Friday, 30 January 2009

Justice Society of America 23 review

Oh nasty Isis . . . really, she's back from the dead and getting her revenge on Felix Faust for his actions in the Black Adam mini series which followed 52.

Which I never read, as I'm not keen on the way he's been presented over the last few years as an anti-hero, when he's just a killer who tries to justify his rage by blaming everyone else. The resurrected Isis joins him in this attitude here, though she seems more confused that flat-out evil; she wants to cleanse the earth of evildoers but won't temper her judgement with mercy.

Her quest to consolidate her power leads to a fight between Adam and Billy Batson, the new wizard Shazam, at the Rock of Eternity, which leads to events I hope will return the Marvel family to their classic status quo. Old Billy, Captain Marvel Freddy and Black Mary Marvel just aren't working.

Still, at least Mary is a good girl again, courtesy of Final Crisis issue 6, a fortnight ago. Sadly, this issue seems to take place prior to that, meaning someone with Marvel powers in a black mini skirt shows up at the end of the issue, and I doubt it's Freddy. No crutch.

The rest of the issue is wonderfully refreshing after the lengthy Gog storyline. It's fantastic to see a meeting of the JSA inner circle over the Gog affair - and Stargirl holding her own with the veterans. Chatting about their stated aim to make better good guys, they assess the recent actions of their newer members, allowing the old guard some characterisation as we catch up with the young guns.

Co-authored by Geoff Johns and former Power of Shazam writer Jerry Ordway, this combines the 'day-in-the-life' issue with an action packed B-plot. It's a thoroughly satisfying, fun read, with lovely art by Ordway, inker Bob Wiacek and colour gang Hi-Fi. And a shout-out to Rob Leigh for particularly excellent title lettering on the, er, final page. (What is it with DC and final page titles and credits? Unless a book ends with a massive reveal, and the title reflects that, it's just stupid!)

You want another reason to give this book a try? Wildcat Jr's boxing shorts.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Batman: The Brave and the Bold 1 review

'Strike a light guv! It's as if 'undreds of us was combined into a monster!'

'Rubbish! Clearly some sort of mass hallucination, wot?'

Yes, we're in dear old Blighty for this debut issue of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, tying into the new TV cartoon we Brits don't get yet. So this is my first taste of the show's tone. I like it.

We begin with Aquaman and Batman teaming up against the robotic Carapax, before Batman is sent to London by the ever sarcy Alfred. There he hooks up with Power Girl - in the English capital to lecture on computers - to take on a composite creature assembled by eeee-vil Lex Luthor to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

If Lex were really as bright as he thinks - and he can't be that clever, as he's wearing chef's whites rather than a scientist's tunic - he'd know that the jewels on display for tourists are paste. The real ones are secreted away, meaning the only priceless baubles on show here belong to Power Girl.

(Oh come on, you can't mention Peege without referencing those maddest of mammaries - it's the law!)

Anyway, Power Girl isn't a sex object here - she gets to use her computer savvy to save the day.

The book is rounded off by a feature page with mini-profiles of Peege and Luthor; the Power Girl text even has some new information - she's obsessed with monitoring geological disturbances, to ensure Earth doesn't blow up as Krypton did.

The issue, written by Matt Wayne, with blocky, dynamic art by Andy Suriano and Dan Davis, is a hoot from start to finish - smiling superheroes smashing dastardly supervillains in big, colourful panels. I can't wait for the next one.

Avengers: The Initiative 21 review

Why this book has a 'Disassembled' tag on it I don't know; are we going to have one of these every time an Avengers team changes from now on? I hope not, it's taken years for me to get over the horrors of the Avengers 500 debacle.

Never mind, ignore it, move on. This is Christos Gage's first solo issue of the regular Initiative title, now Dan Slott's moved on to Mighty Avengers, and what a splendid issue it is. It's the aftermath of the Skrull Secret Invasion and members come and go. One associate, Ultragirl, even gets told to give up her costume, as Moonstone is now wearing in over in Dark Avengers (and thank God for that, Suzy looked just great in her own outfit).

The adjustments are interrupted when the cloned Thor (I am not calling him Clor - I'm just not!) from Civil War shows up and starts smiting everyone, for no particular reason. I dunno, maybe because he was born in a senseless crossover, he's fated to do senseless things. Luckily, Thorgirl (a name as stupid as Clor - why not the simple Thora?) is back from Skrull captivity and filled with ye righteous wrath. She's magnificent here, a real heavy hitter, and backed up by resident therapist Trauma, who does surprisingly well. And just as things start to go badly, the cavalry arrives . . .

