The series is enjoying some new attention thanks to the TV show - if only it was worthy of it.

Grade: C+


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Weirdworld #2

   "You're going to like this one," said the owner at my local comics shop. "It features the return of a character who hasn't been seen in a long time."

   So, of course, I started guessing. It had to be a magic / barbarian type character, right? Starr the Barbarian? Dr. Druid? Bilbo Baggins?

   Well, I wasn't even close - and I won't give it away, but the character would fit in a really obscure trivia contest (which is to say, I barely remembered the character / concept, even though I still own the original issues - I think).

    This series continues to be entertaining, in a brutal, revenge-flick kinda way, as Arkon continues his quest to find his home world, which is somehow lost in the corner of Battleworld known as Weirdworld.

   It's violent, it's rude, it's disgusting - but mighty entertaining.

Grade: A-


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Winterworld: Frozen Fleet #3 (of 3)

   You know those action movies where all hell breaks loose and the heroes have to fight for their lives just to survive?

   That's a good description for every issue of Winterworld.

   Bucking the whole global warming concept, it takes us to an Earth where virtually everything is frozen - even the ocean is covered in ice.

   It follows the adventures of Scully, a tough-as-nails survivor who looks after 14-year-old Wynn, who's searching for her parents. They travel in an all-terrain truck, and trouble follows close behind.

   They seem to have found sanctuary when they discover a luxury liner trapped in the ice along with some other ships - but their luxury is short-lived, as the ship is attacked by a small army of savages.

   It's an action-packed, hard-hitting adventure from page one, with lots of surprises and twists thrown in for good measure.

   Writer Chuck Dixon is one of the best in the business, and this is his kind of gig - no punches pulled! These adventures have been packed in convenient three-issue mini-series, so it's easy to jump on anywhere along the line.

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Friday, July 24, 2015

Uncanny X-Men #35

   As the Uncanny X-Men series winds down toward issue #600 (which somehow follows #35 - let's call it Marvel Math), I can't decide if it's winding up to a big finish or just running out of steam.

   The series got a fresh start when writer Brian Michael Bendis took over, changing the lineup and the basic concept, as we followed the attempts by Cyclops to find a new approach for young mutants - more of a rebellion than Professor Xavier's peaceful attempts.

   So he recruited an all-new team and started their training - but now Cyclops is out of the picture, so his recruits are trying to find their own direction.

   Naturally, they start their own super-team and take on the bad guys (both mutant and non). They gain immediate acceptance, but then a surprising problem arises.

    It all just feels phony and drummed up, not a natural progression of the experience for these characters. And at the end, they're right back where they started - sadder but perhaps wiser, but not different.

   Perhaps next issue (and the big number jump) will clear it up - or perhaps we'll see more of the biggest enemy this title has faced for some time now: the status quo.

Grade: B-


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Cyborg #1

   I had high hopes for this series.

   I've been a fan of Cyborg since his first appearance in the New Teen Titans (some 35 years ago), and I'm happy to see him being "promoted" to membership in the Justice League - and now to his own series.

   He's loaded with potential, with a built-in supporting cast from both super-teams, as well as his father, the scientist who merged his son Victor Stone with mechanical parts, making Victor part man, and part machine.

   This issue is illustrated by one of DC's best, Ivan Reis (with Joe Prado inking), and he gives Vic a new look (more than one, actually) along with strong visuals throughout.

   Unfortunately, the story by David E. Walker just kind of lays there. We get some glimpses of a strange battle between aliens, with no clue about how it relates to our hero.

   We get a quick recap of Vic's origin, an introduction to his father and the lab that gave him his abilities - but otherwise, he just stands around talking and generally being treated poorly.

   As someone once said, you may only get one first issue in any series, so be sure to knock the reader's socks off.

   My socks didn't move a bit with this issue.

   Future issues may correct the creeping pace - but there's no changing the fact that the series is off to a painfully slow start.

Grade: C+


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Classics - Strange Adventures #198

   In Pro Wrestling terms, I'm a "mark" for DC's science fiction comics, like Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space (in other words, I'm a fan).

   But despite that, I would quickly admit that the quality of those books varied widely.

