Friday, 26 September 2008

Ms Marvel 31 review

The Secret Invasion apparently over, Carol Danvers visits her family for the first time in years. Her father is dying and a letter from her brother Joe prompts her to visit. Thing is, though, she's never regained the emotional connection to her family that was stolen by then-evil mutant Rogue, years ago.

It's a simple tale, but one which restores some sympathy to the character of Carol Danvers. It helps, of course, that she's away from her current status quo as Tony Stark's enforcer, but there's more to it than that. Brian Reed's scenario motivates a recap of Carol's early life, her reasons for leaving home for the USAF and sets up where she's going next. The scenes with her mother are heartbreaking; she echoes Carol's plight in that she knows why Carol isn't the daughter she was, but can't empathise enough to 'forgive' her for something that wasn't actually her fault. Of course, the TV has shown her Carol the hard-nosed avenger for so long that it's tough to see her as human at all.

A slight lack in the script is that having got the story up and running, brother Joe barely appears. Hopefully we'll see more of him, and Mrs Danvers - who I believe hasn't been seen since the book's first run, back in the Seventies - as time goes by. Because while to Carol they're ciphers ('These people . . . I know them the same way you know a character on television'), just being around them humanises her. After several issues as an unstoppable killing machine, Carol is confronted with a problem she can't punch her way out of. She's forced to think about life, examine her character. And as she does so, we see something of the heroine I cared for for so many years. I hope she's back for good before too long.

The artwork here is just beautiful. Guest artist Marco Marz and colourist Chris Sotomayor complement one another perfectly. The scene setter for Bar Harbor, Maine, is a lovely pastoral image, while the rest of the issue - the emotional stuff and very occasional action flashbacks - are thoughtfully rendered. Carol is foxy here, but not too gorgeous to live, and her mother actually looks related without having the same face plus two wrinkles. In a sequence showing Carol signing up, she actually looks shorter and has puppy fat! And the facial expressions and body language both convey and add to the script. Marcos Marz is an artist to watch, and the sooner I can watch him somewhere regularly, the better.

Greg Horn takes a month off from cover duties, allowing one Frank Martin Jr to offer a stunning portrait of Ms Marvel. It's less your photo-realist fantasy and more actual comic book art - rather great, actually. I'd like more of this guy too, please.

All in all, the best issue since this book was in single digits - let's hope next month's hinted confrontation with one of the best-characterised villains at Marvel keeps the standard up.

Teen Titans 63 review

Did I swear off this title after last month's gleeful bloodbath? I can't recall. Whatever, I'm a comic fan, so any such declaration would have been null and void.

This issue was better. As I do recall speculating last time, while Marvin is dog food, Wendy survives (likely to become a new member as some passing mad scientist bestows powers/Silly Putty parts upon her). She's visited here by Cassie, aka Wonder Girl, who, for the first time in ages, acts like the pleasant person she used to be.

The main part of this issue features Bombshell who, like Zatara (see Superman 680 review) was a Teen Titan for a tiny amount of time One Year Later. It's been so long since she's been around - about two years, according to an editor's note - that I've no idea who she is. Happily, writer Sean McKeever puts me right. Teenage, female Captain Atom. How very interesting, that's just what Comics needs.

It seems her backstory involves assault and battery. It's certain her current story involves a horrible personality. So that's her on the team in an issue or two, then. Well, someone has to step up to the bitch mark if Cassie is back to being a halfway decent human being. Then again, it could all be a trick by Cassie to get a new female member so she can bully/annoy them into quitting - see Supergirl, Miss Martian, Ravager . . .

(An injured Ms Martian appears on the cover of this issue that's online at the DC website, but she fell off on the way from Canada to Scotland, apparently. I blame Cassie.)

Anyroadup, she's on the loose after a spell being dead in Suicide Squad prison base Belle Reve, so the Titans show up out of nowhere to bash her about. Well, it's not like, say, young master detective Robin could be scouring Titans Tower for clues to the killer of Marvin and attacker of Wendy. Or guarding her from a repeat attack.

Oh well, biff bash bosh, Titans and Bombshell mix it up for a few pages, then lose one another, leaving BS (how apt) free for an Exciting Cliffhanger. The Titans, meanwhile, are off having Wonder Girl - suffering from power fluctuations - examined by Dr Mid-nite. Amusingly, while Cassie is under the doctor (oo-er), remaining members Robin, Red Devil and Blue Beetle are trying to persuade Stargirl to leave the old guys in the JSA and join their team. She says no here, but you never know, she could be loaned out by Geoff Johns for a while, which would be fun - she's a straight arrow powerhouse who wouldn't take crap from Cassie.

