Thursday, 18 September 2014

Teen Titans: Futures End #1 review

The five-years-later set Futures End weekly has teased that something awful happened to the present day Teen Titans. Buy this in the hope or expectation of details and you'll be disappointed. Pick it up with an open mind and you'll get a fun tale of teenage heroes righting wrongs in an uncertain future.

There's a link to the just-launched Titans series in that the villain from that, Algorithm, puts in an appearance. She's head of security for scumbag billionaire Archimedes Grant, whose abuse of individuals, animals, land and resources attracts the attention of some unfamiliar young heroes.

In a more direct link to the weekly than we've seen in most of the specials, writer Will Pfeifer has most of the new Titans hail from Earth 2. They're refugees from the war between Earths, and ticked off that Grant is using their people as bloody entertainment at his parties.

The heroes who, by the end of the book, have become the new Titans are, beginning with the three Earth 2-ers:

  • Klarion the Witch Boy (older than the version we know).
  • A female Kid Flash (identity unknown).
  • Tempest (an Atlantean reminiscent of a sleeker Lagoon Boy).
  • Animal Girl (not Maxine Baker but one Alexia Santos).
  • Heretic (name unrevealed, but I'm guessing a Damian Wayne clone)

They're a suitably varied bunch thematically and, thanks to penciller Andy Smith, inker Keith Champagne and colourist Matt Yackey, visually. My immediate favourite is Klarion, dapper in smile and amused of manner - he manages to seem unfazed by circumstance without ever being irritatingly smug.

Pfeifer sketches in enough pieces of personality to intrigue, making me sad there's little immediate prospect of these newbies showing up in the 2014 Titans book.

Then again, we're in a future timeline, once Futures End wraps, they could simply be written in via time travel or reality-changing shenanigans. It's comics, Pfeifer's allowed, and there's plenty of precedent over in Marvel's X-Men line.

Grant is a true stinker, with no regard for anyone but himself - even when he reacts badly to the fate of his supposed girlfriend, I suspect he's mainly annoyed at the loss of a plaything.

Andy Smith's tight, clean lines, expressive people and sharp storytelling techniques are right up my alley. He's great at action shots in particular, which is obviously useful in a superhero book - I especially like his depiction of Kid Flash's speed trail. I'd love to see him given a regular DC assignment - not every comic artist has to choose the super-stylist route. Heck, if I were DC I'd chain Smith to the licensing department.

And I'd treasure Champagne who, of course, deserves some credit for what makes the page. I've not seen this former stalwart's credit in a DC book for awhile; it's good to have him back.

Yackey's colouring is brighter than is fashionable, but suits this story, which is serious, but not gloomy. The only note I'd give, backseat-editor wise, would be to pick out Klarion in the couple of panels before his introduction, rather than leave him in a monotone crowd. Then again, the treatment we get does reward a careful read. Letters come from the ever reliable Rob Leigh.

Karl Kerschl's lenticular cover is one of the most effective treatments I've seen. And of course, it won't scan for toffee, so a shout-out to the excellent Batman Wikia, whose image I've nicked - thank you.

If your budget's tight but you follow the Titans, this title is skippable. Fun, well-done but skippable. But if you've a few spare pennies, give it a shot.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Supergirl: Futures End #1 review

It's five years from now and Supergirl is gone, supplanted by a Cyborg Supergirl who can barely remember ever being human. She's united with the Cyborg Superman in a quest to find a world that can be transformed into a new Krypton, complete with 'upgraded' inhabitants. 

As cosmic upcyclers, they've failed so far, but Cyborg Supergirl, whom Cyborg Superman designates Herald Two - guess who's Herald One? - has had an idea. She takes him back to Earth, scene of his most ignominious defeat but somewhere she believes the key to success lies. She aims to find a 'specimen' of 'Neo-Sapien', someone who looks Kryptonian with the genetic potential to spark a reborn race. 

Thanks to the intervention of super-scientist Dr Shay Veritas, said specimen finds her first. He wants to talk, she wants to subdue him and mine his DNA. But he has an ace up his sleeve, the mental powers of a man born 100,000 years before his time. Yes, it's Adam Blake, also known as Captain Comet, and it turns out they have a shared past as members of the Wanderers super team. And lovers.  

But is there enough of the original Kara in Cyborg Supergirl for him to reach?

