Thursday, 30 April 2009

Battle for the Cowl: The Underground #1 review

The latest special showing what's happening in Gotham in the wake of Batman's death/'death' stars Catwoman and the Riddler, villains turned good guys. Catwoman's been on the side of the angels since the Eighties via a transformation readers followed, while the Riddler's conversion came without much explanation a couple of years ago - it was just one of those post-coma things.

Here they are embroiled in the Penguin v Two Face gang wars searing Gotham City and their narrations make the conflicts come alive. Selina comes with built-in reader empathy, as she realises that it's senseless to fight crime in order to please the dead Batman, and wonders at the identities of the apparently resurrected Black Mask and the new Batman. Edward Nigma provides a cooler analysis of the situation as the Penguin bulldozes the self-styled detective into agreeing to find Black Mask. And all the while Poison Ivy, Killer Croc and company go about Black Mask's business of creating chaos, Poison Ivy gets bored and Harley Quinn amuses without grating.

It's a clever balancing act that writer Chris Yost pulls off, making the villains such good company that it's disappointing when Bad Batman shows up and starts hogging panel time. On this evidence I'll be buying Yost's upcoming Red Robin book.

Pablo Raimondi's dark, mean streets art is as perfect for this book as it was for Marvel's X-Factor. His Catwoman is especially good, with suitably catty poses and a non-imitative flavour of Darwyn Cooke, his Riddler suitably rakish and his Two-Face suitably horrifying. The work is cleverly coloured by Brian Reber (the contrast between the garish Riddler and cool Penguin, for example) and neatly lettered by Steve Wands.

The book boasts a tremendously moody cover by Ladronn and is topped off with a bold logo. It's a shame this is just one issue.

Ms Marvel #38 review

I was a big supporter of the early issues of Brian Reed's Ms Marvel, but as her determination to be 'the best of the best' led her to become a bloodthirsty government lapdog, my interest waned. Finally, my loyalty to Carol Danvers checked out along with her humanity. And she died. Well, Marvel-died, as the series recap at the beginning of this issue makes clear (click on the extract if your super-vision is failing). Until Carol does the Phoenix tango, former Thunderbolt member Moonstone is filling in and to be honest I don't notice that much of a difference.

The costume is the monstrosity of old, yes, but it's still an angry blonde killing without compunction. The deaths come as the issue opens with the new Ms Marvel stopping a bank truck robbery and finding herself a popular lady. The rest of the book concerns her encounter with Norman Osborn's new in-house psychiatrist and it's well done, providing an insight into Karla Sofen's personality while throwing in a twist of two.

My problem is that an issue full of Moonstone is a strong brew. As a member of the Thunderbolts I found her triumphs and failures fascinating, but there she was just one of a number of villains at different stages of their journey to redemption (or not). Here it's all Karla, all anger. That is not a misleading cover. She's a slightly nastier version of a character who became so nasty that I dropped her book.

So while I appreciate that this is a pretty well-crafted comic from Reed and artist Rebekah Isaacs, I'll accept that it's not for me. Hopefully when the original Ms Marvel returns, she'll be a tad sweeter and we can be friends again. Oh, one more thing, would someone please retire this Marvel Comics cliche? Twice on one page?

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4 review

The Legion of 3 Worlds
They had 10,000 men
But when Superboy of Earth Prime showed up
He showed them up. Again


Seriously. This series was supposed to pay tribute to the Legion of Super-Heroes in their 50th anniversary year but it's making them look like idiots. All right, there aren't 10,000 members of the Legion on hand but there are several dozen and they're getting slaughtered by the lunatic Superboy. Granted, he's more powerful than the vast majority of the other heroes individually but he's ridiculously outnumbered, and his mind is addled to say the least.

Yet the Legion, whose reputation rests on teamwork and ingenuity, can't take them down. Not even with the help of Superman. Not even with the aid of a Green Lantern. Or the reborn Kid Flash, though as one of writer Geoff John's pet characters he's allowed to have a much better showing against Prime than any of the purported stars of the book. And towards the end of the issue the tide of battle truly turns when Kon-El is brought back to cloney life after a 1000 year stay in the Fortress of Solitude's deep freeze.

