Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Robin Rises Omega #1 review

Batman's ongoing quest to bring Damian Wayne back from the dead spins off into a special as DC starts counting down to the the return of Robin. 

Will it be Damian by Batman's side when the story ends at the turn of the year? It certainly seems so, given how long the sequence has been going on, and how it's apparently going to continue in the same direction. A swerve isn't out of the question, but this issue begins with a recap of Damian's life and death, and ends with Batman swearing to follow his corpse not so much to the ends of the earth as far beyond it. 

In between there's a tremendously entertaining, massively over the top battle with Glorious Godfrey. The Darkseid underling wants the Chaos Shard - from early issues of the Batman/Superman title - which is hidden in Damian's sarcophagus. Given it may have enough power to restore his dead son, Batman isn't having it. Cue Batman, Ra's al Ghul, Frankenstein and the League of Assassins vs Glorious Godfrey and his parademons. Bring in sundry other superheroes. Mix and duck. 

This really is enormous fun from writer Peter J Tomasi and artists Andy Kubert and Jonathan Glapion. The early pages, condensing several decades of comics history, is a masterclass in implausibility, and all the better for being presented utterly straight-faced in Bruce's narration. Kubert and Glapion draw in softer than usual style, and Brad Anderson goes impressionistic with the colours. I'd love to see them apply this style to an entire issue. 

Not that the rest of this double-sized book looks bad by comparison, it's more a case of differently excellent. The Kubert family style is to the fore - especially when we're looking at Ra's al Ghul, that's pure Joe Kubert - and it's a look I've loved for a long time. Andy Kubert's own artistic inclinations are much in evidence too, in terms of composition and movement. Add in Glapion's sharp finishes and Anderson's colours and we have sequences as good as the excellent opening. 

I do wish we didn't keep getting shown the wrapped corpse of ten-year-old Damian, though - too creepy. 

While the big battle which fills most of the issue is just good superhero comics, it was the little moments that really made me smile - Alfred sitting as equal head of the family at Wayne Manor dinner time; Glorious Godfrey tasting a snowflake. I'm a little sad to see Batman lashing out at colleagues in the final pages - Holy Recidivism! - but I suppose he needs to be desperate to journey to Apokolips. 

And that's where the Caped Crusader is going, as this storyline winds back into the Batman and Robin monthly for a while before the next Robin is unveiled in another special, Robin Rises Alpha (don't ask for an explanation of the backward titling, it's all Greek to me ... maybe Darkseid's Omega Effect will prove pivotal in reviving Damian). 

As a jumping-on point for the Return of Damian (or Not) storyline, this issue is a success. It's a comic that reads smoothly and looks great, recapping events and moving the story forward. I had a ball with it.

Supergirl #33 review

A wonderful last page. That's what this finale to the Red Daughter storyline has. I whooped, I smiled. Writer Tony Bedard has delivered on his promise to put some light into Kara's life

He does it literally, as well as metaphorically, as Kara uses the power of Earth's yellow sun to best Worldkiller-1, the sentient Kryptonian armour out to possess her. Before that happens, Bedard gives us a fine confrontation between Kara - still a member of the Red Lantern Corps - and W1 in Brazil. Forcing a fight in the packed favelas of Rio, W1 sees the natural concern Kara has for those less powerful than her as he tried to conquer/court her. 

She's using her rage at, oh, all sorts of things, to power her resistance to W1, but she harbours no resentment towards the people of Earth. Her recent travels, and travails, with the Red Lanterns seem to have changed Kara, given her some perspective on when anger is, and isn't, appropriate. And while the fury is there, so is the compassion that had become buried during her tormented first few months since waking up on Earth, lonely survivor of a destroyed world.  

Kara uses her Kryptonian powers and Red Lantern abilities, but in the end it's the intelligence she was born with, and the experience she's gained as a young hero, that saves the day. 

There's even a sign that she's coming round to liking cousin Kal - sometimes it takes a drastic situation to make you realise what you've got. 

By the end of the issue, Kara is no longer a Red Lantern, she's Supergirl once more. A better Supergirl, one ready to embrace her role as citizen, and protector, of Earth. 

I really want to reproduce the final page here, but it's the last page of an important story for Kara, and deserves to be experienced in context. It's a great moment that's been earned.  