   I'm sorry to say that this issue from 1967 lands on the low end of the scale.

   It includes two stories - a standard science fiction story, "Danger! Earth is Doomed!" It's billed as "A 2-in-1 Sci-Fi Thriller!" (Don't they know that science fiction fans hate the term "sci-fi?")

   The story features two separate scientists who make ground-breaking discovering, but find that they must work together to avert the impending doom. It's pretty slim stuff.

   The other story in the issue features a hero who never caught on - for good reason. The Immortal Man started life as a hero who had lived and died 100 times in the span of his life, which stretched back into pre-history - but that wasn't enough to make him interesting, so the (uncredited) creative team gave him an assortment of powers - in fact, he seems to be able to do anything. He has super-strength, he can fly, and he can do anything with his vision powers, including molecule molding, condensation radiation, vibration rays, crystal ball vision - there's apparently no limit to his powers.

    And if he dies, he's reborn! There's no explanation about how this happens - does he take over someone else's body? Perhaps he replaces them at the moment of their death? Or does his new body spring, fully grown, into the world?

   He fights an assortment of menaces here, including a strange invasion of powerful apes. Of course.

   It's mighty thin stuff, and a good example of why this character never caught on - in fact, this was his final appearance in his own story.

   Even though the issue is a miss, I was happy to find this issue (I bought it at a convention a few weeks ago) - it may be silly, but it's still entertaining and a reminder of the earlier glory days of the title.

Grade: C


New Comics Day

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

- Cyborg #1 - The man inside the machine.

- Elfquest: The Final Quest #10 - A reunion of old friends and enemies.

- Flash #42 - Professor Zoom returns!

- Hawkeye #4 - Learning his craft.

- Weirdworld #2 - A character returns - one we haven't seen for a long time!

- WinterWorld: Frozen Fleet #3 - Against overwhelming odds.

- Uncanny X-Men #35 - Rookies striking out on their own.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book of Death #1

   Not to be left out of the most popular trends in comics, Valiant kicks off a major event series this week with Book of Death.

   And what's hotter than death in comics?

   (Nothing, that's what.)

   So here's a series that offers a look at the grim fate facing the heroes in the Valiant universe.

   The problem centers around the person wearing the Geomancer role (as the title suggests, she's linked to the Earth's life force). She's being blamed for a murderous series of events in which nature seems to run wild. But all is not as it seems, of course.

   The young woman is actually from the future, and she brings with her the Book of Death, which outlines the fast-approaching fate of the world - and all the heroes who defend her.

   It promises to be an action-packed series, as heroes fight other heroes (another hot trend!) - and the stakes couldn't be higher.

Grade: A-


Monday, July 20, 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #3

   Surely one of the most offbeat titles to spin out of Secret Wars has to be Where Monsters Dwell, a revival of the title of a reprint comic, which drops the World War I pilot, the Phantom Eagle, into a world of prehistoric menace.

   Of course, since it's written by Garth Ennis, it's a combination of dark humor, violence, unexpected twists and gruesome danger.

   Oh, and the "hero" is now a jerk.

   The story is straightforward enough - it has Karl Kaufmann flying a beautiful passenger, Clemmie Franklin-Cox, to meet her husband - but the plane is caught up in a strange storm and they find themselves in a world of dinosaurs and savages.

   They seem to have landed in a place of safety - a fortress filled with beautiful, scantily-clad Amazon women. Karl thinks he's landed in paradise - but he quickly finds it's more like a nightmare.

   Can he escape intact? Does he want to?

   It's a surprisingly adult take on the classic story, and Karl's cliffhanger fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. With violence threatened (of the most, uh, adult nature), this really isn't a comic for kids.

   The art is terrific, as Russ Braun brings this prehistoric world to life, and his female characters - and monsters - are worthy of the ones on the cover by Frank Cho.

   I'm not crazy about the character assassination of the Phantom Eagle, but if you can get past that, this is fun in a low-budget drive-in movie kinda way.

Grade: A-


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Silver Surfer #13

   While most of the Marvel Comics line has been enveloped by the Secret Wars event, a few series have been puttering along, wrapping up their ongoing stories (perhaps a bit behind schedule, like the upcoming issue of Uncanny X-Men).