Also on hand are the Legion of Super-Villains and the mystical Mordru, but they don't do much other than prevent the massed Legionnaires piling on Prime. Nevertheless, the members who do focus on the Snot of Steel should be doing better. These guys have conquered all manner of universal threats in the past, often with far fewer members on hand. But Johns seems more concerned with returning his Stepford versions of Bart Allen and Kon-El to the DC Universe than letting the Legion shine.

Yes, there are some exciting moments - beautifully drawn by George Perez and Scott Koblish - but it's hard to enjoy them while wondering who'll be the next Legionnaire eviscerated. And ending with yet another spin on 'who is the Time Trapper (this week)?' is lame, and on the surprise scale the guilty party is about -273.

There is a wonderful scene with the Brainiac 5s discussing Frankenstein, and a cathartic action spread, but more than anything I just want this series to end - it's destroying my memories of not one, but three, Legions.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Justice League of America #32 review

Last issue was awful, as Black Canary fought the one foe no heroine can defeat - DC editorial fiat - and she disbanded the team.

This month, the members who never actually quit, got injured or died just ignore Dinah's edict and get on with League business, hoping that she'll step into the role of chair again soon. And good on Vixen, Firestorm, Zatanna, Dr Light and Green Lantern John Stewart for showing true JLA spirit. Yes, they admire the big three, but they refuse to undersell themselves - they're a powerful quintet and plan to find new members to join them.

A bunch of heroes not at the forefront of DC's various crossovers and events allows writer Dwayne McDuffie to relax and let the characters sing. Every character here is on form, showing intelligence, wit and determination to do the right thing: heroes all. I know Len Wein is coming on board to write a couple of issues but I really hope McDuffie gets to play with this cast for awhile. He really knows the League, those present, and those absent: There's some nice action to boot, as the Shadow Thief and Starbreaker are turned up a notch in the threat stakes as the Milestone Universe storyline toddles along.

Rags Morales and John Dell do a generally nice job on the art. There are some clunky moments (such as a shot of the JLA cavalry arriving) but there are plenty of attractive ones too (the meeting, the Starbreaker and Shadow Thief depictions). Hopefully next issue will look consistently good. And Zee will wear her top hat throughout . . . Zee should never be seen without her topper, otherwise she looks spookily like former Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan.

A shout-out to colourist Pete Pantazis for a nice job throughout and, especially, a tricky scene set in an all-light jail cell. He also does good work on Ed Benes' cover, helping make a well-known fantasy scene seem fresh.

A terrific issue, then, and it's about time. More please.

Detective Comics #853 review

Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert wrap up Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? in thoroughly satisfying style, giving us more versions of the Batman's probable end, unveiling the woman who has been his guide* and providing a happy ending/beginning that cleverly reflects DC's publishing history.

Batman's - Bruce's - conversation with his guide is something I've always wanted to see and never thought I would, and it's handled beautifully. Kubert renders these scenes masterfully, making them emotional but not over the top. And he manages this without the cowl coming off (something Batman's self-image apparently doesn't allow).

The book is wrapped up with a batch of Kubert sketches showing the artist's process and while I can take or leave this sort of thing, they show a genuine craftsman at work. The cover, a take on Detective 27, isn't as attractive as part one's, being too blooming busy, and the colours - while obviously well-thought through - don't really click with the image.

Still, that's a minor quibble. We've had two instant classics that succeed as a salute to the Batman's past and assurance that he'll continue long after we're all gone.

* I was right! http://dangermart.blogspot.com/2009/02/batman-686-review.html

Mighty Avengers #24 review

The Mighty Avengers are staying together as a team and shooting around the world at the behest of the Scarlet Witch. Hank Pym, the new Wasp, is apparently carried away by his sudden knack for running a team and happy to let the Witch hand out missions. Only Cassie Lang, the tragically named Stature, is uncomfortable at being shepherded around by the woman who killed several Avengers, including her father Scott, the second Ant Man. Hank says he's aware of the threat Wanda could still pose but wants to keep his enemies close. He's certainly doing that - 'Wanda' is actual Loki, goddess of cross dressing.

