Monday, August 31, 2015

Book of Death - The Fall of Ninjak #1

   Valiant's Book of Death series takes us into unusual territory - the final days of each hero.

   Thankfully, the events are set in the (somewhat) distant future, so there are no worries about how to resurrect each hero in the here and now.

   Thus it's no surprise that the Fall of Ninjak takes place a century in the future, as a surprisingly spry (and even more surprisingly alive) Ninjak faces a final threat - one that may endanger the entire world.

   But how can an elderly hero stand against a small army - much less stop an attempt to displace an entire country?

   That's all part of the fun, of course - and to say any more would be to give away too much.

   The art by Trevor Hairsine and Ryan Winn is strong - dark and menacing, it fits the moody story by Matt Kindt very well.

   Death is all the rage in comics, of course, and I'm not sure if the Book of Death series is just clever in capitalizing on the trend - or if they're just trying to tell some interesting stories.

   I'll go with "both," but the story makes the trendsetting worthwhile.

Grade: A-



Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where Monsters Dwell #4 (of 5)

   You know, I've read loads of comics in the half-century-plus that I've been reading, but I believe this is the first issue to feature the hero facing the dreaded fate of having his... well, manhood chopped off.

   That's the fate the Phantom Eagle faces in the latest issue of Where Monsters Dwell - which is one of the most odd of the Secret Wars / Battleworld titles.

  Sadly, he almost deserves his fate. Karl Kauffman (the Eagle) is, in this series, a complete jerk. A womanizer, utterly amoral, a coward and a thorough creep, he finds himself in trouble as he (and the passenger he was transporting, Clemmie Franklin-Cox), crash in a prehistoric corner of Battleworld.

   They're attacked by dinosaurs and take refuge among a race of Amazons - but those women have little use (or tolerance for) Karl's schemes, so they decide to, uh, cut him down to size.

   Before the issue is over, all-out war has been declared, lives are lost and there's more destruction being planned.

   If you're looking for a hero to follow, you won't find one here. But you will find a funny, weasely anti-hero to follow (in the Flashman tradition) in a wild and wooly adventure.

   The art by Russ Braun is terrific, crafting a world of beautiful women, gruesome dinosaurs and lush environments. Add Garth Ennis' compelling story and you have a terrific adventure - but no heroes.

Grade: A-


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Last Days of Ant-Man #1

   So the new standard for super-hero comics is to make the hero a lovable loser.

   While that works for Charlie Brown, it's not a good model for someone like Ant-Man.

   I hear you - you're saying, "Wait a minute, Chuck - Spider-Man has always been presented as a loser and he's the most popular hero in the world!"

   Ah, but there's a difference between having "real world" problems - as Spidey often does - and being a loser.

   Spider-Man actually was a winner who faced difficulties (no money, illness, a frail Aunt, girlfriends that didn't understand him) but he always overcame those things and emerged victorious, if sometimes misunderstood.

   It's a formula that has also worked in Hawkeye, so why not try it again with Ant-Man?

   The problem is, Scott Lang is presented as too much of a loser. His super-hero career is apparently a bust, so he sets out on his own to start a Security Firm - one without customers. His lone backer calls him in to steal back an item she lost - and he agrees to do it! Some hero.

   The sad part is, there's a germ of a great idea in this issue, one involving some Golden Age characters making a comeback. It's sweet and funny and clever and they do almost nothing with it.

   Instead, the whole series comes to a crashing halt as it runs up against the Secret Wars juggernaut, so the whole series will start up fresh (though not rebooted) in a couple of months.

   My suggestion: let him have problems, but let him win now and then. That's what heroes do.

Grade: B


Friday, August 28, 2015

Superman #43

   When the new Superman title started in the "New 52," I read the first issue - and dropped the title. It just didn't work for me.

   When John Romita, Jr. took over the art, teamed with writer Geoff Johns, I started picking it up again, and I enjoyed it - so it was back on my "buy" list.

   Now Johns is gone, and he seems to have taken the magic with him. The Superman in this title looks the same - but he doesn't act much like the Man of Steel.

   Part of the problem is his "new power," which is to expend all his energy in a single blast, leaving Clark temporarily powerless -  a normal human. It sounds like the kind of thing he'd only do in the most dire emergency, right?

   Instead, he unleashes it in every single issue, leaving him (and his allies) vulnerable.

   Add to that the latest menace, a mysterious tech-based villain named Hodor - Root (I think), who is blackmailing Superman, threatening to reveal his true identity. Clark goes along with this as he tries to learn more about the menace. (That just doesn't seem like something Superman would do.)

   The good part about the story is that it actually brings Superman and Lois Lane together, working as a team to deal with Hodor - Root.