The most intriguing moment of this issue involves an 'In happier times' pic of Wendy and Marvin left with the sleeping Wendy by Wonder Girl. After Cassie leaves, the face of her wicked uncle, Ares the war god, appears over Marvin's image. Ares is being identified with Marvin. Now, my name's Martin, and that's derived from Mars. Mars is the Roman names for Ares. Is Marvin also a derivative of Mars? Could it be that Marvin will turn out to be an avatar of Mars, and be revived by the god? OK, Marvin was murdered due to the machinations of Mars' son, Lycus, but these are comics involving Classical gods so everything's up for grabs.

Of trivial interest is the naming of the cells at Belle Reve as 'Supermax metahuman cages' - a tie-in to the upcoming Green Arrow film - well, there you go!

Eddy Barrows provides attractive artwork, as ever, and here an unfamiliar fellow, Allan Goldman, pitches in and does a pretty decent job. Inkers Ruy Jose and Julio Ferreira, colourist Rod Reis and letterer Travis Lanham also deserve mentions for solid work. I'll also mention new assistant editor Rex Ogle, cos his name is so damn manly. Bet he could take Bombshell.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Superman 680 review

Superman is still battling Atlas, for the third . . . fourth? Fiftieth issue running?It seems like it's been a while, but the run-in concludes here as Krypto lends a hand. Or rather, a jaw; I've never seen the Dog of Steel so fierce, but good folk have no reason to be scared. Nope, all Krypto cares about here is defending his master, and despite the Titan's blows, despite being pounded with all kinds of unknown energies by Atlas' unseen patron, he doesn't give up. He prevails.

Krypto has help, though, as Superman manages to drag himself back onto his feet after last month's pounding from Atlas and realise that two Kryptonians aren't enough - against a magical being, he needs magical help. Who to call on but fellow Justice Leaguer Zatanna, currently performing in Metropolis - well, that was the idea. Turns out she's been already been called away by other needy superheroes. Happily, her slightly arrogant, ever-so-snotty cousin Zachary Zatara, a Teen Titan for about a minute and a half, is filling in. Writer James Robinson here gives us the best scene in an enjoyable book as Superman, having no time for teenage arsery, looks at him with super-stern vision and advises him that this is his chance to prove he's as good as he says. And bless him, he does.

It seems Zatara is going to be sticking around awhile and I couldn't be happier - Metropolis has a grand tradition of short-stay super-second stringers (Guardian, Crimebuster, Sinbad, Booster Gold) and it's always interesting to see how they interact with the man they believe is better than they could ever be. Zatara is different - he knows he's good, in an area Superman can't touch. Already he's bringing out a different side to Superman . . . the no-nonsense hero who's far from the boy scout he's so often painted as by lazy writers.

The other great moment this time is Superman's introduction of Krypto to Metropolis, with a mixture of pride, anger and sappiness.

Less good is the continuation of the flashback-subplot showing Lois Lane's resistance to Krypto. Her negativity towards the idea of Clark's Kryptonian pet (a splash page legend makes it wonderfully clear that yes, this is the dog sent to Earth by Jor-El, not a Kandorian lizard with an identity crisis) coming to live with them makes her seem shrewish and stupid. Here's someone her husband loves and trusts, who could protect her when he's away, and she's filled with jealousy? Nah, that's not Lois Lane - Lois Lane, no fool herself, trusts her husband's judgement, so would at least give Krypto the benefit of the doubt. The realisation of her idiocy/mischaracterisation leads to a really nasty bit of dialogue: 'How could I have been such a fool?' I know Lois originated in the Thirties but she doesn't have to speak like a character in a bad black and white melodrama.

Not that Superman escapes the odd bit of klunky characterisation. At the start of the issue, as he lies, powerless, he thinks: 'Where is she? My lady, the sun. She makes me strong. She gives me her light and her life and I am forever grateful.' And a panel or two later, Superman gets all paternal about Metropolis, proud about Krypto. Which is fine, but this is how he expresses the emotions: 'They watch -- the people -- my city sees him be everything I hoped.' These examples are truly horrible, far from the traditional voice of Superman, and any voice he could be conceived of as having. Let's assume Robinson was experimenting, will realise said efforts didn't come off, and not do it again. I shall speak no more of it.

It helps that the page these miscalculations are on is excellent, a fine example of writer and artist working together to set scene and mood. Said artist is Renato Guedes, with inker Wilson Magalhaes, and they're getting better on this book every month. Boy, do they draw a great Krypto, and their flashback Superman in a tight tee shirt is one of the sexiest depictions of the hero ever. Lois looks whiny, but as that's how she's written here, that's how she should look. And Atlas looks scarily powerful, Zatara suave and tricky, and Jimmy Olsen . . . a bit weird, but you can't have everything.

Jimmy is well-characterised, mind, and that's without having a single word in the book; he's standing in the crowd, by Lois but not interacting. No, he's in the photographer's zone, focused, looking around, camera ready to capture anything unusual apart from the fight scene his pal is involved in. And he does, something which will likely feed into the upcoming special he's been awarded.