Meanwhile, Quicksilver is chasing round after the new team and Norman Osborn's evil Cabal is worried by the threat they may pose. And bitching - what a bunch of moaners. Doctor Doom is projecting a pretty face but his personality remains pretty rotten. Jumped-up nobody punk the Hood is rattling Osborn's cage because the Punisher came after him. And so on. Cabal member Loki is stirring the pot here too and it's fun to watch.

I find it hard to believe none of the experienced members are twigging that this isn't Wanda - since when did she remain in astral form, for example? - but I'm sure this will change soon. With eggheads like Pym and Amadeus Cho on the team, a rat will be smelt soon (though knowing writer Dan Slott, it's Jarvis who will supply the cheese).

Nice bits of business include Norman Osborn's creepy use of Black Goliath's exhumed clavicle, Jocasta taking drastic action to escape HAMMER agents and the Mighty Avengers geting ratification from a global peace organisation with the best acronym ever. My absolute favourite moment, though, came when the press challenged Pietro over his rather dubious activities over the past few years (ie he's been a deluded, villainous monomaniac scumbag). In the words of Paul Simon, Pietro - like Hank - is getting a shot at redemption and I'm glad to see it. I've not enjoyed his journey over the last few years and if an amusing lie can put it behind us, fib away, Pietro.

Slott has crafted a wonderful script here, blending action and adventure in, as they used to say, the Mighty Marvel Manner. And I couldn't be happier.

I'm also delighted with the art, as penciller Rafa Sandoval and inker Roger Bonet Martinez fill in for Koi Pham. Under them, the team seem sharper, more alive and I'd be delighted if they came on board for a run. Completing the pages are letterer Dave Lanphear, whose bubbles seem bolder than usual, and colourist John Rauch, who dares to be bright.

It's a fantastic package, making this the best issue of Mighty Avengers since it launched. If there's any justice, readers will assemble in droves.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Uncanny X-Men #508 review

Before I die I want to see Greg Land draw Ego the Living Planet. I want to see Jack Kirby's mad world sporting a cheesy grin worthy of Vogue magazine. Maybe he'd throw in a grinning MODOK, too. And doesn't Dr Doom's iron mask deserve a moment of happiness?

Meanwhile, I can giggle at the work of Mr Land in Uncanny X-Men, wherein he draws the fearsome members of the evil Sisterhood as jolly underworld models, a veritable Legion of Lingerie. These are women who know how to kill, but more importantly, they know how to dress. And strut. And stare. Boy, do they stare, looking out at the reader with come hither eyes, challenging us to identify the original actress/model/mutant.

I know I'm not saying anything original, but the hyper-realistic but ultimately undramatic use of photo-reference acts as a ringfence for Matt Fraction's story; I find it impossible to get involved because I don't believe any of it. Everything is too perfect, too manufactured. Yes, back in the day John Romita, Sal Buscema and friends drew gorgeous people, but their lines had heart. Here the word that comes to mind is Stepford.

It's not just the villains. We also have the all-smiling, all-grinning X-Men, branded as psychotics by their Joker-like gnashers. Mind, Fraction provides his own injection of humour by revealing that Wolverine maintains a graveyard in Tokyo to remember his lost loved ones. Oooh, he has the soul of a poet, that one.

He also has a lunatic addiction to being mysterious for the sake of it - having charged Domino (from X-Force/the Nineties) with travelling to the cemetery to lay flowers, he doesn't bother telling her the nature of the graveyard, he just leaves it to her to work it out. Why? Because they're old spy pals, that's what they do.

Handily, this is the very moment when the Tart Titans decide to raid the graveyard for the body of one Kwannon, who died of convoluted continuity (I'm not kidding, Wiki her). A fight ensues and everyone looks pretty(aided by the luscious colours of Justin Ponsor).