Helping regular artist Emanuela Lupacchino by pencilling some pages is onetime Wonder Man artist Jeff Johnson. I think I can see who did what, but don't make me commit. Safe to say there's some good storytelling throughout, Kara remains on model and W1 looks suitably freaky. The Rio scenes look good (apparently the footie fans have gone home), there's a visual nod to something that happened to Supegirl in the Eighties and the space battle is a winner. Kara's moods are perfectly evoked, from anger to desperation to quiet triumph. A shout-out, too, to inkers Scott Hanna and Ray McCarthy, colourist Hifi, and letterer Rob Leigh, whose W1 font had me reading the baddie's words in a growly voice. That never happens. 

A great issue all round is marred only by a mislabeled two-page 'epilogue' which has no relation to anything that's ever happened in this series. It's by a different creative team and is an insult to Supergirl fans who pay to read about Kara's world. Apparently Superboy is going to be hanging out with Wildstorm's rubbish Gen 13 teen team. Another week, another terrible new direction ...

Gen 13 even gets really cheesey cover billing, squeezing the previously advertised image. Kara may be calm, but my rage is rising ...

Teen Titans #1 review

New direction, more attitude, in your face. That's the tagline for this first issue of a new Teen Titans volume. That, and the preview that ran in DC titles last week, had me expecting to be annoyed by this issue. Well, doesn't 'attitude' equal 'annoying'? It certainly did when attitude was zeitgeisty. 

Happily, the title characters here aren't irritating in the least. Wonder Girl, Red Robin, Bunker, Raven, Beast Boy ... while different in personality, they all come across as decent kids as they rescue a school bus from terrorists. The bad guys are out to do something nasty involving Star Labs, but our heroes aren't going to stand by and let that happen. 

Cue plenty of action, planned and improvised, which lets the young metahumans show they're not beginners any more. They know how to use their powers, they work well together - they're pretty much unrecognisable as the sour-faced, backbiting loners who populated the last run. OK, so Red Robin is still rather dour, but he is from Gotham. 

I'm not sure writer Will Pfeifer is trying to say anything with his story, other than 'I'm relaunching the team in a less New 52, more classic mode' (well, there is a tolerance message, but that's pretty much Bunker's every breath). I'll take that, and thank him. 

There's no forced 'edginess', no one is on the verge of villainy. A few baddies die, but there's no revelling in it and, while I'd rather they faced the courts, well, it serves 'em right. Perhaps as the story develops - this issue works as a one-and-done but it's also the beginning of something bigger - we'll see something of Pfeifer's world view. 

For now, though, I'm just delighted to see a story of the newest Titans that doesn't make me retch. Lots of camphones at the end of the issue set up the apparent direction which sees the Titans as celebrities. It's an overdone concept which doesn't excite me in the least, but Pfeifer wrote one of my favourite Aquaman runs - if you missed the Sub Diego stories, dive into the back issue bins - so he gets some leeway. 

Using Star Labs is a nice nod to the New Teen Titans launch of the Eighties, and it also allows some pre-New 52 DC characters to enter the revamped continuity. 

I spot Josiah Power of the Power Company super-team and Manchester Black of the Elite. Anyone recognise Jensen or 'Sir'?

Kenneth Rocafort's art is clean, energetic, full of fascinating layouts that don't get in the way of the storytelling. New York looks fantastic, and I appreciate the character he puts into the non-speaking bystanders. I like his take on all the characters, but Wonder Girl really does need straps on that costume. She'd be falling out of it every ten seconds, and isn't Cassie Sandsmark meant to be an adventurer, a practical type?

Rocafort's work is coloured by Dan Brown, who makes things fresh without being too bright, while John J Hill's letters are sharp and welcome. 

In an age when relaunches almost inevitably bring a price bump, kudos to DC for holding the Teen Titans line at $2.99. And even more thanks for giving the team a second chance at stardom. On the basis of this issue, it might just work. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

New Suicide Squad #1 review

A new chapter in the Suicide Squad story begins with a new number one. Events segue so smoothly from the last issue of the previous run that if you didn't see the cover copy, you'd not notice. Still, if it helps sales and gets attention on the work of new creative team Sean Ryan and Jeremy Roberts, that's fine.

Because this is a pretty decent first issue. Not amazing - the final instalment of the previous volume, #30, also written by Sean Ryan, was more impressive, a rollicking good read - but there's a nice energy that could make for a compelling run. Roberts' sharp linework is an instant win - he draws the cast consistently well, and knows how to choreograph a good action sequence. 