Atlas is still an unpleasant shade of pink courtesy of Hi-Fi, but they do an otherwise commendable job, especially as regards the colour holds when Krypto is ray-blasted.

Alex Ross's cover shot of Krypto is gorgeous, though far too washed out in the colour department.

In all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable comic book, one which shows that the new creative team is finding its feet and is likely to bring us great things, soon. The final page alone is worth the price of admission. Good writer. Good artist.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Brave and the Bold 17 review

The last time story I read by Marv Wolfman which featured Supergirl saw him kill her off. Here, the current Kara Zor-El doesn't perish, but goodness, it's a painful read.

Current Kara (moody cow) turns to remade Raven (happy Goth) for help with her tumultuous emotions. She's sleeping badly because she's flashing back to daddy Zor-El instructing her to travel to Earth and kill baby cousin Kal-El.

(I was under the impression this had been retconned away as a Dark Angel plot, but the current Supergirl book has been such a mess that I'm not at all sure. Let's assume this takes place before that was cleared up, if indeed it was.)

Nice but dim Raven agrees to use her empathy powers to try and heal Kara. Kara throws a hissy fit and insults Raven - the girl has her work cut out. She takes Kara to her other-dimensional retreat, Azarath, whose priests shut Kara down. Go priests!

Meanwhile, San Francisco student Jonny is using his heat abilities to cause chaos, and kill, on campus. He's also flashing back, to his mother telling him she didn't know who his daddy was; it's obvious from the first page that, like Raven, he's the spawn of Trigon, but this supposed mystery is returned to again and again, paralleled with Kara's painful possible past.

It's tedious stuff, apparently an inventory tale that's been sitting in the drawer awhile. Editor Joey Cavalieri should have left it there, and locked the drawer, because I can't believe there are readers who hadn't had it with Kara's whining before recent mood adjustments courtesy of new creative teams in her own comic and on the Superman books.

As the book went on, I wondered how our heroines were going to take down the villain in a page or two (well, quickly, given that Supergirl has a million powers, Raven several and the bad guy but one, but still, you expect a protracted fight when so much time is devoted to a new villain - fully eight pages without either of the leads). Then the full horror of the issue hit me - it's continued next month. And with the same characters. Oh god.

While Marv Wolfman's script annoyed me with its blend of tired Kara-centred dilemma and campus politics that were old when he was writing the Titans in the Sixties, Phil Winslade did better on the art. Sure, the proportions of Kara and Raven were rubbish in a Coit Tower sequence, but he generally gives great people. His Kara at least looks appealing, while Raven looks a heck of a lot better than she did in her recent 'emo' mini series. Plus, he draws great backgrounds, nether-dimensions and unnecessary flashbacks - a coffin sequence is a stand-out, with Likely Trigon reflecting sinisterly off the wood.

A teeny thing on the splash page annoyed me - there's a 'Raven created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez' credit for Raven, but no 'Supergirl created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino'. So what if this Kara is not quite the same character, it's the same property. And this certainly isn't the same Raven that Wolfman and Perez created.

Since being revived by Mark Waid and George Perez the Brave and the Bold has been one of my favourite titles, with consistently entertaining stories, great choice of characters and gorgeous art. Even when other creators came aboard the book was great. Of course, it couldn't last, but it's a shame the first real klunker had to be quite so awful. Brave and Bold? Bitch and Bore, more like.

Flash 244 review

Boy, Flash has the fastest turnover of creative teams of any comic I know. Here's the latest, Alan Burnett and Paco Diaz, and dang, they're good. Really good.

There's a confidence rare in a first issue, as they take up where Tom Peyer and Freddie E Williams II left off last month, with Wally and Linda's kids, Jai and Iris, cured of their premature ageing spurts. Thus, Wally's a happy bunny, taking his kids on a jolly to Dinosaur Island, then Central City for a recap of Wally's origin, where they run into C-list JLA villains Shatter Fist, Fastball and Black Mass. Back home there's a shock for the kids - now they're well, the Wests are enrolling them in school. Ha, fight that, super-kids!

The meat of the issue involves Wally taking on an apparently new villain who's using genetically modified bees to kill people, in search of Suicide Squad chief Amanda Waller's pet power pack. While tackling this situation Wally surmises that recent cramps are down to the return of his old speed of sound power limitation, likely the result of using his speed force to cure his kids.

The action is enticing, but what really sold me on Burnett's script was the personality he injected into the characters. The West talk, and interact, like real people; the kids, especially, benefit from this, reacting like children without being over-cutesy. And for the first time in God knows how long - doubtless aided by her youngsters' improved lifespan - Linda Park-West gets to smile.