It turns out there is, Adam lights the flame that burns Kara free and sees her turn on 'Herald One', demanding answers - who is he really, because he sure as heck isn't her cousin? By issue's end Kara has, literally and very painfully, rejected his idea of perfection and reclaimed her life. Her future isn't ending, it's just beginning.  

In a real world sense, though, it is a Futures End for Supergirl, as this is one of the last Kara stories for who knows how long by Tony Bedard - I believe he's on next month's Supergirl #35, but who knows with DC's tendency to chop and change? The stories he was expecting to tell, teased in online interviews, are no longer coming, with new writers announced for the book. So I savoured every page of this issue. 

I hate the New 52 version of the Cyborg Superman, a Brainiac-transformed version of Supergirl's father, Zor-El. I abhor the idea that, even lacking the knowledge of their relationship, he would cut up her body and replace parts with robotics. 

So making this Kara's Five Years Later fate makes perfect sense - the future is meant to be foul. And Bedard, bless him, uses the situation to show us just how strong Kara is. Yes, she's emancipated from her 'partner' due to the intervention of Adam, but he can only work with what's there. And what's there is the essential Supergirl, buried deep, but undoubtedly present. We see that early in the issue as Cyborg Supergirl refuses to countenance the murder of everyday Earth people. 

And once the true Kara, regains control of her mind and sees what's been done to her body, I love the way Bedard plays it. Kara is fierce, and wants revenge. 

She recognises Cyborg Superman as a cancer in the universe, just as he ate away at her own body, and she's going to take him out. 

Captain Comet is different here to how I remember him from Grant Morrison's Action Comics run, but the Neo-Sapien tag pegs him as the same guy. I guess he's gone through some changes in the several in-panel years since he was last seen. 

One of the most entertaining aspects of the Futures End specials is seeing who turns up in a new form. As well as Captain Comet, this issue also gives us a version of The Wanderers, the Silver and Bronze Age Legion of Super-Heroes allies. I doubt they really would've figured in Bedard's regular Supergirl plans, but they make for a fun element here. 

While she's pretty ravaged by the close of this issue, Kara has triumphed and is rewarded with a 'perfect moment'. I like that. 

I also like that unlike most of the Futures End tie-in writers, Bedard explicitly references the events of that book. If any members of the current weekly's creative team steps down, DC would be wise to bring this smart writer on board. 

Emanuela Lupacchino's storytelling is good, packed with power and feeling; I smiled at seeing how much the Cyborg Supergirl's obscene metal makeover is reminiscent of Superman's New 52 nonsense armour. Ray McCarthy inks the story and does a decent job, while Hi-Fi colours and Rob Leigh letters. There's isn't a single outstanding image but the entire issue is consistently fine. That's a win, I think. 

Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Dan Brown's images for the lenticular cover are striking, but it's a shame Kara is scowling as much in the current day scene as in the future. Bedard has worked hard to put her in a place of optimism, and a newly content Kara would be a more dramatic contrast to the Cyborg Supergirl. 

While I'd rather have seen Bedard and Lupacchino give us a tale of today's Kara, rebuilding a life on Earth, as gimmick-led event tie-ins go, Supergirl: Futures End is a classy entry. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Batgirl: Futures End #1 review

Two years from today, Barbara Gordon gets married.

Two years from today, Barbara Gordon becomes a widow.

Five years from today, she is Bete Noir, the Beast of Gotham, running a trio of Batgirls. She's cleaned up most of the city's crime, and now the teacher Barbara modelled the Beast on is back in Gotham: Bane - the man who broke the Bat. And before he blows up the city, he plans to break the Beast.

Whoa! This is dark stuff. From the horror of the opening through the trials Barbara puts herself through to become a more effective force against crime, to Bane's reading of her desires, this is grim. There are light moments - Stephanie Brown Batgirl uses the goop so beloved of an earlier version of the character, Tiffany Lucille Fox Batgirl whines about being sidelined out in the field - but this is one downbeat comic.

You likely know that Simone's run on the regular Batgirl series is over, to be supplanted by a lighter approach. Without having read a page, the internet loves loves LOVES the new Barbara Goes to College take, DIY costume and all. Simone is perfectly capable of running such a book, but as she's so associated with super-gloomy New 52 Batgirl, a new writer and artist sends out the message of a new beginning. Fair enough, Simone is a professional, and she has a new Secret Six in the works (which the internet loves too).

Still, looking at this comic, it's as if Simone decided, as she departed, to take the mickey out of the prevailing New 52 tone, amping the darkness beyond 11. 

