Thursday, 26 June 2008

YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS 6: HAWKEYE

Oh boo hiss, here's a missed opportunity. The final issue of this mini series focuses on Kate Bishop, who took up the mantle of Clint Barton when he was temporarily disassembled. Now he's back, and he decides to test her in an archery contest. If he outshoots her, he gets back his name and bow - handed to Kate by Captain America, prior to his go through Death's revolving door.

And he does outshoot her. Yay! No more Ronin. Clint can return as the original and best Hawkeye, freeing Kate up to become her own heroine.

But he doesn't; it turns out he's still testing her, and when she shows the gumption to turn up at Avengers HQ to nick back the bow, Clint pats her on the back, bestows the bow and gives her a photo of Cap's Crazy Quartet.

I repeat; boo hiss. This was the perfect chance to give Clint his real identity back - no one believes he was ever meant to be Ronin, certainly there's no in-story meeting that makes sense.

Oh well, that apart this was a nice comic - not as good as some of the other issues in this series, but a good read. Writer Matt Fraction gave us some nice characterisation. Kate was the same solid young woman created by Allan Heinberg, but more recognisably a teenager - that is, a bit stupid, emotionally. And that's good, because it allows for a bit of soapy romance with Eli the Patriot. It was also good that she wasn't shown to be as skilled as Hawkeye - no one should be as good as Hawkeye at being Hawkeye.

The spotlight also falls on fellow Young Avenger Tommy Shepherd aka Speed, who takes Kate for a spot of underage drinking and comes up with the plan to nick back the bow. I'd actually forgotten he'd spent some time in Juvenile Hall, we've seen him so infrequently, and it was good to be reminded that he's not a straightforward fellow.

The big bonus here is art from Alan Davis and Mark Farmer, one of the most confident teams in comics. Kate is strong yet vulnerable; Clint is buff and caring; Eli is proud and confused, and so on. There's not much in the way of traditonal superhero action, but the figures are so expressive that I barely noticed and when there's emotional drama, Davis and Farmer make it sing.

So, that's Young Avengers Presents over with. When can we have an ongoing series?

Mighty Avengers 15 - review

A couple of months ago we learned that Yellowjacket had been replaced by a shape-shifting, secretively invading Skrull. Eek. Here's how it happened . . .

Hank Pym had a barny with Jan, she walked out, he shagged a supposed student, she wormed all his secrets out of him, bashed him with big green fists and took his place in superhero society.

So really, it's pretty much what we'd have surmised - someone duped Hank. Really, this wasn't worth a whole issue. All it did was make Hank look a git - the favourite hobby of Marvel writers - when he treats his Waspish wife badly, and an idiot, in being taken in by a young woman asking, in her own words, 'a billion questions' about the Avengers. All righty, so men can be flattered by women, but it seems this isn't a one-night stand, but a fling . . . we're meant to believe that one of the smartest members of the Marvel universe can't spot when he's being set up, over several days. Even if we go along with the idea that Hank hasn't a great deal of emotional intelligence, he's well familiar with alien spy techniques. Heck, writer Brian Michael Bendis slaps us in the face with this information in a long scene which looks set to culminate in his unmasking his unnamed Skrull fatale.

In not following through, he's trying far too hard to be clever, and succeeds only in making Hank seem even dumber than he already does, and foregrounding his role as writer - the scene is unmistakably pleased with itself.

In the interests of fairness, Jan gets to act like a drunken shrew (which she's not - this story is set in London, and no American can take British beer).

As for the art, this is one of the least pleasing John Romita Jr jobs I've seen. Admittedly, it's page after page of talking heads, but an artist of his vintage should be able to make it interesting, find some way to make things dynamic. And the characters aren't great - Hank looks like a 12-year-old, while Skrullette looks like Gwen Stacey crossed with the Gelfling from Dark Crystal.

Then again, how inspired would you be as an artist if the dramatic highlight of a book involved drawing two characters eating ice cream for three pages. The only time the art comes to life is in the Jan scenes.

In the annals of skippable comic books, this is the most skippable of all. Be like Hank, buy ice cream.

Madame Xanadu 1 review

I've been rather excited since hearing the former hostess of Seventies DC mystery book Doorway to Nightmare was getting an ongoing Vertigo book. In the words of Olivia Newton John, now we are here, and boy, was it irritating.

For the first few pages, at least. As we meet Madame Xanadu, rather than sitting in her magic shop, waiting to warn people that they're going to appear in an O Henry homage, she's in an earlier time. And she's a forest nymph. With hooves. So that's why she always wore those long dresses . . .

What annoyed me was the flowery dialogue spouted by our heroine as she communes with other spirit types. It's Arianrhod this, Lunar Queen that and Limetus the other. Celtic mythology a go-go. Lots of beseeching. Little fairie types - hang on, this is Vertigo, that should probably be 'faerie' - flitter around, wittering such things as 'Nimue seek' and 'Nimue spell'. It's only when a bunch of Druids arrive to ask her for help that it's confirmed that in this time, Madame Xanadu is known as Nimue.

From then on, things picked up in 'By the Runes: Chapter the First' (again, very Vertigo - 'chapter one' would be, you know, kinda common, distinctly unliterary). Perhaps I relaxed into the story, as the gobbledegook quota was wound down a tad. The appearance of a druidic Phantom Stranger helped, as did ties to Jack Kirby's Demon (handled by Matt Wagner in a long-gone mini-series) and, oddly, the current Trinity series - cos if the Morgana here becomes the Morgan Le Fay in the Demon books, as seems likely, she's the one in Trinity.

But that's not important right now. What is, is the intrigue we get surrounding Nimue and her relationship with Merlin, the dastardly doings of Morgana and just how Nimue gets from Dark Ages Britain (sometimes it feels like us UK folk are still there) to 21st century Greenwich Village. And how soon she'll cover up those bloody ugly hooves.