   The culmination of the story apparently takes Superman into new territory - and it feels for all the world like a terrible mistake by the creative team.

   I like Superman when he's portrayed as smart and capable - but the version we're getting now is just a bull in a china shop, plowing ahead without a plan or concern for others. I just don't get it.

   And after this story finishes, I probably won't be getting it at all.

Grade: C+


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Justice League of America #3

   There's a lot to love about this new series (and a few things to not be so crazy about).

   Under writer / artist Bryan Hitch, we're seeing the "real" Justice League of America - which is to say, a team that, like the original version of the team, is absolutely unencumbered by continuity concerns.

   The original "New 52" cast is in place - who cares if Batman is now someone else in an exoskeleton? Or if Green Lantern is off world? Or Superman is back to wearing jeans and a T-shirt?

   None of that impacts this series, which apparently operates away from day-to-day continuity. Good for them!

   The art is very impressive, as Hitch (with inker Daniel Henriques) manages to create amazing panoramas, loaded with a cast of (literal) hundreds. The character designs are spot on, and the environments are incredible. Dramatic layouts, stunning actions sequences - there's a lot going on here.

   The only stumbling block is the story, and the only real problem there is the decompressed storytelling. We have the Earth being visited by a godlike being who seems to be curing the world's ills - but there's an undercurrent that leads the reader to believe that all is not well.

   This issue kicks off with the Flash and Green Lantern being hurled through a wormhole / Boom Tube / whatever into another world - and I have to admit I don't remember why that's happening. (Though I love seeing those two team up again, if just briefly - it's like old times!)

   But then Flash disappears, and Batman is doing... something, and Wonder Woman is stranded... and it's difficult to see how it all fits together.

   It's all playing out on a big stage, and it's pretty compelling - but we're going to have to be patient to see how it all fits together.

   Still, I'm enjoying this stand-alone series. I just hope the story catches up to the level of the art.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Classics - Starman #0

   Among the many difficult things to manage in comics, let's include rebooting a classic Golden Age character while staying true to his origins, bringing a hero's child into the spotlight, and reforming a once-evil villain.

   Yet writer James Robinson and artist Tony Harris (with Wade Von Grawbadger on inks) manage exactly that - crafting a new series around the now-elderly Starman and his two sons.

   One son, David, is heroic, taking up his father's mantel - so we're shocked when he is killed, and the original hero may be dead as well.

   That just leaves son Jack, who is no hero. He's more of a slacker who has no interest in fighting the bad guys - until one of Starman's classic villains threatens his life, his family - and his city.

   So he becomes a different Starman - one who eschews the traditional superhero costume and the standard story arc.

   One of his great allies is The Shade, a former criminal who may - or may not - have reformed (in fact, the series could almost have been titled "The Shade" - he's a key figure who's reinvented for this series and - sometimes - is the most interesting person in the issue).

   With a great supporting cast, terrific villains and a really interesting take on a classic hero, this series became a "must-read" - one of DC's best. And it's a finite series, as DC allowed Robinson to craft a beginning, middle and end to the long-running story.

   The creative team crafted a terrific, offbeat but mighty entertaining series that just kept getting better and better as it went along. I think it's one of the best things Robinson ever created.

Grade: A



New Comics Day

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

Ant-Man Last Days #1 - The Golden Age returns! Briefly.

- Flash #43 - Fighting the Folded Man.

- Hellboy in Hell #7 - Not a nice place.

- Justice League of America #3 - Trapped in time and space.

- Ragnarok #6 - Facing Surter!

- SHIELD #9 - Who is the man called D.E.A.T.H.?

- Superman #43 - His secret is out!

- Where Monsters Dwell #4 - The unkindest cut of all.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fathom Blue #3

   Every self-respecting comic book company needs a super-team (or two or three), and that's the goal with Apsen's Fathom Blue.

   It's a team gathered by the U.S. Government (I think) to fight back against any deep-sea menaces, such as those posed by the powerhouse members of the race known as The Blue.

   The team bristles when a threat appears - but their leader, Elia Fawn (a sympathetic but tough member of The Blue), goes to face the threat alone.

   The art by Claudio Avella, Chaz Riggs, Gabe Carrasco and Mark Roslan is very good - attractive, with solid character designs and strong layouts.

   But the story by Vince Hernandez doesn't give the art team much room to shine. Half the book is given over to lots of standing around and talking, and the action sequence is just ok.

   For a team to work, there needs to be strong interaction - characters the reader can root for (or against), and they need to be distinctive. There's not much effort made to bring new readers up to speed or to explain who the characters are.

   I hate the old "group splash page with each character labeled" trick, but it would come in handy with a team filled with (mostly) new characters.

Grade: B-


Monday, August 24, 2015

Man vs. Rock #1

   If you're looking for something different, look no further than Man vs. Rock.