New penciller Humberto Ramos provides some nice quiet panels, and stunning battle scenes - there's a standout splash featuring Faux Thor (Edgar Delgado's dynamic colour choices pull their dramatic weight). But mainly, I wish he'd tone down the odd proportions, such as in this image of Not-Thor (click on it for a close-up fright). I never know whether he's trying for foreshortening and coming up short, or simply has bad eyesight, but panels such as this spoil the goodwill generated by the great stuff. Plus, the mouths. Always with the massive mouths!

That apart, this is the best Avengers Disassembled/Civil War/Secret Invasion/Dark Reign tie-in I've read this week.

Legion of Super-Heroes 50 review

In which Jim Shooter wraps up the storyline he set up in his first issue, over a year ago, in a very satisfying manner. Using a combination of smarts and powers, the Legion convincingly dispatches the threat of the Intruder Planet.

It's scintillating stuff, but there's something missing. A small thing . . . where the heck is the resolution of the 'Projectra's an evil old bag' storyline? Last month she nearly killed Phantom Girl, mindwiped Saturn Girl and swore to destroy the Legion and United Planets. This issue?

Not one word. Yes, this is the final issue, and the main storyline had to be wrapped up, but there are moments that could be cut to allow a few pages to wrap up the Projectra business. It's hardly a small matter when one of their own goes rogue. Instead we had a happy ending that was lovely for the characters involved, but wrong emotionally for the reader.

Apparently Shooter wasn't happy with the way things turned out, as he's under a pseudonym this time, as Justin Thyme (ouch). Well, I assume it's him - feel free to correct me, anyone in the know. I doubt it's Steve Apollo (old-time Legion ref there, not worth explaining, really). It's a shame that a great run of scripts has ended on a downer.

On the art side of things, Ramon Bachs and John Livesay do a decent job, though one Legionnaire looks far too young in a scene in which he's meant to look young (he wrote awkwardly, trying not to spoil things). The run's regular artist, Francis Manapul, supplies the powerful double cover, aided and abetted by Livesay and colourist Jo Smith.

No matter how good the next version proves, Jim Shooter's intelligent scripts will ensure I'll miss this version of the Legion.


Wonder Woman 28 review

Rise of the Olympian has been anything but boring so far, yet things kick up a gear here, as writer Gail Simone gives a masterclass in pacing a story for maximum action and characterisation.

Sergeant Steel is not a man to sing the Wonder Woman TV show theme and that's the latest clue that he's not who he seems to be. This is the issue in which we learn his secret, and it's tied to our Faces of Evil-imposed cover star, the Cheetah.

Mind, she's not much present, with the bulk of the issue devoted, quite rightly, to Round Two of Diana's conflict with the monstrous Genocide. And, appropriately, she has seconds - Donna Troy and Wonder Girl in their own versions of the Alex Ross Screaming Chicken Armour (as dubbed by Carol Strickland). The spread in which we first see the Wonder Sisters together is just stunning, artists Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan, with colourist Brad Anderson, presenting them as so beautiful, yet fierce, that even the JLA looks on in awe.

This standard of art is maintained throughout the book, another highlight being the creepy scene in which Simone introduces the island of men from which the Olympian will spring next issue. The illoes make it obvious these guys have just been plucked from the arms of death by the mad god Zeus.

We see two sides of Diana this issue, the leader in battle, determined to regain the magic lasso Genocide stole from her, and the thinker, narrating her heroic journey to herself. Neither voice trips the other up. We see Diana as the terrible warrior she can be, but even though she wields an axe - something I hate - she uses it reluctantly, because she believes the situation demands it.

There's a ratcheting of tension throughout the book, and a couple of great cliffhangers. The only thing about 'The Blood of the Stag' that disappointed me was the continuing characterisation of Tom Tresser, Nemesis. I get that there's more to the WW/Nemesis alleged romance than meets the eye, and that all will be revealed in time, but meanwhile, does he have to be presented as a ninny? The man is a superspy, he's held his own in a team-up with Batman, survived numerous Suicide Squad missions - he's not one to puzzle over a borrowed spear (click for a better view).

