Sunday, 30 November 2008

Birds of Prey 124

The Platinum Flats storyline continues with Misfit, Infinity, Lady Blackhawk and Huntress attacked by the Silicon Syndicate, and Oracle confronted by the Joker. While the former thread interested me, it was the latter that had me excited. And writer Tony Bedard didn't let me down, as he gave us the encounter I've been wanting a couple of decades for, ever since Barbara Gordon was crippled by the Clown Prince of Overuse in The Killing Joke. It's such a satisfying scene that I won't spoil it, I'll just say that it was well worth the wait.

Artists Claude St Aubin and John Floyd do a terrific job illustrating the issue, bar one moment that should be drawn but isn't - Babs moving to block a knife thrown by the Joker; we see him toss, we see the blade in her cane, but the intermediate shot is missing, with only the barest of speed lines to indicate the stick's been moved at all. That aside, I'd love to see more of them around the DCU after BoP goes RiP.

It's a shame this book is being taken away from us, as Bedard was really making it his own; I only hope it returns following the Battle for the Cowl in the Batman line, and Oracle's promised mini series.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom

The Gog storyline hots up here, as we see that as Gog gives, so Gog takes away. Dr Mid-Nite can see again, but is less able to cure the sick; Sand has lost his knack for stopping evil along with his night terrors.

And Damage has become the vainest, stupidest man on Earth, ready to preach the word of God because he no longer has a facial deformity. Of course he'd be happy, but here Grant Emerson is a holy fool, and this motivates some very satisfying character conflict with Stargirl and Atom Smasher.

Citizen Steel, too, is showing signs of feeble-mindedness, and he's not even been given a gift by Gog. Yet. He wants to be able to feel through his metal skin again, and declares: 'I'll do whatever I have to do to feel something again. I'll do anything I want to get my wish granted.' It's wonderful that the JSA don't judge by appearances, but is there a creepier smile in comics than that adorning Gog's pate?

Mind, this is the team that had the good judgement to make Black Adam a member.

Despite having had his own special a couple of weeks back, we get more of the Earth 22 Superman worrying about the coming of the Kingdom, the event that caused so much pain on his own Earth. But rather than go confront Gog, he seeks out New Earth's Wonder Woman to warn her against being too bad ass, and tell her off for 'murdering' Max Lord, an assertion that goes sadly unchallenged by Diana (scripter Geoff Johns never seems to do well by Wonder Woman).

The most interesting scene has 31st Century man Thom Kallor/Starman take a job as a gravedigger. Is old Legion and occasional JSA foe Mordru going to pop up soon? He's usually buried in between appearances ...

Why this story is a special edition I don't know, as it fits perfectly into the main run of the book, more so than the previous Specials' focus on Superman-22 and Magog; this isn't a collection of random character scenes that add depth to the story, it's full of fundamental plot points. Never mind though, this was the most enjoyable issue of the Gog storyline yet, so kudos to story boys Johns and Alex Ross (who also provided a pretty awe-inspiring cover) for that.

And a big part of the book's success is the artwork of penciller Fernando Pasarin and a bevy of inkers. The storytelling is exquisite, while individual panels sing. My favourites here were shots of a flaming Alan Scott, a spooky Sand, an imposing Atom Smasher and a ridiculously handsome Dr Mid-Nite. He even managed to make my least favourite costume change in comics - Wonder Woman's twirl - look fantastic. And well done to colourist Hi-Fi for a perfect palette in Cyclone's bedroom.

By the end of the issue, it looks as if the story is finally winding its way to a conclusion. I do hope so, but if remaining issues are this good, I could stand a few more.

Wonder Woman 26

It's months since DC announced that The Rise of the Olympian was the epic that would create a new buzz around Wonder Woman. I'm such a saddo that the very fact that Aaron Lopresti and Brad Anderson's excellent cover sported a special banner made me excited. The comic? Not so much.

It's not that there wasn't good stuff here from writer Gail Simone, artists Lopresti and Matt Ryan. The return of the Greek gods to the book - gone since they fell victim to an evil crossover - was intriguing. They're symbolically reborn from a gryphon on an Ichor spacecraft, in identical jumpsuits. There's a strangely confused Zeus and Athena, and Olympus is covered in Apokoliptian graffiti and, it's implied, worse. Most intriguing was Athena apparently losing her faith in her champions and choosing to give up her immortality. The fact that this happened off-panel, and it's reported by Mercury - the trickster god - has me suspicious. And I liked the narration, especially the references to 'a pre-civilised world of magic and war' and order/chaos; could the planet be DC's repository of magic, Gemworld, scene of many a battle between the Lords of Order and Chaos?

