Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Flash #30 review

The new Flash creative team of writers Robert Venditti & Van Jensen, and penciller Brett Booth debut and straight away ... dismay me.

They open with a flashforward to five years in the future, when things are looking distinctly gloomy for our hero because, well, don't they always? I really don't care what's happening with Flash in a potential future. We've most of us read the X-Men's Days of Future Past, that was a brilliant story, original for comics, but the 'something's wrong with the future' bit has been done to death since then (not least in the X-Men comics themselves). There's no tension in this trampled trope - a defining event is changed, but the multiverse means that while the bad future is averted for the version of the characters we follow, it survives as a sliver of time. Which is depressing - the heroes win, but they lose.

Plus, aren't we already booked in for a Five Years Later trip during DC's upcoming September stunt? Either we're a bit premature, or Flash is getting a different potential future. Which makes as much sense as anything, I suppose.

Flash #30 instantly improves when it joins the Now. Central City is a mess after the events of Forever Evil, but on a personal level, things are looking up for Barry Allen. He's set to be reinstated as a full-time member of the crime lab after a temporary demotion. All he has to do is get the nod from sinisterly named police psychiatrist Rebecca Janus, who's seeing pretty much every law person in the city following the trauma of 'the Crime Syndicate's wave of terror'.

Girlfriend Patty Spivot gives Barry a new watch in a bid to improve his constant tardiness. Which seems ridiculous - she knows Barry has responsibilities both as a cop and a superhero, yet she's asking him to, basically, wear a nag on his wrist. By the end of the issue the movement is losing time, a clue to something or other - remember the unmotivated close-ups on a prison guard's watch in issue 24 that had me scratching my head mid-review
That never went anywhere, and that watch seemed to be losing time too.

There's no hero vs villain action this time, though we do see Flash good-deeding around the city, rebuilding both buildings and morale, in a well-worked sequence. 

The world's ugliest dog aside, it's a good-looking piece of storytelling, though the set-up is a tad confusing. So far as I can tell, Barry is skipping out on Dr Janus between words, but it starts with him seemingly looking at himself through the window. As a Flash fan of >cough< years standing, I should be able to 'read' visuals involving Flash's speed trails, but reminding me about time-travelling Flashes at the start of this issue caused me to wonder if another version of Barry was popping up.

That's a rare negative in Booth's art, which is inked by the always strong Norm Rapmund, coloured by Andrew Dalhouse and lettered by Dezi Sienty. I love how hard they've worked on Central City, right down to giving us buildings reflecting other buildings. I especially like their dapper Barry, while Flash is very much on New 52 model - constantly set to be strangled by his dangling electricity. Please DC, the Flash, with his after-images and speed trail, doesn't need another special effect, especially one that's nothing more than visual migraine.

Booth also gives is a decent Patty Spivot, while Jensen and Venditti write her puzzling relationship with Barry well - she's passive aggressive, he's apparently too lazy to pursue Iris West, who actually makes him smile. I'm rather amazed, too, that DC are allowing Barry and Patty to live together, given the edict against tying heroes down in marriage-style relationships. It seems that either Aquaman and Animal Man aren't the only exceptions, or Dan DiDio hasn't actually noticed. 

There's a nice nod towards the original, Silver Age Barry's death in Crisis in Infinite Earths which may be the creative team's way of saying they're going their own way. We shall see.

We have a man with a top hat in one frame, which had me wondering if DC's sole topper fan, the Shade, was on his way. I'd show you the panel, but you'd likely mock me.

I like Booth, Rapmund and Dalhouse's cover, which tells a little story. 

The biggest talking point of this issue will likely be the debut of the New 52 Wally West. It's purely a technical deal, as this Wally is dead both in the gloomy flashforward that opens the issue, and the gloomier flashfurtherforward that closes it. All we know is that Wally's no longer a white guy, he's black because that's how he's been cast on the upcoming TV series. 

Overall, an intriguing, solid 'first issue'. It's not as exciting story-wise or visually as the immediate fill-in issues by Brian Buccellato, Patrick Zircher and Agustin Padilla, but certainly good enough to keep me reading.

But will I be reading 'five years from now'? Find out in September.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Justice League United #0 review

I haven't got a girlfriend in Canada, but I do have a superhero team - Justice League United. From the maple leaf In the logo, to the final page shot of one of the most striking members, I loved this book. It has everything I want in a JLA series - a rich mix of characters, a storyline with scope, striking art and huge potential.  