So Babs is a hulk of a woman, less Batgirl than Butchgirl, clad in a Bane mask even as she takes Gotham's gangsters down. On the way to where she is today, she snapped the neck of a man purely to get Bane's attention. Where Batman put his friend Lucius Fox's son on the streets in a Batwing suit, Beast Barbara lets Fox's untrained 12-year-old daughter Tiffany run around with Steph Brown and Cassandra Caine.

Is there light at the end of the Gotham tunnel? Maybe. Simone likes Barbara too much to abandon her to the darkness completely. And thank the stars for that - if this is her last play with Barbara for awhile, I'm happy the big-hearted, compassionate heroine we know survives.

If you're looking for specific Futures' End (FE) links, look elsewhere, you won't find them here - there's no reference to the Earth 2 war, or Brother Eye, Cadmus or any of the other foundations of that series. Like most FE DC books, Batgirl goes its own way, embracing the question: 'where might my character be in five years if she could go anywhere, somewhere the eventual five-years-later books wouldn't allow?' And on that basis, this issue works. Simone continues the themes of her Batgirl run, catches us up with some of the characters, and goes a bit bonkers. There's a sense that this is a book without a safety net, which is exciting, but when things end rather positively, I couldn't be happier.

The dialogue is a delight, from Barbara's opening narration through to her closing thoughts. And because she plays well with others, Simone absents James Gordon Sr from the wedding, without saying he's dead, meaning he may still be in jail as per the current Batman Eternal weekly. The Batgirl battalion is a smart way to acknowledge Barbara's legacy, including previous continuity Batgirls Cass and Steph, and showing there'll likely be more. The story also winks at Barbara's old Oracle persona, with her running a team from a secret headquarters. Said HQ is the Ha Ha Hacienda, the Joker's 1970s bolthole, which may be Simone showing that the Beast has beaten her worst enemy by metaphorically inhabiting his soul. 

Or maybe it was just empty and on a bus route.

Bane was one of the revelations of Simone's Secret Six series, and she grabs the chance to reintroduce him here. Sure, Bane has appeared a few times in the New 52 continuity, but this is the first time it's felt like the version I loved, housework, daughter obsessions and all.

The odd cheesecake pose aside - check out Steph on the splash page, that's exactly how a superhero begins a battle - I rather enjoyed Javier Garron's work. The storytelling is good, the poses true and the facial acting fine. A flashback to Barbara's training incorporating incongruously fun-looking Polaroids elicited a grin. Decent colours, too, from Romulo Fajardo Jr and letters from Saida Temofonte (usually to be found on the excellent DC Digital titles).

It took me awhile to find the right angle, but the lenticular treatment for Clay Mann's cover, coloured by Fajardo, works well.

So, while not the Barbara Gordon I want to read, and probably not the Barbara Gordon Simone prefers to write, as enforced tie-ins go, Batgirl: Futures End is a good read. More than ever it has me hoping Bane will join Simone's new Secret Six soon. As for Barbara, I'm looking forward to some lighter stories - and I wouldn't be surprised if Simone isn't too. 

Justice League United: Future's End #1 review

In the recently debuted Justice League United series, Miiyahbin Marten has just discovered her super-powers and hasn't yet adopted a superhero identity. Five years in the future she's Equinox, Canada's greatest hero. And she has a great new villain:

'Great' as in fun, not impressive. It's the Polargeist, making a polar heist! Equinox makes short work of him, but never-ending-battles being what they are, she immediately receives a plea for help from J'onn J'onzz. Will her old teammates in Justice League United answer her call to action?

You bet they ... won't. Stargirl is off planet. Supergirl isn't speaking (Kara's Futures End tie-in will apparently present her as an evil cyborg, so fair enough). Alana is 'in no shape' after something happened to husband Adam Strange. Green Arrow is dead. And worse, Animal Man is henpecked.

Hawkman isn't even mentioned, though readers of the weekly Futures End title know he's been a Stormwatch member for awhile at the time of this story.

Nothing for it but to ask the regular Justice League - Cyborg, Stormguard, Vostok, Dawnstar, Flash - for help. As J'onn has been acting as super-warden on Mars, Earth's prison planet for the worst super-villains, and there's been a break-out, of course they'll lend a hand. Into the JL cruiser they hop and it's off to Mars, where some rather formidable escapees and a surprise villain mean this gets continued in Justice League: Future's End #1.

