Monday, February 29, 2016

Karnak #2

   I'll resist the urge to point out that this is a "monthly" series - but it's been four months since the first issue. (Or maybe I won't.)

   And that's a shame, because this is a really interesting book.

   Karnak was always one of the more interesting (and mysterious) members of the Inhuman Royal Family. As created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he was a martial arts master (before that was a thing) who could sense the weak point in any object.

   These days he's working solo as something of a freelance advisor.

   S.H.I.E.L.D. asks for his help tracking down a missing Inhuman boy who's been kidnapped by a "dark science" organization - and this issue is largely given over to extreme violence as an unarmed Karnak goes up against a small army of killers - and finds a surprise at the end of the fight.

   We also get some interesting and previously-unrevealed insights into the title character's past.

   As always, the script by Warren Ellis is terrific - it pulls you in and never lets go (though the last couple of pages are a bit of a mystery).

   The art by Gerardo Zaffino and Antonio Fuso, with color art by Dan Brown, is compelling. It's rough and brutal throughout, but that fits the story perfectly.

   I really like this series - I just hope we can see it a little more often. Like, you know, monthly.

Grade: A-



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Justice League #48

   So here's the thing about the upcoming "Rebirth," which will do... something... to the status quo at DC: will the writers use it as an excuse to do radical things to the characters?

   Perhaps that's the thinking behind revealing Superman's secret identity in his title - and the massive changes affecting most of the Justice League in the Darkseid War series.

   If we start seeing widespread death and destruction, then it's a safe bet that a reboot is in the offing.

   This series hasn't reached that point yet, but it continually seems on the verge of spinning out of control as the cast continues to grow.

   We have several member of the League transformed into godlike figures, we have New Gods on the scene, the Anti-Monitor is threatening death and destruction, Darkseid is dead (yeah right), his daughter is plotting, the Crime Syndicate is teaming up with the JL, and a couple of armies make guest appearances.

   So there's a lot to take in - but it seems to be heading to some kind of conclusion, the art by Jason Fabok is very good, writer Geoff Johns is a skilled hand at this sort of epic tale, and there are plenty of surprises still to be sorted out.

   The series feels a bit padded, but it's been a lot of fun, too - so I'm hanging on to see where it all goes.

Grade: B+


Saturday, February 27, 2016

All-New All-Different Avengers #6

   This series just keeps getting better.

   From the awesome Alex Ross cover (playing tribute to a classic cover by the great John Buscema) to a fast and furious - and fun - story, this one never slows down.

   The All-New All-Different Avengers step into Doctor Who territory here with a story that has fun with its time-travel backdrop, and the heroes get to show how smart they are.

   (As I've said many times, I love it when heroes win by being smart, rather than just punching the bad guy in the mush.)

   (Although there's a lot of that in here, too.)

   Writer Mark Waid continues to craft entertaining stories that make great use of the team format, giving us different characters who interact and work together to take down a major bad guy.

   I like Mahmud Asrar's art a lot, with lots of dynamic action staged - and some nice quiet moments, too.

   Of the Avengers books I've read so far (and they are a multitude), this one is the cream that rises to the top.

Grade: A-


Friday, February 26, 2016

Superman: The Coming of the Supermen #1 (of 6)

   I wasn't sure what to expect from Superman: The Coming of the Supermen.

   It marks the first work on the Man of Steel by artist and writer Neal Adams in quite a while (the opening panel includes art from 1978's Superman vs. Muhammad Ali book, which may have been his last complete Superman story - and is one of my all-time favorites).

   But Adams' recent Batman: Odyssey series didn't work for me - and I feared the same overwrought effort here.

   Thankfully, this seems to be a return to a more classic type of story (co-written with Tony Bedard).

   Metropolis is threatened by an invasion from Apokolips, led by the powerhouse Kalibak - but Superman is on a mission on the other side of the planet.

   Rushing to the rescue in his place are three mysterious heroes, all wearing Superman's costume - the Supermen.

   So far, I'm enjoying this series. I like Adams' take on Clark Kent - he has heart and a mischievous, unflappable attitude that harkens back to the version of the hero I always enjoyed.