On the North American continent, Beast and the clever clogs members of Club X are drinking coffee and trying to bring back the active X-gene; Nightcrawler is pretending to be a priest again, having had all of six months' training during a Chris Claremont continuity leap; Emma and sundry telepaths are hit by a psychic earthquake; and Wolverine is asking Northstar to join the X-Men because a gay speedster would be good for the image, the X-Men having no kind of gay following at all. Everyone grins: That's because they're happy - Jean-Paul is a top athlete again and finally allowed by Marvel to be queer enough to have a boyfriend. His sister (as in sibling and occasional nun) Jeanne-Marie is having a week or two off from being mad. And Logan is sizing them both up for his graveyard. It fair warms the heart.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Oracle: The Cure #2 review

Last issue Calculator murdered an online associate of Oracle's in his quest to unlock the secret of the Anti-Life equation and cure comatose daughter Wendy. This time Barbara Gordon is in Hong Kong to meet fellow computer geniuses face to face in a bid to learn who's messing with the web. Along the way she survives a street attack and we see once more that while she's no longer Batgirl, she's still able to protect herself. It's a little unsettling to see her repeatedly bash the face on one of the thugs off the ground, but it rings true . . . alone in a back alley in a wheelchair, hurt, threatened with rape. who could blame her for striking back, ladling a dollop of vengeance on to an act of self-preservation?

As he did last issue, writer Kevin Vanhook gives us perfect pen portraits of Oracle and the Calculator, and fleshes out some new supporting characters. The computer talk is over my head, but doesn't get in the way of the story, its convincing ring adding tasty verisimilitude. He also manages to make Tron/Second Life scenarios seem like a real threat.

Pencillers Julian Lopez and Fernando Pasarin, and inkers Bit and Norm Rapmund, give great Babs, and bring the virtual worlds to life. They don't manage to make the Calculator's cybernetic avatar look scary but I doubt anyone could. There's one panel in which it looks like Barbara kicks out at a bad guy, but perhaps a paralysed leg simply lolloped into a handy position. Or it could be an effect of the Brainiac virus she encountered awhile back. The main thing is, there is (pardon the expression) plenty of wiggle room.

Hi-Fi does a lovely job of evoking Hong Kong's neon nightlife, so much so that I'd love to see a series set there. And Steve Wands' lettering is as good as ever, with extra marks for some nice title design.

Guillem March's cover is a thing of beauty, and who knew Babs had such shiny baps? Mind, he can't make cyber-Calculator look scary either.

Action Comics #876 review

This is me, as a broken record . . .

DC, will you please dial down the violence? This issue of Action Comics, featuring a clash between the vile Ursa and new heroes Nightwing and Flamebird, is awash with teeth smashing, torso slashing, eye tearing and general nastiness. The lowlight is a two page spread showing Ursa shredding Thara Ak-Var - Flamebird - with a Kryptonite knife. The artistic 'camera' lingers on the pain and horror of Thara, the glee of Ursa. It's torture porn, nothing less, and not worthy of being in Superman's home book. And this in a Comics Code Authority book - they must be proud.

It's a shame, as it mars a gripping issue. Greg Rucka's internal narrative for Ursa lets us know how she sees herself, General Zod, her son Lor-Van (aka Chris Kent/Nightwing), Thara and life in general. We also get a much sharper look at the characters of Nightwing and Flamebird than in their series debut last month. Plus, there's some good stuff with Lois Lane towards issue's end. Simply put, the issue didn't need the ultra-violence that has become so typical of Dan Didio's DC.

Penciller Eddy Barrows offers dynamic layouts, filled to busting with kinetic figures for the main storyline, while Sidney Teles handles the Lois scene with aplomb. Andrew Robinson's cover illo has Ursa looking like a cardboard stand-up figure, while the burning costumes of Nightwing and Flamebird are too new to be recognisable; still, the composition is eye-catching and the logo remains an industry classic.