   It's an odd mix of offbeat humor, B-movies and... I dunno, the weirdest conspiracy theory ever?

   Written by Victor DeTroy and Kevin Bieber, the story tells about the historic battle between humans - and rocks.  (Yep, this is definitely the strangest concept in recent memory.)

   It starts with two cavemen fighting over a buxom cavewoman, and marches forward (goofy jokes littering the historic landscape) into the present day, when one man announces his (incredibly improbable and dangerous) plan to protect humanity - and it looks like his timing is perfect, as the long-awaited attack begins.

   The art is by Jared Lamp, and it's pretty raw, evoking the classic underground comics.

   I'm not crazy about this title - it's just a bit too silly for me - but if you're looking for something that walks a different path in graphic entertainment, you might want to check this out.

Grade: C+


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Young Terrorists #1

   This a comic that aims to outrage - and succeeds.

   The title alone is a giveaway, but Young Terrorists goes much further to generate shock and surprise.

   It kicks off with a series of shocking events - a baby is kidnapped, a mob boss is murdered, his spoiled daughter is imprisoned and tortured brutally - and that's just the beginning!

   The story by Matt Pizzolo follows the lives of two young people - Sera, the spoiled daughter who transforms into a force to reckon with, and Cesar, whose life is even worse, as he fights to survive - and it's a fight he's losing, as he is repeatedly beaten and robbed.

   In seeking to survive their terrible lives, the two find a new focus and a new goal.

   The art by Amancay Nahuelpan is a great match for the story - brutal, unforgiving, harsh, intense and real.

   This isn't a comic for everyone. It's harsh and unrelenting, designed to generate anger and dismay.

   It makes for a compelling story - one with plenty of mysteries to uncover. It's definitely not for the faint of heart - but it is a wild ride.

Grade: B+


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Archie #2

   I have to admit, I wasn't sure I'd like the "new" Archie.

   The company has tried to reinvent the character before, usually with limited results - eventually, the company returns to the status quo - the timeless Dan DeCarlo version (and that may well happen with this version, too).

   But so far, I'm really enjoying this new series.

   Writer Mark Waid has retained the humor but jogged the series over into the real world (well, mostly) - Archie still gets into laughable fixes, but (aside from one hilarious, over-the-top moment) they're believable mishaps.

   There's the continuing mystery of what happened to cause Archie and Betty to break up - and the introduction of another well-known member of the cast.

   The wonderful, expressive art of Fiona Staples is a perfect fit for the mix of humor and reality - each character is unique and likable.

   Will the series last, or is it a flash in the pan? As long as the quality continues, I hope this series lasts a long, long time!

Grade: A


Friday, August 21, 2015

Astro City #26

   Has it really been 20 years since Astro City began?

   The series celebrates the milestone (which I still find hard to believe) by revisiting the first story in the series, which focused on the dreams of the hero Samaritan, who spends his day so filled with heroics that he has no time for recreation.

   Now, 20 years later, things have changed a bit - and his dreams have changed, too. He still dreams of flying, but there's a dark edge to his dreams that is starting to affect his daylight hours - and it's a problem his mighty powers seem unable to confront.

   Now he has a relationship with the lovely Winged Victory (she's in his dreams, too, as they fly naked - and give masterful artist Brent Anderson credit for managing to cleverly cover their, uh, naughty bits).

    Kurt Busiek (working with Anderson and cover artist Alex Ross) has built an amazing world of heroes with this series, managing to pay tribute to - and expand on - the mythology of comics, and the best the industry has to offer.

   Over the 20 years there have been terrific stories and, I suppose, a few average tales - but their batting average has been way above any other series out there.

   And when they're great - they're phenomenal!

   Here's to 20 more!

Grade: A


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Justice League #43

   This "event contained in a single series" hits a fever pitch with this issue, as two of the most powerful forces of evil collide - literally!

   It's a war between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, and the Justice League may be powerless to stop a fight that threatens the Earth.

   The League has its own problems - Batman has taken control of - or is possessed by - Metron's Mobius Chair. It's providing a lot of information, but what is it doing to Batman?

   And the League's most powerful member (Superman) - and its most evil (Lex Luthor) - have been exiled to, and are fighting for their lives on, Apokolips!

   This is the kind of story Geoff Johns excels at - larger-than-life conflicts, lots of powerhouses involved (including some of Jack Kirby's iconic creations), serious stakes in the story, and a terrific cast!

   He paired with artist Jason Fabok, who turns in some impressive work here. His character designs are terrific! If I had to criticize something, I'd say his page flow is still a bit wobbly in places - but that's stretching it.