   That seemed to be the path for the Silver Surfer, but this issue instead drops that hero and his companion, Dawn Greenwood, right into the heart of the cosmic event that led to the creation of Battleworld (well, sorta).

   But as you'd expect if you've been reading this unique, somewhat zany, always unpredictable series (I should also mention that it's a heck of a lot of fun), it doesn't take the traditional path - certainly not the one you might expect.

   The creative team on the series is Dan Slott and Mike Allred, and it's been a great meeting of the minds - and while Allred's classic comic book style isn't for everyone, I like it a lot - it's loaded with energy and Kirbyesque visual flourishes.

   In this issue we get surprise guest stars, unexpected twists and some bizarre visuals - in other words, it's a typical issue, rich with creativity and crazy story riffs!

Grade: A-


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ant-Man: Movie Review

   When Marvel Studios announced it was doing an Ant-Man movie, I thought they were crazy.

   (To be fair, I had the same reaction when I heard about the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.)

   In both instances, I was wrong (much as I hate to admit it).

   Where Marvel succeeds with movies about (let's face it) second-class heroes is because they focus on their strengths - interesting stories, great characters, lots of action, humor and heart.

   The story centers around Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-con who's trying to turn his life around, to be a good father to his young daughter - but he can't seem to get a break.

   At least not until he meets Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who mastered the size-changing Pym Particle - and has spent decades trying to keep it out of the wrong hands.

   To safeguard his invention, he needs to steal it from a corporation before it can fall into the wrong hands - and to manage that, Pym needs a thief.

   There's a mystery and a tragedy hanging over Pym - why did he give up his career as Ant-Man, and what happened to his wife, Janet Pym? And how does his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) figure into the intrigue?

   The visuals in the film are stunning, and the size-changing is realized brilliantly. The logic behind Ant-Man's powers and his offensive abilities, as well as his use of swarms of ants are all managed cleverly.

   The actors are perfectly cast (something else Marvel has excelled at) - Rudd is terrific, funny and personable in the title role, and Douglas brings the proper gravitas to a classic character.

   As a long-time fan, I was hoping this story would be about Hank Pym - the "real" Ant-Man, in my book - but I have to admit the story works well with Pym being a hero from an earlier generation.

   The movie's only stumbles are easily forgiven, but as an origin story, we occasionally get slowed down in explaining how things work - and some might find Lang's three "street level" friends a little over the top, but I thought they were very funny, especially Michael Pena as Luis. I also love the music featured in the film.

   There are lots of nice touches throughout the film - bits of business for long-time fans, like a cameo by the first guy to play Ant-Man onscreen (in Saturday Night Live), and a few references to certain other Marvel heroes.

   I can't say it's the best of the Marvel movies (that's a tall mountain to climb), but it's very, very good - like Guardians, it aims more for laughs than angst, and it's all the better for it. (And the best recommendation of all - my lovely wife, who's not a fan of superhero movies, loved it!)

   It's loaded with energy and laughs, and easily sets up a series of adventures - so don't be surprised when Ant-Man II rolls around in a few years!

Grade: A


Friday, July 17, 2015

Hawkeye #22

   Sadly, this is the final issue of the critically-acclaimed Hawkeye series.

   At least as created by Matt Fraction and David Aja.

   This is an issue fans have been anxiously awaiting, as it wraps up the terrific series that team has created.

   They do a fair job of wrapping up loose ends (though there's one big story thread left dangling for future teams to tackle).

   Here we see the final battle between the Hawkeyes and the criminals who are trying to take over the apartment building Clint calls home. It's a great "ground level" adventure.

   To say any more would be giving too much away, but I love this version of Hawkeye. It channels the character of Denny Colt (Will Eisner's classic hero, The Spirit) - Clint is clumsy, a bit dense at times and takes a terrible amount of punishment - but he's one tough hombre.

   I'll resist the urge to gripe about how late this issue is - it's such a treat, it's easy to forgive breaking the deadline. (How late is it? Several issues of the follow-up Hawkeye series have already been printed.)