Annoying spell stuff aside, it's difficult to fault Wagner's tale telling here - Nimue taps into her power with words, and Wagner does something similar, weaving a world of dark possibilities. And it's a world brought to life wonderfully by artist Amy Reeder Hadley and colourist Guy Major. The book is filled with magical souls, but they look more real than you'll find in many a 'grittier' comic. Real, yet ethereal. This is a world I look forward to coming back to, and I'm keen to see how the artists help Madame X find her way in the modern world.

All in all, it's a pretty good first issue - I've a feeling this will read very well as a collection, but I'm nevertheless recommending you give it a crack now. Why wait for pleasure?

Superman 677 review

Starman writer James Robinson joins the Superman books with this issue and reminds me why I like his work too much. He gives us a sympathetic hero, standout supporting characters and intriguing antagonists.

The hero is, of course, the guy with his name on the cover. As we join him, he's showing off Krypto to Hal Jordan, as the Dog of Steel plays fetch with a hubcap. It's great to see Krypto and know this is the Silver Age pooch reimagined - not a Smallville substitute, not a transformed alien lizard, but a genuine Kryptonian canine. With thoughts.

Yup, for the first time since pre-Crisis, Krypto is presented as a thinking being. Sure, the thoughts are simplistic, limited to expressions of pleasure at the game he's playing with 'Man', and they're in narrative boxes rather than proper thought balloons - well, doggy thought balloons are cheesey, obviously - but Krypto is thinking again. He'll be building a Doghouse of Solitude and cavorting with the Space Canine Patrol Agency any day now.

Krypto's happy, and Superman's happy. He's blindly optimistic, it seems, telling his Green Lantern chum: 'I have Lois in my life - and a dog. A good dog. And that gives me a life. Complete. Bottom line, what could go wrong?' Hal, like me on first reading, assumes Superman is being naive to a bonkers degree. Then he realises that Superman simply has faith that things will work out. Perhaps Superman is trying to will everything to work out - surely that's something with which a Green Lantern could identify?

Hal Jordan and Krypto, they're not the only supporting characters here - there's a new acting head of Metropolis' science police, the 21st century precursors to the Legion of Super-Heroes' longtime allies. Travis DuBarry is a new character, descended from the comic book cops of Robinson's Starman run. He seems a good guy, but not without failings - he fears he's overpromoted, and recognises that Superman annoys him at times. But I like him, I'm intrigued by the other new cops his narration touches upon (including one connected to underrated 2003 mini-series the Human Defense Corps), and I hope he becomes one of Superman's pals.

As for the opponents, there are two here - the big, unnamed, rather daft-looking monster, giving the Science Police such a tough time; and Atlas, big Greek Titan type and traditional Superman rival (as seen during the Silver Age and, more recently, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman). The speedy, strong Atlas is at first mistaken by DuBarry for Superman, and the cop isn't impressed when 'Superman's' reckless shot at the monster sees the Daily Planet globe knocked off, but the truth soon outs. And Atlas's carelessness allows for a nice recreation of the traditional Atlas pose as he hefts the globe on his massive shoulders, nicely portrayed with Superman 'in role' on this issue's Alex Ross cover. The Titan then beats up on DuBarry for awhile, until Superman finally shows up - confident, majestic - having heard the ruckus from space.

And the issue ends. A very nice issue ends. James Robinson immediately clicks with sitting penciller Renato Guedes, here inked by one Wilson Magalhaes, making for a smooth, good-looking comic book. The dialogue is convincing, the events BFM (Believable For Metropolis) and it looks like we're in for a fun story. Robinson shows us Superman through the eyes of Hal and DuBarry - and to a lesser extent, Krypto - and it looks like we'll get Atlas' interpretation as the issues pass. I do hope, though, that the writer's interest lands on Superman, letting him take a turn at narration - I want to be with Superman as much as looking at him.

And I can't wait to see how this book begins crossing over with Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Action Comics. Between the two teams I think we'll get a rounded Superman - a regular guy who's never fazed by cosmic grandeur, rather than the super-hick he's been presented as too often in the last few years.

Atlas may shrug, but when I see books like this, I cheer.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Comic Art Now review




Comic Art Now

By Dez Skinn

Ilex, 192pp, £20

As The Beano celebrates its 70th birthday and The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man fill cinemas, a legend of British comics is out to show there's more to comic art today than schoolboys with catapults in the UK and superheroes in the US. Dez Skinn wantADVERTISEMENTs you to know there's a world of styles out there.

Skinn, having worked on everything from Buster to Hulk and created Dr Who Weekly and the hugely influential Warrior, knows his stuff. And he's sharing it here, in a series of images showcasing the craftsmen and women who are carrying the industry forward in the 21st century.

Artists such as Gary Spencer Millidge, whose photorealistic style is on display in his Strangehaven series; and the versatile Cliff Richards, as at home illustrating Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Superman; Al Davison, born with spina bifida, a condition which has influenced his starkly beautiful images; and Laura Howell, a self-confessed doodler who reinterpreted comics she'd drawn to amuse herself in a Manga style, won a contest and now works for Mad magazine (whose UK edition was once edited by Skinn).

It's not all up-and-comers – pieces by veterans such as Sydney Jordan, creator of the Jeff Hawke newspaper strip – and Angus McKie, show that despite decades in comics they're still expanding their range, trying new things.

Scottish writer Mark Millar – a screen version of his comic Wanted hits cinemas soon, see page 13 – says in his introduction: "It's all about the art and always has been. Anyone who thinks otherwise is only kidding themselves." That's not true – comics without words are just pictures, but it's correct that great art can make mediocre words more palatable. And there's a lot of great art on display here.

The American spellings – "humor", indeed – grate when you know a great Brit wrote this thing, but this is a minor quibble in a book that's a pleasure to peruse. I've been a comics fan since I was knee-high to the Thing (I'll even admit to having edited My Little Pony comic, among others) and this volume introduced me to plenty of talents I'd not come across. There is a lot of great art on display here.

I do, though, hope there's a Comic Writing Now sequel on the way.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Trinity 3 review

The lead story sees the JLA, minus a certain three heroes, battles Konvikt and Graak, they don't do very well, Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman show up expecting to save the day, and the former gets a good thumping.

