Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Brave and the Bold 13

I enjoyed the longform plotline of the first year, but boy, it's great to have a done-in-one, and a team-up we've never seen - Batman and the original Flash. Story and art are by Mark Waid and Jerry Ordway, and it's a masterclass in how to tell an engaging, attractive story in a single issue.

We open on action, with Jay Garrick showing up in Gotham to aid Batman against a killer android. Turns out said android has killed an old colleague of Jay's while furthering a scheme by Penguin and TO Morrow. Said baddies send improved androids, dressed up as samurais, to take down the in-their-way Bruce Wayne; Bruce and Jay have a great talk about their mentoring of younger heroes; and loads more.

Samurais? Yeah, I think, so that we can have a homage to a great cover from the Sixties (mind, it wasn't a great story, Reader-San.

This is a fun ride start to finish. It gives us action, it gives us characterisation, it's fun - and so what if it's not changing the DCU forever? It's one of the best reads this month.

The Flash 240

Hey, that's 20 years of Wally West. And hasn't he grown, moving from self-interested whiner to caring dad.

So how is his anniversary issue? Better than expected. The first two Tom Peyer-written issues were disappointing, dominated by Wally's not-very-believable money problems and the worst Flash villain since Colonel Computron back in the Barry Allen days. Said villain is Spin, who can somehow manifest people fears, if they're channelled via a news broadcast. Yup, even in comics that a pretty weird MO. Is he changing reality? Is he casting illusions? How does the gnarled old guy in a nappy (that's diaper to you US types) fit in?

Plus, the work of new artist Freddie Williams III wasn't looking as good as I'd seen it elsewhere. Here, though, FW has upped his game, having added a Scott Kolins sheen while retaining his own style. It looks lovely.

And what's more, there's less Spin to draw, as he takes a back seat to Grodd - when Grodd shows up, everyone takes a back seat. He's a big freaking gorilla with awesome mental powers - Spin can manipulate events all he wants, he ain't no cool gorilla. Grodd is pretty much a bystander here, mind, though he does have a moment with Jay Garrick and we see how even Wally rightly fears the vicious Grodd.

The truly new element this issue is the debut of Dark Side Club henchmen Brother Thought and Brother Drive, who are out to capture two Forever People - no, not the Kirby hippie gods, but post-Kirby super-kids who will plug into Grant Morrison's Final Crisis storyline. We're talking Jai and Irish, Speed Force sprogs of Wally and Linda West. They'll be taking them to the fight club seen in this week's Birds of Prey, 118. And when they do capture them, something interesting happens . . .

Tom Peyer looks to be finding his feet with the Fastest Man Alive, toning down the silly excesses of the previous issues and ramping up both action and intrigue. For the first time in ages, I can recommend an issue of the Flash. If you passed on it - and given the way this book's been of late, I'd not blame you - run to the comic shop now.


This is a historic issue. A big moment in DC Universe history . . .

. . . Zinda wears pants.

It's wrong, I tell you - Lady Blackhawk's is one of the best-looking outfits in comicdom and has been since the Silver Age. How can you beat a black leather flying jacket and mini skirt? You can't. Sure, it's impractical, in terms of heat and modesty, but the new trews are leather too. She's gonna be even hotter. Though less hot.

Other stuff. Oh yeah, this issue is a tie-in to Final Crisis. Sure, it doesn't say so, it says THE DARK SIDE CLUB above the logo, but that ties into Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers. And we know that's tying into FC. Said club pits drugged super-folk against one another, something we've seen about three times in DC mags in the last few years. It's getting tired. That said, the idea was used well here, as a seperately kidnapped Misfit and Black Alice are pitted against another in the arena. Black Alice - Lori - isn't keen on Misfit - Charlie - at the best of times, and here the anger is vent. It's not helped by a little revelation to Lori that is way too convenient. On the one hand, it might explain a thing or two; on the other, it's a tad soapy (or Shakespearean, depending on how you look at it). But it does make for a bittersweet ending, and set up future plotlines.

The Dark Siders I'm not so keen on. As it's the same folk we had in Grant's Mr Miracle mini series, basically urban avatars for the Apokoliptian gods' powers and personalities. Darkseid is a big bald gangster, Granny Goodness a roller derby coach tupe, Bernadeth runs a chem lab and so on. It's entertaining enough, but I'm rather Darkseided out at this point. The New Gods have been overexposed in the DCU over the past few years, and I can't see Newer Gods making me any happier if it's basically the same bunch but more 'street'.