And under Paco Diaz' pencils, with inks by Drew Geraci and Rebecca Buckman, it's a gorgeous smile. Heck, this is an all-over good-looking family, right down to the new pet we almost meet this issue courtesy of a Peter David-style splash page aside. Lesser characters are equally well-served, with Diaz putting more personality into a delivery man than some heroes get in their entire careers - seriously, look at the body language when he asks 'hello?'. Diaz also does great gnarly victims.

The horror of the bee deaths scene is emphasised by the colours of Tanya and Richard Horie, who, with the simple decision to colour the bugs and leave victims and lab grey-tone, make the nastiness pop. Their choices are equally good in the rest of the issue, as we move from exotic Dinosaur Island to the calmer Midwest and DayGlo Florida.

Brian Stelfreeze's cover has grown on me since I first saw it online, with the blurring of the bees and twisting of the Flash cleverly conveying the idea of speed.

I was a tad snarky about the idea of Alan Burnett taking over this book last month but I'm thrilled to have my preconceptions shattered; this is one seriously smart, fun comic.

Now, if only he'd bring back Mary West - this is the man to do the great woman justice!

DC Universe: Decisions

Someone is targeting political candidates in the DC Universe and the Justice League of America aren't standing for it. At the behest of Superman and Batman, heroes are assigned to guard candidates in each of the four viable campaigns for the presidency. But Green Arrow, being a new and naive hero, allows himself to be persuaded to publicly endorse one of the candidates.

Hmm, something's wrong there. Oh yeah, Green Arrow isn't actually a new and naive hero, he's the former mayor of Star City. Hardly a political naif. Yet here he is stepping back from his bodyguard duties to make nice with the media about Davis Brewster, whose campaign symbol appears to be a cabbage. Well, at least it's green.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane is asked to do some on-air interviewing for the Daily Planet's expanding broadcast division, which I don't believe I've heard of outside the Silver Age. Mind, when was the last time you saw Lois wearing specs? Or even the first time?

Batman is grumpy this issue, annoyed that Cliff Steele, Robotman, failed to stop people getting blown up during the assassination attempt that motivates the World's Finest team into enlisting their JLA pals. Why Robotman is involved, where the rest of the Doom Patrol are, we're not told, though his role in the plot is obvious - to serve as whipping boy; Batman rounds on him for his supposed incompetence.

Hmm, how many sidekicks has Robotman seen killed? I think that would be none, so shut it, Bruce.

Talking of Batman, what is it with DC writers these days and their tendency to have him hum and hah? If it's not 'hrn' in Trinity, it's 'hh' here. Just how does one pronounce 'hh', huh?

Where Batman is grumpy, Green Lantern is annoyed; Hal Jordan seems to spend all his time watching Ollie's activities on the telly and saying 'Ollie, you damned fool'. Really, there are two scenes of this, though in one he does get to add 'What are you doing?'

Wonder Woman, meanwhile, gets to be stupid. She appears twice, grinning like a loon at the JLA meeting, as Superman talks of death threats, then, after Ollie's endorsement, exclaiming: 'Good for you for taking a stand, Ollie.' This is in character, Diana having written a preachy book or two in her time, but then she ruins it by adding, 'But why him? He's no warrior' like an Amazon who's just stepped off the boat.

JLA leader and Mrs Green Arrow, Black Canary, gets to do nothing, not even speak at the JLA meeting. I guess she'll be endorsing whichever party keeps women in their 'proper' place.

There is one great scene in this comic, as Robin and Robotman chat as the former narrows down a list of suspects, with witty dialogue and believable deduction. It's let down only by the revelation that Batman has 68 criminals with psychic powers working undercover for him. Er, right.

The big question with this comic is why on Earth the JLA are going on protection detail. The DCU has a number of covert organisations that could help, among them Checkmate, the DOA, DMO and Suicide Squad. Plus, it's not like the police, FBI and CIA are slackers. But no, in a world assailed by massive superhuman threats every other day, the JLA commit to weeks, possibly months, of close protection work. And if this issue is the pattern for the next three, we'll see three other heroes endorse candidates. Next issue's cover shows Guy Gardner, so expect the Green Lantern to back the most right wing wannabe.

I don't think I'll bother coming back for that; writers Judd Winick and Bill Willingham, and artists Rick Leonardi, Karl Story and Dan Green have produced a rather dopey comic, and if I'm going to vote in 2008, it's with my wallet.

All-Star Superman 12 review

And here it is, the conclusion of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's love letter to Superman, and it doesn't disappoint. The final chapter of the story of Superman's 12 trials is as full of drama, wacky ideas and above all, heart as the previous instalments, and even manages to include a final page 'of course!' moment.