Which is fine by me, I had a good time with this comic and a bigger story is good. I love peeks into the future, looks at how the DC Universe will be in a five-years-later you can guarantee won't ever arrive.

I like that Equinox has developed into quite the hero, a brave, resourceful young woman confident in the use of her elemental powers. I like the idea of a prison planet, being a Legion of Super-Heroes fan, where Takron-Galtos was all the rage.

I like that Legionnaire Dawnstar is in here - yeah, she belongs in the 31st century, but this is just a possible future, cleverly teasing the outcome of the upcoming JLU encounter with the Legion.

I don't like that Dawnstar's unique tracking abilities aren't brought into play in the search for J'onn - once the team lands on Mars she should hone in on him in 20 seconds flat. Instead she's presented as simply a flier, a Hawkperson substitute. 

And for goodness' sake, what's with Cyborg's casual sexism?

As for Animal Man being too nervous even to let wife Ellen know he's been asked for help, I don't believe it. There's a friend in need, and a threat to Earth. Sure, Ellen's suffered due to Buddy's position as a hero - they lost son Cliff due to his being Animal Man - but she's no shrew, she'd support a rescue mission for J'onn. 

I'm hoping next issue we learn a bit about Stormguard's abilities - he's been popping up in Future's End and I can't recall a single thing about him. As a failed Aquaman and the Others reader, a lesson in Vostok would also be useful. Writer Jeff Lemire - whose work in JLU I've enjoyed hugely - should be introducing his characters a little better. The relationships are there to be seen, but the basics - who is this hero, what do they do - are missing.

Weighed against the overall imagination and fun of this book, though, the problems listed count merely as quibbles. Lemire does a pretty decent job with an imposed editorial event.

Drawing the book is Jed Dougherty, a new name to me. I like his confident way with people - great facial expressions, fine body language (check out Maxine Baker going off in a strop). The action moments are pretty standard, but they work well enough. And it's all coloured with style by Gabe Eltaeb, who also shows up for the excellent lenticular cover drawn by Mike McKone. The transition between today's team and the 2019 version works stunningly well.

All in all, JLU: FE is no classic, but it's a fun ride. It's a shame Equinox is the only active member, but we see and hear enough about the others to keep me happy. And would anyone be surprised to see Buddy - and maybe 'Little Wing' Maxine - show up for the finale? 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Green Arrow: Futures End #1 review

I dropped off Green Arrow shortly after the team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino came on the book. Their work was impressive, their direction assured, but not really my cup of tea. Still, new Green Arrow Emiko Queen's involvement in the Futures End series - co-written by Lemire - intrigued me enough to pick up this 'five years later' tie-in.

That, and a rather nifty lenticular cover. Dig that crumbling gravestone!

Lemire and Sorrentino are still around, and still impressing. They make it easy to jump back in, explaining things as we go along and 'colouring in' the characters, meaning that by the time the clever ending came it meant something to me.

Futures End #1 featured the five-years-later funeral of Green Arrow Oliver Queen. This issue, set a little before that, shows how he meets his end. Ollie persuades his frenemies in the Outsiders to help him take down the scientists of Cadmus Island, who are experimenting with refugee super-beings from Earth 2. To improve the odds, he wants to add the element of surprise, setting up the story's twist.

Lemire's X-Men-style jokey intro captions take away from the drama a tad - I never want to see 'Nuff said' in a DC comics again - but overall the script is a winner.

The Ollie in this issue is unrecognisable as the callow youth we met at the New 52 relaunch. Never mind five years, he seems at least 15 years older, like the Green Arrow of the Mike Grell series. And, truly unforgivable haircut aside, that's fine by me, I prefer my GA a world weary crusader rather than a swashbuckling one. I also like this kid Emiko - Ollie's half-sister, daughter of Shado, I learn - and Ollie's tech pal Naomi has become a hero of the streets, Dart. The villain of the piece is the inevitable Deathstroke - all DC creators have a hard-on for this guy, even those nice Tiny Titans fellows - but Lemire writes him well, making him a bitter Republican to Ollie's liberal.

And Sorrentino draws Deathstroke superbly, presenting him as a ghostly figure, a seemingly unstoppable force. The whole book looks very, very good, with Sorrentino's control of mood to the fore. And colouring partner Marcelo Maiolo adds to the intensity, trademark duo-hue panels and all.