Starting fashionably in media res, we join Animal Man, Stargirl, Green Arrow, Supergirl, Martian Manhunter and Adam Strange invading an alien lab where dodging dealings are a-doing. They're there after anthropologist Strange approached Animal Man and Stargirl at a public appearance in Toronto three days earlier - it seems that post Forever Evil the Justice League has fallen on tough times - to plead for help. His grad student and girlfriend Alanna Lewis has been spirited away by a beam of light, and he doesn't know what to do. 

Of course, the heroes go with him to the site of the disappearance, and excitement and mystery ensues. 

Meanwhile, on Canada's Moose Factory Island, Miiyahbin Marten proves she's not your average teenager when dark, mystical forces invade her home.  

By the close of this unnecessarily numbered zero issue, we've not caught up to the beginning, but we have gotten a nice chunk of story, some great interaction between the heroes (Animal Man, especially, benefits from escaping his recently ended series, where it was all-misery, all the time), an unexpected cameo and the kind of fun, anything can happen superhero vibe most DC books have been missing since 2011's line-wide relaunch. 

Jeff LeMire's script is his most enjoyable DC work since he was writing the adventures of Superboy pre-New 52. It's obvious he loves old DC lore and he looks set to provide some rollicking League adventures. The much-trumpeted new character Equinox - that's the aforementioned Miiyahbin's superhero name - makes a fine impression, and I can't wait to see her meet the team. 

Supergirl, while in the opening scene, hasn't shown up by the end of the extended flashback, which is a shame as I was hoping for clues as to how her Red Lantern journey ends. It's almost as if DC is trying not to ruin anything here ... Seriously though, interviews with Lemire have me worried about how he's going to approach Kara's moods and I could do with some on-panel reassurance. 

But that's something for the future; for now, Lemire has aced it, producing a script that's just flat-out fun - he even nods to the old days of DC by including the Encyclopaedia Galactica of Legion yore. 

Mike McKone's artwork is a joy to behold, his layouts story-friendly, the sense of place commendable, the figure and character work strong. First Nation heroine Mii - happily, we're allowed to call Equinox that for short - has a wonderfully non-cliched look, and given that we know her powers change with the seasons, I'm keen to see whether her clothes alter hue too. 

Oh look at me, speculating on trivia! That's a good sign. Mind, I also have a complaint that some would call trivial - Alanna's look. In DC's laudable attempts to provide a diverse range of characters, Alanna's appearance has changed along with her background. And while the new Alanna is a good design, the original space heroine is one of my favourite characters of the Silver Age, and now she looks most unlike herself. And I'm pretty sure I'd be saying the same thing if I'd lived a lifetime with the new Alanna, and suddenly she was a sleek, jetpack gal. If you're bringing in classic characters, don't make them unrecognisable - add diversity as new folk are introduced, a la Mii. 

No complaints about Alanna's character, though - she's as plucky and bright as ever she was. 

The colours by Marcelo Maiolo are great, naturalistic for Canada, eye-popping in the otherworldly scenes. And Carlos M Mangual's letters are clear as day; I don't know if he's responsible for the story title lettering, as it could well date from when this book was going to be Justice League Canada, but I love it, Sixties-style font and all. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Lemire gets his poutine reference out of the way on page 8. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Justice League #29 review

When DC launched in 2011 Justice League was the first title off the blocks. Now here's the 29th issue as the rest of the original New 52 survivors are about to hit #31. That's what being knee-deep in crossovers gets you. 

Never mind, #29 is here, and with it the new Metal Men's battle against the Grid creature coordinating the Crime Syndicate's takeover of Earth. They do pretty well, especially when, perhaps too conveniently, the technically brainless bunch face a bunch of mostly telepathic villains. 

Cyborg, meanwhile, confronts the Grid, his former body taken over by a sentient computer virus. It's a bit of a cliche that they wind up battling on a digital plane, but the encounter does give Vic Stone his best showcase since he was catapulted into League membership with #1. 

The Superman-symbol echo isn't accidental, as writer Geoff Johns and penciller Doug Mahnke make the point that former Teen Titan Cyborg deserves his place in the big leagues. 