The page with Hippolyte sensing the return of her gods was eerie, and I loved her tracing Diana's W symbol/the constellation Cassiopeia in the wet sand; it seemed very human, and that makes for a Hippolyte we've not seen for awhile.

It was excellent to see Diana reading Sarge Steel's eyes, thinking 'I don't need the lasso to know he's lying'. This could be read in two ways, with it indicating that she still has the truth power John Byrne saddled her with; I read it as reinforcing that the lie detector is in the lasso solely, and here she's using simple human nous. It was also splendid to see Diana's tiara isn't just decorative, it retains the razor-sharp properties of former years, and Diana isn't shy of using it. I much prefer to see her classic ensemble get some play rather than the swords and axes we've seen in recent years.

The power and cruelty of new villain Genocide was suitably nasty, as she splats ordinary folk at a shopping mall she's attacked. And I appreciated the pluck of Nemesis as he stood up to fellow agents sicced on him by his boss, Sarge Steel, who believes he's a traitor to the US via his consorting with Amazons.

And the scene with Barbara Minerva - in human form rather than were-cat - brushing off T.O. Morrow's qualms about the Genocide creature he's created did a good job of carrying story info while hinting at the true evil of the newcomer.

What I didn't like was how ready said colleagues were to treat Tom Tresser like dirt. But then, there's something in the air among the DMA staff, with Agent Diana Prince quite out of character in her hotheaded attitude towards Steel, displaying signs of dependency on Tom's presence (which is later mirrored by his over-the-top fretting when racing back to her). Sure, she knows Steel's out to prove she's an Amazon sympathiser, but losing it in front of her new strike team is uncharacteristic to say the least. It could be that this is part of the psychological hoodoo Diana suspects Genocide of using against her, but Diana was acting oddly even before they met.

I wasn't at all keen on Diana announcing her diplomatic status to Genocide on first meeting - there's a time and a place, and that's not when innocents are trapped in a building, at the mercy of an unknown quantity. Plus, Diana's amazement that she might be facing a god . . . has she ever read her own comic?

Saddled with the Diana Prince as super-secret agent set-up by previous creators, Simone shows us just how wrong this role is for a heroine in hiding. On reaching the site of the massacre, Diana immediately has confidante Etta Candy make her excuses so she can become Wonder Woman. A secret ID which means she has to be in the exact same place as her more colourful self won't last for long. With any luck, Simone's highlighting of this will pave the way for a new status quo for Prince.

Genocide could become the major player DC hopes - the air of shame she creates is a first in comics - but first she has to develop a more charismatic personality. She has an obsession with homes, and a cruel streak that appalls Diana, but that's about it. Her lumpy grey skin reminds me of Superman foe Doomsday, raising the possibility that her creators, Darkseid lackey Libra and the Secret Society, spiked his DNA into a captured godling. My first thought is old WW bad girl Devastation, but she already has more than enough power to take on Diana. We know, courtesy of a DC preview, that Genocide is a kind of golem, which is how Diana - created from clay - is described by creators and readers who don't get that Diana was made flesh, she's no creature of mud. That leads me back to wondering if Deva is indeed involved here, given that she was created by dark gods on the night of Diana's birth.

The mystery of Genocide certainly has me intrigued, and I look forward to finding out more. I also hope to learn more about Diana's team while they're in the book - I expect at least one of them to die during this storyline, and wonder if another will become new hero The Olympian - well, Mike D'Alessio is pretty much a Mediterranean name . . . OK, I'm reaching here.

The artwork was really nice, with Lopresti, Ryan and colourist Anderson combining to tell the story with style. Hippolyte must be a favourite of Lopresti, as she never looks better than under his pencil, and Agent Prince's team are pleasingly distinctive. The scene with Nemesis resisting arrest was a corker, and the fight between Diana and Genocide was effective.