   Still, this series is a real gem - one of the highlights for Marvel from the past few years, it combines a great story, terrific art, compelling characters, unique storytelling and a great sense of fun.

   Not to be missed!

Grade: A



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Justice League #42

   Writer Geoff Johns has managed something unusual among modern-day comic book writers.

   He's managed to create "event" books inside the pages of a regular series.

   These days, most regular series are just used to build up toward the inevitable event book - but Johns (especially in the pages of Green Lantern) actually crafted huge stories independent of spin-offs and other events.

   He's doing it again with "The Darkseid War" in the pages of Justice League.

   It's a war with multiple fronts, as two members of the League are transported to Apokolips. At the same time, Darkseid is planning an invasion of Earth, where the Anti-Monitor waits - along with a few other powerhouse wildcards (including, of course, the New Gods).

   The question is, how can the League stand up to an army of godlike beings?

   With a cosmic-level story and terrific art by Jason Fabok, this is definitely the one to keep an eye on. Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Classics - Superman #176

   It's funny how our tastes change.

   Like many fans my age, some of my earliest memories are reading DC Comics - Superman, Batman, the Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern were my early favorites.

   But as I grew older - which is to say, eight to 10 years old - I moved over to Marvel's comics, which seemed more "grown up."

   As a result, by the time this issue of Superman was published in 1965, I wasn't reading this title anymore. The adventures of the Man of Steel just seemed frivolous and often silly.

   So here's the funny part - now that I'm older and wiser, I find that I really enjoy these titles. There's a sweetness and innocence about the stories that are just delightful.

   For example, in this issue (picked up at a recent convention for two bucks), there are three stories.

    The first involves time travel and one of my favorite bizarre Superman Family concepts - the Legion of Super-Pets. So Krypto the Super-Dog, Speedy the Super-Cat, Beppo the Super-Monkey and Comet, the Super-Horse, make a trip back in time to investigate a man who was a champion for animals - and they exact some revenge on a guy who was cruel to animals.

   The second story, believe it or not, is even stranger. It's narrated by a hunk of Green Kryptonite! The stone recites how it hurt Superman (much to its regret), how it helps him establish a new home, and then threatened the lives of Superman's friends.

   The final story is one of those "Superman is acting weird but we don't know why" tales, as our hero must tell the truth (in the most harsh and brutal way possible). Lois and Lana try to use his affliction to uncover his deepest secrets, but of course, that never works, as Mr. Honesty uses dirty tricks to get around giving a straight answer.

   So, the stories are silly and light - but they make me smile, and I honestly think I enjoy them now more than I did as a kid. Pehaps I appreciate the whimsy more, perhaps it's a longing for a more innocent age - but this issue is a wonderful time capsule, opening the door or a simpler, sweeter time.

   In other words, it's a nostalgic treat - even if I was too thick to appreciate it the first time around.

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

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

- Astro City #25 - Birds of a feather...

- Black Canary #2 - A surprising visitor.

- Groo Friends and Foes #7 - The return of Chakaal!

- Hawkeye #22 - The end at last!

- Justice League #42 - An unexpected transformation.

- Silver Surfer #13 - The end of the world.

- Where Monsters Dwell #3 - The unkindest cut of all.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Critter #1

   One of the things about reviewing comics is sometimes you want to give something a rave review - but you just can't quite manage it.

   That's the dilemma with Critter, the kind of book that's right in my wheelhouse (whatever that means).

   It's a straightforward adventure comic about a beautiful young woman who decides to go into the family business - superheroing.

   Written by Tom Hutchinson, the story throws us into the deep end of the pool, as an assortment of heroes and villains crowd in - including one named Yellow Jacket. Isn't that name taken?

   There are some interesting plot twists along the way (including a mysterious visitor from the future), but the story never quite jells. We don't get much of a chance to get to know the title character, and all the characters are two-dimensional.

   There are two different artists at work here, with Fico Ossio taking the first story and CB Zane on the backup tale. Zane's art is a bit more slick, with a George Perez feel to it. Ossio's work is solid, with lots of energy on display, but it's not quite up to Zane's work.

   I think there are some good ideas here and lots of potential, but we need more reasons to care about the title character and we need a better grip on the supporting cast.