The revamped Metal Men are getting there in terms of personalities, but I die a little every time I see their new looks - they're so darn lumpy. Yeah, the Silver Age designs are half a century old, but you know what? The Mona Lisa is centuries old, and no one's demanding an update on that. I'm exaggerating for effect, obviously, but there's a reason Ross Andru and Mike Esposito's sleek designs lasted for decades - they're perfect for the characters in terms of personality and purpose. Every bit of tinkering - this isn't the first time they've been tweaked, but it's the biggest redesign we've seen - wrecks the Metal Men a little more. 


Honestly, does anyone think the latest look has the simple style of the old versions, the functionality, charisma, charm?

And as for the now-teenage Doc Magnus, Johns writes him as far too touchy feely - he should love his robots (not 'androids'!) but not in a madly demonstrative way. And give him his pipe back, for goodness sake!

There are some good moments from Johns, I like that the Metal Men are unambiguous good guys, he writes the melodramatically amusing Mercury especially well, and it's good to finally see some movement on this Forever Evil crossover. The arrival of Steve Trevor and Killer Frost is appreciated, hopefully giving a boost to the excellent, just-finished Forever Evil: ARGUS mini-series. It's rather boring that the Grid has the same Pinocchio complex as every other robot in fiction, as he seemed to be set up to go the other way. I'd rather have the Grid defeated via some less-obvious Achilles' heel. 

Penciller Doug Mahnke produces first-rate superhero art, inked by Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne. While I don't like the character redesigns, they do well with what they've been given - Will is nicely animated, Cyborg is strong and resolute, and the action moments look great. Courtesy of colourist Rod Reis we get some great rain as he keep the pages popping. And Dezi Sienty's lettering is as sharp as ever. 

I see the thematic idea behind Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis's cover, but I'd prefer the Metal Men to be the Metal Men. And why is Platinum/Wonder Woman having a little sit down?

Overall, a very competent comic, keeping the wheels spinning, hitting the requisite storyline beats ... but surely the series that was meant to lead the DC line should be something more? I appreciate the world building (though Happy Harbor' residents won't) and reintroduction of versions of the Metal Men and, earlier, Doom Patrol, but I'm not wowed. There are no amazing moments, no original ideas. I'd love to see a writer such as Mighty Avengers' Al Ewing have a crack at this book, as he's a whiz at finding fresh things to do with vintage properties, combining characterisations and power sets to unexpected effect. 

Right now, though, I'd be happy for Forever Evil to be done. And Cyborg seems to agree. 

Batman and Wonder Woman #30

Batman's quest to rescue the stolen body of son Damian from Ra's al-Ghul takes him to Paradise Island, where the League of Assassins' head believes a Lazarus pit lies. Before he confronts Ra's, however, Batman must get past man-hating Amazon Aleka ...

Until a few years ago, 'man-hating Amazon' wouldn't have been a tautological phrase when applied to the DC Universe. Now, not so much. Wonder Woman's sisters may be back from their time as serpents, but they're still a cold-blooded bunch. They seem not to have changed at all since their time raiding ships, seducing sailors and slaughtering them. I realise that Diana is meant to be the best of the Themiscyrans, but it sticks in my craw that the distance between them is quite so great. 

There is one Amazon here who, while dismissive and mildly contemptuous of Batman, is at least entertaining - the Oracle who points our heroes to the possible pit. This nutty woman, I'd like to see meet, assess, and annoy all DC's icons. 

Diana is admirable throughout, lending Batman physical and emotional strength as they learn the secret of the Cavern of Neekta. There's even a twinkling of humour - if this issue reflects who she's becoming in her own book, I may yet return to it. 

Ra's al-Ghul is a hoot, ever the melodramatic Bond villain, hissing his eeeeevil plans and murdering minions left and right. The Damian plot isn't resolved - I get the feeling the 'Batman and...' sequence is a placeholder, replacing whatever writer Peter J Tomasi's plans involving the suddenly absent Carrie Kelly were. While Damian may be coming back to life - spoilers! - I don't see it happening here. But I do see constantly diverting, well-done superhero team-ups, and they're set to continue next time as the Caped Crusader meets Frankenstein once more. 