So, a good issue, but it would have been better without what I assume are attempts at edginess.

Amazing Spider-Man #591 review

There's been a lot of hype about this issue as the one in which we learn how it is that the world forgot Spidey's secret identity after Civil War. Why it's not simply considered to have been waved away along with the marriage of Peter and Mary Jane by Mephisto, Lord of Convenient Plot Devices, I've no idea; yes, that was a horrible device, but you may as well let it work for you.

Given this, I was expecting something really clever from Dan Slott - he's that kind of writer. What I got was no explanation, just the revelation that some kind of 'psychic blindspot' is at work. It seems that if anyone finds evidence that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, their mind won't let them accept it. O-kayyyyy . . . that's the best explanation since, ooh, Superman learned that he was subconsciously using super-hypnosis to stop people noticing he was Clark Kent - and it even worked when he was reading the news on telly. Funnily enough, DC never mentioned that story again.

I shall now allow a typing blindspot to help me forget this latest daftness and instead salute the rest of the story, which was terrific fun. While Spidey and the FF are ending a war in another dimension, time is passing faster back on Marvel Earth. This allows a series of wonderful vignettes as we see the supporting cast's stories move forward: Frontline reporter Norah and the rarely seen Randy Robertson get together; Aunt May starts dating J Jonah Jameson's charmpot dad; Carlie and Harry get closer as she helps him recover from an alcohol binge; JJJ tries to woo estranged wife Marla; and Flash Thompson's post-amputation rehab continues. In the Sixties Spider-Man grew great partly on the strength of the soapy supporting cast and it's heartening to see how editor Stephen Wacker and the writers recognise this. Once more I'm buying Spidey as much to see Betty Brant and Joe Robertson as I am for Peter, and I love it.

By the time Peter gets back from the Macroverse two months have passed and he gets the shock of his life as the new mayor of New York is revealed - J Jonah Jameson! Bad enough Norman Osborn is running the defences of the US, but JJJ biting into the Big Apple? That should make for some fun stories in the months ahead.

Barry Kitson provided solid, flashy art once more, assisted by new Marvel exclusive penciller Dale Eaglesham. This is the first Marvel work I've seen from the latter and it's attractive, but he needs to check the model sheets - Harry's too handsome and buff, Norah is more blandly blonde than previously. Inker Jesse Delperdang smooths the transition between the two pencillers.

So, a smarter than average, good-looking Marvel comic, memorable for the rapid acceleration of subplots and an unnecessary continuity patch.

Before I go, though, can comic bloggers win No Prizes? Cos I did wonder why the FF and Spidey didn't simply use Dr Doom's time machine to reclaim the lost two months. That could have made for some fun moments as Peter tried to prevent JJJ's accession, and his presence disrupted the suddenly smooth love lives of all around him. So, why not? I reckon it's because having found that New York survived just fine without them, Reed and co didn't want to risk their presence during the missing two months messing things up.

No? Oh well, turn up the psychic blindspot.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Superman: World of New Krypton #2 review

Last issue Superman found himself drafted into Zod's military guild as he settled into his mission to keep an eye on the 100,000 super-powered Kryptonians who are suddenly Earth's neighbours. This month he gets to know the troops under his command, goes to a gala with Aunt Alura and tackles a horde of rampaging thought beasts. All the while he's sharing his humanity with everyone he encounters, whether it's by empathising with the plight of the Labour Guild members, refusing to kill the thought beasts or reprimanding soldiers for casual cruelty. Moment by moment, without using his powers, Superman is transforming the planet.

The new spin given the Silver Age thought beasts gave me quite a kick, but then, so did every other aspect of the issue. Alura, who has been presented as a one-note tyrant for a while, receives an injection of depth. A movement for equality is born. And Kal and Kara actually act like the loving cousins they should be. Writers James Robinson and Greg Rucka have hit the ground running with this book, quickly making New Krypton more than a blueprint for a world, and populating it with believable people.