   Adams' art is terrific as always, with amazing craftsmanship and heroic ideals on display.

   So this six-issue series is off to a good start, with familiar characters mixing with some new faces. And it's nice to see Superman back in a more traditional costume, too. I missed the red shorts.

Grade: A


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dark Knight III: The Master Race #3

   You have to give credit to this series - you just never know where it's going next.

   Bruce Wayne is an old man whose injuries have apparently taken him out of super-hero action - so his most recent Robin has carried on his legacy as Batman.
   But now a new menace has appeared - and it's beyond even the abilities of this "new" Dynamic Duo to stop.

   The backup stories, printed here in a delightful mini-comic format - a comic within a comic - have been showing us where the other heroes are, and why they haven't arisen to fight for humanity. This issue focuses on a future version of Green Lantern.

   The big question, of course, is: where is Superman?

   That's a mystery only the world's greatest detective can solve.

   The story is crackling right along in the hands of Brian Azzarello and Frank Miller, and the art by Andy Kubert is terrific. One panel in particular - a closeup of Bruce Wayne's hand - looked like it was done by the great Joe Kubert.

   And as a special treat, the Green Lantern mini-comic was drawn by John Romita, Jr., and inked by Frank Miller!

   So far, this has been an excellent series - much superior to the second Dark Knight series, and worthy of the original!

Grade: A


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Deadpool - A Movie Review

   I'm running late, but I finally got a chance to see Deadpool, and let me start by saying: please don't take your children to see this movie.

   It's rude, vulgar, extremely violent, horrific in places, and there are numerous shots of Ryan Reynolds' bare butt - however, for those of you adult enough to handle such things, it's a heck of a lot of fun!

   The movie wisely ignores the character's previous (non-costumed) appearance in... whichever Wolverine movie that was.

   Instead, it starts in the middle of an action scene (the opening credits are very funny) and then jumps back and forth between his origin story and his fight for revenge.

   We meet Wade Wilson, a fast-talking mercenary who can't give a straight answer to any question, and who surrounds himself with similarly-outrageous characters. He's played brilliantly by Reynolds, with a manic, high-energy style - and a great comic touch.

   He meets the love of his life - but his happiness is short-lived, as death threatens - and the only way out is a horror show of a different kind.

   So why is this movie such a hit? The main reason is the humor - it's a very funny movie that had the audience laughing loudly and often. The movie also has heart, with a quirky love story keeping it going.

   Another reason is less obvious - the smaller budget (as opposed to most superhero movies) forced the script to stay lean and smart - so the movie clocks in under the two hour mark, and moves and a breakneck pace, keeping it fast and fun throughout.

   The movie's not for everyone, but it's a great action comedy flick that's loaded with Easter Eggs for the attentive fan - and that makes it a movie worth watching more than once!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A


New Comics Day

   A big week! Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- All-New All-Different Avengers #6 - Why has the Vision gone rogue?

- Daredevil #4 - Time is running out.

- Dark Knight III #3 - A return to action.

- Flash #49 - War at the high school!

- Justice League #48 - The Darkseid War heats up!

- Karnak #2 - Loved the first issue, glad to finally see the second.

- King Conan: Wolves Beyond the Border #3 - There will be blood.

- Patsy Walker aka Hellcat #3 - Fighting an infestation.

- Saga #34 - Talk to teacher.

- Spirit #8 - Searching for answers.

- Superman #49 - Showdown.

- Superman the Coming of the Supermen #1 - Neal Adams' take on the Man of Steel.

- Wynonna Earp #1 - Monsters beware - she's back in action!

- All-New X-Men #5 - Up against the Blob!

   And that's it! Whew!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Wynonna Earp #1

   Just in time for her 20th anniversary, Wynonna Earp is joining the exclusive club of comic book characters who also star in a TV series.

   That series debuts on April 1 on the SyFy Channel, and IDW has released a new series of adventures featuring the tough-as-nails U.S. Marshal who works for the Black Badge Division, which deals with the worst kind of supernatural threats.

   This is actually a prequel, as it takes us back to the early days of Wynonna's career (we're talking a little more reckless - if that's possible - and she doesn't have blonde hair, which brings her in line with that awesome photo cover of actress Melanie Scrofano).