I fully expect penciller Patrick Gleason, and inker Mick Gray, to return too, given their consistency in meeting schedules. Their presence on this strip is much appreciated, it's going to be a good-looking collection. Their grim Batman stays on the right side of the parodic fence, Ra's does indeed look like a mad-eyed demon and Diana is ever the impressive warrior - and for once actually looks a little Greek. 

Aleka is rather the tank, reminding me of the unfortunately named Mongal of prior years. There's a classic bullets and bracelets - well, tentacles and bracelets - image amid the well-choreographed fight scene, fun with man bats and a splendid monster. Experiments in perspective don't always work - there's a weirdly foreshortened Diana on the credits spread - but the overall stripwork is likably dynamic. It's all nicely coloured by John Kalisz and lettered by Carlos M Mangual, with a striking 'auditioning for a tarot deck' cover by Gleason, Gray and Kalisz. 

With settings far from the unrelenting grimness of Gotham City, and stories loony even for Batman, this comic is a refreshing nugget of fast-paced fun in a sometimes samey DC line. 

And is this a sneaky tribute to DC's shortlived Seventies humour title?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Shadow falls on ... Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle

To the awfully titled, but awfully fun, Something Bloody Awesome convention at Edinburgh University Students' Union. There were some great old comics on sale, lots of cosplayers on view and, of course, panel talks to attend. 

The highlight was seeing classic Batman creative team Alan Grant, above left, and Norm Breyfogle, right, talking about their runs on Detective Comics, Batman and Shadow of the Bat, during which time the writer and artist co-created such now classic characters as The Ventriloquist, Anarky and Mr Zsasz. The teaming was so popular that Shadow of the Bat - the first new Batman ongoing for decades - was created to showcase their take on the Gotham Guardian. 

It was intriguing to hear that Grant so disliked the ever-growing Batman Family that he proposed a story in which a fair few were wiped out. Unsurprisingly, the story was rejected, so Grant simply kept supporting characters out of the book so far as he could, using the likes of Lucius Fox once a year or so. 

Their love of Batman was obvious; Grant wasn't a fan of Robin, though, and would put Tim Drake in stories occasionally only to please Editorial and the fans - among them, Breyfogle. Apparently today was the first time each learned they could have been reunited soon after their Batman partnership ended, each being asked separately to work on the new Robin ongoing. Both refused - Grant because of the aforementioned preference for solo Batman, and Breyfogle because he had a creator-owned deal elsewhere. 

Grant's departure from the Batman books was less pleasant - sacked via fax at 1am on a Saturday morning along with fellow Bat-writers Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench. After ill-health saw longtime editor Denny O'Neil hand over a measure of control to his assistants, Grant, Dixon and Moench found themselves on the outs so far as contributing to the direction of the books was concerned. They turned up to one of the regular creative summits to find their ideas unwanted, the next big crossover, Cataclysm, mapped out. Despite their lack of enthusiasm, the writers went along with the storyline and did their best. When Cataclysm proved a sales success, the assistants took that as proof their steamroller tactics were valid. The attitude was that so long as they chose the direction of the books, it didn't matter who was writing - Grant, Moench and Dixon were out.  

Grant and Breyfogle did reunite on a shortlived Anarky book, which was hobbled by editorial insistence on the inclusion of such super-powered types as the Justice League and Anarky, taking Anarky out of his natural milieu. And the series was cancelled before Grant could reveal that nope, the Joker wasn't his father. 

Years later in 2011, Grant was asked back again, along with Breyfogle, for DC's Retroactive promotion. They produced a deliberately throwback 'Nineties' issue which showed the old synergy survived. The issue was well received, the pair submitted proposals for more new material to DC - and are still awaiting a response. Not even a polite 'no thanks' - a shameful way to treat creators who've made a lot of money for you over the years. A dozen or so Batman titles and no room for a couple of hugely talented veterans who've proved time and again that they can produce timeless superhero stories that actually build the Batman mythos? DC are missing a trick, and shortchanging fans. 

It's not as if the sanguine Grant and charming Breyfogle are down on their luck veterans desperate for work, with the former still creating fresh scripts for 2000AD and working on such other projects as Scott vs Zombies, and Breyfogle one of the top artists at Archie Comics. The pair could bring a blast of fresh air to the Batman books, as they did 20 years ago - let's hope someone at DC eventually realises that. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Superboy #30 review

Superboy gets another new creative team in the shape of writer Aaron Kuder and artist Jorge Jimenez Moreno and that's the only reason I'm back buying this frustrating series. Kuder - currently wowing fans with his art on Superman over in Action Comics - showed promise as a writer with last year's Parasite special. And Jimenez helped make a Kid Flash solo strip worth a second look.