   Hopefully future issues will clear up these issues. I love the tone and the concept, but the execution needs some fine-tuning.

Grade: B-


Monday, July 13, 2015

Starfire #2

   The cover of this issue made me laugh - it's a terrific work of art by Amanda Conner, and it looks like Starfire is recovering from a wild party - but actually, she's been in a fight with a force of nature.

    Conner co-writes the story with Jimmy Palmiotti, and it offers an unusual opponent: a hurricane, which strikes the Florida community that Starfire has settled into (for reasons that still aren't clear).

   So the issue is given over to several rescue efforts by Koriand'r - some serious, some humorous.

   It's a fast-paced, funny issue with lots of action and an emotional impact.

   The art is by Emanuela Lupacchino and Ray McCarthy, and it's quite good - fresh and sexy, but not exploitative of unseemly. It includes great character designs and powerful action sequences.

   The series is off to an unusual start. So far, Kori hasn't faced a single villain (we see the first signs of one, though) or life-changing event.

   Instead we're meeting her new supporting cast and learning about her "new" life and setting. It's a slow, measured advancement and really refreshing, compared to the usual manic approach to a new start.

   The series is fun and refreshing - if only there were more books like it!

Grade: A-


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Transference #1

   It's difficult to tell a story that's new or original using time travel as its central concept.

   That's because the rules get fuzzy and - unless the writer is careful - it's easy for the concept to break down quickly under close examination.

   So give the creative team behind Transference credit, because that's the challenge they're tackling.

   Michael Moreci and Ron Salas bring us a (more or less) modern-day world where time travel exists, and an enforcement organization is apparently entrusted with making sure things happen according to plan.

   But there are indications that not all is proceeding according to plan. It's an intelligent story (thank goodness) that makes the reader work a bit to sort things out (and leaves some sorting for future issues).

   I like the art style - there are no "longjohns" on display, and the characters are clearly identified without that crutch.

   The series is off to an interesting start - here's hoping they can keep the edge on the proceedings, and keep the continuity glitches to a minimum.

Grade: B+


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lando #1

   Marvel's jump back into the Star Wars Universe has included some surprising moves.

    In addition to the regular Star Wars title, they've added series focusing on individual characters.

   But instead of using the top two characters - Luke Skywalker and Han Solo - they're focusing on Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and now the scoundrel(-ish) Lando Calrissian.

    That character, as played by Billy Dee Williams, turned up in the film The Empire Strikes Back - he was an old friend of Han's, and something of a scoundrel and a smooth operator.

  For his new title, we catch him as he's trying to find his way out of a debt he owns to a deadly criminal.

   So he sets out on a plan for a big score that will solve his problems - but there are some key facts about the score he's not aware of.

   It's a clever story by Charles Soule with some solid twists and turns, and terrific art by Alex Maleev and Paul Mounts.

   I think this series takes place before Lando meets the rest of our heroes (in the second film), and it's a smart look at a terrific character.

   So far, it's well worth following!

Grade: A-

Friday, July 10, 2015

Justice League of America #2

   It takes a big opponent to match up to the Justice League of America, and the team may face such a challenge in the form of a Kryptonian god, Rao.

   But as this issue progresses, the threat seems to be non-existent.

   Rao's followers heal illness and offer to bring the Earth into a new era of peace and love (it's all so 1960s)!

   Of course, we've heard this story before - aliens pretend to be good but they're not - and all is (apparently) not as it seems. As the issue begins, three members of the team are missing - and Superman seems to be behaving out of character.

   It's not a bad story at all, it's just a well-worn concept. It's interesting to see how the heroes (and supporting cast) react to the implications of a deity on Earth, and Bryan Hitch the writer is redeemed by the excellent work of Bryan Hitch the artist.

   He fills the pages with stunning, larger-than-life images, and oh, that last page is amazing.

   So, two issues in and this series is still impressive (though not perfect) - and it'll be interesting to see where it all goes from here.

Grade: A-


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Archie #1

   In this era of rampant reboots, it might not seem so shocking to see Archie Comics revamping their line.