And Ryan's character dynamics are well-worked, with the scene between deposed Squad boss Amanda Waller and new team chief Vic Sage promising fireworks.

Vic Sage? Yep, it seems mysterious hero The Question has the trust of the US Government and for some reason he's acting like an ass. How this will tie into his upcoming role in the just-announced Trinity of Sin ongoing, I've no idea. To be honest, I'd rather forget the linked pasts of the Phantom Stranger, Pandora and the Question, especially the latter's current mystical nature. For now, I want to see where Ryan is going with Sage; he's apparently playing Waller, sending a new version of the Suicide Squad into Russia on a very dubious mission. As well as existing members Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Black Manta, he's added Deathstroke and the Joker's Daughter. You'll notice the repetition in the MOs of four of the five. Waller does too. Why Deadshot and Deathstroke? Why Harley Quinn and the Joker's Daughter? 'Friendly competition' says Sage. My translation: he wants one or more of Waller's team choices to get killed, to teach her some kind of lesson.

Me, I'd rather the weirdly popular 'noble assassin' Deathstroke and one-note Joker rip-off JD fell under a Russian tank, I don't want to read about either. I suspect they'll be around awhile, though - what with Deathstroke currently being on telly and JD the star of a hyped-to-success 3D cover comic - so let's hope Ryan does something interesting with them. And if he can make Black Manta more than a villain of few words, so much the better. With Deadshot being the only team member with true charisma, Ryan will need to go some to convince me this is a line-up worthy of my time. 

A big wow moment, that's what this book lacks. Something of the level of Thunderbolts #1, or Avengers Academy's debut. A surprise, a reason to pay attention to the book. As an old school Squad fan, I know that an unpromising bunch can be spun into gold by a first-rate author, so I'm not writing this bunch off, but so far as debuts go, this is simply solid. 

When the things that impress me most are the return of Deadshot's tache and the speech pattern of Waller's new right-hand person Bonnie, that's not good.

Sage's assignment for the Belle Reve bad guys involves disrupting the Russian government machine with a spot of easily disowned murder and mayhem. Squad missions are usually more on the metahuman side - I'm not comfortable with the US government sponsoring the slaying of civilians for some nebulous exercise in point scoring. Hopefully, Waller feels the same, although she seems so keen to remain part of the Task Force X programme that she's treating Sage better than he deserves.

I suspect I'm grumpier about this issue than it merits because of the Joker's Daughter, the worst excuse for a Batman villain to turn up in forever. The Seventies JD had wacky charm, the new version is simply a psycho wannabe who fills the pages with blood. Harley, on the other hand, has an actual personality and her own take on the life villainous, a certain crazy sexy cool. 

My favourite Squad moment here sees her begin her assault on Russian values with one of the great symbols of America. Just call her Batwoman. And look at how well Roberts and colourist partner Blond represent snow.

Roberts and Blond also provide the barnstorming cover, which boasts a brilliant new logo.

If you've ever been a Suicide Squad fan, I say give this a try. It's a well-crafted, entertaining comic book. I do hope, though, that it quickly becomes something really special.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Superboy #33 review

Apparently tasked with closing out this Superboy run by cleaning up the mess made by following a rotten concept (Superboy as conflicted living weapon) with a worse one (a replacement Superboy who's an out and out killer), Aaron Kuder has fun. In short, killer Superboy Jon has been confronted by conflicted Superboy Kon at NOWHERE, the evil factory that created Kon from Jon, alternate future world son of Superman and Lois Lane Kent. Kon has been in Jon's head, even as a day's contact with the thoroughly decent scientist kids of STAR Labs and resident hero the Guardian made him a much nicer chap. Now the time travelling of Jon has converted him into a tachyon being, and he and Kon have been kicked out of the regular universe by the universe itself, then accidentally made their own reality, and an army of alternate Superboys has appeared, and the metahuman teens of NOWHERE are involved and ...

... seriously, given how nonsensically complicated this book has been, my precis is award-winningly concise.

It's all silly, and can't really be made to make satisfying sense. At one point the super-scientific 'explanation' from Kon to Jon is so wordy it's as if Kuder is challenging his excellent artist, Jorge Jimenez, to make the pages work despite the Attack of the 130-Word Panel. Imagine Chris Claremont lampooning himself - I bet letterer Carlos M Mangual is still clutching his cold compress. 