As it happens, they make a good overall impression. We're still knee deep in the Jon Lane Kent storyline (evil Superboy wants to destroy all metahumans), but there's a slight shift in tone. Whereas the book under Marv Wolfman tried to make JLK's nastiness attractive, Kuder apparently hates him as much as I do, wrongfooting him at every turn. I can almost see a comedy hook coming JLK's way to drag him off to comics limbo.

Regular Superboy Kon - supposedly lost forever - is referenced several times here, giving me hope that he's about to fly in to save the day.

As for the specifics of the script, JLK arrives in the 21st century from the 31st, planning his attack on the superhero community, but is too weak to go through with it. His physiology is rather knackered. A Times Square crowd go from being excited to see him, to angry mob.

This is the book's one big misstep. Bit by bit - not least in Action Comics - DC has been moving away from the New 52 default position of Superman being hated and feared blah de blah. It's a ridiculous role for Superman to have thrust upon him - if there's one superhero you can trust, it's Superman. Even the troubled Supergirl has only ever acted to protect the people of Earth.

Other than that, it's goodness all the way. A new version of the Guardian shows up to help 'the magically appearing Superboy'. JLK, as is his nature, is hostile, even though he can read Guardian as one of the humans he hopes to 'save' from the metas. He's too weak, though, to kill Guardian, and is taken to a Star Labs research facility, where the hero's colleagues, a characterful batch of boffins, offer to help him. While JLK is unconscious, tests reveal he's not Kon, meaning there's no point in this Superboy adopting his usual act. 

Having first been confused at waking up in what to him is a utopia - no metahumans oppressing the populace - now he's totally thrown by the idea that anyone should wish to help him out of sheer benevolence and drops his guard, revealing that his name is Jon. He goes for six whole pages without scheming to hurt anyone, some kind of record. But while he's not plotting, it seems his mind is plotting against him ...

Kuder gets major points for toning JLK down a tad, and the new characters are welcome - actual decent people. Plus, as Martin Alexander Gray, how could I not love this fella? 

I'd be delighted were HAG to become the go-to scientist in the Superman books, because he looks just how a superbrain should look, shambling and beardy. He has a trustworthy vibe other DC science folk >cough Shay Veritas cough< lack.

His youthful gang have promise too, with some nice humour between the clever kids and the Guardian. Hopefully they can be Kon's cast when he returns.

The script is almost a home run from Kuder, who seems to enjoy words as much as he does visuals - the simple, two-word line 'Irony abounds' speaks volumes.

And while it'd be great to have Kuder drawing his own scripts, in no way is Moreno (Jorge Jimenez has grown an extra surname, it seems) second best. He really knows how to lay out a comic, telling the story with intelligence and style. His characters have a vibrancy, and Moreno isn't afraid to go big on the emotion. Particularly good is the contrast between Guardian's openness, almost innocence, and JLK's tense distrust of, well, everybody. 

A flashback to JLK's childhood, which saw him raised a boy soldier by the awful Harvest, is really well done - just look at JLK in that final panel. One smart, well rendered image tells us everything about JLK's world. This kid, I feel sorry for. 

The only image I hate is the opening page, a 'future memory' showing JLK murdering Aquaman, though it does convey the horror that is this Superboy. Still, these guys used to share a comic - sort of.

Tanya and Richard Horie, on colour art, and Carlos M Mangual, on letter art, help the visuals sing and bring the script to life. I'm not keen on Ken Lashley and Michael Atiyeh's decently done cover, which is utterly generic so far as this series goes - it could have appeared on any issue, and likely has appeared on one. I hope Kuder finds time to take on the regular assignment.

So, a very promising debut from Kuder and Moreno. All we need now is JLK sent on his merry way and Kon back and over his various identity crises, and all will be well with the world.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Batman Eternal #1 review

Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon are tackling the latest schemes of Professor Pyg, the madman who turns humans into 'dollotrons'. Pursuing a member of his gang, Gordon makes a decision that has catastrophic consequences.