   But this is a company that, with some exceptions, has continued its "universe" in the same basic, cartoony style virtually since the beginning.

   It has survived because it (brilliantly) stayed in its format while updating the fashions and topics to keep up with the latest trends.

   But now they're doing a complete update / revamp on their title character - Archie.

   The company has wisely turned the task over to two talented creators - writer Mark Waid and artist Fiona Staples.

   They have firmly landed the series in the real world, as Archie Andrews introduces us to life at Riverdale High School, to his friends (a few of whom you might have trouble recognizing), and to his new status - he's popular at school, but has recently split from his long-time girlfriend Betty (so yeah, he's still an idiot).

   The members of the cast act and look like real teenagers - the art by Staples is wonderful, with a much more realistic look to it, loaded with modern imagery and lots of energy.

   It's all a bit more soap-opera-ish, but still with lots of humor and likable characters.

   I was skeptical going in, but I have to admit I liked this issue a lot - there's enough of a connection to the original format to keep it familiar, but enough new about it to give a fresh sheen to the proceedings.

   Of course, if this experiment doesn't work, don't be surprised to see the traditional Dan DeCarlo style of art return - but for now, I think this just might succeed and bring the series (kicking and screaming) into the modern age of comics.


Grade: A


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Classics - The Prisoner

   I loved the TV show known as The Prisoner.

   It's a beloved 17-episode "mini-series" from 1967 starring Patrick McGoohan - and it almost defies description.

   It mixes a spy story with science fiction and psychedelia, all mashed together into a prison story - sorta.

   The story follows a British secret agent (we presume) who argues with his superiors (what about, we don't know). He is hit with knockout gas and awakens in an idyllic setting known as The Village.

   He is referred to only as "Number Six," though he argues "I am not a number! I am a free man!" In each episode he tries to escape the village, only to be captured and returned by an invincible, inescapable guard that looks like a... giant ball. (Honest!)
   He wages a battle of wits with the man who runs the village - Number Two. But is he working for the British government - or an enemy agency?

   Ah, and that last episode - a real mind-bender! (Whose ending I will not reveal.)

   Publishing companies have tried to adapt the series into comics (including attempts by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, no less) - but this mini-series from DC is the only success story.

   Writer / artist Dean Motter, with co-writer Mark Askwith and colorist David Hornung, created this gem in 1988. It's a four-issue Prestige Format series that introduces some new characters (specifically a woman who is sailing solo around the world - but finds herself lost in a storm and wakes up on the beach by The Village.

   Like the TV show, the series is deep and convoluted, evoking images from the series and bringing back familiar characters and phrases.

   The art is stylish and wonderful, with stunning environments and layouts, and terrific character designs - and some sharp caricatures, too.

   Like the show, the story can be a bit of  challenge, and rewards re-reading to pick up some of the twists you might have missed.

   I love, too, the fact that the books are labeled with letters: a, b, c and d. They do not (have) a number!

Grade: A


New Comic Book Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today: 
- Archie #1 - A new look for the old gang!
- Batman #42 - Subbing for Bruce.
- Justice League of America #2 - Gods on Earth.
- Lando #1 - Smooth as a bottle of Colt 45
- Saga #30 - Who lives and who dies?
- Sirens #4 - Fight to the finish!
- Starfire #2 - Rock me like a hurricane!
   And that's it (seems the pickings have been slight lately - perhaps the results of event-itis).

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Badger #1

   The Badger operates on a deceptively simple concept: for someone to be a superhero in the real world, they'd have to be crazy.

   And boy howdy, is the Badger ever crazy.

   And dangerous.

   Luckily, he's on our side. (I think.)

   In the original version by writer Mike Baron, we met the Badger at the same time his employer (a wizard who will step into the spotlight soon), but his origin was a bit of a mystery.

   He was obviously a former soldier who had lost his marbles - but finally, more than 30 years after his first appearance, we learn the full story behind his transformation in the fighting-mad, animal-loving, bad-guy-hating, zen warrior known as the former Norbert Sykes.

   There's a little bit of chrono-jiggering going on here, as Norbert was originally a Vietnam war vet - but now he's fighting in the Middle East.