   If you're suffering event fatigue, this is definitely the series for you - it packs a lot of story between the pages or a regular comic. It's so retro, it's almost revolutionary!

Grade: A



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Classics - Amazing Spider-Man #229 & #230

   When you talk about classic stories featuring The Amazing Spider-Man, we usually mention Lee, Ditko and Romita - but there have certainly been other creative teams that made their mark on the character.

   One of my favorites is featured in this two-issue series from 1982 written by Roger Stern (who is certainly one of the best - and most underrated - comics writers of all time).

   Stern was teamed with another Romita - John Jr., who was early in his career, drawing in a style that featured influences from his father to John Buscema. The stories were inked by the legendary Jim Mooney.

   Spider-Man is often at his best when facing the foe he shouldn't be able to beat - and next to the Hulk, there are few bad guys in the Marvel Universe tougher than the Juggernaut.

   Cain Marko gained incredible powers from a mystic gem, leaving him a human tank - immensely powerful, impervious to harm, virtually unstoppable - in other words, much more powerful than Spider-Man.

   Here he steps away from his usual home in the X-Men comic and journeys to New York City, where he plans to capture the mysterious psychic known as Madame Web. She calls on Spidey to defend her, and he spends two issues trying to find a way to stop the unstoppable.

   In the hands of most creative teams, it would be a one-sided fight - but Stern and Romita, Jr. come up with some ingenious attacks from Spidey - and his final solution is stunning.

   And with all that going on, Stern manages to work in the usual supporting characters and some drama at the Daily Bugle.

   Some of my favorite Spider-Man stories pit that hero against an impossible challenge, from Doctor Octopus to the Rhino or the Kingpin - and watching our hero make creative use of his powers, and his mind, and his determination, to find a way to win, makes for a mighty satisfying story.

   A real classic!

Grade: A



New Comic Book Day!

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

- Archie #2 - The new Archie is still just as destructive.

- Astro City #26 - Has it really been 20 years since the first issue?

- Groo: Friends and Foes #8 - Guest-starring Mark Evanier and Stan Sakai!

- Justice League #43 - What happens when Darkseid meets the Anti-Monitor?

- Star Wars #8 - He has a wife?

- Weirdworld #3 - Run for your life!

   And that's it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Eternal Soulfire #2

   The Soulfire series from Aspen has been a bit difficult to jump into (for those who haven't been reading it from the start). It's an eccentric mix of magic and adventure.

   For those who have avoided it up to now, the new Eternal Soulfire series provides a good starting point, as it moves the main character into a new life and a new start.

   The focus is on an attractive young woman named Cassidy who lives a normal life until she suddenly sprouts colorful wings and finds herself under attack, hunted by a paramilitary organization.

   It seems any manifestation of magic is against the law, so Cassidy has to find a way to survive despite overwhelming odds.

   It's a fast-paced adventure written by J. T. Krul with wonderful, expressive art by Alex Konat and Julie Salvateirra, Mark Rosland and Gabe Carrasco.

   The issue feels for all the world like a classic X-Men story, as a teen suddenly develops powers but is persecuted for it. Oh, and replace mutants with magic.

   It's a fun start to a "new" series.

Grade: B+


Monday, August 17, 2015

Unity #21

   Over at Valiant, they're crafting a real gem of a story in Unity - that company's super-team comic that stars all their top heroes.

   We've been following along as the individual team members have been attacked by an immortal, invincible woman known as War-Monger.

   Like any good villain, she loves to talk, so she's been telling the story of her battles with past incarnations of Unity. (Did we know that there were past incarnations? It was news to me, but I just started picking up the title.)

   So how does the team stop an opponent who can't be hurt or killed? Good question!

   With strong art by Jose Luis, Alisson Rodrigues and Jefte Palo, and a terrific story being built by Matt Kindt, this is a series you should be picking up (although it's probably a bit too brutal for young readers).


Grade: A-



Sunday, August 16, 2015

Doctor Who: Four Doctors #1

   I love it when The Doctors gather together!

   One of the real advantages to a time-travelling adventurer like Doctor Who is that he can team up with himself!

   To make it a little easier on the viewer (or the reader), this generally takes the form of meetings between the different actors who have stepped into the ever-changing role (when it's time for an actor to leave the series, the character "dies / is killed" and regenerates into a new form).

   Typically the Who's are gathered together to battle a huge menace, but this time around, the menace seems to be - The Doctors themselves!

   There's also a delightful meeting of the minds of the Companions in this story by Paul Cornell, which manages to capture the different characters and meld them together ingeniously.

   The art by Neil Edwards is solid, especially considering the difficulty in caricaturing so many famous faces in one story. The occasional falter is easy to forgive, especially considering how much fun he squeezes into this issue.

   If you're a fan of Doctor Who, this is a must-have. You'll smile from start to finish.