That's the condensed action in the first issue of Batman Eternal, DC's latest attempt to get readers to the comic shop weekly. As debuts go, it's efficient - a new cop at Gotham PD becomes our point of view character, introducing us to the city and colleagues Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer and the oddly named Major J Forbes. 

Said newbie is Jason Bard, a name which will have longtime DC readers waiting for a certain something to happen. Unlike the original and later version, this bespectacled Bard is positioned as a younger version of Gordon, as one panel makes particularly clear. 

The obvious thing is that good cop Bard will fight like crazy to clear Gordon of his apparent wrongdoing, so let's hope the writers subvert every expectation we have - make him the mystery man behind Gotham's troubles, perhaps.

Mystery man? Indeedy. This issue is framed by a sequence headed 'The end', which sees Batman helpless amid an apocalyptic scenario. Just another week in Gotham, really ...

Whoever's mocking the hero knows his identity, making Thomas Wayne Jr or Tommy Elliot likely candidates, so Bard would be a decent surprise.

The demands of a weekly mean Batman Eternal has a bunch of writers. Scott Snyder, of the marquee Batman monthly, is shaping the overall arc, with other writers scripting runs of issues. James Tynion IV shares the top credit with Snyder this time, hinting that the main part of the script is his; it's good work, with an especially creepy Pyg making the biggest impression, and hinting at what's going to happen with Gordon. Batman uncharacteristically going down the 'This is the part where I could make a joke...' route makes for a clunky moment, but doesn't detract hugely from the fast-paced narrative.

Jason Fabok's artwork is a huge plus. His Gotham looks great, detailed and real, while his characters are familiar without seeming tired. An aircraft museum set-piece, involving a biplane and cyborg sows, is excitingly well choreographed, and Gordon's final mixture of despair and stoicism well described. There's a Brian Bolland feeling to the finish that appeals to me.

There's a disconnect in the post-prologue opening, as Bard calls his mother and tells her how Gordon described the city to him. It's a fascinating picture, more poetic than you'd expect from grizzled Gordon, but nicely ambitious. 

Unfortunately, colourist Brad Anderson either didn't get the note, or more likely - because he's a talented artist - realised that the sweeping skyline wouldn't allow him to match the literal highlights. As it is, we get an impressive streetscape from Fabok, hitting all the right visual beats and existing on more than one plane, but none of the magic described. One to tweak for the collected and digital editions?

And Nick J Napolitano's lettering is as sharp as ever, though a wee typo has slipped past editors Katie Kubert and Mark Doyle - again, something to fix for reprints (and I won't spoil the fun by pointing out where it comes - make those editors work!).

Fabok's cover has a good idea behind it - Batman and the allies he's taken under his wing - but Red Robin and co get rather lost under the furniture. Losing the cliched gargoyle and lowering the main image would help. And do we really need a bloodied Batman on the front? On the positive side, colourist Tomeu Morey's lighting work is first rate, and the overall effect powerful.

I wasn't blown away by this debut, but I'm not really the target market. One or two great Bat-books are enough for me, and I'm getting that with Snyder and Greg Capullo's Batman, and Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's Batman and Robin. But a weekly needs a few issues to find its rhythm, show its shape, so I'll give this a month, maybe two, to make a big impression. There's a lot of talent involved, so perhaps I'll be persuaded.

DC Digital - Adventures of Superman #50 review

In the here today, renumbered tomorrow comic book market of 2014, a 50th issue is worth noting. A great 50th issue is something to celebrate

I may yet throw a parade for this done-in-one tale by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro - it's the most amusing, charming story of Superman and Lois Lane in years.

Not coincidentally, 'Mystery Box' isn't set in the current, New 52 continuity, where an armour-clad Man of Steel snogs kill-crazy Wonder Woman while Lois keeps house with poor, neglected Jonathan Carroll. Nope, this is classic Superman, with a kiss-curled hero rocking the red trunks as he romances Lois.

Which isn't to say Diana isn't around ...

A quick recap - quick, because this is a breezy done-in-one, 20 sides of digital delight, and I don't wish to ruin the fun.

Because fun is what this comic is, from the opening, which sees America's favourite newshen handling an assignment in her own wacky way, to the close, as Lois and Superman celebrate St Valentine's Day in a meeting of hearts and minds. The story sees Superman, knowing Lois has something for him, trying to decide on a gift for his gal. He chews things over with Justice League pals Batman, Aquaman and, yes, Wonder Woman as they go about their daily heroic business.