Graak continues to be ridiculously annoying with his stupid speeches bigging up Konvikt and the JLA are replaced by straw men - like Green Lantern John Stewart last issue, they have to be crap so the Big Three can look better when they finally win out. It all reads as inevitable, though it was nice to see Black Canary actually getting to act as JLA leader for a change. Sadly, this doesn't last, as once Superman and co show up, everyone looks to them for leadership. Superman is terribly patronising: 'Fall back, Canary. You've done a fine job. But you need a breather.'

Give me a break.

Writer Kurt Busiek makes this a plot point, with extra villains Morgan Le Fay and Enigma commenting on the deference. Still, I can do without it - any JLA I can believe in is a team of equals; yes, they back one another up, but they don't patronise one another.

The art by Mark Bagley and Art Thibert continues to be jolly pretty, but overall this is a chapter we could have done without. Next issue will likely start where this one should have, with Trinity's leads taking on the stupid great monster and his talkative gonk.

The second story is better. It's so much better it's not true. This is where we meet new heroine Tarot in a story Busiek co-writes with Fabian Nicieza, with art by Mike Norton and Jerry Ordway. There's action, and story advancement, but it's at heart a character study of Marguerita Arroyo Covas, LA card reader, known to one and all (rather cheesily) as Tarot. She's been feeling a greater connection to the cards of late, and a local gang leader has seemingly benefited from her advice and wants more. Horrified that she's inadvertently helped a criminal, Rita refuses, annoying bad fella Frito and his chums. She runs away, they give chase and Rita's friend Jose is about to jump into the fray when something rips the gang members apart while delivering a mysterious warning. Rita is left wondering what's going on, what the big picture is that she apparently fits into . . .

In just ten pages we've met a bright young woman with the proverbial hopes and dreams, and she's someone I'd like to see more of. We're also reintroduced to a minor DC hero. Jose Delgado aka Gangbuster, who hasn't been seen since Jerry Ordway's superb Power of Shazam series. And here's Ordway again, adding the finishes that complement Mike Norton's pleasing pencils wonderfully, and making sure Jose is instantly recognisable to anyone who knew him back then, or earlier, when he was a regular in the Superman books. It's great to see such a strong character again, and I look forward to seeing how he helps Tarot discover what I presume to be a superheroic vocation.

The strip makes Trinity 3 worthwhile, but it would be nice to have an issue in which both front and back strip are of equally good quality.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Birds of Prey 119 review


This issue sees the return of Black Canary to the book, after she was dragged away by the JLA and Green Arrow editorial offices and stripped of the dimensions she'd gained under writers Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone. It's a temporary, yet triumphant, return, with a nice cover appearance - courtesy of Stephane Roux - and her own logo nearly as large as the BoP masthead.

Inside, it's a while before we get to her, but there's plenty of good stuff before that. The issue opens with Huntress, newly arrived in Platinum Flats - DC's Silicon Valley parallel - meeting a metal man robber glorying in the name of Carface. He may be a throwaway designed for this issue only, but I hope not, as he has a good look and a bit of personality. After that we learn a little bit more about the shadowy cartel, headed by The Visionary, which runs Platinum Flats, and meet their corporate patsy, Ram (that may be a pun) Chaudhry. An example of their offhand evil, aimed at keeping Chaudhry in line, shows how just ruthless they are. The Visionary is the only member whose face we see, though other silhouettes hint at Dr Sivana and (unlikely as it is) The Joker.

Moving on, we hit the Birds' new HQ, Clocktower Systems, which Babs intends to be as much a moneymaking concern as a base of operations: 'It'll generate income so we can fight on without begging Batman for a loan'. At her side are Huntress - less than delighted at her new sunny city - Lady Blackhawk, and Misfit, with Manhunter and Gypsy named as non-regular members of the Birds of Prey. Yup, the book's title is actually referred to; it seems Lady Blackhawk, Zinda, coined it - which makes sense, given her background as a flyer - and despite Babs' distaste for it, it's catching on with the bad guys.

In a bit of subplot we learn that Babs is getting intel from a surprising source, the Calculator, in an 'the enemy of my enemy' deal, and then get to the business of the cover. It turns out that Manhunter is less of a reserve than Babs has let on, as she's sent her on a secret mission to surveil Black Canary, in nearby Star City. Heaven knows why, but this leads to a confrontation between the two, and the promise of a big fight next issue

Tony Bedard continues his run as regular writer and he's making this book his own, showing a talent for juggling A, B and even the odd C plot (this time, Misfit's possible sibling relationship with Black Alice). His dialogue perfectly fits the characters - Canary and Manhunter, for example, are both strident types, but I bet you could tell which was speaking by their words alone - and his pacing is spot on.

The soon-to-depart Nicola Scott - she's reuniting with old BoP writer Gail Simone on Secret Six - continues to show how she's growing month by month, aided by veteran inker Doug Hazlewood. They produce attractive characters who belong in the now - people wear contemporary clothing and have up-to-the-minute haircuts (the aforementioned Ram looks particularly good, and I notice that a bun/twist is especially popular among the ladies of Platinum Flats - two on the street, one among the shadowy villains). The only person not looking great is Babs herself, saddled with the most unattractive pair of specs she's had since Luke McDonnell handled her on Suicide Squad. Sort it out, Nic!

The cast works well together, with one exception - Manhunter. Much as I enjoy Kate Spencer in her own book, she doesn't gel with anyone other than Babs, and brings nothing unique to the table other than a willingness to kill. Now, knowing Babs likes to rehabilitate heroines she sees as damaged, I'd not be surprised were she hoping to keep Manhunter on side long enough to demonstrate that lethal force shouldn't be an early option for someone on the side of the angels. If that's something Manhunter's going to take on board, though, it'll happen in her own book. I'm happy to follow her there and see BoP concentrate on the heroines who only appear here.