Grade: A


Saturday, August 15, 2015

A-Force #3

   I really want to like this series - but it won't let me.

   A-Force is set on the Battleworld (Secret Wars) land known as Arcadia. It was a happy place - until this series started.

   Since then, the city / land / whatever it is has been attacked by giant sharks and Sentinels - nothing the powerful women who live there can't handle, but in fighting back they're breaking "Doom's Law" - which results in instant banishment.

   At the end of the last issue, She-Hulk jumped through a mysterious portal to find the source of the problems - and instead found more Sentinels and not much else.

   The story just makes no sense. She-Hulk uncovers a clue, but we don't know how she arrives at her conclusion. Why do the heroes do things that bring down the wrath of the Thors (who enforce Doom's Law)? Why do they bother running when the Thors arrive looking to hand out justice? And what the heck is happening on the last page? No idea.

   The art by Jorge Molina and Craig Yeung is quite good, but the disjointed story doesn't support it.

   Perhaps it's just the weird Battleworld rules that make this series so disjointed. It has a great cast, it just needs to figure out what to do with them.

Grade: C+


Friday, August 14, 2015

Batman #43

   In order to enjoy comics one generally must be able to suspend one's sense of disbelief.

   I have to admit, the current storyline about the Batman who really isn't Batman is putting a strain on that ability.

   We're following the adventures of a new Batman, put into service to replace the (presumably dead) original version.

   The new Batman is - well, a well-known supporting character, and just about the last person (aside from Alfred) who you might expect to see wearing the high-tech suit that allows him to duplicate some of Batman's abilities.

   Ah, but who else do we find in this story, but Bruce Wayne, who has lost his memory and thus isn't able to go back to his old line of work.

   And then there's the introduction of a new villain, Mr. Bloom - who certainly holds much promise.

   The story by Scott Snyder features the usual action sequences and death traps we might expect in a Batman story - but it just isn't Batman. And the Bruce Wayne storyline teeters a bit too close to the old amnesia storylines, though it at least offers no apparent path back to the status quo for Bruce.

   As for Mr. Bloom -- well, he (or she) holds lots of surprises.

   The art by Greg Capullo and Danny Miki is excellent as always, but so far the story is just galumphing along,

   It seems to be a pattern with the new series, with great characters and strong visuals, but the stories are often improbable. My disbelief, I'm sorry to say, is sinking fast.                                                                            

Grade: B+


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Secret Wars #5 (of 8)

   At last, some answers!

   After months of hints and peeks, we finally see the curtain pulled back and learn how Battleworld was formed - at least in part.

   The story in this issue of Secret Wars bounces back and forth from the past - wherein we learn of the pivotal roles played by Dr. Doom, Dr. Strange and the Molecule Man, as they confronted the Beyonder(s) at the end of the universe.

   We learn the reason behind the destruction of all the alternate universes, and the key role lowly Owen (Molecule Man) Reece played in it all.

   Meanwhile, in the "present," Doom is not happy with the latest turn of events. Dr. Strange is dead, but not before he managed to scatter the survivors of the original Marvel and Ultimate Universes to the far corners of Battleworld.

   Among the missing: two versions of Reed Richards and Thanos.

   So Doom gathers his forces to track down the missing visitors.

   As always, it's a terrific story with cosmic scope and heart by Jonathan Hickman, with stunning art by Esad Ribic.

   Too many events don't live up to their "special" billing. So far, this one is setting the standard the other Events only aspired to.

Grade: A


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Classics - Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (Vol. 20) #3

   One of the things older collectors like to do, when tracking down old reading copies at comics conventions, is find the comics thy read when they were very young.

   But I've long since accepted that it's just not going to happen - mostly because I can't remember what some of those issue were - especially the ones based on beloved cartoon characters.

   I read quite a few issues of Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and their pals when i was a child - but the covers were generic and rarely connected to the story within, so it's tough to remember which ones I read.

   And the numbering systems are pretty wonky - you have to be a dedicated fan to sort out some of the systems.

   As an example, here's an issue of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories I picked up at a comics convention this summer.

   It's issue #3! But wait, it's Volume 20. Published in 1959 with a cover price listed as "Still 10¢," it's a terrific deal! It's in rough shape, but complete and perfectly readable. The cost: $1.

   It includes a funny story that places Donald (and his nephews) in a new position as a Night Watchman at a horrific wax museum. Disaster ensues as wax figures disappear - and a costume party springs up next door! Oh, and it's a Carl Barks story. There are no credits, but there's no mistaking the Duck Man.

   The second story stars Scamp, the son of Lady and the Tramp, as he gets into mischief with a couple of kittens next door. It's cute, and the art is lovely.