   The series no longer operates under the original restrictions, so we get more graphic violence (though nothing too outrageous), and some adult language sprinkled in.

   The art is by Jim Fern, and it's quite good, managing to alternate between crisp and clean and brutal and raw, depending on the demands of the story.

   It's great to see this series making a return (though the publication date hasn't been announced yet, the new mini-series should start showing up before the end of the year).

   It's intense, creative and unpredictable as always - in other words, a heck of an entertaining comic!

   Recommended for all you Larrys out there! (Yes, you!)

Grade: A


Monday, July 6, 2015

Shahrazad #4

   This issue places the mysterious woman warrior named Shahrazad at the center of a classic action setting - a gladiatorial arena, fighting for her life against a series of opponents, each one more deadly than the last.

   At the same time, the mysterious man named Janus is evaluating her, somehow looking into her past life - and finding it goes back a lot further than he expected!

   So you get lots of action, some violent deaths, and some surprising plot revelations - all building up to next issue's wrap-up for the series.

   This series is being put together by committee - there are no less than five people credited for the story, and two of them - Kim Hutchinson and Kari Castor - getting "written by" credits.

   The art is by Mike Krome with colors by Nei Ruffino, and it's quite good, with interesting character and monster designs, and strong layouts - but it is a bit on the bloody side, so it's not really for kids.

   I liked this issue more than I expected - it looks like a straightforward action story (along the lines of Red Sonja), but the story is taking some interesting turns, and there may be more going on than we might expect.

Grade: B+


Sunday, July 5, 2015

X-O Manowar #38

   Who doesn't like a wedding?

   (At least a comic book wedding.)

    As the cover indicates, this issue of X-O Manowar features the title character, a Visgoth warrior named Aric who is captured and enslaved by aliens, but escapes when he bonds with an alien suit of armor. He returns to Earth to find that centuries have passed.

   Now he's an established hero here, and he's rescued other time-displaced Visigoths and has set them up with a small country (territory?) of their own.

   So Aric's thoughts turn to his own future, and after some agonizing, he decides it's time for him to take a wife and start building a family.

   Of course, the tradition of weddings in comic books is one of two scenarios: either a terrible attack happens just before or during the ceremony, or nothing happens except for a lovely celebration of love.

   One of those happens here, but I won't say which - no spoilers, y'all.

   It's a good issue with strong writing by Robert Venditti and excellent art by Rafa Sandoval and Jordi Tarragona.

   It sets up some interesting possible futures for X-O, and offers some touching moments for the tender-hearted readers (which includes just about everyone who reads comics, am I right?).

Grade: A-


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Will Eisner's The Spirit #1

   I've written before about my love for Will Eisner's seminal, legendary work on The Spirit, a hero who first started as a long-running comic book that was (believe it or else) inserted into Sunday newspapers in the 1940s and '50s.

   The character has lived on in reprints over the years since (including a magazine line from Warren, comic books from Eclipse, and Archive Editions from DC Comics), but his appearances in new adventures have been hit-and-miss, with the best being Darwyn Cooke's take.

   Now the character, happily, is back in a new series from Dynamite.

   Or is he?

   The premise of this opening story is that The Spirit has been missing for two years and is presumed dead.

   For this who came in later, the hero is former detective Denny Colt who almost died fighting a mad scientist and works with police as an "independent contractor" (of sorts) to catch the bad guys the law can't touch.

   But if you don't know anything about the character, this issue, written by Matt Wagner, does a terrific job of bringing you up to speed as it re-introduces the supporting cast, their relationship with The Spirit, and sets up the opening storyline.

   And yes, it includes Ebony White, the African-American sidekick who was (sadly) depicted in the manner of a racial stereotype in the original run. The new team fixes that, don't worry.

   The artwork by Dan Schkade walks a fine line between evoking Eisner's work with being too slavish - and without being too cartoony. It's good work, though perhaps it suffers slightly in comparison to the original work by Eisner, a master of creative layout, design and mood.

   It's great to see the character back in action, and here's hoping that the series continues to honor Eisner and his most famous creation (now celebrating his 75th year).