   The story wastes no time, as we start with Wynonna holding a large gun to the head of a particularly nasty monster. It won't be the last time.

   We meet her supporting cast, including her boss, Special Agent Dolls, who's trying to turn Wynonna into a top agent, and a mysterious man who looks like a relic of the old west.

   She's assigned to bring down a major organ-smuggling operation, one that's run by the... creature... who will be a major opponent throughout her career.

   Wynonna was created by Beau Smith, who turns in one of his best stories yet - there's a fresh (if bloody) feel to this tale, as it takes Wynonna to her roots and lets us follow her first achievements - and first stumbles - as she takes on some particularly nasty beasts.

   The art for this story arc is by Lora Innes, and I like her work a lot (be sure to track down her self-published book The Dreamer) - she has a great touch with rough-and-tumble action (lots of that going on here) and she also nails the quiet character moments (less frequent but perfectly managed).

   It's a great (re-) start to the adventures of the toughest law enforcement agent around! Here's hoping she - and her TV series - hang around for a long, long time!

Grade: A


Monday, February 22, 2016

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #4

   I guess when your "superhero name" is Eternal Warrior, you can't just let a little thing like death get in your way - so the opening storyline for this "restart" has been the fight back from the other side.

   And it's a brutal conflict as Gilad Anni-Padda must face a (literally) mountain-sized demon - and the battle is one that, to all appearances, Gilad can't possibly win.

   The script by Robert Venditti is powerful (with a great shock at the end), and the art by Raul Allen and Patricia Martin (with David Astruga) is stunning, with terrific fight choreography and amazing environments on display.

   This series is moving in unique directions, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.


Grade: A-


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Silver Surfer #2

   There are very few comics that manage to combine a classic feel with modern storytelling - but Silver Surfer is one such book.

   A lot of it can be attributed to the wonderful artwork of Mike Allred, which manages to convey a Kirby-like sensibility without ever actually copying that legend.

   Rather than succumb to the modern standards of overwrought detail, he focuses on conveying the energy, emotion and humor of each situation. His characters are malleable, not carved out of steel.

   The environments also share a Ditkoesque sense of the surreal. It's wonderful work, though I admit it may not be for everyone - but I really enjoy it.

   The story by Allred and Dan Slott is mostly setup for next issue's celebration of the Surfer's 50th Anniversary, but it brings back one of the Surfer's oldest friends (when girlfriends clash!) - and one of his first opponents (you might spot him on the cover).

   It also presents a threat to the world like no other - and a few surprises as well.

   I'm really enjoying this series, one of the few that has fun with its premise. Here's to another 50!

Grade: A-



Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Mighty Thor #4

    My struggle with this series is that I worry that the female Thor will become popular enough that she'll supplant the real Thor (who has been largely unseen for the last year or more).

   But the creative team is making it difficult to dislike the series.

   Writer Jason Aaron keeps the story barreling along - first Thor is facing down armies of Dark Elves, then she's tackling an even bigger (and more impossible) challenge.

   The character is a lot of fun, fighting for her life in her civilian identity, and constantly under fire as "Thor," always determined and ready to face danger head-on.

   The art by Russell Dauterman is also a lot of fun - a trifle busy in spots, but loaded with energy and life.

   This issue sets up a massive confrontation next issue, and perhaps we'll get to the bottom of one of the more irritating stories that have been bubbling since this storyline started.

   And then maybe we can get around to bringing back the real Thor - and coming up with another name for this character. We don't want to lose her - but she's entertaining enough to deserve her own place, and her own name.

Grade: A-


Friday, February 19, 2016

Uncanny Inhumans #5

   After a terrific opening storyline, the latest issue of The Uncanny Inhumans changes things up.

   Following up a time-traveling life-and-death conflict is tricky - so what better way to unwind than by visiting the most unusual club in the Marvel Universe?

   It's known as The Quiet Room, and it's a place where Inhumans, superheroes and supervillains can meet and enjoy assorted entertainments.

   Supposedly, it's a safe zone where nothing can go wrong. (Apparently whoever coined the guarantee never watched the movie "West World.")