   The third story features Chip 'n' Dale (long before they became Rescue Rangers). They're freezing as winter moves in, so they go in search of warmer lodging.

   The final story is a Mickey Mouse adventure (co-starring Goofy), and what's most interesting to me is that it's a continued story! WDC&S carried these serials that would run for many months - I don't know that I ever saw a complete story run as a kid. But they kept them simple, and a paragraph at the beginning brings you up to speed quickly. They're ingenious! This time around, Mickey is trying to track Black Pete down to his secret lair, but is having no luck - but he has a plan! It's a fast and fun adventure.

   Toss in a one-page gag and a text story, and you have a lot of value for your dime (or dollar)! I don't think I read this one as a kid, but happily, these comics are still lots of fun for those of us who are just overgrown kids at heart.

Grade: A-



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bloodshot Reborn #5

      So here's a comic that seems to have everything going for it - an interesting, conflicted hero named Bloodshot (who lost his powers but now is in the process of being Reborn), a challenge / quest to deal with (tracking down the people infected with the nanites that give him his power), a potential love interest (or two), and that's just for starters!

   But this issue is a bit of a stumble, as it focuses on the (intentionally) annoying "Bloodsquirt," a possibly-imaginary sidekick / inner demon / heaven knows what that appears in this issue to torment the hero.

   That would be fine in small doses, but entirely too much time is given over to the Squirt, and not enough to the title character, who's too busy whining about his sad, sad life.

   It's fine for a hero to have problems, but it's tough to get behind one who does nothing else but.

   Lose the goofy demon, cut down on the whining, and focus on dealing with the problem at hand.

   Besides, I hate "dream sequences." They're a waste of my time - and the artist's.

Grade: B-


Monday, August 10, 2015

Jirni #1 (Vol 2)

   Jirni is back for another mini-series, as she continues to roam a fantastic world of magic, monsters and mysteries.

   How best to describe her? Combine Red Sonja with the She-Hulk, give her a purple hue and you're pretty close to the mark.

   The series benefits from solid writing by J.T. Krul, as Jirni finds herself rescued by a pirate and decides to stay with the crew while she continues her "walkabout" (uh, on water).

   Their journey leads them to a mysterious island - a titanic tower of black granite, at the top of which they find... well, that would be telling.

   It's definitely fantasy in the tradition of Robert E. Howard (Conan's creator), with supporting characters of varied levels of virtue and strange creatures aplenty.

   The art by V Ken Marion and Mark Roslan is terrific, combining beauty, strength and fantasy settings (and strange creatures) into a terrific presentation.

   It's an excellent addition to the sword-and-sorcery-in-comics genre!

Grade: A-



Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Spirit #2

   I continue to be thrilled that Will Eisner's The Spirit is back - I just wish the issue included more actual Spirit content.

   Here we continue the mystery of the disappearance of the man behind the mask, as a (mercifully updated to the present) Ebony White and his fellow investigator, Sammy, try to track down their long-absent mentor.

   The search takes them from The Spirit's secret lair to the latest hiding place for one of that hero's most diabolical foes.

  And we do get to see the Spirit in action - if only in a flashback sequence.

   The story by Matt Wagner is sharp, with great dialogue, and the art by Dan Schkade manages to evoke the master, Will Eisner, without being a slavish imitation.

   So far, this series has me hooked - here's hoping the resolution of the mystery is worth the wait!

Grade: A-


Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Shadow #1

   It's difficult to understand why a classic character like The Shadow is so rarely handled properly.

   He's been around since the '30s, starting in the pulps, then migrating to radio, movies, and (of course) comic books.

   As a man of mystery, he has sometimes been depicted as a regular man who operates in the shadows, at other times as a man of mysterious powers that allow him to control minds, merge with shadows and control assorted mystic abilities.

   Many think of him as the model for Batman, fighting crime and bizarre (but human) villains. His appearance is striking, with the black overcoat, the red scarf, the slouch hat, the hook nose, blazing eyes, and his trademark blazing .45s.

   In his stories he always is depicted as a terror, a virtually invincible force of nature, tracking down the evil creatures who threaten society.

    Perhaps the biggest flaw is that he never seems - well, human. His alter ego, Lamont Cranston, is just another mask, and his personality isn't much different from The Shadow's. We can root for him to defeat the bad guys, to escape the death traps, we can admire his skill, his indomitable spirit - but he is ultimately unknowable, a cipher.

   This restart is another opportunity to start fresh, although the story actually started with issue #0 (hey, it's another pet peeve!). The Shadow is facing off against a Society of United Magicians, once a benevolent group organized by the late great Harry Houdini, but now the group is pursuing evil, mystic purposes.

    So is the Shadow now entering into supernatural territory? It may (or may not) be a good fit for the hero.