This could, though, be a case of a tyro scripter who's not quite nailed how to pace a comic - Kuder begins this issue with three pages of nobody villains yammering on - entertainingly, I admit - to establish that a barrier has popped up over NOWHERE HQ. Then there's a page of plot business with the Star kids, then two splash pages, one of which is a lot of fun, but terrible for the book's effectiveness.

Superboy #33 is actually full of big artistic flourishes, with blazing colours courtesy of the Hories. It's a great-looking book, bigger than it's daft, and it's very, very daft. It's as if Kuder simply decided to have a laugh with what could be a thankless task as - like Charles Soule in this week's Superman/Wonder Woman - he brushes away recently departed Superman scripter Scott Lobdell's sloppy plotting. Here Kuder does sterling service by having Kon note that he's no longer serving as time and space-spanning herald to the big, cosmic Oracle fella who hung around Superman for about a year without ever doing anything. That was Kon's lonely fate forever more back in Teen Titans Annual #3, oh, a whole two months ago. Now? Not so much. There's not even a one-panel 'flashback' to some unseen story, it's just brought up and dismissed by Kon with the shrug it deserves.

Aaron Kuder, I want to shake your hand.

The rest of the issue features explosive action with the Legion of Superboys, changes for the Star kids and a rather ominous ending. I enjoyed this instalment lots, once the synapse-slaughtering 'explanations' were done. I'd happily have settled for a wholesale 'but that's not important right now'.

What I'd like to see now is Kuder and Jimenez invited to create a book of their own, one where they can put their talents to better use, one which sees them given the lead time to work out their characters and plot beats without having to worry about tidying up someone else's rubbish. Kuder is a promising writer - imaginative with a real knack for character dialogue - while Jimenez can go from goofy to apocalyptic with his art in the space of a couple of panels. They deserve a clean break, a better showcase for their talents.

As for the New 52 Superboy, it looks as if we're going to wind up with some unified version, Kon the clone and Jon the original, nice as pie. Or we could get newly kind-hearted Jon sacrificing himself for the Star kids and Kon. Or maybe we'll see Bizarro-Boy inherit the crown. Or a passing donkey. In the New 52, you never know who Superboy is going to be in any given week. You just know it's going to be awful. Mismanagement has made a once popular property radioactive - see also Allen, Bart. The best thing DC can do now is rest the Superboy name for awhile, remember what once worked about Kon and give readers that guy.

If you ask me, though, I could tell DC what a Superboy series is. It's 

I think the concept could fly. Anyone else like to see that?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Grayson #1 review

Dick Grayson is on his first mission as Spyral's Agent 37. Teamed with veteran Helena Bertinelli, he's tasked with kidnapping a mule hosting a super-bomb from the Trans-Siberian Express. Dick's acrobatic, stealth and fighting skills come in handy, but he finally resorts to Spyral's 'hypno' techniques in a bid to succeed.

After the horror that was the final issue of Nightwing, I'm delighted to report that this is a fun debut for Dick's new direction. He's away from the murderous madness of Gotham and in the middle of a spy romp bonkers enough for 007. 

Tim Seeley and Tom King's story skirts the edges of campness - Helena's codename is Matron, which brings to mind Mother from Sixties show The Avengers, and the mule's moniker is Lenin backwards - without going full-on Batman 66. The tone suits Dick, who seems in control of his life for the first time in awhile. It's true that he's on a mission for Batman, undercover in a shady organisation that has to know he's trying to play them, but Dick knows they likely know what he's up to, so fun reversals are nigh on guaranteed. Born into a family of aerialists, our hero likes walking a tightrope. Spyral will be trying to turn Dick, while he'll almost certainly bid to recruit Helena for the good guys.

Spyral are an interesting lot, claiming to be saving the world but obsessed with learning the secret identities of heroes; there's confirmation here that they know Batman is Bruce Wayne, along with the reveal that they recognise Cyborg as Victor Stone - which is a tad underwhelming, given the JLA-er doesn't actually seem to maintain a secret identity.

Given how most super-people dress, I laughed when Seeley's script had Dick and Helena's boss, Mr Minos, refer to Midnighter as 'black-ops fetish-man'. Interesting character, Mr Minos, with his vortex face visual and burning need to know who the heroes are; I look forward to finding out his story.

While Andrew Robinson's eye-popping cover - revised to deduct Dick's cool new haircut - makes much of our hero wielding a gun, inside he uses it like a batarang. I was afraid DC would rewrite Dick as a killer, but so far, so Batman family. 