Effective, but it should have felt bigger. That's my only real complaint about a basically solid issue - the story should have felt more intense, the art should have made things seem scarier. For example, when Agent Prince's team arrive at the mall, a splash page shows us the crushed building, vehicles barricaded around to stop anyone getting in or out. But there's no immediate feeling of danger, of horror. I'm always quick to point out where I think DC's titles are overly violent (>cough< Geoff Johns) but here the story demands an initial sense of outrage. We could have been shown bodies strewn around, or sobbing loved ones outside. There is a telling point soon afterwards involving the contents of the cars, and the splat killings mentioned above, but an initially awful image would have cranked up the fear factor.

Still, this was the beginning of a multi-parter, so there's plenty of time for things to get really bad. Yes, I'd have preferred a bigger bang, but slower build-ups can be effective too. Diana is affected by Genocide psyche-out, I'm a victim of the DC hype machine.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Terra 1

In which our mysterious heroine takes exception to Dr Midnite examining her while helping her recover from a battle; she teams up with Power Girl to fight Silver Banshee, then ancient god Gorsedd; newly created element master Richard ponders his future; and Geo-Force gets some aid defending Markovia from zombie master Deadcoil.

That's not bad for 22 pages, there's plenty of popcorn there. And even better than the action is the characterisation. There's not just Terra's attitude towards probing, there's the beginning of a friendship with Power Girl; a great discussion between Richard and fellow evil industrialist/sex doll Veronica Cale (the underwhelming Wonder Woman antagonist) about whether he should use his new power for good, evil or real estate deals; Terra's novel way of dealing with Silver Banshee; her actions when a character dies; and a chat with Geo Force.

There are also some amusing touches in the script, such as the description of Power Girl as a 'prominent member of the Justice Society' and Conner's art, for example Dr Midnite clearing up Hooty's owl droppings.

I was underwhelmed by the first issue of this mini series but this is much more to my taste. The story rolls along like a rollercoaster but never feels insubstantial, and there's a confidence to the script and art that's a pleasure to experience. It feels like the creative team could continue this book for far more than the four issues they have. Even the mystery of this Terra's connection to the original is more interesting than expected - it helps that Gray and Palmiotti actually start giving us answers. I hate the Wolverine approach to backstories, which sees the origin withheld for so many years that it can't help but be a letdown when it finally comes.

Conner is also firing on all cylinders, managing to balance her cutesier tendencies with the drama demanded by the script. There are some lovely bits of body language, such as Power Girl on the splash page, somewhere between bemused and embarrassed, and Terra's frustration towards Silver Banshee. This performance bodes well for this creative team's upcoming Power Girl ongoing and, more immediately, the rest of this series.

Oh, and per my comments on issue 1, it turns out our heroine wasn't lifting the logo last month, that's just where it lives. Well there you go!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Brave and the Bold 19

It's a rarity to see the Phantom Stranger interact with the superheroes of the DC Universe. In the Seventies, at the back of end of his lengthy story-hosting gig, he was kindasorta an unofficial member of the Justice League of America, appearing for a panel here or there to provide spookiness. Since then he's been seen only rarely, usually in the role of '2nd mystic from the left' at Crises of Finite Imagination. But here he is actually instigating the action, summoning Hal Jordan to Arcadia private hospital in Virginia where he senses dark 'magicks' (you know it's serious when 'magic' gets the 'k').

There our heroes, who neatly cover the 'brightest day' and 'darkest night' realms, find eight severely disabled children, the result of dodgy drugs trials. One child, Cora, has begun scribbling notes in unearthly languages, along with a verse that prompted the Stranger to summon Hal. And that makes for one very creepy splash page indeed.

From there, 'Without Sin; Part One' spans the spaceways, as our Brave and Bold fellows try to solve the hospital mystery. We travel to Kahlo, a world whose plant-produced pleasures are reminiscent of Mongul's Black Mercy, with people paying for the enhanced oblivion facilitated by Belamort. In Arcadia, the brain-damaged children already have a kind of oblivion, through the greed of adults who should have ensured their safe passage into the world.

Kahlo is also where we meet - no, not a monobrowed painter - a new Green Lantern and see Hal in his old 'senior statesman of the Corp' role. What we don't see is much of the Phantom Stranger. The action of the issue is carried by the brother GLs, with the Stranger shunted off-panel to another field of battle. With luck we'll see what he's up to in the continuation of the story next issue.