Grade: A-



Friday, July 3, 2015

A-Force #2

   I really want to like this A-Force series, but with this issue, I'm struggling a bit.

   Located in the Secret Wars setting known as Battleworld, it focuses on a team of Avengers made up almost entirely of female super-heroes (the only exception is Namor, who is in here for some reason).

   Mysterious portals have appeared in Arcadia (the country where A-Force operates), and each one seems to bring a new powerful menace that only the members of A-Force can deal with.

   That's all well and good - but this issue doesn't really advance the story at all. The team fought a big, powerful menace last issue. This issue, they do it again.

   The art by Jorge Molina, Craig Yeung and Walden Wong is quite good, and I really like their character designs.

   But there are several odd disconnects in the issue, and I'm not sure if the blame goes to the writers (Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson) or the art team. For example, in one panel, a mysterious new character seems to transport several people - including Dazzler - out of harm's way. In the next panel, Dazzler is leaping into action with a different group of heroes.

   Characters who couldn't fly before (like Dazzler and She-Hulk) suddenly soar. And the last panel definitely leaves us scratching our heads.

   I think the series has tons of potential - strong art, lots of great characters, new and interesting heroes - but it needs to move forward, and it needs to keep its characters straight.

Grade: B


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Secret Wars #4 (of 8)

   The most vital ingredient to every good superhero story (other than a hero, of course) is a great villain.

   And Marvel has (arguably) one of the greatest villain in the history of comics - Dr. Doom.

    The problem with every villain is that he has to lose at some point - and that diminishes him to some extent. Doom avoids this by being the ruler of his own country, and by being smart, powerful, capable and... well, awesome.

   But in recent years, Doom has been diminished a bit through overexposure, and through a series of defeats at the hands of lesser opponents.

   Secret Wars is fixing all that, because it gives Doom a chance to show why he's so formidable. While an army of heroes (Avengers, Illuminati and the Cabal) were dealing with the collision and destruction of alternate Earths, Doom was looking for the cause of the cosmic event - and, along with Dr. Strange and the Molecule Man, confronted that power - the Beyonder (or was it the Beyonders?) - and claimed that power to preserve a crazy-quilt version of the Earth.

   And now he rules over Battleworld as a god.

   But, as we see in this issue, not everything is under his control, and he finds himself facing old enemies - and a new threat.

   It's great to see Doom back at the pinnacle again, in a terrific story by Jonathan Hickman, with amazing, powerful art by Esad Ribic.

   We're halfway through this series and it's packed full of amazing concepts and plot twists galore. Oh, and quite a few shocking surprises. So far, it's the best comics "event" in years!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today - another light week for me:

- A-Force #2 - Who is the woman covered in stars?

- Justice Inc. #2 - Chasing a ghost.

- Princess Leia #5 - A daring rescue!

- Secret Wars #4 - Doom confronts a new enemy - and his oldest opponent.  

- Spirit #1 - What happened to the Spirit?

   And that's it!

The Classics - Parts Unknown #1

   There are comics that seek to educate, to tackle vital social issues and enlighten the reader.

   This is not one of those books.

   Instead, Parts Unknown was created to be the equivalent of a "B"-movie, the kind that you'd see on a Friday night at the drive-in theaters of my youth.

   It's raw, crude, violent... and a heck of a lot of fun!

   Created by writer Beau Smith and artists Brad Gorby and Randy Clark in 1992, the series featured two police detectives - the beautiful (and tough as nails) Maria Lucci and the rough-and-tumble Spurr.

   Their careers take an unexpected turn when they stumble onto the strangest kidnapping ring ever - a group of murderous lizard-like aliens planning to conquer the Earth for two reasons - one, to reap organs (and skin) from humans - and two, they want to (how shall I put this?) have their way with all the world's women.

   So you can expect lots of death and destruction, women in distress (or barely staying in dis dress), and lots of fun dialogue.

   Politically correct it ain't, but it is - assuming you're a fan of this kind of rude, rambling and raucous adventure (and who isn't?) - a heck of a lot of fun!

   (And why in the world the SyFy Channel hasn't made this into a movie by now, I have no clue. Sharknado has nothing on the mayhem in this series!)

Grade: A-