Even if you're not a Green Arrow fan, I recommend this issue purely from a craft point of view; it shows how excellent creators can put a new spin on the well-worn superhero tale. It's especially worth getting if you're following Futures End, with the direct tie-in some of this week's other gimmick issues doesn't have. It's sharp, it's fun - buy it.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

DC Digital Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #11 review

Like, zoinks, this series just gets better and better. Mystery Incorporated teams up with the Super Friends when the Hall of Justice is invaded by seven ghosts. Seven rainbow-themed ghosts. And one of them has zapped Superman away. 

The world's greatest super-heroes fear a crime wave should news get out that the Man of Steel is gone, so they want the expertise of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby to work out what's going on. Trouble is, the Hall is open to the public and if people see the gang snooping around, they'll suspect something is up. Disguises are called for. Ones that will allow them to blend in seamlessly ...

Perfect! Writer Sholly Fisch never misses a trick, letting Hanna Barbara's economic/lazy house style advance the story via the 'coincidental' resemblance of characters to one another. 

He even gets a little naughty, nodding to the awful, disrespectful, nasty fate of Wonder Dog in the Teen Titans books of a few years back. (If you read this comic with a small kid and they ask what the 'national security' business he's off on is, just tell them he's having adventures with Detective Chimp and Rex the original Wonder Dog.) 

And as an extra back-to-the-Seventies treat, Fisch brings in Supergirl, giving artist Dario Brizuela the excuse to draw Kara in her classic costume. Brizuela and colourist Franco Riesco keep things clean and cute and bright and beautiful, bringing a wonderful Saturday morning feel to proceedings. 

I bought this chapter digitally, but the adventure's conclusion - oh yes, it's continued and there's a doozy of a cliffhanger - can be found in comic stores right now via Scooby Doo! Team-Up #6.  Tell your friends. Tell your Super Friends. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Action Comics: Futures End #1 review

It's 2019 and Clark Kent is living in Ethiopia, trying to bring new life to dead ground. He's retired from being Superman and is relying on the skills he learned on his parents' Smallville farm.

Thousands of miles away in Metropolis, people are getting super powers. A would-be suicide can suddenly fly. A petty crook gains super-strength. A young boy uses invulnerability to defend his abused mother.

Suddenly, their futures seem brighter. Soon, though, they learn that the abilities are but a temporary gift from a mysterious stranger.

The powers are gone as quickly as they came. but the beneficiaries have been given a glimpse of something brighter; there may be a better future out there if they just try for it.

The glowing Superman figure appears before Clark, and he too is left with food for thought.

I wasn't looking forward to the Futures End event, but my cats love the lenticular covers - so scratchy. And as it happens, I love this issue. Turns out it's written by Sholly Fisch, Johnny DC genius and occasional Action Comics pinch-hitter. So it is that while Superman barely appears, his spirit is all through the book, literally and metaphorically. Older fans will find it interesting that the figure loaning out super-powers and words to live by is a dead ringer for the Sand Superman. This seems to be a wink more than anything, because the Seventies version was an adversarial figure, whereas the new guy is all heavenly helpmate.

Fisch really gets what Clark is about - a man more powerful than those around him, but never one to feel above them. Here he is getting his hands dirty, while his legacy inspires people around the world. It's about hope, it's about potential - it's about Superman.

Fisch thinks through the power set - how does invulnerability work apart from super-senses? Is super-strength so great without invulnerability? Questions such as this make for a fresh look at the Man of Steel.

As for how this fits in with the Futures End weekly, Clark has only just shown up there in a scene that looks to fit after this issue. To be honest, I don't much care, I'm just happy to have a done-in-one that captures the wonder of Superman.

Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes do a commendable job on the art, bringing a soft-yet-scratchy quality to the pages that complements Lee Weeks and Dave McCaig's spiffy lenticular cover. The interior Clark looks a little off the New 52 model, but it has been five years and he's grown a beard, so let it pass. The Sand Superman looks superb, eerie as heck, and I hope we see him again. Colourist Pete Pantazis and letterer Carlos M Mangual also deserve praise for helping pull the story together visually.

All in all, this is an entertainingly effective issue that demonstrates once again that DC and its readers are losing out by not having Fisch on a regular title. I can only assume he's busy with the day job, so I'll simply look forward to his next guest appearance. I just hope we don't have to wait until 2019 ...

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Justice League 3000 #9 review

I'm a couple of weeks late with this review. Then again, this comic is set in the 31st century, so maybe not. 