That aside, Simone, Lopresti and co make producing great superhero comics look easy.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Mysterious the Unfathomable 1 review

Dr Strange, Zatanna, Dr Fate, Scarlet Witch . . . comics are full of gorgeous, altruistic, self-denying magicians, but here's something new - a pot-bellied, lecherous, drink-sozzled medium for hire. And I love him.

Mysterius is the star of Wildstorm's new series written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Tom Fowler. Parker, I know from Marvel's excellent X-Men: First Class and Agents of Atlas books, and he was the selling point for me. And he doesn't disappoint, introducing a fascinating new character, a mystical gun for hire who wants to do the right thing, but doesn't always manage it. Assisting Mysterius is Ella, a journalist who just can't get that big break (and Mysterius' mischief doesn't help).

In this first issue they display the kind of chemistry it takes TV shows weeks to establish and I was truly disappointed when this first issue ended mid-mystery (click for bigness). The meat of the book tells how Ella meets Mysterius, and it's a fun ride, as a high-class seance goes wrong. The framing sequence sees Ella check out a possible new client, and I look forward to that becoming the A-plot.

Tom Fowler is a new name to me, and he's every bit a partner in the magic created here. His characters are full of life and character, reminding me of E-Man's Joe Staton crossed with Mad Magazine's Angelo Torres. The general light-hearted sensibility makes the darker sequences all the more dramatic.

Mysterius is a fresh, thoroughly entertaining spin on a comics archetype and I recommend you give it a try.

Dark Avengers 1 review

Tony Stark's SHIELD is gone, Norman Osborn's HAMMER is now the major peacekeeping force in the Marvel Universe. And as the name implies, the once and future Green Goblin believes in peace through force. So it's time for a new version of the Avengers, comprising heavy hitters loyal to him.

Carol Danvers won't play ball? No problem, bring in an alternate Ms Marvel. Wolverine, Spider-Man and Hawkeye too moral to join the team? Have bad guys take their roles. Throw in Ares (will fight for food) and Sentry (as dumb as his haircut), alternate universe Kree warrior Marvel Boy (promoted to Captain Marvel) and the all-new, all-cynical Iron Patriot and you have a group ready for their close-up.

Our first sight of them comes with this issue's cover, a homage to New Avengers 1, and what a rubbish idea that is. We get it, these are the Dark Avengers, Marvel, how about you just show us them? There is a nice shot of the team early on in the book, as Norman - inside the Iron Patriot armour - introduces his Avengers (with an annoying three exclamation points) to the world, and it's typical of Mike Deodato's artwork here - striking and dramatic with impressive use of shadow. He's perfect for a book that is basically a continuation of his work with Warren Ellis on New Thunderbolts. There's intrigue on every page and Deodato captures the atmosphere superbly, aided by colour artist Rain Beredo. And when we get extra splash pages, Deodato ensures the moment is worth it.

I was going to have a moan about the ridiculous lack of material on Carol Danvers' costume, but given how tightly Deodato draws Marvel Boy's costume over his crotch, you can't say he isn't an equal ops cheesecake artist.
Brian Michael Bendis has crafted a terrifically entertaining script. He starts in the far past with a villainess due to be spotlighted next issue, moves to the present and the introduction of the team to the world, then goes back over the previous week as the group comes together. The interaction between Osborn and his lackeys, and those who refuse to toe his line, is note perfect - he even makes me like the previously sanctimonious Maria Hill. And while Osborn 'briefing' his new deputy, the colourfully haired Victoria Hand, could be seen as Bendis at his wordiest, it shows just how meticulous a planner Osborn is; if there's an an angle, he has it covered. In an issue full of spiffy moments, I loved the subtle nod, involving Dr Doom, to the Iron Man film.

The only off-note is the terribly specific effect of a pill Osborn gives Venom, but the scene helps move the story along and isn't too jarring in a big splashy comic book. The major plus of Dark Avengers is that I can relax and enjoy Bendis' strengths rather than fretting over the fact that he's not writing the Avengers as the shining team they should be - no one is pretending this bunch are role models. Like Maria Hill, I look forward to watching Osborn 'crash and burn'. The difference is that I'm likely to live to see it.

Mighty Avengers 21 review

'And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Dan Slott finally got to write a genuine Avengers title . . .'

Sure, Avengers: The Initiative has been a superb read, packed with intricate storylines and spot-on character work, but it wasn't an Avengers book. Not really, despite the appearance of such stalwarts as (Skrull) Hank Pym and Jocasta.