That's a minor quibble, though, as this is a book everyone's bringing their A-game to - I'm not usually one for shiny colours, but whoever did the Hi-Fi Designs work this issue did a brilliant job on the scenes with Choudhry and the cartel. And the rest of the issue looked great too, with natural colours on the streets of Platinum Flats, moody hues for the Canary/Manhunter confrontation, bright greens for Oracle's graphics and so on - it's a shame proper credit isn't given here.

And letterer Sal Cipriano did a bang-up job too!

In all, this is a gorgeous looking book with a story that's going places. If you see Huntress on her bike, jump on and enjoy the ride.

Monday, 16 June 2008

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES 42

In which the Legion get new costumes and actually don them, despite having no idea who put the order in for them. I'm guessing Kid Calculus, or whatever we're meant to call that Morr'ssey reject. Other than Star Boy's, I'm not actually keen on them - Saturn Girl's Binary look, in particular, is an ambomination, and Colossal Boy's tyre tracks are ridicalicalicalus. Oh, and if they want to evoke Chameleon Boy's original look, give him his original costume, not this duvet tweak (mind, is this the first appearance of his antennae in the current continuity?).

That's not to take away from a cracking issue, though - how can anyone not like Saturn Girl when she's so incredibly competent. I can't remember ever seeing a Legionnaire with such a grasp of strategy, though Gim came close with his masterclass in Napoleonic tactics. And other members had their moment in the sun - Cham was a brave soul, and quite charming, while Lightning Lad's annoying Brainy with his light ring posing was a hoot.

We're still no nearer solving the mystery of the attacking aliens, but I don't much care, I'm having far too much fun watching the Legionnaires live, love and fight. Even when they're in nasty new costumes.

I should mention the art, though; I'm getting used to Francis Manapul and John Livesay's take on the team. It's not perfect (there really should have been a decent establishing shot of the monsters on page 4, for example) but they tell the story nicely and complement Jim Shooter's script. I really hope that he isn't leaving soon, as internet rumour suggests.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Trinity 2 review

Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are plunged into individual strangeness as the world changes around them - a new planetary system is being born over Metropolis; Batman finds himself in a future-gothic Gotham; and Wonder Woman fights robots. OK, I couldn't see that much had changed around Wondy, but what the heck, it led to a nice moment demonstrating how she enjoys the chance to test herself, showing that Gail Simone's excellent portrayal in Diana's solo book is spreading through the DCU.
Superman pushes the mini planets away from Earth before their gravity messes Earth up, apparently, and makes them someone else's problem. And Batman gets rid of his problem by denying it, with the simple word, 'no'.

I'm not a big one for the 'bat-god' who can apparently take down cosmic beings with two minutes of preparation and a paperclip, but this Batman moment was believable and, as they say, cool. The Superman scene wasn't plausible, even for the DCU - planets and suns above Metropolis, and no harm done? It reminds me of the time Mon-El brought a dwarf star to Legion Plaza. As you do.

Maybe we'll find out that the scenes were fantasies. Meanwhile, this was a fun enough continuation of issue 1's story from Kurt Busiek, Mark Bagley and co, with Troika baddies Morgan Le Fay and Enigma migrating to the main strip from last month's back-up.

This issue's second story was not my cup of tea at all, though I was impressed by how it flowed smoothly out of, and back into, the front strip. Green Lantern John Stewart fights a big monster named Konvict and his hanger-on/minder Graak. They attack a village and Graak speaks in a thoroughly annoying way. John gets bashed and his ring sends out a distress call that's heard by Supes and pals in the main strip. The end.

Now, I don't mind paired villains - Child and Flaw from Amethyst, for example, also have the big guy and smarter little guy set-up, but they have charisma. These two though, just seem so generic - I honestly can't say if I've seen them previously, they look and feel familiar without being memorable. And those speech patterns of Graak's - perhaps they're all the work of co-writer Fabian Nicieza, but having seen a long JLA story arc by KB, Syndicate Rules, derailed by aliens with impossible to understand speech patterns, I fear he's the culprit. OI KURT! QUIT THAT! Ahem.

John Stewart hasn't had any personality for years - he's apparently thought of by DC as the stolid GL, so rarely shows emotion. It's a shame, cos back in he day he was involved in the death of a planet, and had to deal with wife Katma Tui's vicious death at the hands of Jim Owsley, sorry, Star Sapphire. He had a personality. These days he's Mr Dignity, and very, very boring. Not so much Green lantern as Black Token. Last week's Final Crisis was the first indication in years that he actually maintained a life of earth. I'd like to have seen something of that life here, rather than John be simply hero on the scene, ready to make the villains look bad enough to threaten Clark, Diana and Bruce by being roundly defeated. As it was, I didn't give a hoot about him.

At least the art by Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher was very nice - clean and dynamic.

Let's hope next issue's back-up with the new Tarot character is more interesting - as it is, two issues out of two I've been getting into the main story, only to have it suddenly curtailed for a less-interesting offering.

The cover was pretty enough, but I really hope it's not going to be triptyches all the way - I want to see my heroes together without having to wait three weeks and then set the books next to one another.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13 2 review

In which the Skrulls invade Avalon, Faiza manifests powers, Pete gets some naging from the missus, Captain Britain is 'seemingly' dead, the Black Knight splits, John the Skrull is not worthy, Spitfire deems herself not worthy and Britain's magical talismen are melded into a ruddy great chain.

Mind, at the start of his career Captain Britain wore a similar, if smaller, chain. Which likely isn't in the least relevant, so I probably shouldn't mention it. Brian, dead or alive, isn't in this issue, being seemingly dead, but his presence is felt, as Brits everywhere - and Dane Whitman too - feel that he's been lost. I suspect he's merely in Otherworld, the other-dimensional realm where he quested with the Black Knight in the pages of Britain's Hulk Comic to decades or so ago. Dane even references that time here, so maybe I'm right for once.

Faiza's powers are, it's safe to say, unique - she seems to have become Gray's Anatomy Girl, turning people into living medical illustrations. For a few moments she accidentally transforms Dane into a sectioned person, with various levels of skin, bone, muscle and organ on display. It's not a great look for him. Being a sharp woman, though, Faiza soon learns how to use her newfound powers against the Skrulls, while staying true to her Hippocratic oath and religious beliefs.