If you're just coming in, this is the story of a reborn Justice League, freedom fighters against The Five, massively powerful villains who are taking over the universe. The initial issues were powered by the mystery of the heroes' origins - were they the 21st-century Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Flash resurrected, like King Arthur, at the time of greatest need? Were they descendants? The world's greatest homage act?

Pick up the back issues and find out for yourself, because giving it away would rather neuter the conflict around the puzzle should I persuade you to pop to the back issue bins or Comixology. Enjoy this series as I have, as a constantly evolving, unpredictable future fantasy of good vs evil starring familiar, yet different, faces. 

If you have been keeping up with Justice League 3000, you'll know that there's a new Flash in town. Scientist Teri, one of the twins behind the project which set up the new League, now has super-speed and she's super-mad at her brother, Terry. Her first mission as a superhero is to stop him using nano-mines planted in the other Leaguers' heads long enough to allow them to get off planet and regroup for a final assault on The Five. 

As it turns out, the other heroes escape even before she convinces Terry to do as she says, and they send Superman back for her. This makes for a hilarious moment as the new Superman - not a guy familiar with finesse - tackles one of the Five, Kali, in his inimitable way. 

The new Flash's first outing takes place in a back-up strip, with most of the issue showing us how the rest of the JL escape. It's typically fine work from writers Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis, progressing the story while giving us glorious character moments. While the first few issues portrayed an angry, confused League, since learning their origins they've settled down, begun acting as a team and actually started caring about one another. 

We've yet to see the bad guys attack the League en masse - they seem to hate one another as much as they do the team - but I hope it comes. Coeval, Kali, Locus, Convert and Terry (I'm assuming this turncoat counts as the fifth) really do need their arses kicked. If it happens, expect regular artist Howard Porter to draw up a storm; he's done a great job of establishing character and world building, giving the series tremendous heft and pace. Presumably he couldn't draw all this issue, hence the Teri scene being a separate segment. Happily, editor Harvey Richards brings the vastly underrated Chris Batista on board to provide pencils, while LeBeau Underwood applies some sharp inks. They keep everything on model without slavishly copying Porter's style. Visual continuity is aided by the letters of Taylor Esposito and colours of Hi-Fi Designs. 

It's a tad fanboy, but my favourite moment this issue nods to the JLA comics of the Silver Age, specifically, the classic covers for #9 and #10. 

I also love that a usually forgotten after-effect of super-speed gets some play, and the throwback-style cover just makes me smile. 

Justice League 3000 is an excellently plotted, wonderfully written, superbly drawn comic from veteran creators having fun with the wider toybox of the DC universe and a refreshing antidote to the general darkness of the New 52 line. If you've not yet tried it, give it a go. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

All-Star Western featuring Jonah Hex #34 review

He's had a fine run, pre and post-New 52, but this issue the curtain falls for Jonah Hex as All-Star Western is cancelled. Launched with Batman links in a bid to widen the audience, ASW has also seen Jonah spend time in the 21st century, but he's been back home in the 19th for a while - that's where he works best, and that's certainly where I want him as he leaves us for now. 

This issue sees Jonah and partner Tallulah Black head for a small town where someone is impersonating Jonah, classic scars and all, trading on his reputation to take over with his gang. It's safe to say Jonah and Tallulah deal with things the way they usually do, with lots of bullets and no bull. 

By the end of the book Jonah and Tallulah are off in an unexpected new direction, one I hope is followed up on soon. For now, we have a sharp, satisfying tale by writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Darwyn Cooke that cleverly leaves the future open. I won't say any more because despite the writers playing extremely fair, I never saw it coming, and you'll enjoy discovering it for yourself. 

I will say that the predictable last-issue re-scarring of Jonah - his face was restored during his trip to the future - doesn't come, and I couldn't be happier. I'm sure it'll happen eventually, but just this once, Jonah gets a happy ending.

Cooke's interiors are a delight. The first scene, with Jonah and Tallulah enjoying a morning dip, is open and optimistic, the town moments crowded and depressing. There's real personality in the faces of the players, short, effective bursts of action and a perfect final page. And I like the signage nods to previous artists, which are fun without being too distracting. Great colours, too, from Dave Stewart, a master of lighting a scene, and letters from the reliable Rob Leigh. And thanks, also, to editors Harvey Richards and Brian Cunningham, for steering the ship. Sorry, stagecoach. Then again ... 