But this is the real deal, a team book featuring not only the genuine Pym, and Jocasta, but the Scarlet Witch, Hercules, the Hulk, USAgent and Young Avengers Vision and Stature. Maybe they're not all A-listers, but the Avengers aren't Earth's Mightiest Heroes because of their power, but because of their heart. If 'Cap's Kooky Quartet' including Wanda, Quicksilver and Hawkeye, were worthy of the label, this bunch easily are, especially as drawn by the expressive art team of Khoi Pham, Allen Martinez and Danny Miki. The New Avengers did indeed comprise Marvel's A-listers, but they've never felt like a team of Avengers so much as a marketing stunt. This new group, though, are linked by historical and emotional ties and look to be an Avengers team for today.

Disassembled was where everything went wrong for the Avengers and this issue evokes that storyline, via its opening at the garden of statues that was Avengers Mansion, the sheer size of the magical threat facing the world and the presence of the Scarlet Witch. At first it seems she's behind the chaos, as she was Disassembled, but as the book goes on it becomes clear that's not the case; she's gathering a new team of Avengers to face the crisis.

On a similar quest are Hercules and Amadeus Cho, self-proclaimed 'seventh smartest person on the planet' and probably the most irritating. His smugness links into the title of this issue, 'the Smartest Man in the Room'. Is it Cho, is it Hank Pym, is it Tony Stark? The question allows Slott to give us another peek at his approach to Pym (after the recent Requiem special, see He's still a tad tortured but ready to step up when prompted, and actually demonstrates a sense of humour. The best lines, though, go to Hercules, for example, after Pym announces his new code name, a tribute to recently departed ex-wife Janet Van Dyne, the Wasp. While I love the odd character-appropriate gag, the Avengers needs big dramatic moments, and this comic offers plenty of these, from scenes of the New Avengers and newer Dark Avengers tackling end of days scenarios to dark doings on Mount Wundagore (who says there's no such thing as Chaos Magic?). This is an extra-length, ambitious story which is subtly repairing some of the horrors visited upon the Avengers since the onset of Disassembled. More importantly, it's mighty good fun.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Faces of Evil: Prometheus review

I very nearly didn't buy this. Prometheus was created by Grant Morrison as an arch foe for the JLA, but didn't catch on. Maybe it was his shtick - he could download data on any foe and instantly beat them. Even in a world of flying men, a villain who stops mid-battle to slot CDs into his helmet took some believing. My big problem was that he seemed to scream Big New Foe - he was trying too hard. I like my big villains to earn respect over time Anyway, he faded away after being roundly defeated by the JLA. Later, there was an impersonator, but no one cared.

What did get me to buy this book was the writer, Sterling Gates, who's been doing a sterling job as the new guy on Supergirl. So how did he do?

The issue began with a smartly done recap of how Prometheus got to Blackgate Penitentiary and gives a logical reason for his return - the mental prison imposed by J'onn J'onzz disappears with the Martian Manhunter's death in Final Crisis. The rest of the issue recaps his origin and shows Prometheus reclaiming his gear, and name, from former sidekick Chad, who usurped his gig as Prometheus II and failed to make him proud. The intensity of a fight scene with obscure DC heroes the Blood Pack goes some way to showing us what a hard get (that's 'bad-ass' in American English) he is, but then Gates goes too far. He doesn't stop at Prometheus chopping off the hands of Gunfire, he has Anima sliced in two as she follows Prometheus through a closing teleportation hole. It's gruesome stuff, easily as grisly as scenes penned by his mentor, Geoff Johns.

OK, despite having had their own series for awhile, Gunfire and Anima likely disprove the adage that 'every character is somebody's favourite'. But I really don't like Character A maiming Character B purely to show how tough the former is. Heck, I don't even like the way Prometheus deals with his former protege; it's more violent than the comic needs. Just because books can get away with the nastiest option these days doesn't mean they should go that route.

Federico Dallocchio handles the entire art job. He's a new name to me, but on the basis of this issue I hope to see him get a regular gig. His layouts work well, he makes some interesting perspective choices and he's great with facial expressions. And on the colour side, he's very good at skin tones.

In all, this was a decent read, a well-crafted book (I loved the old three-act division). It still fails to convince me that the fundamentally daft Prometheus deserves a place in the big leagues, but time will tell.