That's a minor quibble with a refreshing tale - it's nifty to see Hal Jordan given time off from the massive storylines to partake in an adventure not centred on the Corps. Writer David Hine (District X, Son of M) captures a capable, compassionate Hal and presents a Stranger ready to take a more hands-on approach than usual. It's an intriguing piece that nods toward the relevance period, in Hal's reaction to Arcadia, without ramming it down our throats.

This learned story - go on, ask me about bilateral anophthalmia - is beautifully illustrated by Dougie Braithwaite (Justice, Secret Invasion: Thor) and Bill Reinhold, with colours courtesy of Brian Reber. Together they give us an artistic package that's all their own while occasionally evoking classic GL artists Gil Kane (yup, nostril shots) and Neal Adams. There are spooky moments, sci-fi moments, even subtle comedy moments (instead of the usual bubble, Hal transports the Stranger through space in what looks for all the world like a funeral urn).

This is the first of a four-part run by Hine and Braithwaite and I suggest jumping on for the ride. It's better than a basket of Belamort.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Captain Britain and MI13 7 review

Well thank goodness you can't judge a book by its cover, cos this is one boring cover. It's well-rendered, but the image of Faiza and the Black Knight on flying steed doesn't excite so much as calm. And that bloody dull logo doesn't hurt, making the book look like an auto manual.

Inside, there's some great stuff going on. Britain's number one (and only) super-team are in Birmingham, battling refugees from the Dark Dimension usually seen in Dr Strange. The demon Plokta is tempting people with their heart's desire, and using the energy he gains when they give in to create Mindless Ones, who remain among my favourite Steve Ditko creations. Captain Britain, in a moment of overconfidence, crosses a magical threshold in a bid to rescue long-lost wifey Meggan, while the Knight, Faiza, Pete Wisdom and Captain Midlands try not to think of what they really really want. Meanwhile, Spitfire and Blade the Vampire Hunter/Pompous Bore stop trying to kill one another and start flirting.

There's a nice mix of characterisation and action - the dream demon business allows us to get to know our heroes better as they struggle against the evil targeting them. And still we don't learn what Captain Midlands' hidden desire is. The cliffhanger's not too thrilling, apparently being a bit of continuity business tied to the Black Panther's series. But that's just one panel. The rest of the book is a tour de force of well-paced, spooky fun which really shows why author Paul Cornell is such a great scriptwriter for Doctor Who.

The artwork's better than it's been for a couple of months, with always terrific penciller Leonard Kirk given great support by inkers Michael Bair, Jay Leisten and Craig Yeung, while colourists John Rauch and Brian Reber ensure it's a hot day in the hell that is Birmingham.

Best moment? A subtle cameo by Lockheed the dragon which warmed my heart.

Action Comics 871

New Krypton continues with Doomsday roundly taken out by a dozen or so Kandorians and a couple of Zod followers put in their place by the latest version of Nightwing and Flamebird (the fifth I can recall, so likely the 12th). Superman continues to be a bit of a wimp, biting his tongue when too much force is used on Doomsday. Plus, there's a scene showing General Lane won't be Luthor's lackey, and Lex has a gay moment over Brainiac.

The best bit, the scene that made me laugh out loud, came as writer Geoff Johns explained away the other Kandors we've seen since John Byrne's reboot (two by my count, see first parenthetical rambling above). Supposedly they were Kandors inspired by the magnificence of this, the One True Kandor! Genius, Johns uses the Brainiac assertion again. The one that says all the previous versions of Brainiac were drones of the One True Brainiac. He quickly followed that with the revelation that Toymen 2, 3 and maybe 4 (even my theoretical counting has lost track) were robots created by the One True Toyman. And now old Kandors are similarly shrugged off. Expect the new Krypto to pee on the memory of Krypto the Former Dinosaur From the Krypton That Wasn't the One True Krypton (Cos It Was Created By Brainiac 13, a Mere Future Drone - or something) any month now.

The book looked very pretty, with Pete Woods providing some gorgeous Kryptonians and a pouty Luthor reminiscent of Frank Quitely's over in All-Star Superman. And Alex Ross' cover was striking, to say the least.

All in all, a decent good-looking read, but little more than well-produced, predictable set-up for the main event.

Kingdom Come Special: Superman 1

"I am Superman . . . but not the Superman you know. I've come here from another world - another time - that is no more. I know that I may sound crazy to you, but I feel that I am responsible. I feel that I may doom this world by being here, and I wonder . . .