Reasonably, she posits that her powers are related to her person - she's a doctor, so she gets doctorish abilities. That may also be why she envisions Excalibur as a syringe - well, that's how I saw it.

This is another spiffing issue (that's how we Brits speak, you know), with events moving at a cracking pace. Paul Cornell's script remains seriously intelligent and huge fun, while Leonard Kirk and Jesse Delperdang draw up a storm. Colourist Brian Reber and letterer Joe Caramagna adding the cherries to the artistic cake. Bryan Hitch's cover wasn't half-bad either.

This has to be one of Marvel's best comics.

Action Comics 866 review



This issue begins with a flashback to Krypton, showing us the day Kandor became a bottle city. It's a new spin on the traditional Silver Age telling of the tale - rather than being simply zapped, shrunk and bottled, Kandorians are attacked by killer robots, soldiers Zod and Ursa try to protect the populace and a forcefield grows to form the bottle. It's an inpressive, shocking vignette - for me, this is the first time Brainiac has come across as frightening. The first page alone, with a robotic finger skewering a citizen, is horrific - I would say too horrific for an all-ages comic, but I'm getting used to such violence in Geoff Johns' scripts. He doesn't half like a bit of gore.

Present day Earth, and Perry White has called a Daily Planet staff meeting consisting of six people. Good grief - I work in newspapers, and people are being let go as profit margins are squeezed, but six staffers to turn out a great metropolitan newspaper? Let's be generous and assume Perry is seeing people in small groups, as he introduces returning gossip queen Cat Grant and new sports editor Steve Lombard to Clark, Lois and Ron Troupe. That's one Bronze Age character and the post-Crisis version of a Bronze Age character (hands up who's old enough to remember Rona Barrett - sorry, Lola Barnett?) in a story that's a homage to the Silver Age.

(And it looks like there's a revamp of a Bronze Age story coming up, as Jimmy is investigating 'the City Under Metropolis'. Was there a single reader who didn't immediately think, oh yes, Action Comics 412, May 1972, 'Secret of the First Metropolis'? Errrrr . . .)

It's an interesting mix, and indicative of the Superman books' fast and loose approach to continuity, which was muddied by Mark Waid's Birthright mini, further obscured by the Futuresmiths (don't ask, just be thankful they erased the heinous Cir-El) and completely scunnered by Infinite Crisis. No one has had any idea what's in and what's out for years now. Me, I'd be happy just to know if Clark was a vegetarian or a fan or Boeuf Bourguignon.

My best guess is that the start of Geoff Johns' Action run counts as Year Zero and everything old is new again - except when it's old, as in Clark and Lois referencing their post-Crisis on Infinite Earths courtship. And young Pa Kent is old again - I guess DC think people are now forgetting Jon Schneider's hunky Pa from the telly. Superman seems to know Brainiac (he's met a version or two post-Crisis on Infinite Earths), yet this issue is titled First Contact.

Oh well, here's Superman tackling a Brainiac drone apparently out to get a sample of his DNA for some evil cloning experiments (please God, no more Bizarros). The drones and Brainiac's ship echo the immediately pre-Crisis Brainiac-ware of Marv Wolfman and Gil Kane, though far more fearsome. And we see inside the ship, into a room with dozens of bottle cities connected to an apparently new version of Brainiac. This guy's in some kind of sleep state, his state seemingly connected to that of the cities.

Meanwhile, in Smallville, a neat sequence involving Ma and Pa Kent's cockerel weathervane apparently registers a passing invisible superperson (oh, would that it were Matrix-Supergirl, returning to continuity and her old friends the Kents), but Pa doesn't notice his cockerel as he can't wait to get his hands on Ma Kent's pancakes. Yum.

Geoff Johns provides another sharp acript, presenting likeable protaganists and dastardly baddies. And penciller Gary Frank and inker Jon Sibal provide their best art job yet, and they were pretty good to begin with. Whether they're drawing Kryptonians, the Planet cast, robots or farmers; whether we're in Kandor, Metropolis, Met County forests or Kansas . . . everything looks real. I'm not a big one for extra splash pages, but a shot of Clark becoming Superman is a full page worth the space, while the spread showing Brainiac's chamber of cities is stunning. This scene is echoed on the cover by Frank and colourist Brad Anderson (who provides a masterclass in comics colouring inside) and the logo fair pops, with the red and yellow contrasting nicely with the spooky greens - and is that a thicker than usual drop shadow? It looks superb.

There's an extra cover element, Dan Didio's Sightings banner, which means this issue will be important to DC continuity. Mind, given DC continuity these days, I wouldn't set much store by that - just buy this issue for itself.

After the long delays of the issues involving Adam Kubert and Richard Donner, an Action Comics of this quality on a monthly basis is a delight.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The secret origin of Jezebel Jet





Currently making a big impact - on Bruce Wayne at least - in Grant Morrison's Batman RIP storyline, is fashion model Jezebel Jet. She appeared from nowhere, captured Bruce's interest very quickly, saw through his secret ID and is now his confidante. Almost as if she's a mind manipulating telepath.

Meanwhile, over in Grant Morrison's Final Crisis 1, Silver Age legend J'onn J'onzz is executed by Libra in a bit of super-villain show and tell. In one panel he's chargrilled - despite his vulnerabilty to fire having been explained as a psychological rather than physical issue many years ago.

He is soooo not dead and reduced to nothingness . . . it's obvious really. The shock of the fire attack addles Jonn's brain, causing him to flee at super-speed and seek safety in a disguise. Inspired by old pal the Vixen, the memory-challenged J'onn J'onzz shapeshifts into . . . Jezebel Jet, international supermodel. Of course J'onn would seek out the world's greatest detective to help him regain his memory. Mind, he never meant to fall for Bruce, but these things happen. He's already had Wonder Woman and Zatanna's interest, eventually all JLA-ers will desire the bat-love god.