Get down with Living Lightning

Minor West Coast Avenger outed himself in the Great Lakes Avengers mini series in 2005 (click on the image for bigness) but was he dropping hints even before that? Here's a panel from Thor 445, part of the Avengers: Galactic Storm crossover of 1992.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Amazing Spider-Man 583 - yes, thank you Marvel

The news media is terribly excited because someone has drawn a president in a comic book! Who knew such an artistic barrier could be broken (again) - but that don't impress me much. I mean, selling comic books to idiots on eBay for the price of a house is all very well, but if the choice is between a picture of a here-today-gone-in-four-years president and a cover illustrated by the classic Spider-Man artist John Romita Sr, well, I know which I'm choosing. It's just a shame Marvel didn't go old school on the colouring - the murky purples which dominate the background, and the shadows obscuring the faces, do no favours to the work of a true comics great.

And another thing . . .

Dear Marvel Comics, the phrase: does not actually apply when you've charged an extra dollar to give us the privilege of getting you column inches.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Captain Britain and MI:13 9 review

Last issue the team's tussle with an evil dream lord stepped up a notch when it was revealed that British not-very-super soldier Captain Midlands had betrayed them. The Plokta thickened . . . a character previously considered a joke gained poignancy, while dropping his colleagues in the *&^*%$&- (actual quote - I get to use almost-cusses in this review, as CB/MI:13 is a T+ book, according to Marvel's rating system).

This issue the storyline is tied up and along the way we get numerous 'hoorah' moments in which our heroes shine. Which makes a very dark scene near the end all the more shocking, and that's a moment I won't spoil. That's followed by the revelation of who MI13's next foe will be; suffice to say it's a villain I never expected to see, despite it being utterly logical given a recent addition to the team.

Paul Cornell writes up a storm here, cranking up the tension and excitement while never forgetting the humanity. Even Master of the Mindless Ones Plokta gets a personality; yes, it strays dangerously close to pantomime Demon King territory, but never quite crosses the line.

This review writing lark is a bugger - there are so many great moments in this issue that I want to show them. For example, my favourite line in any comic so far is featured here, but reading it as an extract wouldn't be half as much fun as coming across it on the page; suffice to say it's story page 11.

One thing I will print here is a panel that comes post-battle. The magic that gave people their heart's desire has gone, or perhaps it's spilled out. Maybe the latter, because to me, that fellow at the centre looks like the recently deceased John the Skrull - is it too much of a stretch to say that his resurrection was one of Pete Wisdom's heart's desires? (click to enlarge):

Maybe not, but I can dream!

Joining Leonard Kirk on pencilling duties this time is Mike Collins, a Brit I've been watching since his fanzine days - would someone please give him a regular gig, cos he's the business? For one thing, he should be this book's regular pinch-hitter, at the very least he should get a Meggan-heavy issue to draw, as his version of Mrs Brian Braddock is utterly gorgeous. She's actually doing well this month, as cover artist Stuart Immonen comes up with a marvellously soppy cover image.

Marvel recently renewed their order for this series with Cornell - hey, these are tough economic times - and it's great to see that a quality product has found an audience. So, Paul Cornell, now you have the room, when's the team coming to see me in Edinburgh? We've not had any heroes here since the X-Men fought Proteus on Arthur's Seat. Wouldn't you just love to put Pete Wisdom in a Jimmy wig?

Manhunter 38 review

A few months ago I suggested that the sheer number of plotlines and characters wouldn't help the back-from-cancellation Manhunter from finding new readers. * Sad to say, for whatever reason, this is the last issue.

And dang it if it doesn't show that creator Marc Andreyko can indeed turn in a script with lots of players, without it being tough to follow. For in this issue and last's flash forward several years, he has them all involved in a single storyline - Kate Spencer being challenged by two new (to us, anyway) villains as all-gwown-up son Ramsey graduates from film school. And the villains are great value - murderous cannibals Sweeney Todd and Nellie Lovett, as seen in Stephen Sondheim's classic musical (who would guess this was written by a gay man in good standing?). As depicted here, they're scary as hell, almost as frightening as the pie Mrs Lovett gives Todd as a love token.

The pay-off, as the terrible twosome crash Ramsey's party, is a joy, reminding us what a terrific supporting cast Manhunter has had, and the ending has a wonderful logic to it, when you think about the book's title.

Andreyko's script has some lovely witty moments, and even when the characters get sarcastic with one another, it's done with affection. And while Gaydos isn't an obvious superhero artist, he's done a great job with the quieter moments of drama. Pinch-hitting on pencils here are Dennis Calero and Fernando Blanco, and they do wonders with the more bombastic moments
It wasn't perfect, but I'll miss this book - Kate Spencer is one of the most complicated (read, often annoying as hell) new characters in years, and her supporting cast aren't far behind in the charisma stakes. Let's hope they reunite with Andreyko for the occasional special.