I won't dwell on the minutiae of the references and concepts - there are some great websites that do that - but merely say that the story runs from a post-death encounter with Jor-El (his headwear evoking the regal figure he's always been in Superman's mind) to a final battle with the super-powered Lex Luthor. Along the way there are perfect character moments for Clark, Lois, Kat, Steve, Jimmy and Perry, all set in the gorgeous Metropolis of Quitely and colour artist Jamie Grant, a city that's a few steps ahead of our own without seeming outlandish.

If Morrison and Quitely never touch the Superman Family again (and I would dearly love to see an extended take by them on Supergirl), All-Star Superman is enough to see them set among the first rank of Superman creatives for all time. Siegel and Shuster would be proud.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Ms Marvel 30 review

Look at that cover, the logo's got it wrong . . . that's not Ms Marvel, it's Ms Modok. Seriously, when did her head get so big? It's almost as if artist Greg Horn Photoshopped one body and a different head and combined them into one image, without quite getting them in proportion.

Interesting composition, mind, and representative of the last few issues, as Carol Danvers continues her Skrull killing spree. This issue, though, rather than lots of little Super-Skrull, she takes on a big Super-Duper Skrull and has her arse handed to her, surviving only because the baddie defeats himself. She's been so annoying lately that I was delighted to see her gets a few lumps, even if she was a bit more palatable this time out. I think I actually noticed a brief moment of compassion.

The issue ends with two extra pages of story and art, set in Hong Kong a few months down the line (shades of TV Alias), but that's not important right now. What is? The fact that I read a whole issue of Ms Marvel and didn't hate the title character - that hasn't happened for months, so well done writer Brian Reed and artists Adriana Melo, Paulo Siqueira and Mariah Benes. Let's hope it's the start of a trend.

Wonder Woman 24 review

We've just finished a multi-parter, and another is due to begin in a couple of months, so in between writer Gail Simone gives us a breather. She's too savvy a writer, though, than to fob us off with a palette-cleansing but meaningless entertainment; this story matters to the series. Maybe not so much the second part, in which an old foe returns, but certainly the beginning of the book.

Said beginning sees another stage in the baffling romance between Diana and Nemesis. I say 'baffling' because there's been no chemistry between them - Diana is formal towards Tom Tresser while he's awkward around her. I don't believe they're courting for a minute - it's either staged for the benefit of the ever-suspicious Sgt Steel, to who knows what end, or a production number scamming her mother, Hippolyte.

With this issue, I'm tending towards the latter, as Diana takes Tom to Paradise Island for a formal meting with her mother (she and Nemesis have met in passing previously). Hippolyte takes Tom off for a chat and to bestow her blessing while Diana . . . now there's the question - what is Wonder Woman doing while her mother and supposed intended feed the royal menagerie and chew the fat? Heaven knows, but I find it tough to believe she's just standing on her floating seashell transport all that time.

Working against this theory is the fact the when they're away from Hippolyte, the pair continue their odd dialogues. Then again, in a world of all-seeing gods, telepaths and crystal balls, it could be they have to keep up the charade when not in a suitable shielded location.

I hope something is up, otherwise Diana really is carrying on a terribly formal courtship of unequals - everything is being done on her terms, and that's not a Diana I want to know.

Whatever, it's fun stuff and Simone is having great fun teasing us that Nemesis may be a tad gay (he never used to be, but who knows what the biannual reality shifts suffered by the residents of the DC Universe can do to a guy). Consider this exchange:

TOM: I don't know what to say. I don't know how to act.

DIANA: The only safe approach is absolute truth, Tom. No hesitation. No equivocation. I know you hide your true self, Tom. I understand that's necessary in your line of work. I can handle it. I'm a modern woman.

So, is Tom truly attracted to Diana, as a bisexual, but worried about meeting her mother (understandable after the events of Amazons Attack, even if we accept that she was completely addled by Circe's magic/resurrection)? Is he gay, but on some kind of romantic team-up? Something else? I can't wait to find out.

There's a moment of foreboding as Alkyone, leader of the recently defeated Circle, watches Diana and Tom lead the island. She's now interestingly scarred after an encounter with the giant sharks who bask in Amazon water and wouldn't you know it, one dives up to frighten Tom. Has Alkyone made friends with the sharks and commanded one to burst out of the sea, or is it a coincidence? It could be Diana having fun, she can commune with beasties, after all. Whatever the case, it's good to know Alkyone is still around and, no doubt, plotting.

The rest of the issue is less important to the series (well, seemingly, but Simone is the Trickster of DC Universe writers, so there's a decent chance I'm off-base) but every bit as entertaining. Diana goes to Hollywood to talk to creatives making a film about her life, starring a lady who looks like CSI:NY's Melina Kanakaredes, and it's as rubbish as you might expect, full of creative liberties and slanders. Among the people Diana meets is a new character, Allison Condero, the legal brains. She's dismissive of Diana's mission (in a way that's reminiscent of Greg Rucka's character Veronica Cale) and borderline hostile. Asking the others to leave, Diana throws herself into a sisterly, cringingly inappropriate, embrace with Allison, and invites her to turn her life around, in a suitably ambiguous manner. I look forward to finding out more - I don't believe Allison is going to turn out to be anyone from Diana's past so much as a woman with problems, which may or may not impact on her opinion of Wonder Woman.