I love seeing the superheroes - my heroes - as friends; there's not a whiff of tension between these guys, just warmth and respect. DeConnick's dry humour shines through, and suits the Leaguers, while De Landro's classically beautiful, winsomely witty linework brings an elegance to the action. 

A further level of awesome is brought by the colours of Matthew Wilson, who straddles the line between naturalism and 'pop' with style. Add in the emphatically excellent letters of Wes Abbott and you have a gem of a story, one that would go straight into DC's Year's Best Comics Stories digest were such a thing still around (and that's a hint, DC!).

Kelly Sue DeConnick should be writing a regular title for DC. A Lois Lane series showing us the many moods of Metropolis' top reporter. A Supergirl strip, following on from her teasingly brief run which closed out the pre-New 52 series. Or a classic, all-ages Justice League strip - call it Super Friends 2014 and make it a digital weekly. 

Valentine De Landro should be invited to draw any of these projects, maybe even asked what he'd like to draw. One thing I'd love Adventures of Superman's savvy editor Alex Antone to do right now, though, is commission this issue's creative team to produce a three-part Christmas tale guest starring the Justice League. I have no doubt they'd bring the cheer.

Because that's what they've done here, given us 99 smiles for a scant 99 cents. Now that's a gift worth getting. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

Detective Comics #30 review

Writer/illustrator Francis Manapul and writer/colourist Brian Buccellato begin their run by introducing a new woman into Bruce Wayne's life. Elena Aguila is smart, attractive, a suitable new business partner for Bruce and perhaps eventually, more. She arrives on page 1. Guess what happens to her by page 22?

And it was all going so well ... There was a new social project for Bruce Wayne to get behind, a fresh version of an old villain, some fine interplay between Bruce and Alfred and a very cute sleeping dog. So it's a shame that health campaigner Elena's story goes in a rather predictable direction.

I'm giving rather a lot away, but I'm disappointed that Manapul and Buccellato should fall back on fridging in their first issue. It's not like Batman needs further motivation to do the right thing. He hasn't a slot for Elena's daughter Annie, a sassy speedway whiz, to become a Robin. So couldn't Elena hang around awhile, join the cast rather than the cliches?

I may be judging too soon, perhaps Elena will survive. Or return via a Lazarus pit. Become a ghost. Who knows, maybe the Icarus drug she's apparently been dosed with will transform her, make her an important Gotham City presence. But I doubt it.

The new villain is the Squid, who's out to swamp the city streets with Icarus. His idiot brother Jonny's attempt to rip him off is foiled by Batman but Jonny escapes back into the arms of his unusually forgiving brother

Another new player, unnamed, is not happy that Bruce is throwing his lot in with the Aguila Healthy Families Initiative rather than backing a lucrative waterfront development. He tells his pet congressman to pile on some pressure.

Bruce, meanwhile, is busying himself tricking out lost son Damian's beloved motorbike, while Alfred is checking out Elena's credentials.

Visually, Manapul and Buccellato impress with their handling of Batman, once they get the inevitable sole-in-your-face kick out of the way. Their dark knight is a spooky figure, a blur as he swoops across the page. They write him well too, giving public Bruce the dry sense of humour you'd hope a playboy-type would have, and private Bruce the sorrow appropriate for a grieving father.

The dialogue looks a tad heavy on the page at times, but I like a good conversation; it makes the story meatier, and the comic - $3.99 for just 22 pages - feel a little more worth the spend. The gangster-speak sounds convincing, in that I barely know what they're on about (and as a Hawkeye reader I am so sick of 'bro'), and the Bruce/Alfred exchanges are excellent. The scene transitions are a little bumpy, though - some time stamps would be helpful.

It's the art that truly grabs the attention - the visuals are less about speed than the creators' popular Flash run (in which they introduced Icarus), and more about mood. They create a convincing Gotham for Batman to inhabit, and pace out the action well. The Squid isn't in the least arresting visually, but neither was the Eighties guy; perhaps that will change. Given how many of the big name villains look set to be tied up in the coming Batman: Eternal weekly, kudos to Manapul and Buccellato for actually finding someone to use, someone they can develop into a credible threat. The range of facial expressions could be larger - the default seems to be a sideways pensive look - but hopefully Manapul will get there. Buccellato's colour choices are wholly Gotham-appropriate, and he's especially good at lighting a scene. The overall visual impression is great, and refreshingly far from the current DC house style.