And all of it is beautifully illustrated by Pete Woods, who draws people as attractive, but not unfeasibly so. What's more, he has a terrific touch with critters - as well as the thought beasts we're treated to the porcupine on steroids that is the torquat. Can a three-eyed Kryptonian babootch be far behind? Credit too to letter Steve Wands, who doesn't put a font wrong with a wordy script, and colourist Brad Anderson, who gives groovy fractal. In fact, let's scan in half a spread, not only to show you Anderson's jolly hues, but the sure-to-be-trendsetting hair fashion of Auntie Alura: The issue is topped off with a gorgeous cover by Gary Frank and Anderson, showing Superman - sorry, Commander El - standing proud yet conflicted on his reborn world. Spiffing stuff.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Green Lantern #39 review

And the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?

Am I the only person unable to remember which coloured lantern does what, who the players are and why we should believe any of this mythology when none of it was mentioned in 50 years of Hal Jordan stories? Honestly, we've still got months of Blackest Night plotlines to go and already I need a scorecard.

That aside, there were some things I liked about this issue. The artwork by penciller Philip Tan, inker Jonathan Glapion and colourists Randy Mayor and Gabe Eltaeb, is a joy to look at; Orange Lantern Larfleeze is an amusing fellow, an evil Muppet with a three-year-old's views on sharing; and the Guardians are hilarious, the way they throw tantrums at every opportunity, declaring new laws like Queenie in Blackadder II; and the simpering Blue Lanterns are, as ever, a hoot - if Walter the Softy from the Beano were given a power ring, it'd be blue.

Thing is, I'm supposed to take this seriously, and the more complicated the story gets, the funnier I find it. That may be enough to keep me reading when I'm actually yearning for shorter storylines featuring a bit of Hal's private life and villains not sucked into the ever-growing Guardians backstory. But there's a good chance I'll wave the white flag and duck out.

Secret Six #8 review

I've loved Day in the Life issues since the Eighties, when they were a speciality of the New Teen Titans, so any time a writer wants to throw one my way, it's fine by me. And that's what Gail Simone does here, providing a breather after the seven-part epic that kicked off this series.

It's a nice simple tale - nice knifewoman Scandal Savage is asked out by Liana, the terribly sweet exotic dancer previously paid to 'cheer her up' by dressing as dead lover Knockout. Meanwhile, killer for hire Deadshot is invited to spend the evening with new Secret Sixer Jeannette the banshee. What could be better than going out as a foursome, with a strict no-killing rule for Floyd and Scandal?

Of course, there's action aplenty, as trouble finds our off-duty quartet, and it makes for some fun scenes which, as ever, develop character along the way. The disappointment is that we don't learn anything new about Jeannette, and I'm itching to know why she's joined the team, and seems reluctant to use any banshee scream she might possess.

Incidental delights along the way include the introduction of cringing crony Insignificus, a creepily charismatic cross between Blackadder's Baldrick and Marvin the Paranoid Android; the Hypertime superhero bar; and a rather grave nod to DC-centric podcast Raging Bullets. There's also a fun scene in which Floyd borrows a smart suit from Catman when he can't find a tux - he's obviously forgotten that when he started out in Gotham City he always dressed in top hat and tails. There's also a couple of pages devoted to 'Ragdoll Dreams', a Tiny Titans-style look at the little bendy fellow's slumbering visions. It's cute, but not terribly funny. What it does do, though, is show us another side to Ragdoll, who was becoming a little one-note with his constant lewdness. We learn that just as even the best of us has a dark side, the worst of us has a light aspect.

Regular artist Nicola Scott is absent this issue but Carlos Rodriguez and Bit do a fine job filling in, and Six colourist Jason Wright ably provides visual continuity with previous issues (he really deserves a cover credit, as a vital partner in this book's success).

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #2 review

Reed Richards is looking at alternate worlds to see where it all went wrong with the Superhero Registration Act. Little does he know that Sue, Johnny and Ben are at the mercy of his alternate world viewer, which seems to be throwing them from reality to reality. And Franklin and Valeria are cool.