Tony Bedard's script was a cracker, with a nice linear narrative line, while penciller Nicola Scott and inker Doug Hazlewood just get better and better as a team. In all, a very fine example of a done-in-one tying into a bigger picture. Terrific stuff.

Well, apart from Zinda's pants.

Justice Society of America 15

Now here's a mess of a cover. It shows Gog and the JSA having a ruckus in front of a Big Purple Head (write your own gag here), but I had to work to make it out. It's due to painter Alex Ross' colouring, mainly, a mass of pink hues. It's also the composition, with everyone bar Kingdom Come Superman having their head turned away from us. Apart from the BPH, but he's pretty much obscured by the reddish logo. I would have bought the alternative cover with Dale Eaglesham's more attractive offering, but it's a third more expensive at my shop so the heck with that!

So, can you judge this book by its cover? Happily not. The art inside, by Eaglesham (bar a page one KC flashback, showing Ross in his green period) is lovely, amply conveying the JSA's battle against the madman Gog. The story reads pretty, with lots of characterful dialogue showing how the team tackle the bad guy. What it doesn't tell us, though, is just how he can remain standing in the face of wholly half the team. Cos as far as I can see, his powers consist of energy blasting and speechifying. And yet the combined power of a Superman, Green Lantern and many, many more fails to faze him. Sure, he takes some blows, loses some flesh, but only the BPH that finally puts Gog down.

Bonkers. Really, I know how team books work - characters who in their own strips can take down gods must struggle a tad so the lesser-powered members can have their moment in the sun. But really, this fight has been going on since last issue. Even if Gog were stronger than the heroes combined, their ingenuity should have won through.

I feared we may lose a member or two this time out, but so far as I can see, everyone survived, even the newbies. That's excellent, as I want to get to know them. But I'd love to see them as part of a 'Good Fight' (this issue's clever title) against a goodly number of interesting foes, rather than co-plotter Ross's Mary Sue character.

Artistic moment of the issue? Eaglesham's double page spread showing a massive moment in the conflict.

Best dialogue? Sandman, saying of the BPH: 'It's thousands of years old, but it's not from our world. It's from ANOTHER!'

Justice League of America 21

Ooh look, this has one of Dan Didio's brand, spanking new Sightings banners across the top. That means it's important . . .

. . . OK, 'important' seems to equate to 'start grabbing readers for a crossover' with this being a Final Crisis prologue; which is fine, but why not just put Final Crisis And Possibly A Trinity Prologue on the cover? If you're gonna shill. shill well I say.

Anyway, this was an odd fish, but a tasty one. It's almost like the two story issues we've had of late, as the issue is basically two halves: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman chat about League business in the first part of the issue, Red Arrow and Hawkgirl fight obscure rubbish villain the Human Flame in the second, before obscure villain headed for adequateness, Libra, introduces his new Injustice League.

The so-called Trinity (oh I hate that term, they're not gods) getting together for a secret chinwag in a room built for them in hyperspace by John Stewart was a surprise - I thought the interminable first few issues of Brad Meltzer's run had established that contrary to their egotistical assumptions, they're NOT the League. I rather liked that while they were trying to decide on a JLA membership, Hal Jordan and co were out there putting one together. Yet here they are again, acting like concerned parents.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the sequence; writer Dwayne McDuffy did a sterling job showing us Superman and Batman point scoring in a friendly manner, with Wonder Woman mostly refereeing. The dialogue was a delight, with all three sounding spot on. We really saw how well they know each other - there's no point any of them lying to the others. And guest artists Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino did well with a very static sequence (I'd far rather Bruce, Diana and Clark had chatted while sorting out some disaster than just sat down in a hidey hole).

The reintroduction to the DCU of the Human Flame was well done, he's really not very impressive, is he? What Libra wants with him, I don't know - it's not like his fire can do much damage to J'onn J'onzz, given the fire weakness has long been established as a psychological one. Or could it be that the flame is so hot it would mess up JJ's psychic defences and bring on a cardiac or something. We'll see soon enough.