   The issue is a great swerve on the series, giving us a chance to see the characters from a different angle.

   With a great script by Charles Soule and terrific art by Brandon Peterson with color art by Java Tartaglia, this series continues to set a high mark for the Inhumans, who have enjoyed, thus far in their history, a real mixed bag of adventures (in other words, some are great, some not so much).

   But with this series, I'm happy to report, the results are: so far, so good!

Grade: A-


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Power Man and Iron Fist #1

   Well, this is different.

   One of the oddest "couples" in comics had to be the teaming-up of streetwise Luke Cage (briefly known as Power Man) and Danny Rand, the rich kid who ended up becoming the martial arts master known as Iron Fist.

   They both appeared in their own comics in the early-to-mid '70s, but when sales dropped, they were combined into a single title, Power Man and Iron Fist, and that series (which continued Luke's original occupation as a Hero for Hire) rolled on for another eight years (or so).

   In the 30 years since then they've both been through major changes. Luke dropped the superhero name, married former superhero Jessica Jones (perhaps you've heard of her?) and they're parents of an infant girl.

   Iron Fist has been established as a legacy hero, carrying on a legendary role as the man with the fist of iron. He's also (I believe) back to being wealthy.

   So this series, written by David Walker, tries to fit all those crazy puzzle pieces together and find a reason for these old friends to work together. The story does that, as Luke and Danny set out to do a favor for a mutual friend - an errand that brings them into conflict with some heavy hitters, and lands them in the middle of a power struggle.

   It would work fine as a one-off story, but it's hard to see how this is going to work as an ongoing series. I kept thinking, I'd rather see each hero in his own series - certainly Luke and Jessica are interesting enough on their own - ditto for Iron Fist.

   It's a nice bit of nostalgia to see the two guys back together, but I don't have a good feeling about the projected life span of this series.

   And the title no longer makes sense.

Grade: B


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Classics - Red Sonja #1

   Is there a more improbable costume on a comic book character than the one worn by Red Sonja?

   (OK, maybe Dejah Thoris. Or a character in porn comics.)

   Red is, I believe, the only character to successfully spin off from the Conan comics series. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

   She first appeared near the end of the classic Roy Thomas - Barry Windsor-Smith comics in the '70s that covered the first couple of years of Conan's adventures at Marvel Comics. (Here's my review of that classic last issue - #24 - which included Sonja's second appearance.)

   Sonja was a warrior woman who originally wore a chain mail shirt - certainly a practical item for a swordswoman. But when she appeared next, in her own adventure, she was wearing a chain mail bikini - and while none of the male fans (oops, almost typed "mail" fans there) are going to complain, it does stretch credibility.

   Sonja was popular enough to spin off into her own adventures, and in 1976 she was given her own series, written by Clara Noto and Roy Thomas (from a plot by Ed Summer) and art by the legendary Frank Thorne.

   The story (which is mighty wordy in places) includes a unicorn, evil efforts to kill it and steal its immortal powers, and Sonja's attempts to save it.

   The story is lushly illustrated by Thorne, whose unique and detailed style somehow bridges the gap between classic storybook tales and underground comics.

   It was a different visual look for Sonja, and I have to admit, it took me a few issues to get used to it - but I was always a fan of Hyborian Age adventures, and throwing in a fierce fighter who happens to be a beautiful woman was a good way to get my attention.

   Sonja continues to be a successful character, still starring in her own series and crossing over with others (including a recent team-up with her pal Conan).

   But I still think her costume is silly - unless she's getting ready for a trip to the beach.

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

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

- Archie #6 - Betty strikes out!

- Astro City #42 - The return of a familiar face!

- Uncanny Inhumans #5 - Where everyone knows your name.

- Power Man and Iron Fist #1 - Getting the band back together again.

- Silver Surfer #2 - What time is it? Clobberin' time!

- Star Wars #16 - A new mission.

- Mighty Thor #4 - A showdown is coming.

- Usagi Yojimbo #152 - Fighting the flood.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Deus Ex: Children's Crusade #1 (of 5)

   Hey, you got science fiction in my comics!

   (Sorry, old gag.)