And now that I have revealed all, DC will have to change Batman RIP and Jezebel Jet will stand revealed as . . . Captain Atom. Maybe.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Amazing Spider-Man 561


And this is how to wrap up a story - Dan Slott, Marcus Martin and crew, you just hit the jackpot - or rather, we readers did, courtesy of said creators. Spidey's battle with Paper Doll comes to a satisfying conclusion, with our hero just avoiding a permanently squished arm while saving the villain's life by tossing them both into a pool. That's what happens when a writer remembers Peter has science smarts; he's allowed to noticed her breathing patterns and guess that water might not just reflate his arm, it could fill out her flattened lungs.

Actually, the situation is a tad ambiguous and it could be that Peter was attempting to get his arm back to normal while using the water to make her pass out - after all, he had just shoved his fingers up her nose to mess up her breathing.

Given this, the latter scenario seems more likely, but I like to think Peter always has the safety of others uppermost in his mind.

Mind, that's hard to believe a couple of times this issue; Peter takes a jolly long time to shift his spider-arse when he knows that actor Bobby Carr's mystery lady may be about to get flattened by Paper Doll - first he makes sure he has his camera is webbed to a tree so he can get fine action shots, then he bothers to web up Carr's bodyguards. Spidey tells the heavies 'You'll thank me later' which implies he thinks he's protecting them from Paper Doll, but really, should PD reappear (she's already killed some of their colleagues) they're surely better off being able to run from her).

Still, Peter gets there in the end, but he's given the mystery girlfriend - one Mary Jane Watson - time to pop into Bobby's panic room, meaning she's well-positioned to help him via CCTV and loudspeaker, but he has no idea it's her (dopey old paparazzo Peter didn't notice it was MJ when he caught part of her on camera earlier that night - amusingly, he thought it looked like Jackpot). I liked this, it was clever, putting Peter and MJ so close and yet so far . ..

By the end of the issue MJ is heading back for California, having just signed an autograph for a fan - Sara Ehret, the woman who claims not to be Jackpot. But I bet she's as nutty a fan of MJ as Paper Doll is of MJ's beau, Bobby, which would be rather neat.

Talking of Bobby, like Paper Doll he shows extra dimension, proving to be more than the one-note bully of previous issues, which is fine by me - I don't want MJ hanging out with a total ratbag. Bobby, it seems, is a bit of a privacy freak, and while he's happy to toss MJ into his mansion's panic room, he also wants to defend his territory - he's no coward. OK, he thumps Paper Doll in the face, but she's a paper-scissors-stone killer.

We actually learn a bit more about Paper Doll at the start of this issue - for one thing, her real name is Piper Dali. Really. Oh, how I love super-villlains whose name forces their fate (see also E Nigma, Otto Octavius, Fred Mandarin - OK, I made one of those up). I'm surprised we're given the family name, mind, as Marcus Martin draws her parents, arguing over their daughter having come a cropper in their science project, in silhouette. And they're well-enough known in the superhero science community that they can call on Reed Richards or the aforementioned Octavius for help. So I was thinking they'd turn out to be people we knew, maybe Peter's parents, back from the comics-dead and in hiding. Well, actually, I didn't really believe that's who they'd be, but I thought they'd be someone - Dr Curt Connors' cousins, or something.

But no, we even get the Dad's first name - Ken. That's Ken Dali. Ken Doll. No prizes for guessing that Mom's is Barbie.

Over in Subplotland, Peter moves in with new flatmate Vin the Dull Cop, and makes up with old flatmate Harry. And both Robbie and Peter quit the DB during attacks of morals, and Dexter Bennett reveals his true colours. Which is great, I'd had it up to here with all the pseudo-comedic twaddle he was spouting.

So kudos to Dan Slott for a tremendously enjoyable script and Marcos Marton for truly wondrous pencils and inks - after an odd rendering last issue, his MJ is spot on here; Paper Doll has weight where she needs it, and lightness elsewhere; and Spidey continues to be Martin's own mix of Ditko and Romita Sr, while looking better with each panel. And Martin's clipped-out-by-a-stalker cover is the cherry on the cake.

This is the Spider-Man I want to be reading every month. Amazing.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Robin/Spoiler Special 1

Spoiler having been revealed to have survived War Games in Robin 174 this month, here's a one-off focusing on Stephanie Brown. Yes, Stephanie, not Stephanie and Tim - the title's a misnomer, with Robin not even appearing in the second story, bar one panel.

Which is fine by me; much as I like Tim Drake (I can't get used to Wayne, surely he'd keep his parents' name to honour them, despite being adopted by Bruce?), he has his own book, and it's a while since we've seen Steph, her being comics-dead and all.

So here she is in the first tale, by Chuck Dixon and Rafael Albuquerque, leading Tim into a naughty after-school activity and a mystery. 'Puddles' concerns a kidnapped kid and plays out satisfyingly enough. Really, I doubt anyone would buy this comic for the kicking of ass, not when there's character work to be done. And we get it here, as we see that Tim is wondering how Steph fits back into his life, and that Steph mainly wants to make sure Tim isn't swallowed by the Batman's darkness.

The second story, by Dixon and Victor Ibanez, is a flashback to Steph's time in Africa, helping Leslie Thompkins out at a clinic in a small village. We meet her wee pal, Efia, who dreams of America, and a self-style demon hunter whose cure for conjunctivitis is death. We see Thomkins as the good woman she's been since her 1970s introduction, fighting terrifying men for the good of the village; and we see Steph realising that despite trying to leave Spoiler behind, the hero within will always out.

Both stories are enjoyable, with Dixon showing that he really knows how to write likeable, compelling characters. I enjoyed the African tale more, though - seeing the Leslie I know again, doing what she does best, rather than the woman we were meant to believe would sacrifice Spoiler to teach Bruce Wayne a lesson about endangering young sidekicks.