And to entice Dick's female (well, mostly) fanbase there's the old Grayson charm, and shameless fan service as he relaxes at St Hadrian's School (for Secret Agents).

For action fans, there's the surprise of a Midnighter appearance. Surprisingly for a member of Stormwatch, he seems to have no idea who he's facing. I suspect he's too distracted by Dick's peachy bottom. 

The fight scene is just one excellent page among many by artist Mikel Janin, who clearly relishes the high adventure set-up - whether he's drawing spies, scenery or hardware, it's obvious there's a smile in his pencil. Kudos, too, to Jeromy Cox for effective colour work and Carlos M Mangual for commendable lettering. And if it weren't for a 'Dick in agony' scene from the recent Forever Evil crossover, the opening page would be perfect - can't we just ignore how we got here and enjoy the next stage of Dick's journey? 

Because on the basic of this blisteringly entertaining opener, I'm confident I'll like this series a lot as it bridges the gap between espionage and superheroics. There's no doubt that Grayson will become Gotham's Nightwing once more in time, but for now it's great to see the original Robin fly free.

Monday, 7 July 2014

100th Anniversary Fantastic Four #1 review

It's the 100th anniversary of Marvel Comics, which means it's the 100th anniversary of the Fantastic Four. 

OK, it's not quite 2061 yet, but this comic imagines what our grandkids - or more likely, us, pickled heads in a cryogenic crockpot - will be reading then. The Fantastic Four is no longer Reed Richards, Sue Richards, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm, it's Trin Richards-Banner, Kirby Richards-Banner, Victoria Harkness and Lee Minh Cam aka Fantasm, Slip, Enchantress and the Human Torch. An intriguing recap page reminds us of what happened to the team most recently - a fair bit of young love, apparently - before the story begins. 

And the story begins with a flashback to five years previously, in which we see how the original Fantastic Four were pulled apart. Galactic Command, tired of the team's treating the timestream as their personal playground, wiped Reed, Victor Von Doom, Johnny and Franklin off the face of the universe. The Thing, meanwhile, was captured. 

Today - like the FF, it's all relative - Valeria, a grown woman and mother of Kirby and Trin, has received a puzzling message from big brother Franklin. And the kids witness an equally enigmatic plea from 'Grandpa Reed'. Soon the young Fantastic Four are in big trouble and there's only one person who might help Valeria solve the mystery and save her proteges - the Invisible Woman, who has been placed under house arrest by the authorities. 

This is a terrific treat of a comic from the stable of editors Nick Lowe and Emily Shaw. Writer Jen Van Meter and artist Joanna Estep imagine how Marvel's first family might develop over the next few decades. Comic book ageing means that while the original team members aren't in their second century, things have moved on a few years. So it is that we have a third generation of cosmic ray-powered heroes, a Sue with new tricks, an adult Val married to one Bart Banner - not present here as he's off having an adventure with dad Bruce in Gamma Girls #251 - and her godfather Dr Doom, integrated into the extended family. Little references to the ongoing storyline add spice to a sharp chapter which sees the band get back together, and I'm rather pleased that we're apparently getting a sequel in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy 100th Anniversary Special.

And there's a huggable, final page summation of the Fantastic Four's core appeal. 

Joanna Estep, providing sumptuous full-colour illustrations, evokes a Marvel Universe with a different tone, but not one so alien as to be unrecognisable. Her elder FF are nicely on model, while the new kids are pretty darn adorable - I can't wait until they make their comics debut in about 20 years. 

Perhaps before that Marvel could reunite Van Meter and Estep on another book; the Fantastic Four is sewn up, but I can see the pair acing a new Power Pack mini-series. For now, though, you can bet I'll be looking out for more of these 100th Anniversary specials. 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Action Comics #33 review

Accepting his self-imposed exile, Superman is in the far reaches of space, smashing asteroids. He's trying to burn the Doomsday virus from his system, but it's only getting stronger. Back on Earth, Steel and Lana Lang blast off in a spaceship designed by the hammer-holding hero, determined to help their friend. Red Lantern Supergirl has her own idea for assisting her cousin - persuade him to embrace the rage, as she has, and be 'magnificent'. 

To help him in this, she takes Kal across the galaxy, where an immensely powerful stranger - that's him, Harak, on Kuder's eye-popping cover - confronts an alien race trying to flee their about-to-explode home. Will SuperDoom save them, or hasten their end?