   Kudos to the creative team behind the Deus Ex series for creating a solid "what effect would powers have in the real world concept" where the human race squares off against "Augs" (Augmented Humans).

   The series is based on the popular video game, natch, so you can expect lots of action throughout.

   This is the first issue of the five-part Children's Crusade series, which centers around the efforts of a human strike team - Task Force #29 - which sets out to rescue children (both normal and Aug) who have been kidnapped by sinister forces.

    We meet the team, with the focus on the newbie - himself an Aug, so he has to fight to prove his worth.

    With a strong script by Alex Irvin and powerful art by John Aggs, the series is off to a great start.

   I wasn't expecting much more than a shoot-'em-up, so this issue is a pleasant surprise, being based on an intelligent story - oh, and there's also lots of action!

Grade: A-


Monday, February 15, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy #5

   Five issues into the latest incarnation of Guardians of the Galaxy and the series finally seems to be getting to where it needs to be.

   After a sidetrack that placed Star-Lord as the new King of the Spartax Empire, a couple of attacks by cosmic heavy hitters threatens to bring that (and the lives of our heroes and the planet Spartax itself) to an end.

   Thankfully, that translates into a (mostly) fun battle from start to  finish, as the team deals with the Hulk-like menace known as Yotat (you can expect lots of punching).

   As always, Brian Michael Bendis provides a fast and fun script with lots of humor - and hopefully, with the wrap-up of this storyline, the focus can be more on the characters and big adventure, and less on political machinations.

Grade: B+


Sunday, February 14, 2016

All-New X-Men #4

   It's almost surprising how much this series is focusing on the "new" Wolverine.

   The formerly-named X-23 has her own title, but she has center stage as the "new" member of the All-New X-Men (which should actually be called "the Original X-Men," since it includes the young versions of Cyclops, the Angel, the Beast and Iceman).

   Each adventure so far (and several in this issue) begin with Wolv-her-ine (sorry) jumping into extreme danger and suffering harsh wounds - though her healing factor makes any injury temporary, of course.

   It's especially difficult for the Angel, since they're in love.

   The issue gives us a good look at this more upbeat and hopeful version of the X-Men, and brings back a classic villain.

   I love the art by Mark Bagley and Andrew Hennessy - it's loaded with action, great character designs and some nice quiet moments, too.

   Writer Dennis Hopeless has done a great job of balancing the big cast and keeping the series moving along briskly.

   In other words, this feels a lot like a classic X-Men comic - and that's a very good thing!

Grade: A-


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Flash #48

   One of the things that always set The Flash apart was the group of villains known as the Rogue's Gallery.

   Taken individually, they were a challenge. But when they gather together, they should be unbeatable.

   The Rogues include Captain Cold, Mirror Master, the Trickster, Weather Wizard and the Golden Glider.

   This issue doesn't use the team to their full potential, because of the improbable storyline which has the police hunting the Flash, who they consider to be a menace.  So the police force deputize the Rogues to help take down the Speedster.

   So yeah, this story is just dopey. And it continues after this issue's encounter!

   It's sad that the TV series, which has its own silly moments, is so much better than the comic, which suffers no restrictions of time or budget.

   Perhaps the coming reboot will put this series back on track. We're four years into the run of this "New 52" version, and it's been, without exception, very disappointing.

Grade: C+


Friday, February 12, 2016

Batman #49

    Since I've been reading Batman comics off and on since the early 1960s, I've seen the character go through some very different incarnations.

   The first one I saw was the crazy, off-beat and imaginative version that featured a Batman who was never dark - he was involved in science fiction (ish) stories with aliens, strange transformations, giant props and lots of Bat-gadgets.

   This issue of the modern Dark Knight feels remarkably like that (though I'm not sure that was the intention).

   Here we have an amnesiac version of Bruce Wayne trying to get back to his "real" self - The Batman. To do so, he has to undergo a process that involves the kind of dubious science we might have seen in the early '60s - and we also see the kind of strange alternate Batmen that might have popped up in those bygone days.

   I get that writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are trying to give us an inkling of the multitude of facets that make up the Bat psyche - but it just feels very overblown and, frankly, a bit silly.

   The art is tremendous, as Yanick Paquette breathes life into vivid alternate realities and harsh realities.