Plus, the art is just wonderful. In 'Puddles' Albuquerque gets the job done, and not unattractively, but the art seems less open than his Blue Beetle work. I suppose that's Gotham City for you, give Albuquerque a few more visits to Gotham and I'm sure he'll be drawing like a native. But in 'Katavi' Ibanez (and I apologise for lack of accents on 'a' and 'n' - blame my European keyboard) draws, inks and colours a lush Africa of believable people, convincing landscapes and dreamy skies. The pages sing. And little Efia has to be the sweetest comic book kid for years, I hope we see her again.

And I really hope DC has a regular assignment for Ibanez - his work reminds me of Renato Guedes, naturalistic yet powerful.

As for Steph, welcome back, kiddo. Go get Tim, huh?

Two tiny PSes - In a world in which Jason Todd can be punched back from the dead, is it too much to ask the Bat-Office to correct the misspelling of Thompkins' forename that's dogged her since her debut: just make it Lesley already!

And the cover by Albuquerque and colourist Cris Peter is nice enough, but yet another take on Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson's classic Sixties Batman and Robin pin-up (the homage is credited). I'm a tad bored now!







All-New Atom 24


After a few issues of Ryan Choi tackling sub-atomic monsters from his own blood, the focus shifts here to Silver Age Atom villain Chronos. He's appeared a few times in this run, variously as an ally and antagonist. Here, though, he's all-bad, as he claims that the longterm correspondence between SA Atom Ray Palmer and successor Ryan was a sham, orchestrated by him with the aid of . . . Lady Chronos. Her identity is a mystery, but it's pretty likely that she's Ryan's old bad girl crush, Jia, on the basis that she had the same hair.

OK, Sherlock Holmes this deduction isn't, but heck, these are comic books and the woman who knows Ryan from some other time and place, has similar hair, dresses Asian and has Asian skin tones - it's Jia.

On the way back to Ivy Town from the sub-atomic world, Ryan winds up in the time-lost lair of Chronos and Lady Chronos. Chronos is no threat, being frozen due to the power of irony - nope, I've no idea what this means, but it has something to do with a deal he made with nether-region demon guy Neron, and I like the sound of it - but Lady Chronos is blasting Ryan left, right and centre. Ryan's more fearsome than usual though, having developed growing powers (as did Ray Palmer at one point), and a temper. There's also a monster named Worm, who has some beef with our boy, and a guest appearance from Booster Gold which results in Ryan's return to Ivy Town where anti-Atom Dwarfstar is blackening Ryan's good name with Lady Cop. Still, Ryan sorts him out nicely and returns to his lab, where a last page guest star shows up to offer a hand.

Who? Well, this is the penultimate issue, so who's more appropriate than good old Ray Palmer himself. Excellent stuff, with the prospect of my two favourite Atoms together next issue.

This is another thoroughly entertaining read from writer Rick Remender and artists Pat Olliffe and John Stanisci, with the surprises and action never letting up. There's even a great cover from Ladronn, whose work I've previously found too murky for this series. My only problem is, appropriately, a tiny one, but it irks, nonetheless - a couple of typos. Still, I can't recommend this enough as a fast-paced, smart superhero book with unusual intensity. Get it while it's there.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Ms Marvel 27


Look at that cover by Greg Horn (devoid of background on my copy). It may look like nothing more than a cheesecake shot of a ragged Ms Marvel, but it's rather clever. Notice, she's worn out, pissed off, abused and - no ankles - hobbled! Just as this supposed solo series has been hobbled by more than two years of being locked into one Marvel crossover after another.

The title was born out oh House of M, whose fantasy of a respected, go-getting Ms Marvel made Carol Danvers decide to be the best she could be. Since then, the best she could do be is, apparently, get embroiled in Civil War, the Initiative and now Secret Sodding Invasion. She spends about two minutes a week having a private life, the rest hanging out with a dubious crew of Shield agents meant to be a proactive strike force. This consists of one Agent Sum, Sleepwalker (who puts the zzzzz in Z-lister) and the admittedly entertaining Machine Man (Warren Ellis model). When they're not panel hogging we have regular cameos by Wonder Man and, Because No One Demanded It, annoying teen spider girl Arana.

It's tiring stuff, and not what I want in a Ms Marvel book. In fact, why do Marvel even call this book Ms Marvel? It's Ms Marvel and her Amazing Friends. But we already see her at the heart of the Marvel Universe in the Avengers titles, is it too much to ask that a solo title be just that?

So what does this issue bring? Yet more Skrulls, the mystery of Carol's possibly Kree almost-boyfriend, some ill-advised sex with Wonder Man and Carol moaning about her responsibilities. Could it be that writer Brian Reed is sending a message to readers that he's also tired of this comic's bad case of event-itis? Probably not, as he's been writing this book since the start, so he's the one who put Carol at the centre of the Marvel U.

I'm very close to dropping this comic. I stick with it because I've been a Carol Danvers fan for so long, but the fraught, ratty woman I see in these pages isn't the strong, smart heroine I grew up with. Even the art this issue isn't up to the usual standard, with Andres Coelho not bad, but way too thick on the character keylines.

The original run on this book lasted 23 issues, latterly by the superb team of an on-form Chris Claremont and a pitch-perfect Dave Cockrum, then Mike Vosburg. That was great stuff, so why is this less entertaining book still going? Could the constant tie-ins be the only thing keeping it alive? I hope not, but how are we to know? The current Ms Marvel book has never had a chance to succeed as a solo act. How about giving it a try, Marvel?

Monday, 2 June 2008

YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS 5: STATURE

Here's the latest one-off from Marvel reminding us that there's a team of heroes named the Young Avengers. Heaven knows why they don't just assign someone to create a new series featuring the whole team; co-creator Allan Heinberg gave us some lovely scripts, but so did Stan Lee on Fantastic Four back in the Sixties and that book continued after he left.

Never mind, Marvel aren't listening to me . . . so to the product at hand*, a story focussing on Cassie Lang, daughter of the second Antman, heir to the size-changing Pym particles and possessor of possibly the worst superhero name ever. Stature? Stat you? I ask you! I even gave them a great name in the YA lettercol, Big Girl, but as I say, Marvel never listen to me. I am a voice whingeing in the comic wilderness.