There's your set-up, now go and read this issue. It doesn't matter whether you've been following the SuperDoom story across the Superman titles, it's irrelevant that you might hate the idea of Doomsday possession - you will like this comic. It's packed with all the awesome action moments, satisfying character bits and unexpected plot twists that make for a great Superman script. That's Greg Pak, that is. 

As for partner Aaron Kuder, he provides 22 pages of imaginatively composed, sharply finished art that blazes off the page. Just look at this first splash of SuperDoom, coloured by the excellent Wil Quintana!

I don't use exclamation points often - two hypey by half - but this comic surely deserves a few. The unexpected return of Kara adds real spice to the mix, while the Lana/Steel team is a chemistry-packed pairing I never foresaw. But as established by Pak and Kuder over the past several issues, Lana is an electrical engineer at the top of her game. She can work with Steel's tech systems without becoming a superhero herself. She's an ordinary person, scared, awed, but able to bring her best game to save those she loves. 

Readers of Scott Lobdelll's Superman run (actually, more like 'flee') will likely be pleased to see Pak not only continue the business with Lois possessed by Brainiac - I don't like the idea, but I sure as heck want it finished - but throw in a new kink that makes sense. 

And Kuder draws a great Lois, classic but satanic in intent. His Lana looks a little awkward from some angles, as she has throughout the run, but I love that she doesn't look like some generic comics dolly bird. 

Something else I love is Steel's spaceship - if that doesn't wind up being adapted by Ted Kord when he shows up in the DCU as Blue Beetle, I'll be a blue-eyed grasshopper. 

I feared that by this time in the crossover Superman would be a mindless monster, but Pak's internal narration gives reason for hope; our guy is still in there. For now, anyway. 

The use of Kara is brilliant, with her embracing of the Red Lantern way convincing her that Superman should similarly 'free' himself from fear of his power. 

She's a little whacked-out, and her abandoning of her cousin to handle the crisis of the Char people seems irresponsible ... I think it's actually her way of showing faith in him. And given their difficult relationship in the current continuity, that's actually an improvement. And Kuder draws her very nicely, a force of nature swooping in and out of panels, making mischief. 

The issue ends with another character coming into play. He's not one of my faves - no last-page-spoiler from me - but look what he has with him ... space walruses!

What more convincing do you need to buy Action Comics #33? This series continues to be the best ongoing Superman title, and rather than having their good work derailed by the Doomed crossover, Pak and Kuder have used it to make a superb book even better. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Justice League #31 review

Last issue ended with Lex Luthor pitching up at Wayne Manor, ready to tell Bruce Wayne he knows his other identity, and would he please back his bid for Justice League membership? That leads into a satisfying scene this issue as Bruce denies all and Alfred provides surprising - to Luthor, anyway - back-up. 

Justice League #31, which is more about housekeeping and plot-threading than villain bashing, also gives us more on new Power Ring Jessica Cruz as she resists the offer to 'bring about 'the destruction of every form of life on this planet'. Captain Cold gets an offer from Lexcorp which isn't what it seems. And Shazam learns a little more about his magical powers while confounding Cyborg. 

And I really enjoyed it all. It's true that I don't like the new Shazam set-up, with the hero formerly known as Captain Marvel reimagined as a dumb Billy Batson with undefined magical powers, but within his own parameters, writer Geoff Johns provides a fun scene. 

I like that Batman doesn't given in to Lex's blackmail - of course the classic hero wouldn't, but this is the New 52 so who could predict it?  And the Power Ring plot which bookends the issue just gets more intriguing. 

This issue feels less like a traditional Justice League story - big team takes on big villain - than a classic Marvel book, with characterisation to the fore and a big threat or two on the horizon. Thinking on, it reads like one of Johns' own JSA issues. I'd be pretty happy if Johns stuck to this approach for awhile, with the book feeling more like a family story than event after event. 

At one point Batman and Luthor discuss the fable of the frog and the scorpion - didn't that come up in some other Luthor story recently? Maybe it was somewhere else. In other news, it seems the CSA ruled the Earth for just a week. Seems awfully short.

Penciller Doug Mahnke provides sterling work throughout, his characters attractive and expressive, his storytelling sound. My favourite page is a splash using Luthor, Batman and Alfred and it's a masterclass in conveying movement in a static image. 