   Presumably the ongoing story will wrap up with the next issue, after which there are apparently changes in the works for the Batman series. I get the feeling that it may be time for me to take an "off again" break from the series - it's just not living up to its potential.

Grade: B-


Thursday, February 11, 2016

All-New All-Different Avengers #5

   I've been making fun of the rambling title of this series, but I have to admit that the All-New All-Different Avengers is actually living up to its name.

   It's not taking the direction we might have expected. Just five issues in and we see one team member betraying the others - and two members are kicked off the team (the cover gives away the first).

   It also solves the continuing mystery from the last storyline - namely, the true identity of the mysterious man who has bought out the Avengers Tower.

   So things are moving fast here, and we have no idea what the next move will be. It's that sense of the unknown, the string of surprises and the interesting mix of characters that makes this series so much fun to read.

   Add in some terrific art by Mahmud Asrar and you have a strong series - it's the best of the (new and numerous) Avengers titles!

Grade: A


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Classics - Quasar #17

   One of the under appreciated gems of the late '80s / early '90s was Marvel's Quasar.

   The series was written by Mark Gruenwald, who crafted the series with a fun, Silver Age approach.

   But the series actually incorporated a classic DC feel to the stories of Wendell Vaughn, a man named Protector of the Universe (taking up the mantle left behind by Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) when he died).

   Using the powerful Quantum Bands (which were similar to Green Lantern's Power Ring), his adventures were imaginative but science-based and evoked the classic stories of heroes like Green Lantern and the Atom.

   But this issue Gruenwald (with excellent art by Mike Manley) went full DC with a fun story that set up a race between all of Marvel's speedsters.

   As he's returning the Earth on a spaceship loaded with members of the Squadron Supreme (the Justice League, wink wink), he encounters a mysterious being known as The Runner - an Elder of the Universe who sets up a race from Earth to the moon on a high-tech racetrack.

   Those running include Quicksilver, the Eternal named Makarri, the Whizzer, Speed Demon, Super Sabre, Black Racer and the new Captain Marvel.

   The real fun starts when a mysterious new runner enters the event - an amnesiac man with long blonde hair and a shredded red costume - and yellow boots. Should I add that this issue took place not long after the "death" of a certain Scarlet Speedster in DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths?

   It was that sense of fun, with a wink and a nod of one knowing fan to another, that made this series a lot of fun.

   It was never a fan favorite, but it was one of my favorites - I miss it (and the sadly departed Gruenwald) to this day.

Grade: A



New Comic Day

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

- All-New All-Different Avengers #5 - Ms. Marvel, an Avenger no more!

- Batman #49 - Will the real Batman please stand up?

- Flash #48 - Return of the Rogues!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #5 - Dealing with old enemies.

- Totally Awesome Hulk #3 - Fin Fang Foom!

- Starfire #9 - In a strange new land.

- All-New X-Men #4 - Pushing the limits!
   And that's it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

X-O Manowar #44

   Considering this comic is dedicated to the adventures of Aric, who wears the alien armor that gives him the title X-O Manowar, there's a surprisingly small amount of actual X-O content here.

   That's because the issue is given over to the battle between the human race and the Vine, an alien race that seeks asylum on the Earth - but some of that race would prefer to conquer it, instead.

   That terrorist faction is the target of X-O Manowar, who enlists the brutal and efficient aid of his ally Ninjak - which means there's lots of death and destruction on tap.

   But their part is actually small - most of the issue focuses on the efforts to protect the peaceful faction of the Vine - and the forces pushing both sides toward a terrible war.

   So, a solid issue, strong art - but the cliffhanger promises much more X-O content next time around.

Grade: B


Monday, February 8, 2016

Johnny Red #4

   While I'm not a huge fan of the grim and gritty-type storytelling, I have to admit that I really like Johnny Red.

   It gives writer Garth Ennis a chance to tell a largely-ignored (in America) story based on the air battle during World War II - on the Russian Front.

   It's a story rich in conflicted characters and military aircraft lore.

   It centers around the title character, a Brit expatriate who has fled (or been driven from) his home country and throws in with the Russians.