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Happy Birthday Krypto!

Oh all right, I've no idea when Krypto was born, but as he debuted in Adventure Comics 210, cover dated March 1955, that means he's 54 this month - about a million in dog years. How sweet that Clark-Kent-who-is-secretly-Superboy can't wait to 'romp' with his newfound friend! And how surprising, given that even for an alien, that's one ugly dog: Seriously, I bow to no one in my admiration for the late Curt Swan, the greatest Superman artist of the Silver Age, but boy, he and inker John Fischetti produced one sad-looking mutt.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade 2 review

My gosh, having not been seen since the mid-Seventies, Lex Luthor's kid sister is back in this week's Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade issue 2.

This Johnny DC version doesn't seem to have Lena's traditional psychic powers - I don't think she knows Linda Lee is Supergirl, though she has a subplot she's playing close to her chest - but she made me feel all warm and nostalgic.

From this: to this:
This really is a great comic. Issue 1 was decent (see but this is just the Bee Boy's knees. Landry Q Walker's script is packed full of charm, wry smiles and insight into what it's like to feel the outsider at school, while Eric Jones really gets into his stride as artist, providing some great expressions and animation for his characters. Moments such as this just make me grin, and remind me of the great days of early Impulse (click to enlarge): Johnny DC books are often spin-offs from DC TV shows - here we have an original comic I could easily see going the other route.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Black Lightning: Year One 1 review

DC's Year One brand is back and Black Lightning's the star. Truth be told, I didn't have high hopes for this, having never been a huge Jefferson Pierce fan. I read a few issues of his original title in the Seventies, but the short-lived series was never a favourite. He joined Batman's Outsiders but was just kinda there, a power set with a daft wig and a tendency to have previously unheard-of children pop up.

But daughters Anissa (Thunder) and Jennifer (Lightning) have settled in with the Outsiders and JSA, and a solid Justice League membership has brought Jeff new fans. So it makes sense to showcase the character more and this is a shinier display than I could have hoped for.

Writer Jen Van Meter honours the origins, as laid down by creator Tony Isabella, while enriching them with a deeper real-world feel. Jeff is still the Sidney Poitier-style athlete turned teacher, out to inspire kids away from Metropolis mob the 100, but we see that he has flaws, not least of which is that he can't share his fears with his wife. Said anxieties surround the electrical aura he's been suppressing for years (the original run had the powers generated by a belt, though they were later internalised) but wife Lynn, an equally crusading lawyer, isn't exactly stupid. She knows something's up.

It's Lynn who is Van Meter's masterstroke. The hero's narration has become a staple of superhero comics but the writer turns this around by telling the story from Lynn's point of view. So instead of, for example, Jeff telling us he's running after local bad boys as we see him run after local bad boys, Van Meter takes the opportunity to give us some backstory (click to enlarge):

The rest of the script is equally intelligent, as we're introduced to various members of Black Lightning's family. Van Meter masterfully weaves the daughters and niece Joanna into an integral part of the story. And some nice small touches find their way into the artwork, such as the graffiti which makes Southside into Suicide Slum and the renamed trophy cabinet at Jefferson's school.

And the art is wonderful. Cully Hamner draws attractive, real-looking people in a pleasingly comic style. And he doesn't skimp on the backgrounds, which is vital if Metropolis' seamier side is to be evoked. Laura Martin is his partner in colours and does a terrific job, making the scenery colour appropriate while toning for mood.

I had such a good time reading this that I didn't care that Jeff never appeared in Trevor Von Eeden's original costume, which Hamner has tweaked, for sanity's sake, on the cover. Black Lightning: Year One is shipping bi-weekly for three months - buy it if you want a superhero drama that crackles.

Amazing Spider-Man 582 review

Spidey battles Molten Man for the life of Harry Osborn as the latter's estranged wife Liz tries to get their frankly vile little boy, Normie, to safety. Me, I'd throw him at his Uncle Mark's lava-dripping arse.

Unusually since the dawn of Brand New Day, this is a single setting issue, with no subplots. But the fight is a joy, with writer Dan Slott reminding us that Peter has brains as well as brawn and the psychic senses of some fictional spider. Plus, we see that Harry, too, still possesses the same smarts he once did, and that Liz is a spunky chick. God knows how they gave birth to the brat Normie.