The issue closes with a villain revealed, the Queen of Fables, who uses her storytelling powers to throw some fun spanners into Diana's works. Happily, Diana has a couple of her Gorilla City pals (the super-intelligent comedy relief or Amazon agents hiding their true purpose?) to help out. The final page, especially, will have fans of screen Wonder Women squealing with delight.

Simone's regular artistic partner, Aaron Lopresti, is absent this issue, but Bernard Chang - who filled in a few months back - is here, and his work is better than ever. He's softened his Diana face, in line with Lopresti, while showing us just what he can do as he relaxes into his role as regular pinch-hitter. His Hippolyte and Nemesis are great, his Paradise Island majestic and when we get to Hollywood he envisions an icily gorgeous Queen of Fables. Plus, in movie director Denny he gives us an ordinary fella who happens to have receding hair. Yeah, this seems an odd thing to mention - I deny a fetish - but how often do you see this in a superhero comic? Usually Diana is surrounded by regular Samsons.

Lopresti is around for the cover, and a very attractive one it is too - a cute reflection of the issue's Hollywood sequence.

Remember when this book relaunched and we'd have months to wait between unsatisfying issues? Those days are long gone and I couldn't be happier.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Ms Marvel Annual 1 review

Spider-Man is swinging around New York, thinking expository thoughts when, out of the blue, Ms Marvel attacks, him being an unregistered superhero in this post-Mephisto world. They fight awhile before being forced to team up against a new threat to the city, giant robots. Problem resolved, Spidey escapes and Ms Marvel remains angry.

That's not new for Ms Marvel these days. Angry isn't so much her default setting as her only one. Ever since the book was relaunched, writer Brian Reed has been making Carol Danvers angrier and more self-righteous, with Civil War's Superhero Registration Act being the peg on which to hang her current level of hate. I was hoping she'd be revealed as a Skrull during the current Secret Invasion shenanigans, but apparently that's not going to happen.

So here she is, in Ms Marvel Annual 1, the character you won't be rooting for. It wasn't just a matter of wanting Spidey to clean her clock, I'd have been happy for a random giant robot to squish her. For while she has the law on her side, Ms Marvel is such an unlovable character that even Dr Doom would look good by comparison. She attacks Spidey before he can respond to her threats, totally ignoring their years of friendship. She barks orders at police. She gets her knickers in a twist over Spidey's concluding joke . . . Ms Marvel is so angry (if she were the Hulk she'd redefine green) that it impedes her supposedly great strategic thinking, so Spidey runs rings around her.

Mind, despite her writer being in charge, I'm not convinced this was envisioned as a Ms Marvel book at all; it begins and ends with Spidey and is told completely from his perspective, right down to the Brand New Day narrative boxes. I suspect it was decided to brand this a Ms Marvel issue to give her a boost, as the readers Marvel have hooked into almost-weekly Spidey will buy it anyway.

There were one or two bits of the script I liked, such as Spidey's comment that a villainous acronymn was 'the most cumbersome thing i've heard since whatever SHIELD stands for this week' and his closing comments to Ms Marvel, via the head android, about power and responsibility. But I could have lived without the villain being housed at DC Comics' pad, which was childish, and Peter's thoughts being as light-heartedly off-hand as his comments as Spidey was basic mischaracterisation.

The art by Mark A Robinson and Mark Irwin was not my cup of tea at all. I know we're supposed to accept work like this as Manga-influenced or something, but to my eyes it was just plain ugly, full of spiky stick figures posed at angles impossible even for Spidey. There was a nice energy to the giant robots spreads and splashes, but this team's people just don't work for me.

So there you go, another week, another issue in which it's not just a case of 'this female fights back' as 'this female fights first'. Can we have our superheroine back please?

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Manhunter 34 review

Kate Spencer continues her investigation into the murders of young women on the border between Mexico and Texas. Here she concludes her run-in with the Suicide Squad, is surprised by her Birds of Prey colleagues and discovers how complicated the situation truly is.

Manhunter continues to be an intelligent, enjoyable read since its recent un-cancellation, with Kate as complicated a character as ever. I don't like her justification for killing Multiplex' duplicates, but her arguments are compelling, as befits a lawyer. I do admire her sheer determination to not be deterred from her path in her bid to put an end to the murders.

Writer Mark Andreyko doesn't skimp on characterisation of other characters either, with particularly satisfying moments for Bronze Tiger, Phantom Lady, Iron Munro and legal assistant Damon.