Anyroadup, fellow Young Avengers Patriot, Wiccan and Hawkeye are worried because Cassie is all silent and shrunken and foetal. Luckily Wiccan can use his apparently unlimited powers to shrink Patriot, who is able to persuade her to tell her sorry tale.

That morning, after rowing with him in her surly teenage way, Cassie flattened her bystander stepdad Blake while fighting the Growing Man, and he may die. Patriot gives her a pep talk, she lectures her mother about danger for all being a byproduct of the superhero game and besides, stepdad's a cop so he'd understand, and all is well.

Sound rather pat? It is. Certainly writer Kevin Grevioux gives us a few nice character moments, but all this spotlight tale really does is make Cassie look rather crap. Maybe that's the point; there are crap people in all walks of life, so why not the Young Avengers? My beef with the issue is the level of coincidence. Size-changing Cassie steps out into the city and immediately bumps into size-changing villain. Of 37,838 police officers in New York City (this is a responsible review which looks things up, at least so far as Wikipedia) her stepdad is the one standing underneath the Growing Man? Even for a comic featuring a size-changer, that's stretching it.

Mitch Breitweiser is a new name to me, but I like his work with colour artist Brian Reber. It tells the story well, while having a pleasant roughness; there's certainly room for Breitweiser to grow, but the art reminds me of the British girls' papers such as Bunty and Jude - strong on facial expression and body language, and in a tale that's going for the emotions, that's perfect.

So, not the best Young Avengers special, but certainly a decent read, and you know what? I'm just glad to see these kids getting any panel time at all. Which is kind of pathetic, I know!

* The other product at hand is an iPhone, a photograph oh which is plonked into Cassie's hand for one very embarrassing panel. How much did you get for that then, Marvel?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Action Comics 865 review


In which Winslow P Schott, the original Toyman going back to the Forties, returns to set the record straight about the little matter of his murdering Adam Grant, son of Cat Grant, several years ago. The witness he chooses to record his tale is a kidnapped Jimmy Olsen, the Daily Planet's youthful photo-journalist. Why Jimmy? 'Lois Lane and Clark Kent wouldn't do. They wouldn't listen, you see. They're too old. They're adults. That's why I picked you. I don't trust anyone over seventeen.'


Toyman tells Jimmy his sorry tale, that he was a kindly toymaker who fell into bad ways due to his naivety. Along the way, his wife Mary was murdered by an arms manufacturer who wanted his patents. So far, so 'yeah, we know this story'. But Schott says he never killed Adam - that was one of several pseudo Toymen he now claims were fakes (the darker Toyman we saw kill Adam, the 1970s Toyman with the Jester hat, Jeph Loeb's trendtastic Japanese Toyman, the Animated Series fella and - I think, but I barely remember the comic - a version who once fought Max Mercury). Schott claims the killer Toyman went loopy and he put it out of commission as soon as he could.


We see here how much Schott hates being locked up in Arkham Asylum ('this place of mad nursery rhymes and stained straitjackets), finally learn how old Jimmy is, see that our red-headed cub reporter is one smart cookie and watch Schott taken in by a fitting guest star. A final revelation shows that Schott may not have killed Adam, but he was sure as heck twisted prior to committing whatever crimes are on record.


This is a wonderful comic; what could have been a mere exercise in continuity clean-up becomes a gripping look at the psyche of one of Superman's oldest foes. Schott wants to be seen as sitting on the cuddlier side of villainy, but one way or another, he's a bad lot. It's also a nice spotlight on Jimmy Olsen, lending him far more character than did a whole year's worth of Countdown. This is no stooge who takes ages before he thinks about what's happening to him, this is a gutsy guy who has done his research, and acts at the first opportunity. He even wears a photographer's vest, something artists remember to add exceedingly rarely.


The icing on the cake is that this issue, while a breather from the multi-parters of late, sets the stage for the return of one of the best post-Crisis supporting characters - Cat Grant, Metropolis gossip columnist and woman of many sides. She was written out after Adam's death - his butchering gave her the kind of baggage even the most resilient supporting character finds hard to live with. (It's ironic that the story meant to make Toyman a more threatening Superman villain not only made Cat Grant unusable, it seemingly forced writers to avoid him too; the brutal killing of Adam might have sat well on the Joker, but not on a guy named Toyman).


Now, though, the new light on her son's tragedy makes her feel able to call Perry White and tell him she's ready for a Metropolis return (explaining her appearance in the Planet staff spread in Action Annual 11 last month). This scene was the only problem I had with this issue. Cat says of Adam being slain not by the real Toyman, but by a robot: 'As silly as it sounds, somehow it makes it easier . . . he didn't suffer like I . . . what I'm trying to say is . . . I'm ready to come back.' Excuse me? Adam's death was exactly the same to him - knifed out of existence. But that's a minor moan on my part - if that helps Cat cope, great. I'm just pleased she's feeling a little bit better.


Cat's face is unseen, for no reason that I can think of other than to tease Smallville fans that this is a sideways way to finally get a Chloe Sullivan character into the comic book cast - the haircut we see is very like one Allison Mack had for awhile. Or it could just be artist Jesus Merino having fun.


Ah Jesus Merino, where have you been hiding your artistic chops? I'm used to Mr Merino as inker to Carlos Pacheco, but here he handles pencils and inks and shows off two different styles. There's the regular Superman house style for the parts of the story that are happening now, and a more impressionistic look for Schott's memories of happier times. It's very effective storytelling and compliments one of Geoff Johns' flat-out best comics scripts marvellously. I want to see more from this team.


And more gorgeous Kevin Maguire covers wouldn't hurt, either.


I've not mentioned Superman much. That's because he's barely in this book other than as a toy, a flashback or an idea. This issue is like one of the annual Doctor Who episodes which focusses more on his effect on his world than on the actual man, to give the lead actor a break in a tough schedule. It works so well that I never missed my favourite hero.


This run just gets better. And with the promise of Brainiac next issue, I wouldn't bet against Geoff Johns' and regular artist Gary Frank cranking up the fun even further. Action by name . . .