   This "first" issue is a good way to judge - it's just a dollar, and a good way to decide if this is your cup of tea... or not.

   So far, it's better than most, but the character's full potential hasn't been realized - yet.

Grade: B



Friday, August 7, 2015

Red Sonja Conan #1

   Well, Red Sonja has certainly changed from the days when she first met Conan the Barbarian.

   At the time (this was the early '70s), she refused to give herself to a man until he had defeated her in combat.

   In this series, the two team up to lead an army against a wizard (and his army), but before the battle - well, let's just say the two get cozy. Who needs vows of celibacy?

   I do enjoy seeing the two teaming up again (oh, get your minds out of the gutter).

   It's  solid sword-and-sorcery / fantasy adventure story written by Victor Gichler, and the art by Roberto Castro (with colors by Alex Guimaraes) is powerful, with beautiful women, manly heroes and gruesome monsters.

   Heck, the issue is worth buying just for the stunning cover by Alex Ross (although Red seems a little too fresh and unscarred for a warrior).

   My only question is: why does Red gets top billing on the cover? Perhaps they alternate.

Grade: B+


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Fantastic Four: Movie Review

  I'm torn on this one.

   When the word about the movie first appeared, I had high hopes for The Fantastic Four - but it's been difficult to hang onto that, given the flood of negative reviews and general grim tidings (it's always bad news when a film company embargoes reviews like that).

   Perhaps it was good to go in expecting the worst - my first reaction was: it wasn't quite the train wreck I expected. 

   For one thing, it's just great to see the team on the screen. (The FF was my first favorite Marvel comic, as created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s.)

   Also, the actors are very good - each one a good match for their character. 

   But the story was just agonizingly slow. It took forever to get to the point, as the team's origin is presented in clinical detail - and it's based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four, which is an alternate version of the original version - this one involving travel to a different dimension, rather than a trip to space.

   But the movie's biggest sin is that it's unrelentingly dark - it's almost a horror story. There's not a speck of humor and precious little humanity or kindness on display.

   And the treatment of Dr. Doom, Marvel's greatest villain, is just sad. Here he's a disgruntled environmentalist who happens to be a genius inventor, drawn in to work on Reed's teleportation device. 

   Reed Richards (the never-named Mr. Fantastic) is intelligent, but he lacks the inspirational leadership so vital to the character (see Captain America for a great example of why that's important). In fact, his character commits a cowardly act that's terribly out of character.

   Ben Grimm (The Thing) almost seems an afterthought - it takes a mighty stretch to work him into the origin story. 

   Sue Storm (the Invisible Woman) doesn't get to be much more than grimly efficient, but at least she's a scientist here, not a "mere" girlfriend to Reed.

   Only Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) seems properly in character - he has the only light moments, and his character exhibits the kind of high spirits and jabs of wit we would expect.

   I was sad to see so many kids in the audience at the show this evening, because this isn't a movie for children. There were at least two obligatory curse words, and there were several gruesome (though not overly graphic) deaths. And it's all so dark and gloomy - not at all the fun superhero film the parents who brought those kids might expect.

   What's missing is the joy in the original series - the glory of scientific exploration, the family affection, the action and adventure - and most importantly, the humor! In the comics, the Thing and Spider-Man are the most humorous characters to spring from the Silver Age of Comics (perhaps that's why they're so popular?). 

   The Thing was always poignant because he's trapped in this horrific form, but he's rarely depressed - he uses comedy and his quick wit to overcome his condition. None of that is on display here.

   There was so much potential for a terrific adventure - and instead, we have a movie that's simply sad. Even the final action sequence just falls flat.

   Maybe the fourth film will get it right, where the first three have stumbled. 

   Unfortunately, thanks to this one, we probably won't see that film for years and years.

Grade: C-


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Classics - Silver Surfer #1

   What a thrill when this issue hit the stands!

   I remember picking up the first issue of The Silver Surfer in 1968 and taking it with me on a school trip, reading it over and over again (only letting it go when a friend begged for a chance to read it).

   The character had first appeared two years before in the Fantastic Four's comic, playing the part of a villain! He led Galactus, the world destroyer, to the Earth - but was convinced by Alicia Masters to turn against his master.

   As a result, the Surfer was trapped on Earth. Over the next two years, he made a few guest-appearances in the pages of the FF, and was finally given his own title.

   Marvel must have been convinced that it was going to be a hit - each issue was the size of an annual, selling for a bruising cost of 25 cents each.

   It was written by Stan Lee (who had made no secret about how much he liked the character), but surprisingly, it was drawn by John Buscema, not Jack Kirby, the artist who created the character.