Mind, it's the amount of time given to supporting players and their subplots that has me worrying about this book. Yes, we know DC is giving it a big trades push, and that Executive Editor Dan Didio loves the series, but surely the sheer number of subplots could put off new readers. We have weapons guy Dylan's past catching up with him, son Ramsay's emerging powers, the relationships between Phantom Lady and Iron Munro & Damon and Obsidian (wonders never cease, they actually share a close-up smacker!) and probably stuff I've forgotten. Outside of Kate's (ugly red out of black) thought boxes, there's no narration to introduce and contextualise characters, and instead of page transitions, new scenes just appear on top of the previous scene. I realise this sort of thing is considered cinematic but - newsflash - Manhunter is a comic book and comics have their own toolbox, which includes defaults for scene-setting and recaps. A new reader coming on after the start of an arc will likely be scratching their heads when a few simple, subtle concessions would allow them to dive straight in.

Really, I love this book, but it's gone too far in the direction of trade-waiting; please DC, make it a titchy bit easier for new readers so the Manhunter property has a chance of surviving another year.

Artwise, Michael Gaydos continues to deliver art which is moody and realistic but not apparently dependent on models. My little quibble is that too many panels seem to take Kate's bum or tits as the starting point for their design. Aside from the minor sexism I'm seeing/imagining, it's shoving one of the pugliest costumes in comics in our face.

The big surprise artwise was the cover - I really liked it, looked for a signature and found it was the work of Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens, one of my least favourite artistic teams. So for one month, at least, I'm eating crow, guys.

Let's just hope that for many months more, I'm reading Manhunter.

Supergirl 33 review

No fan of the first issues of Kelly Puckett's run, I was going to keep passing over this book until the new creative team arrives next month, but spotted that this was a fill-in so gave it a go.

And I'm glad that I did, as it featured a coherent story, decent characterisation, very pleasant art and a fan favourite guest star (well, she's a favourite of this fan, at least). Said favoured character is Empress, the teenage Voodoo vixen created by Peter David for Young Justice and only ever seen these days in cameos. Here she's the catalyst for Kara's encounter with a new villain, and while the story demands she takes a secondary role, it's good to see Anita Fite and her toddler parents featured, rather than merely included, again.

The villain's motivation is pretty rubbish, and a bit of a modern superhero cliche - a bystander during a super-battle, he now wants to show the world that the heroes who save them every other week are in fact A Very Bad Thing - the story admits that he's basically a nutter. He goes by the terrible name of Aftermath but may as well be called Maguffin, as he's around mainly to get Kara from A to B; A) being where Puckett seems to have left her, angry and confused, and B) being her current appearances in Superman and Action Comics as a calmer Kara.

And guest writer James Peaty does a good job here, showing Kara thinking her way through the story without undue angst. By the time she gets to the final page, you can accept the motivating engine of the story with her sunnier outlook.

As for Empress, she retains one of the ugliest costumes in comics, but guest artist Ron Randall makes it look almost decent. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this Eighties discovery ((Arak, Son of Thunder) handles both pencils and inks with perfect precision, so could someone at DC please give him a regular gig? Really, Randall's figurework is powerful, his characterisation subtle and his backgrounds ever-present - a rarity these days. And former Digital Chameleon Wes Dzioba's palette is the perfect accompaniment.

Stephane Roux' cover is a nice bonus, offering a pensive, determined Kara and a formidable Empress.

She has her costume and powers, but one thing Empress lacks here is her entertainingly silly tendency to say 'Mon' at the end of every sentence, to remind us of her Jamaican background. Still, you can't have everything. For now, I'm just thrilled to be able to recommend a Supergirl story again.

Secret Six 1 review

After successful Villains United and Secret Six mini-series Gail Simone's villain team get an ongoing. Regulars Scandal, Ragdoll, Catman and Deadshot are back, joined by Bane and with a new member due soon.

The issue opens in a gay club where nicely dressed brotherly thugs escort an associate into a room where lurks the mysterious Junior. And that's not overstating things - we don't get a look at him because Junior seems to spend all his time in a box. Which isn't to say he's not scary . . .

(So he's referred to as Junior, he has a way with evisceration and it's likely his dad has box associations too. Jack in the Box? Jack the Ripper in a box? Nah.)

Elsewhere, Deadshot and Catman, in civvies, show who's bad as they encounter little league grocery store robbers, while the latter villain describes some kind of crisis of conscience. And back at the House of Secrets, the male members try to cheer up the hilariously named Scandal Savage, still upset at the death of her New God girlfriend Knockout.

This is my favourite scene in the book, and I'm not going to spoil it here; suffice to say it's funny and weirdly sweet. Unlike Catman, who despite claims that he's thinking of going good guy, is still too quick to savage folk for my liking. Then again, you could say he's on a journey, and disgusted with himself.