Mike McKone, Andy Lanning and Kris Justice do a bang-up job on the pencils and inks, while Jeromy Cox and Corey Petit provide the yummy colours and gorgeous letters.

Yes, I'm in a fluffy bunnies positive mood and you know why? Because of the final scene with Peter and Harry acting, for the first time in several decades and God knows how many realities, like the best buds they're meant to be. OK, there is the little matter of Peter not reminding Harry he's Spider-Man, but that never ends well.

Instead we have a delightful page of dialogue which is as good to look at as it is to read, thanks to McKone pulling back the 'camera' to lend the feel of a really good sitcom. And Harry works out Peter's secret (click to enlarge): Brilliant stuff!

Secret Six 5 review

Another month, another issue of one of DC's most consistent books. I was afraid the company's Faces of Evil linewide stunt would derail the ongoing Get Out of Hell Free card storyline, but all it means is a Deadshot solo cover by Andrew Robinson, along with his narrative PoV. It doesn't tell me anything I didn't know about hired killer Floyd Lawton, but it reinforces the fact that he's one of comics' most interesting villains. Readers newer to the character than I would likely lap it up.

There's also internal dialogue from Bane, captured and tortured by the vile Junior, and here I'm the newer reader, being familiar with the character only from scattered guest shots over the years. He's a more compelling soul today than the drug-pumped thug from the Knightfall storyline, admirable in the way he refuses to be cowed. The Bane scene leads to the eventual reveal of Junior's lineage and I'm delighted to see that a few fans here and there (on podcasts I've heard) guessed pretty much correctly.

The script from Gail Simone continues to be a delight, ferrying us through the typically twisty-turny chapter. It doesn't matter whether we're talking main character or villainous henchmen, the players come alive. And as dilineated by Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood (with a hand here from fellow inker Rodney Ramos), they look alive. The team, aided by colourist Jason Wright, can even make us feel the emotion of Bane while his head is bowed, and his eyes closed (click to enlarge):

There's a sad end here for one character I've been enjoying a great deal and something of a comeuppance for the overexposed, annoying Cheshire by one of the most intriguing new bad girls, Mistress Jeannette, and the tricky Tarantula. A bunch of other baddies get a good seeing too and the book closes with the most twisted happening yet - and thank God it's one we don't see.

If you like sick supervillainous fun, I can't recommend this book enough; here we have a creative team that really know what they're doing, and they're doing it for you. So join the Secret Six - you may even survive.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Words fail Wonder Man

So, Im reading the Avengers: Galactic Storm trade, volume 1, and there's a story from Wonder Man issue 7. There's a great fight with Captain Atlas of the Kree, Simon wins, then we get this scene: Anyone know what dialogue went missing?

Friday, 2 January 2009

Cosmic Size Fantastic 4 1 review

Reed and Ben bring something nasty back from a pocket dimension, necessitating a two-day quarantine for the FF and kids Franklin and Valeria, who soon notice that their elders are acting jolly oddly.

That's your basic story from Cary Bates and Bing Cansino and it's absorbing enough. What really had my attention more, though, was the ageing of Valeria Richards. Last time I looked she was a toddler, here she seems older than her big brother at times, with smart arse dialogue to match (click for a close-up).
I know Val, like Franklin, has been seen in an older form, as the second Marvel Girl, but that was a time paradox deal; so far as I know, since being born to Sue Richards she's been growing at a normal rate. Having her suddenly so old, and knowing is jarring.

At 32pp, this looks to be an inventory tale intended for a $3.99 annual. So why is it backed up by an early John Byrne FF tale (the throwaway Spinnerette story from 237) and bumped up to $4.99. There's no thematic link between the stories that I can see, and the Frankie Raye subplot will have newer readers scratching their head (hey kids, she was a human torch too!). It just seems like a way to bump up the price, and having been caught out once I'll be wary of buying another book with a similar title (I ignored the recent Thor God-Size Special which, as well as having the hyphen the FF book lacks, a quick Google tells me was all-new).

Longtime DC writer Cary Bates, recently returned to comics, doesn't seem quite comfortable with the FF, but he's a talented guy and with time would find their voices. It's just a shame Editorial didn't sort his Valeria out. Bing Cansino (great name!) is new to me, and seems to have been told to ape current FF penciller Bryan Hitch, but he gets the story told. Francesco Mattina's cover is very nice. Irrelevant, and showing only two members of the FF, but nice nonetheless. It's not worth the cost of this mediocre issue, though.