   Of course, as a fan of Buscema's (and Kirby's), I was fine with it - and Buscema seemed inspired, as he turned in some of his best work on the series - lyrical and powerful (issue #4 may be his best work ever).

   The issue finally gave us the long-awaited origin of the Surfer, introducing Norrin Radd (the Surfer's "true identity"), his true love, Shalla Bal, his encounter with Galactus and how Norrin was able to save his world - at the cost of his own humanity.

    The Surfer is a terrific character, but Stan and John made his a pacifist, which made it much more challenging to find ways to put him in the heart of each conflict. When the end of the series was evident, they decided to make some big changes to the character and the concept - so they turned the art chores back over to Jack Kirby - and then they promptly cancelled the series. Kirby left Marvel at that time - so was the loss of the Surfer's title a contributing factor for his move to DC (where he'd create the New Gods).
   The Surfer would return time and again, both as a guest star, as a member of the Defenders, and  in his own title - but this was the high point for the character.

Grade: A



New Comic Book Day

   I think I made history today. Since I started this blog (lo, several years ago), every week has included one of Marvel's new comics - and usually at least one DC comic, too.

   But this week, I didn't find anything from either company that I wanted to pick up. Here's what I bought:

- The Fox #5 - The final showdown against a army of villains!

- Red Sonja / Conan #1 - A meting of the minds! (Not really.)

- The Shadow #1 - Couldn't pas it up for a buck.

- The Spirit #2 - Where is the Spirit? (Part 2.)

   And that's it!

   Thankfully, I have some review pdfs, including: Bloodshot Reborn #5, Imperium #7, Jirni #1 and Shahrazad #5 - or else I wouldn't have enough comics to provide a daily review!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Surface Tension #3

   I love a mystery!

   And there's lots of it to go around in the offbeat science fiction adventure Surface Tension.

   It takes place on an island that faces a strange menace - one direct, the other a bit harder to sort.

   The direct one is the monster on the cover (the big ugly one), a powerful creature that is searching for something.

   The one that's hard to sort involves some gigantic coral structures in the ocean, the horrific transformation of two residents on the island, and an attempt to unlock hidden memories.

   This isn't a series for young readers - there are some disturbing images - but it's that rare treat: an intelligent science fiction story and an actual mystery, slowly unfolding before the reader's eyes.

   So far, so good!

Grade: A-


Monday, August 3, 2015

Ninjak #5

   This series might shock the casual reader, because this isn't a "cute ninja" story - instead, Ninjak is much more of an adult action adventure story with a healthy dose of James Bond thrown in for good measure.

   And this is a hero who can take punishment - which is good, because he gets more than his share here, as he faces certain death at the hands of a crimson-haired beauty (who also happens to be an assassin), and her boss, a monstrous Sumo wrestler of a guy who holds a powerful secret.

   And that's just the beginning of a search for the Seven who are threatening the world with futuristic technology - and a mysterious agenda.

   This is a series with a definite adult edge - the encounters are violent, the protagonist tough, smart and often ruthless. He's not a role model - but his exploits are very entertaining.

   Highly recommended for mature readers!

Grade: A-


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Batgirl #42

   Your pal Chuck has slipped behind schedule, so please forgive me while I gin up a couple of short reviews to get back on track!

   I'm not sure what it is about the Batgirl series - but I find I'm enjoying it more than I ever expected.

   Perhaps it's the fresh nature of it - they certainly seem to be ignoring everything that went before - or perhaps it's the fact the Babs is shown to be a smart, capable and resourceful hero.

   This issue includes a team-up (with the Batman who really isn't Batman) and a fight against Livewire, a powerful and deadly foe.

   The villain resolution is a bit too pat (it's right out of the Reed Richards "let me just invent a gizmo that will solve your problem" school), but it's still a solid issue.

   The art is a lot of fun (though it occasionally gets a bit too exaggerated).

    Still, the series is a lot of fun. I'm going to keep hanging around.

Grade: A-


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Thors #2

   Shades of the Green Lantern Corps! (Or perhaps Hill Street Blues.)

   Caught up in the odd reality created during the Secret Wars, we find every version of Thor (and some we've never seen before) all co-existing and serving as Doctor Doom's police force across the face of Battleworld.

   The version known as Ultimate Thor is leading an investigation into a series of murders. It's a tangled mystery, as several women are found dead - and they're all the same woman.

   The investigation has also resulted in the death of a member of the Thor Corps - and we finally catch up with a character I'll just call "Real Thor."

   The whole idea is crazy, and the biggest surprise of all is that it actually works. (Though there are some plot irregularities - for example, why does Ult. Thor let his first real suspect simply walk away?)

   The art is terrific, as you'd expect from Chris Sprouse (working here with Goran Sudzuka) - and that last page will definitely bring us all back for the next chapter.

Grade: A-