Oh all right, I made that last bit up, but that was the question that went through my mind during this spin-off from the current JSA storyline. Dearie Lord, I know the Superman of Earth 22 lost his Earth, but he's been here ages now, he needs to cheer up, get some therapy or find a world that needs a Superman - maybe whichever version of Earth 3 is in continuity this week.

As it is, writer and artist Alex Ross has Superman accidentally bash regular Superman, for the sake of a dynamic opening spread. I didn't mind, though, as it made for one stunning image. I was less happy with the confrontation between the two Supermen on the cover, though - it's a scary, powerful picture of a demonic S-22 killing his counterpart and way beyond anything that happens within.

What does happen is that Superman moans to JSA teen Cyclone, then decides to seek out New Earth's counterpart of Norman McCay, the priest who warned him about cataclysm on his own Earth. Before he can do that he foils an attack on the Daily Planet meant to attract the other guy, which is when they have their tiny scuffle, which ends with our Superman chewing out the other for being a bit heavy-handed. That done, he finds McKay, receives some words of comfort and pops back to JSA HQ, where he meets Lois Lane.

This is where we get the emotional meat of the issue, as Our Lois begs him to tell her how His Lois died. It's an affecting tale, and I'm glad to have read it, but it could have occurred in the JSA title. There's no reason for this book to exist other than to grab a few dollars from fans following the already-stretched Gog story.

$3.99 is what DC are charging. Aha, you think - it's a giant story. Hardly. It's the usual 23 pages of art and what extra pages there are in the package, are used for a behind the scenes look at how Ross created the book. It's interesting enough, but surely most people interested enough to have read this will know how a comic is put together. Many will have read similar features by Ross. The fact that it's Ross - DC are very proud of this book, with a posher than usual cover credit of 'written and illustrated by Alex Ross' - doesn't make the information any fresher.

The writing is better than expected, I anticipated stiffness of the kind found in specials he's done with Paul Dini, such as Spirit of Truth. I assumed that was Ross' preferred tone, and he had directed Dini to produce super-sombre prose. But the script here is fine. Not amazing, but serviceable - no one sounds especially off.

So how is the art? Ross abandons his usual fully painted style for pencils and computer inks, and the result is wonderful: page after page of artwork that has the realism he's known for, plus the fluidity he's previously lacked. Figures are sharp (I loved the touch of Joe Shuster in Lois Lane), cityscapes awe-inspiring and interiors enticing. The new technique seems to have freed Ross's mind, and while he's still used models for a couple of characters, it seems he's not had them pose for panel after panel. I'd rather, though, the new style were used for something that truly moves the big story along than a character study that just tells us things we already know.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Iron Man: The End 1

It's awhile since I've bothered with an Iron Man comic - my old friend Tony Stark disappeared around the time of Marvel's Civil War. But here he is again, decades in the future, with no mention of the conflict. And that's how it should be, I'd like to think that in a few years we'll have a Basil Fawlty approach to the situation at Marvel: don't mention the war.

Bringing us this last Iron Man story are co-writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton, who produced the Golden Avenger's golden era, beginning in the late Seventies. Now, as then, Layton also provides the inks for an up and coming penciller; for John Romita Jr, read Bernard Chang (of late, the regular fill-in artist on Wonder Woman). Together the team produce a light, optimistic tale that gives Tony Stark the send-off he deserves.

He first appears hale and hearty, with a hard-looking body and barely more grey in his hair than Reed Richards had at the beginning of his heroic career, but age has withered him and Tony has problems. He's developed a boxer's degenerative condition due to years of being pummelled inside the Iron Man suit. Plus, his latest project - a stairway to heaven - is stalling. Luckily he has a good woman at his side (the one who should never have left the book) and an heir apparent. Less happily, he has an old adversary working against him for an old evil conglomerate. Will Tony win the day and swap his metal boots for cosy slippers, or die a hero's death as he passes on the suit?

This book has everything I want from an Iron Man book - a smart Stark, mad science, new suits and heroism aplenty. Scripter Michelinie handles Tony's narration smoothly, and gives us a poignant moment or two. Like the recent film, Iron Man: The End is a reminder of how Tony Stark can work as a hero without succumbing to egomania.