It was good to see Red Arrow showing what he can do apart from shoot straight, here using a car aerial as a weapon, but Kendra was not so much pretty bird as pretty useless, forgetting that her flight comes not from ruddy great wings but from an Nth metal belt. (How is 'Nth' pronounced, anyway? To me it sounds like straining to beat constipation.)

All in all, this was a thoroughly entertaining read. I still want to see what McDuffie can do with JLA when not constrained by crossovers, though.

Huntress Year One 1

While I'd still rather see a Huntress tale set in the now, rather than another origin, this was a really nicely done comic. There were some superb bits of dialogue and narration from Ivory Madison, while Cliff Richards' art popped.Basically, we had another look at Helena's crime family being offed, and saw that after her subsequent substitute family was arrested, she developed hunting skills to survive. Then she's forced on a path that will take her to Gotham, where she'd lived as a child.The vibe was similar to the Rose and Thorn series by Gail Simone and Adriana Melo. Anyone for a team-up?One thing I especially liked was young Helena 'losing' her Catholic faith, then regaining it with no explanation; none was necessary - she's a left-footer. That's how we are.

Batman Confidential 17

It seems ages since DC announced All-Star Batgirl and it's still not here. But should it turn up one day, I'll be amazed if it's more fun than this issue by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire.

Part one of five, The Cat and the Bat is a straightforward chase scene involving Batgirl, in the early days of her crimefighting career, and the curvaceously cunning Catwoman. Selina steals Commissioner Gordon's notebook from Gotham Library for reasons unknown and Babs is determined to get it back. Cue a catfight over the rooftops of Gotham, punctuated by the inner thoughts of both parties and some firecracker dialogue. Babs fears she's out of her league, but shows the pluckiness and ingenuity that saw her so quickly accepted into the Batman Family by Bruce, while Selina takes some convincing that this 'groupie' is indeed ones of his 'pets'. By the end of the issue Babs is on the horns of a dilemma never faced by a Gotham hero - challenged to throw her costume aside to follow Catwoman into a club for naked hedonists. So will Babs get her baps out? You can bet I'll be here next issue to find out.

And Maguire's art is as much a part of that decision as Nicieza's script. It's a lovely, fresh-looking job - there's an openness that made every page a delight. Which isn't to say there weren't standouts, such as the spread laid out around Babs and Selina climbing a building. And Maguire's trademark skill with facial expressions is present and correct, meaning you could easily get a lot of this story without the narrative.

But I'm glad the dialogue is there - why the heck hasn't DC given the ridiculously skilled Nicieza a monthly book? Trinity back-ups aren't enough!

Legion of Super-Heroes 41


This just gets better by the issue. Jim Shooter continues his run on scripting duties - or rather, pleasures, he's obviously enjoying himself - while new artist Francis Manapul shows up for the cover before letting former Ms Marvel and upcoming Wonder Woman artist Aaron Lopresti strut his fill-in stuff.

And together, they give us a wonderful comic, dense with story, rich in characterisation and lovely to look at.

The book opens with the continuation of the 'Projectra's a brat' subplot, with Saturn Girl and Timber Wolf proving better friends than she deserves (though there is a hint she's having second thoughts about nabbing the trinket after saving a jewellers). Then we get to the main storyline, Brainiac's desire to snoop on an autopsy of one of the mysterious alien destroyers, which he does, with a clever linkage of Invisible Kid and Saturn Girl. Subplots include the apparent betrayal of the Legion by recent wannabe M'rissey, more support from Saturn Girl's mother and the wonderful, charming Chameleon feeling left out.

There are lots of nice character moments, including Imra surprising me during an off-duty scene with Garth, Ayla worrying too much and the formation of the pre-approved Legion rejects of a few issues back into a new team.

Shooter's dialogue just gets better ("They think I'm a foob. Oh, when they need something,it's 'Cham, can you help us . . .' Otherwise they ignore me. I might as well be furniture. I CAN change into a really lovely settee, but that's beside the point . .. ') while Lopresti - aided by inker Matt Ryan and the lovely colours of Jo Smith, earns his Legion wings . . .

. . . or maybe that should be Flight Ring, as seen in a great surprise three-page bonus feature with art by Sanford Greene (it doesn't steal story pages, the comic is the usual price) that reveals fascinating fun facts about the Legion's cool tool.

I know Geoff Johns' adult Silver Age Legion is getting all the good notices, but this is truly good stuff.