I'd say this is a great issue to go out on, but Jonah Hex stories have maintained this quality for years now, with Gray and Palmiotti writing consistently excellent instalments and a battery of fine artists drawing up a storm. If you've never tried the Western bounty hunter's stories, grab a trade, or just this issue. You won't regret it. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Superman #34 review

The Ulysses story continues with the new hero being introduced to his birth parents, the Quinns, who sent him off to another dimension because the world was ending, then, two minutes later, found it wasn't. Oops. Bit of a parenting fail there.

But Ulysses is an understanding fella, and he had a nice upbringing on the Great World with alien adoptive parents. There he gained the enmity of bad guy Klerik (Kenit?), who followed him back to Earth, and was defeated with Superman's help. So everything's good now, and Ulysses - Neil to his parents - can get to know the folks.

His mother, Mrs Quinn, asks Superman to help him adjust to Earth (translation: persuade him to cut that ridiculous lank hair).

Later, a sleeping, half-naked Superman wakes to find Ulysses at the end of his bed, watching him. Rather than toss the super-stalker out on his ear, Superman listens to Ulysses' explanation that he doesn't sleep, likely because he has so much energy in his body that resting isn't necessary. Which, of course, means he doesn't dream - that's never good, in comics it tends to drive people maaaaad, but Superman doesn't raise the point.

Rather than let Clark have his kip, Ulysses takes him off to trace the source of the robots that attacked Metropolis earlier. The trail takes them to the Scrap Yard - where off-cuts of war machines are left out in the open for would-be conquerors to steal and use in their upcycling projects.

A  'mind-tick' attaches itself to Ulysses, sparking a brief battle with Superman. Soon Ulysses is down, the bug removed and sanity restored. That's when the man behind the creation, and Metropolis' recent troubles, makes his entrance, 

The Machinist is a metal-masked figure, but he's less Dr Doom than Dr Bong, his hoodie making him look singularly unthreatening. His confidence and demeanour, though, make him imposing - change the look and we may have something here. He tosses his robo-wolves at the good guys and they're dispatched as quickly as you'd expect. Then he unleashes a cloud of mind-ticks on Superman, but a recovered - and mind-ticked-off - Ulysses isn't having it, and he blasts the Machinist ... unleashing a killing blow.

Oh dear, Ulysses is one of those guys. A hero willing to too easily cross the line. That's him dead before the year is out.

After last issue's thoroughly decent issue, this was a bit of a disappointment. I liked the scene between Superman and Mrs Quinn, and the Machinist quickly grew on me, but really missed the Daily Planet staff. Having given us some good scenes with Lois, Perry and co in his first two issues, writer Geoff Johns doesn't use them at all here. Instead, Superman gets to interact mainly with Ulysses, who here adds 'creepy' to his existing character portfolio of  'naive' and 'dumb'. And I recoil at his every appearance, he looks so stupid. It's 2014 DC, do you know where your stylist is?

Good on Johns for having Mrs Quinn tell Superman that most people trust him, in contrast to what we've seen in the last couple of years, and I like the emphasis on the power of hope. And Neil's bed at the Quinn's home is just perfect.

There is one bit of subplottery, as the mystery person watching Superman from afar continues to watch him. We now see that he's not been talking to himself, but to a second mystery person behind a Ruddy Big Door. I wonder if that's the prison Darkseid's Daughter was being held in, in the pages of the much-missed Vibe title.

John Romita Jr's art is a tad pedestrian for most of the issue, and my eyes were continually drawn to the odd noses. Things improve massively once we reach the Scrap Yard, and Romita, inker Klaus Janson and colourist Laura Martin start firing on all cylinders. Suddenly there's mood, pace and power to spare.

The cover doesn't work: the Machinist's head is too big - I took it for a wall on the first several looks - while the Superman figure just looks weird. The horrible New 52 costume remains the biggest problem, but Romita needs to give Superman less leg, more bum. Plus, Ulysses. Just ... Ulysses.

There's no obvious conclusion date for the Ulysses storyline, though I expect the close will see him sacrificed to some extradimensional incursion, a panel or two of sad Superman, then regular visits to the Quinns until they're forgotten about. It's funny, growing up I loved the many Superboy stories in which he gained a super-friend, then they died, but Ulysses just isn't hitting my sweet spot. Annoying in personality and looks, he can't go soon enough. Is it a coincidence my spellcheck wants to replace 'Ulysses' with 'useless'?

Let's keep the Machinist, though. And if that means the hoodie stays, fine.