   Here he's fighting to get back in the air so he can help his team, after being grounded by Russian leadership - but it'll take some trickery to get there.

   The art by Keith Burns is rough and raw - a great match for the wartime setting.

   This isn't a series for everyone - it's a "warts and all" view of war, with no punches pulled. But it's powerful and compelling - and highly recommended!

Grade: A


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Paper Girls #5

   Paper Girls shows why comics are awesome.

   This series is a jigsaw puzzle of strangeness, as four 12-year-old girls who deliver newspapers (yep, they're Paper Girls, not girls made of paper) find their lives turned into some kind of science fiction nightmare.

   The population seems to have (mostly) disappeared, there are strange figures wandering the neighborhood, strange creatures flying in the sky, and the threat of death around each corner.

   But what makes the series work is the fact that we're immediately invested in the "girls" - Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ - as they work together to face assorted strangeness and try to find a way to survive.

   And just when you think you're getting a grip on the series, it takes an unexpected turn.

   Kudos to Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson for crafting a unique story that makes such great use of the storytelling potential of comics.

   Strange, but highly recommended!

Grade: A


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Batgirl #48

   I'm not sure what to think about DC's comics these days.

   Rumor has it that the line will soon be rebooted into a new form soon, with new issues #1 and the characters changed to be more in line with the movie and TV versions of the characters.

   So does that mean I'm wasting my time investing any interest in the present-day comics releases? Should I prepare myself to say goodbye to this version of the characters, just as I did when the "New 52" started?

   I suspect titles like Batgirl won't be much affected by the reboot - there's no movie or TV version to draw on here, and the series isn't really broken, so it should stand. (Though we should remember the old Army saying: "If it's not broken, break it.")

   This issue features a couple of guest stars, as Black Canary and Batwing drop by for social visits, but find themselves confronting a mystery - namely, what has happened to Barbara's memories?

   For someone with a photographic memory, she's having trouble with her past. What follows is a nifty (though unfinished) tale, with great, stylish art.

   Gee, I hope they're all still friends in the "New" DC Universe!

Grade: B+


Friday, February 5, 2016

Doctor Strange #5

   OK, let's get the complaint out of the way first - this story is taking a long time to get going.

   But it's been worth the wait.

   Up until now we've seen indications that... something... is destroying magic, and is making its way to our reality. As the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange is the first line of defense - but if his magic is failing him, how can he fight back against an overwhelming opponent?

   After four issues of build-up, with this issue, the attack finally happens - and we get a good luck at the force behind the attack.

   One of the interesting angles behind writer Jason Aaron's new take on Strange is the idea that using magic brings with it a cost - sometimes a terrible cost, and we begin to see how it affects Strange - and how he's been able to shoulder the burden so far.

   Combined with amazing art by Chris Bachalo and a small army of inkers, you've got a story that's bringing this classic hero in new and different directions.

   It's pretty impressive, actually, to find a fresh take on such a long-running character.

   Looking forward to more of this - and faster, please.

Grade: A


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Spider-Man #1

   After buying the Amazing Spider-Man comic for most of my life, I finally gave up on the series when modern-day "adjustments" made too many changes to the character (including ending the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and Dr. Octopus taking over Spidey's Mind).

   And I never really developed an interest in the "other" version of the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales. To me, Spidey is Peter Parker. Period.

   But I do like writer Brian Michael Bendis, and I like artist Sara Pichelli a lot (and her art in this issue is tremendous), and I frankly miss reading Spider-Man, so I decided to give this new series a go.

   And I'm glad I did, because it really "feels" like a classic Spider-Man story. We see Miles dealing with problems at school (including losing out on a hot date because of his super-hero duties).

   The menace he faces in this issue is a heavy hitter - and he finds that he's the last hero standing at the end of a major battle.

   It's nice to have a Spidey title that taps into the original structure of the series - the hero facing real-world problems, fighting difficult fights and proving his heroism.

   Even though it doesn't star Peter Parker, I had so much fun that I can forgive - so I'll be sticking with this one!

Grade: A


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Classics - Rip Hunter Time Master #6

   One of the real delights of the new TV show Legends of Tomorrow is the inclusion of Rip Hunter Time Master, one of my first "favorite" comics.