It also has one of the ugliest logos I can remember sitting atop a cover that's Bob Layton's tribute to Tales of Suspense 39, previously homaged in Iron Man 126, from the original Michelinie/Layton run. Still, you can't have everything. We do get some lovely uncluttered art from the Chang/Layton combo, and thrillingly bright colours, recalling the good old Seventies, courtesy of Mike Cavallaro. Some of the new suit designs are clunky and/or weird, but that's Iron Man for you. I must say, Chang has a future as a fashion designer, coming up with some attractive, plausible tweaks to men's tailoring.

This one-shot is called Iron Man: The End but in hearkening back to the glory days it's defiantly old school. And I like that.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Justice Society of America 20

The blurb at the end of this issue tells us that next month's story is 'Be careful what you wish for!' Coincidentally, that very notion was going through my mind this time. For a while I've been praying for the end of the Gog storyline; it has its pleasures, but is too drawn out for my liking. And here's a whole issue's break from the wish-granting dullard. I should be pleased.

Er, would someone tell Gog I'm ready for his close-up? For this is the worst issue of Justice Society of America since the relaunch a couple of years ago.

Geoff Johns' story sees the Justice Society Infinity of the new Earth 2 follow our Power Girl back to New Earth from her Gog-sent sortie there. A confrontation between the two sides was bound to happen, but what a bunch of hysterics we're presented with here.

With a couple of exceptions, the JSI members are dumb and antagonistic. The JSA representatives are open-mouthed and ineffectual. Describing himself as 'the Superman of Earth 22', the Superman of Earth 22 can't quite work out who the new Power Girl thinks he is.

Our Alan Scott becomes a blithering idiot at the sight of a still-living Jade: 'It's my daughter Jay. It's really her.' How many parallel worlds has this guy, a hero for nigh on seven decades, encountered?

Truly, this is a Crisis of Infinite Whining.

Then, a few JSA members follow the JSI back through a Star Boy-created space/time warp, and are somehow sent to Earth 2's not-Mr-Terrific's office rather than wherever the JSI wound up. The latter team are soon in their Batcave, torturing our Peege with green kryptonite. Their Power Girl screams at ours, and beats up her weakened counterpart. Huntress falls apart over her secret love for Robin (bleurghh).

This story makes it clear that these are the exact same people as the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths JSA. And yet they're angrier, and a lot stupider than they should be. For one thing, they don't seem able to conceive of parallel worlds. This is a team which calls itself Justice Society Infinity.

I do like the secret of Star Boy revealed here - his new ability is a stretch, but in comic book logic terms works just fine. I don't like that he casually drops in another of these prophecies Johns is so fond of (see also the Flash, Lightning Saga and Green Lantern) about a character's future.

Even the usually reliable Jerry Ordway, drawing the Earth 2 sequences, is less than stellar this issue, providing some terribly overwrought facial expressions (the worst being Jay's over the top reaction to seeing Mrs Terrific). You might say he's simply conveying the melodrama of Johns' script, but a pro as good as Ordway should tone down excesses, not run with them.

Regular artist Dale Eaglesham acquits himself nicely, conveying the power of cosmic gunk winds rather well early in the book, and giving us some good-looking final pages. I especially liked the opening spread he shared with Ordway.

Co-plotter Alex Ross, on cover duties, produces another hideous mishmash of colourful characters pulling faces at one another. Oh, for a simple illustration with something old-fashioned like a focal point.

Adventure Comics Special featuring The Guardian

. . . being a big fat insert that could have fit into the recent Jimmy Olsen Special (the big clue being an editor's note that states: 'This story takes place between pages 53 and 54 of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen Special 1!). That's not to say it's bad, as the cloned Guardian of the Cadmus Project tells the red-headed reporter his recent history. There are a couple of nice surprises, but the biggest of them will only mean anything to old Legion fans.

The problem is that it doesn't feel urgent. It's one character telling another a story, and when the action comes, its flashback nature strips the sequences of any tension. As a chapter in the big story of New Krypton - this is listed as Triangle 3 in the current counting sequence - it's a decent enough read, but as a compelling comic book, it fails. Writer James Robinson and artist Pere Perez do a good job, but there are no standout moments. The comic feels self-indulgent, an optional extra.

And it committed a Crime Against Mart. One of my current bugbears is titles and credits dumped at the back of the book for no obvious reason. This comic goes one better, interrupting the story on page 12 to give us the gen. If anyone can tell me what this decision adds to the story, I'll be most grateful.