Great moments in comics

Citizen Steel takes the phrase 'comic strip' a tad too literally in Justice Society of America 22 . . .

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Avengers: The Initiative 20 review

Writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage start wrapping up the current storylines of a book that's gotten better with every issue. This comic was, hands down, the finest thing to come out of Civil War and almost justified the waste of paper that was Secret Invasion. Month after month we've had intrigue, action, suspense, twisted romance . . .

. . . which brings us to this issue. I'd assumed the lovely Mark Brooks cover was symbolic of Yellowjacket's suffering after the death of the Wasp but this issue does indeed feature present day interaction between Hank and Jan. Knowing what's coming up in terms of Hank's Marvel Universe future, you'll likely guess what's going on here, but it's still creepy and doesn't bode well for the future. Before that, wonder if Slott and Gage have watched the Tony Curtis/Larry Olivier scene in Spartacus one time to many . . .

Tigra, meanwhile, has her own problems, having learned that her fling with Yellowjacket has left her likely carrying a litter of Skrull-kittens. Can you say ewwww?

In a nice nod to Fantastic Four history, Alicia Masters turns up to counsel former Skrull kidnap victims as the Shadow Initiative vow to round up the traitorous Hardball and someone gets a promotion. And that's not all - find out who Mutant X is! What's next for the Skrull Kill Krew? What is the Skrulls' final act of vengeance?

If every comic was this packed to the rafters with incident you wouldn't find me ruing the likely rise of 32pp books to $3.99; this is a rich read indeed.

It also looks pretty decent, thanks to the art of Steve Kurth and Drew Hennessy, who produce some sterling facial expressions, vital in a comic so interested in the relationships between its characters.

I feared this book was disappearing as the Dark Reign storyline takes over the Marvel superhero line. As it happens, Slott is leaving as he takes on Mighty Avengers, while Gage remains and I couldn't be happier that a comic that's carved a unique niche on the racks survives.

Superman 683 review

Behind one of Alex Ross's constipated elderly Superman covers, here's the penultimate part of New Krypton and events crank up a gear as the JSA, JLA, Starfire and Steel confront Superman over the small matter of Kandorians murdering Earth policemen and generally stomping carelessly around the planet. Superman tries to evoke the Code of Dibs - see - insisting that this concerns Kryptonians and he'll sort everything out. Really, Superman is coming across as a dimwit. Take this moment, for example (click to enlarge): The man is letting sentimentality threaten the people of Earth and the other heroes need to act, and quickly. Out of friendship and respect, they give Superman half an hour to present the Kandorian killers, time he uses to confront his aunt Alura, who gave them authority to act with disdain for human life, and who is protecting them now. Again, his attempt to reason with a woman who has already been pretty hard-faced, to say the least, about the situation, doesn't reflect well on our boy Kal. It shows him as more naive than he should be for his level of experience, but Pa Kent and newly found Uncle Zor-El have just died, so he's hobbled by love for his family - any members of it.

Needless to say, things don't go well and superheroes are soon battling Kandorians. This is where the issue gets really interesting, as we see the heroes use their powers in new ways to make the conflict more equal. And while I never knew, for example, that Black Lightning could do what he does here, and it isn't the most logical extension of his abilities, I love it. It's one of those 'hoo-rah' moments, and more follow. There's more logic as regards the cavalry who turn up at the end of the issue, indicating that the finale next month will be something to behold.

Writer James Robinson gets more comfortable with this book every month, making it a compelling read even when it's not focusing on the Man of Steel (such as last month's ensemble drama). There's an especially great moment with the Guardian this month, one I won't spoil here.

And the art . . . this is truly beautiful work from pencillers Renato Guedes and Jorge Correa Jr (also inking his pages) and inker Wilson Magalhaes, graceful yet dynamic. I couldn't tell who was doing what due to a combination of the artists using similar styles and the incredible - not a word I use lightly - colouring of David Curiel. The opening spread, for instance, is a gorgeous piece of work, showing the superheroes every bit as majestic as the Kandor they hover over.

So, Action Comics 873 concludes the storyline (well, this arc at least, the ramifications are due to motivate a year's worth of stories) and it's been a tremendous read. The return of the triangle linking has proven a huge artistic success, making a week without a Superman Family book a poor week indeed.