DC are letting Manapul create the whole cover, from composition to execution to logo and lettering placement, and the experiment pretty much pays off. There's too much stacking of image components, and it looks as if there's been an explosion in a font box, but the boldly coloured Saul Bass homage is sharp and makes Detective Comics look different from the 57 varieties of Bat-book released each month.

So, not a perfect first issue, but still an above average superhero book, and one with bags of potential for improvement. Manapul and Buccellato are talented, they're hungry to make their mark, and they've been given a marquee character to play with. I think good times are ahead.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Stormwatch #30 review

It's a day in the life of Stormwatch. The real Stormwatch, the team who bumped the first New 52 version out of continuity having been themselves despatched. Where, I don't know, as I jumped off the book around the time they arrived with writer Jim Starlin. Throwing out the entire cast of an under-performing book was a kick in the teeth to those of us who actually liked it.

I'm apparently not the only one who jumped ship, as the book is being cancelled as of this issue. As is my habit, I've jumped back on an outgoing series to see how things wrap and it is my bittersweet duty to report that this comic is sheer pleasure from beginning to end.

(I almost wrote 'magnificent' but have decided to dial down what may seem like hyperbole, in case you stop listening; but secretly I know - Stormwatch #30 is magnificent.)

Starlin has left the building - or perhaps that should be the Carrier, the renamed and revamped Eye of the Storm. Sterling Gates steps in to close proceedings and gives us a day in the life issue. The returned members are getting back down to business - saving Earth from extraterrestrial incursions on the QT and checking their defences are up to scratch. The issue begins with old married couple Midnighter and Apollo smashing an alien nest and the Engineer getting to know the carrier in her unique way. 

It's not all work, with Jack Hawksmoor taking a much-needed break and the 14-year-old Jenny Quantum on her first date.

Jenny being a superhero, the date is curtailed by an emergency, one that reminds us just what the DC Universe should be - big and bonkers and endlessly entertaining.

There follows a fun sequence as Stormwatch literally fights City Hall - Gates' gag, not mine, sadly. Jenny narrates, reintroducing her 'adopted family' and reminding us of their abilities even as we see them used more efficiently than ever. I love the notion of Midnighter as 'fight architect' and there's a neat wrinkle with Jenny's 'century baby' nature which I believe is new. Former member the Projectionist also comes back into play, demonstrating her massive usefulness to a clandestine organisation. 

Gates ties the book into current DC continuity, showcases the personalities of the players - who knew Angie was a trophy hunter? - and positions the team for the future. Cleverly, he explains why Stormwatch may disappear from the DC landscape, while producing a fantastic pilot for a new series. This is what Stormwatch do, this is who they are ... and this is why you really want to see more of them. 

Many a writer would have knocked up a fill-in to close a series with which they had no particular link, but Gates brings the equivalent of a two-issue story. There's a huge amount going on, as Gates - a madly talented, committed writer who deserves to be assigned a sure-thing series by DC, a Bat, GL or Super-book - goes all out to give the reader more than value for money. 

Partnering Gates is Jeremy Roberts, who won DC's Harley Quinn Talent Contest and, on this showing, thoroughly deserved to. As he choreographs the characters' final fling with pencils and inks, his crisp lines and intelligent storytelling make every page a treat. 

I particularly like his Jenny Quantum, who resembles a young Donna Troy, and his way with giant buildings reminds me of the kind of menaces the original Doom Patrol would face. Crucially, Roberts isn't overwhelmed by the many-panelled pages Gates' script requires.

The well-judged. beautifully applied colours of Tanya and Richard Horie also add to the mouth-watering picture, while letterer Rob Leigh gets a chance to shine with the likes of Jenny's Dear Diary sequence.

Roberts also provides the outstanding cover, even colouring it - if DC editors don't have an assignment in place for this fella they need their collective heads examining.

And if the higher-ups - no, not, the Shadow Council, Dan Didio and co - have anything about them, the minute they saw this book completed they'll have ordered a special from the same creative team, followed by a full-on relaunch. Call it Volume 2, call it .Now, whatever ... just don't let one-time Wildstorm winners Stormwatch miss their best chance to become a hit at DC.