Awww, this just brought a big old smile to my face. Silver Age nostalgia meets 21st century (what else?) action. The story has Lightning Lad (my, that fella just won't grow up!) dropping Superman off in the 21st century and staying for a reminisce in the Fortress of Solitude. They're sitting in the Interplanetary Zoo from the Silver Age, complete with Kryptonian Thought Beast, and swapping funny anecdotes. Batman turns up, and is understandably suspicious that this is the third version of the Legion he's met, and we're given actual issue numbers for the relevant comics (that's the Silver Age team in the JLA/JSA team-up from JLA 148-9; the Final Night meeting with the post-Zero Hour team; and the recent Brave & Bold run-in with the current rude kids).

So writer Geoff Johns wasn't kidding - everything is back in continuity, so far as he's concerned. This fact is underlined by the issue's mystery narrator - I guessed who that was pretty quickly (no, it's not the narrator from DC Universe 0!), but in case you're going to buy this book, I'll leave that a pleasure (hopefully, anyway) to be discovered. And if you're not buying the book, othe reviews will perhaps be less discreet!

The three heroes wind up in Gotham City, where the post-Countdown bodies of Karate Kid and Mono Maiden are found, courtesy of Mystery Narrator dumping them there. There's then a meeting with Legionnaire Star Boy aka Thom Kallor, currently the JSA's Starman, and a tad brain addled still. What's intriguing here is that, as I choose to read a comment from the narrator, he's not actually schizophrenic, as believed, just unable to deal with knowledge of the future given him by Dream Girl.

Then there's Thom's comment: 'But Karate Kid IS dead. AGAIN!' That's interesting, because the presence of Val Armorr in and beyond the Lightning Saga was pointed out by many readers as a sign that this ISN'T quite the original, Silver Age Legion grown up, as Val died in that continuity, courtesy of Nemesis Kid (well done NK, well done crispy Val). But now it seems that the apparent mistake was part of Geoff John's plan. I look forward to seeing where this goes next.

Thom also takes a step here towards becoming the Danny Blaine of the James Robinson Starman posited future, and gives Superman a piece of 'art' he's created, no doubt a clue to something or other.

The characterisation is great throughout - Batman and Lightning Lad are intense in different ways, while Superman loves both his friends but accepts that there's no point trying to make them into drinking buddies.

Guest artist Joe Prado does a great job, tapping into his inner Gary Frank while showing off his own talent. Shame about Lightning Lad's appalling curtains haircut - the rest of his look is great, especially the tattoo.

The issue is rounded off by a terrific Kevin Maguire cover - four books read and I think this will be my comic of the week.

In which the Terror Titans storyline continues. Having captured Kid Devil, Clock King and co set their sights on Miss Martian for reasons that will feed into the Final Crisis Dark Side Club storyline. Miss Martian isn't going down without a fight, though - especially as her evil alternate future self is around, spoiling for a scrap.

Well, it's a few months since Dan Didio began editing this book and if this is any example of where the book's tone will be now his influence is being felt, I'm out of here. Last time I looked this book featured kids aged about 16-18.

That being the case, aspirational reading habits mean its demographic - bar us old farts - skews a couple of years younger. So why on earth does this book begin with a confused Miss Martian waking up in a public toilet, about to give a blow job to some stranger?

That's too much. And the next scene has supervillain Clock King, another teenager, having a post-coital chat with supervillainess Disrupter. Have I suddenly hit the Age of Prude or is this a bit over the top in terms of sex and violence? Sure, when Terra was seen after sex with Deathstroke years ago it was shocking; it was meant to be, and it told us about his manipulations, and her vulnerability. It went to character. But the sexual scenes in this book were pure titillation and didn't sit well in a comic meant to be about teens hanging around for support and mentoring.

And I didn't like the violence, either! OK, the scenes in question were a fantasy sequence, with Miss Martian's alter ego showing how they could kill the Titans, but boy, they were nasty - Wonder Girl strangled by her lasso, Ravager skewered through the head, Kid Devil ripped in two by the horns, Blue Beetle having his spine ripped out - this was vile, disturbing stuff. And as with the sex, more extreme than ws necessary to get the point across.

And of course, all this is printed under a Comics Code Authority stamp. Suddenly I want to be the new Dr Wertham . . .