   In the late '50s and early '60s, DC had several comics that featured regular people (which is to say, no super-powers allowed) starring in extraordinary adventures.

   Perhaps it was their way of hedging their bets, just in case the super-hero revival didn't catch on.

   So you could follow the Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, the Sea Devils, Cave Carson and Rip Hunter.

   Most followed the typical formula - a fearless, brilliant leader, a muscular sidekick, a plucky female, and the kid brother. Sound familiar?

   While the comics didn't feature super-heroes, it wasn't unusual for alien invaders, monsters or magic menaces to turn up.

   My favorite issues of Rip Hunter actually stayed away from such things, and instead stuck to historic events and solving mysteries. In the series, Rip is the inventor of a Time Sphere, which he uses to travel through time, visiting distant lands.

   This issue is history based as a mysterious prediction from the past promises present-day destruction, as a meteor strike will destroy an inhabited island - but which one?

  Rip, along with friends / co-workers Bonnie and Jeff, travel back to the year 798 where they visit Baghdad - and encounter an Iron Giant. Then they discover an earlier link - in the year 79 near Naples.

   Along the way they encounter battles and a devastating natural disaster. The information they gather leads them to the secret (however improbable) to saving the threatened island.

   There are, of course, huge plots holes riddling the story - why couldn't they just go into the future, find out the secret behind the disaster, and then go back in time far enough to allow an evacuation?

   But it's best not to focus on such things, as they get in the way of the fun of discovery.

   But I guarantee, if I could go back to 1962 and tell young Chuck, as he read this comic, that one day Rip Hunter would be on a TV show, I feel certain the response would be "No way!"

   (I've seen it and I'm still not sure I believe it.)

Grade: A


New Comics Day

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

- A-Force #2 - Making new friends!

- Batgirl #48 - Guest starring Black Canary!

- Doctor Strange #5 - An attack on the world of magic!

- Invincible Iron Man #6 - Guest starring War Machine!

- Paper Girls #5 - Things get weirder.

- Spider-Man #1 - Welcome Miles Morales to the Marvel Universe!

- Swamp Thing #2 - Pulling himself together.

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Faith #1

   Give Valiant credit for giving a series to a somewhat unlikely superhero.

   Most stars of such books are examples of the heroic ideal (there are exceptions, of course). The men all have rippling muscles and the women are all supermodels, with big chests, thin waists and without a trace of cellulite.

   But Faith doesn't fit that mold. She's a big girl, neither muscular or willowy - overweight but still dedicated to using her powers to help others.

   First created in the Harbinger series, as of this issue she's on her own. She moved to Los Angeles to make a new life for herself,  working as a journalist by day (though it's not exactly the Daily Planet or the Daily Bugle) and fighting crime at night.

   The issue is written by Jody Houser with art by Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage, and it's a solid start.

   Faith is a hero with heart, dealing with wacky neighbors, ex-boyfriends, crazy co-employees and loser criminals - never losing her unbending optimism and energy.

   It's the classic concept - what if a real person gained powers and decided to use them for good?

   This series promises some sincere answers to that question - assuming Faith survives the last page, of course.

Grade: A-


Monday, February 1, 2016

King Conan: Wolves Beyond the Border #2 (of 4)

   As a longtme Conan fan, I'm thrilled to see the older version of that character - King Conan - back in a new mini-series based on an unfinished Robert E. Howard story, "Wolves Beyond the Border."

   It features the return of the creative team of writer Tim Truman, artist Tomas Giorello and color artist Jose Villarrubia - my all-time favorite team on the barbarian (though Thomas and Windsor-Smith also belong in the discussion).

   This series brings us a raw, unfiltered approach to Conan's adventures. Here we find the king trying to smuggle a mystic crown through the land of the Picts, the primitive and warlike enemies of the Aquilonians (the people Conan is now king of).

   Of course, it doesn't go well, and there are ambushes, brutal (brutal brutal) fights aplenty, a horrific fate and a showdown with mystic forces.

   Throw in some humor, great characters and amazing artwork and you have another terrific comic in the King Conan series.

   More than any other version in recent history, this is Conan. Accept no substitutes.

Grade: A