The best thing about this comic is the movie poster style cover, by Victor Ibánéz (there's also one by the excellent Wonder Woman artist Aaron Lopresti). And typically, I can't find a decent copy online!

Terra 1

Wow, this is really . . . pleasant. Nicely drawn by Amanda Conner, competently scripted by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, it's the definition of OK. The new Terra is rushing around the world rescuing people from earth-based menaces, while an unscrupulous industrialist gains powers that are just perfect for taking her on. A guest star shows up, followed by another, and the issue ends with a grand revelation of something I thought we already knew.

The most original aspect of the book is the introduction to the DCU of some fun underground races. The annoying bit is that it looks like we're going to waste a fair few pages of the four issue mini sorting out who Terra is. I vote for just declaring it and moving on, showing us why the DCU should make space for a Terra rather than getting bogged down in ancient continuity.

The cover illo by Conner and Palmiotti is lovely, and makes clever use of the logo, but said logo obscures the big rock she's holding up, so the full effect of her powers is obscured. Maybe the logo itself should have been hewn from rock?

Secret Six 3

'Unhinged' continues with our villains united against a bunch of rival baddies out to get the mysterious card for the enigmatic Junior. Along the way we hear something of how the Tarantula came by said maguffin, and get our first glimpse of the newest member.

Said newest member is one Jeanette, and she looks like an updated Harry G Peter character, with hair like a meringue, dragon lady skirt and the reddest of lips. She also has a near-naked senator hanging upside down but we'll pass over that. It's a one-panel appearance but I already want to know more about what Jeanette can do.

There's full naked in a memory dream suffered by Catman, as we learn more about what happened in Africa prior to issue one. Suffice to say it demonstrates both his sense of irony and skill at hiding his crotch from interested readers (ahem).

There are a couple of sicko scenes here, but they fit the tone of the book and so don't annoy me the way recent ultra violence in Teen Titans has. This is a series all about nasty people, and some are more evil than others.

The special guest villains are Cheetah, Bolt and Black Spider and writer Gail Simone does a sterling job with them. For one thing, she emphasises the speed and strength that allows her to take on Wonder Woman, and has other characters recognise that she's not just another wannabe in a catsuit. For another, Gail remembers that Barbara Minerva is English and produces dialogue with the requisite tinge of Britishness. 'My word. What a great lot of fuss you make,' she sneers as she dismisses Bane and Scandal with ease. Cheetah sounds for all the world like the anti-Mary Poppins.

And Blue Devil cast-off Bolt came across as formidable for the first time ever, particularly in a wonderful moment that sees him threaten Cheetah and Black Spider. The latter doesn't do anything much this issue, barely speaking. I suspect he's not who he claims to be - that's an all-over mask so it could be anyone, never mind any of the three known Spiders. Maybe it's Nightwing, keeping tabs on Tarantula, her having raped him back in the day and all. (Two spider characters, a pair of cats - what could it all mean?)

At issue's end we finally learn the secret of the card and it makes so much sense, given the Cheetah and Bolt's comments earlier in the story, that I'm kicking myself for not figuring it out myself.

The only jarring moment came when the Six decided to leave the horses they'd been escaping on behind because 'we're way too obvious'. Surely it's better to be riding away on horseback while clad in colourful garb than on foot adorned in said supervillain wear? You're 'obvious' either way but one of them gives you a better chance of escape.

The art by penciller Nicola Scott, inker Doug Hazlewood and colourist Jason Wright is tremendous. The figure work is attractive, with clear storytelling and clever use of body language (Ragdoll is never less than delightful, in his creepy way). The colour work is especially good this month, with appropriate choices for every scene, whether it's a darkened airport or sun-seared Africa. There's a standout silhouetted shot of Catman in this second sequence which would be the image of the issue but for a splash featuring two bickering villains that crackles with dynamism and power.

This sterling issue is capped off with a cracker of a cover from Nicola, with our protagonists out to hitch a lift. It has a Kevin Maguire vibe, but there's a pleasingly richer line. The illo is witty and gives us a particularly soulful Catman; it seems Gail isn't the only creator with a crush on this character. I don't know if Nicola did pencils, inks and colour here - I suspect so, as it's so different from the interior art. Different, but equally gorgeous.

Secret Six is shaping up to be one of DC's most enjoyably impressive books, with the creative team demonstrating a unified vision and the craft to follow through. I'm ready for an annual - come on, it's been three issues!