I'm not sure sure about Power Ring's mask, though, it's a little Eighties Marvel. Mind, out of costume Jessica looks amazing, there's real character in her face. Already I want Mahnke to draw Ms Cruz in a solo special 

I was, though, rather surprised by this painting of Thomas and Martha ... did Bruce hire some artist to extrapolate their ageing?

Inkers Keith Champagne and Christian Alamy keep things looking bold and sleek, while Rod Reis's colours are as attractive as they're appropriate. Dezi Sienty's letters are unshowy, and fine. And the cover by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis is a winner, if more suited to the eventual collection than this issue. 

All in all, a very solid issue, good-looking and readable, a model for what this series could be. 

Superman #32 review

And here it is, the much-hyped debut of the new Superman creative team. The wraparound cover sends the message that writer Geoff Johns and penciller John Romita Jr are out to inject energy into this book. While the image-to-image chest symbol blurring doesn't come off, stopping after the first few Superman figures, and his calves look like horses's legs, I like that Romita - with inker Klaus Janson and colourist Laura Martin - are giving us some classic Superman imagery right from the off. I'm not keen on the glassy Superman The Movie logo treatment, though, it's too specific a callback, and doesn't work with comic art as the backdrop. 

Behind the cover, Johns sets some new balls rolling: old favourite Titano the Super-Ape is now a robot; Perry White asks news blogger Clark Kent to rejoin the Daily Planet; Jimmy Olsen wants his parents' lawyers - including Golden Age figure J Wilbur Wolfingham - to tell him where they're hiding from the tax people;  there's a new Planet hiring, political correspondent Jackee Winters. 

The biggest part of the issue goes to the debut of Ulysses, a new Superman-type, rocketed as a baby from an exploding research facility which may be from the regular DC Earth, or a parallel. Never mind that we've just had a Superman analogue in Superman Unchained, Ulysses is immediately hobbled by a singularly unprepossessing visual, with the long hair being actively horrible. Of course, Ulysses may go amazing places - the arc storyline title is Men of Tomorrow and interviews make it sound promising - but so far I'm not feeling him. 

My favourite page in the book, in which we see what Lois and Jimmy are up to outside the Planet and meet Jackee, turns into a depressing sequence of Clark moping as he looks at photos of the departed Kents. 

Which leads to my biggest problem with an issue that does show promise - our hero is such a massive misery. Whether as Clark or Superman, he doesn't smile once. Perry tries to gee Clark up, get him to stop being so insular, so Johns is obviously going somewhere with this, but couldn't he crack a smile while using his powers? Is there no joy in his life? The best Superman is an inspirational figure, not a sad sack. 

Longtime Marvel artist John Romita Jr's strongest moments in his DC debut come in the quieter sequences, especially the visit to the Planet, showing off his talents with facial expressions and body language - and hurrah for the tidiest Clark we've seen since the 2011 reboot. The action sequences are suitably flashy, as Superman encounters a creature reminiscent of Nimrod from the X-Men books, but - a superb Superman/Titano splash apart - didn't engage me hugely. Things aren't helped by Johns' decision to have the beastie, then Ulysses, speaking in an untranslated alien tongue - it makes for a dull read. I do think Romita should give us a proper establishing shot of the Nimrod Thingie, introduce the baddie properly. 

The biggest problem with Romita's art so far is that he can't make the current costume look good, and I have some sympathy for that. With its armoured panels, it's a horrible, clunky design, and one which Romita and Janson will hopefully manage to make work in time. Mind, I'd rather DC sees sense and just brings back the still-marketed classic - readers of the Bleeding Cool website will note that the red trunks seen in a Planet splash in previews have been coloured away for the actual comic.

Buyers of the preceding Superman run, written by Scott Lobdell, may be peeved that there's no mention of Lois's Brainiac powers, which have been a big, unfocused subplot for awhile. I suppose they're gone here, with this issue occurring after the Superman Doomed crossover ongoing in the other Superman books. An editorial note - easily stripped out of a subsequent trade - would have been gracious. 

I am, though, happy that Johns is on board - given his knack for long-range plotting we can be confident everything he's introduced is going somewhere - while Lobdell's tendency to riff can make for excitement, it can also mean frustrating loose ends (will the Oracle ever have a point? Is that stained glass space door still just hanging around?). 

Overall, a decent first issue for Johns and Romita, with more than competent support from Janson, Martin and letterer Sal Cipriano. I'm intrigued, but not wowed. The quickest way to get me totally onside would be to have Clark work through his issues, because angst and Superman are not good bedfellows. Superman should cheer the heck up.