As first issues go, this hits most of the required beats - we're reintroduced to the regulars, the new mission is explained, there's a nice feeling of trouble ahead and the new nemesis, while straddling a dangerous line between really silly and really scary, intrigues. Plus, the dialogue is whip smart (a cliche you'd never find Simone employing). The minor quibble I have is that if you don't know who Bane is - yet another Batman villain, after Deadshot, Catman and former members Harley Quinn and Mad Hatter - you get no help here; still, he'll get his moment in the sun.

The art is just lovely. Simone's old Birds of Prey partner, Nicola Scott, is the regular penciller and, inked by regular collaborator Doug Hazlewood, provides sterling work - the attractive characters are sexy, the freakier folk creepy and the storytelling solid. Mind, Deadshot's new facial hair arrangement is unforgivable - Zapata moustache and stupid soul patch. I love the guy, but honestly, is his judgement that bad?

Jason Wright's colouring job is intelligent and good-looking, while Steve Wands gets to do Ragdoll's distinctive lettering - one day I'd like a character in the story to describe his voice, so we know why just he has a personal font.

Cliff Chiang's cover is pretty, but I do think Scott and Hazlewood should be given a crack at the job. I would, though, like to know what the strange swirl is that dominates/ruins the cover, obscuring the two shadowed new members. Is it an out-of-control question mark?

In all, this is a solid comic book. The atmosphere is grisly, but we don't see anything to turn the stomach, and I was pleasantly surprised when a member didn't do the obvious, and slaughter an innocent on a whim. Cos the nastier the Six get, the less I like them. Simone likes to tease fans that this is going to be a book that hovers close to the edge. That's fine, so long as she takes a lesson from John Ostrander's similarly be-villained Suicide Squad, and doesn't go over said edge. Keeping villains bad while not having them unsympathetic? That's a tough call, but so long as Simone doesn't fall under the editorial remit of DC Executive Editor Dan Didio, she should be OK.

Oh dear, Lying in the Gutters this week reports that Secret Six Nachie Castro is leaving DC for Disney . . .

Monday, 1 September 2008

Ambush Bug Year None 2 review

Oh, this is silly stuff. No clear through line to the story, dozens of obscure continuity references, a lack of respect for DC history . . . I love it to itty bitty bits. Plotter/artist Keith Giffen, dialogue chap Robert Loren Fleming and the rest of the gang are on fire here, spitting out 22 pages of nonsense that put a massive smile on my face.

There's no point trying to give a flavour of the book here, or to pass on out-of-context gags - if you've liked the Bug in the past, you'll likely like this. If you've not tried the Bug, but enjoy a bit of levity with your comics fix, this could be your cup of cocoa.

All I will say is that this book brings you the Character Find of 2008 in the greatest member of the Mauve Lantern Corps, the Spaniard of the Spaceways . . . Don Gaye Apparel!

Teen Titans 62 review

Look at that happy cover! Titans tech team Wendy and Marvin with their great new pal, Wonderdog.

They are so toast.

And so it proves, as the dog grows massive and ugly and - ulp - hungry. Oh the irony, only pages previously the pair had failed to find something the pooch considered tasty. That's what happens when you spend more time proclaiming your genius IQ than finding out just how a dog could appear out of the blue.

Marvin: 'Huh. The thing just shows up on Titans Island out of nowhere . . . ?'

Wendy: 'Weird, huh?'

Marvin: More than weird Wendy . . . it's gotta be some kind of Wonderdog.'

No, you dolt, it's gotta be a trap.

Oh well, Marvin is eaten and Wendy looks to have followed (but I wouldn't bet on it). Still, I'm sure these Brainiacs will appreciate that it's just Darwinism in action. They have the book learning, but not the street smarts. Heck, they didn't even think to see if the darn dug had a microchip.

Elsewhere this issue, Cyborg brags about the great new security at Titans Tower. Oops, spoke too soon, neither Wendy nor Marvin have a personal alarm on their person, no sensors pick up Marvin's anguished screams and Robin responds to an alarm pressed by Wendy in a flaccid manner that's not terribly becoming to a teen wonder.

And Miss Martian quits the team. Well, Supergirl has gone and Ravager has gone - had she stayed, grumpy old Wonder Girl would have found a way to get her off the team too; why wait for the inevitable?

Sean McKeever's script is decent, though I'm sure most fans could see what was coming a mile off. Recent issues of this book show that the boy sure does like the grisly, though, I can imagine him having a whale of a time describing the bad dog scenes towards the end.

The art is very nice, I really like the Eddy Barrows and Ruy Jose team, bar their tendency to constantly pose Wendy with her shoulders back and tits out. I suppose she did indeed have more to declare than her genius.