Seriously cool. Within three pages they see off Norman Osborn's STRIKE flunkies, there to shut down the FF, but it's not via their on-again/off-again powers. Nope, it's their precocious charm and pluck that wins the day. And that's the Dark Reign business speedily dispatched so the rest of the issue can be devoted to a fun series of What Ifs, as Reed sees why the Civil War ended peacefully in various sections of the Marvel multiverse.

The best of these places Sue in the role of Queen Elizabeth I, angered by 'the man with the iron heart' who wants a republic (I guess this is her own dark reign). This motivates one of my favourite exchanges so far this year. Writer Jonathan Hickman seems fascinated by Reed and I'm happy for him to invest plenty of page time in the bendy boffin, as he was so damaged by his involvement in the Civil War. A humbling of the man to Stan Lee levels would be fine by me.

Sean Chen and Lorenzo Ruggiero provide pleasingly fresh, open artwork, and it's coloured in jolly style by John Rauch, who's particularly adept at facial modelling. It's just a shame that for the second issue in a row we get a rather unpleasant cover - Pasqual Ferry and Dave McCaig present a particularly weird Human Torch; he looks like Abe Sapien rather than the hothead wee know and love.

Batman: Battle for the Cowl - Man-Bat #1 review

I was surprised when Man-Bat popped up as one of Robin, Nightwing and Oracle's Network operatives in the recent Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead one-shot. Last time I looked he was a tragic anti-hero rather than a trusted ally, but there he was. This comic explains what he was doing on Gotham's streets, battling dull street gangs.

And it doesn't reflect well on him, truth be told. Kirk Langstrom is presented as a weak man, crippled by fear of his dark side, Man-Bat, and constantly worrying about his wife Francine (in-house scientist and well able to take care of herself, being an occasional Woman-Bat). He has terribly cliched worst nightmare dreams and an awful Seventies inner monologue ('Who thought becoming so strong . . . would feel so weak?'). There's more Seventies naffness with the closing 'Not the end . . . Please!

But he grabs his anxieties by the balls and gets out there when Francine vanishes in answer to Oracle's plea for reinforcements. Happily, Man-Bat's whining comes to an end when he's bashed on the head by a surprise villain - at fist I thought it was Crime Doctor/Unknown Soldier wannabe Hush, but it's someone far more interesting.

It's when the villain shows up that I started enjoying Joe Harris' script as Kirk displayed the gumption and brains I associate with him, showing that all those years of batty hearing haven't been wasted. It's a shame, then, that before the issue is out Kirk has a Jean Gray moment, proclaiming: 'I am LOOSED. I am RAGE. I am MAN-BAT.'
You corny old Man-Bat, you.

Jim Calafiore drew the moment wonderfully, though, his Man-Bat is intense, fierce, a true creature of the night. And with colourist Guy Major, he produces one of the best versions of the surprise villain I've ever seen. Letterer Steve Wands also deserves credit for a fine job, particularly on the opening splash.

Oh, and hurrah for the best bit of sound-effect art since Wonder Woman 27 (see December 2008 reviews). Squeemendous! Overall though, while this is an efficient comic book, it feels inessential. Kirk Langstrom is scared of his own shadow at the start, and while he rallies in the middle, at the end he's a bit of a scaredy-bat once more. And Man-Bat deserves better.

Irredeemable review #1

This comic from Boom! opens with a bang as a superhero and his family face the fury of the Plutonian, hero turned villain. It continues with his terrified longtime teammates interrogating one of their own - the Plutonian's sidekick, Samsara - for as much information as possible on a man they never truly knew. There's a flashback in there, but this comic is basically two scenes. While one is all action, and the other mainly talk, they're equally gripping. And one of them contains a great little twist.

Mark Waid writes up a storm here, using his long experience of the superhero genre to get in, get out and leave the reader wanting more. His characters are familiar superhero types without being distracting full-on homages. The only thing I didn't like was the name of the antagonist. The Plutonian? Try saying that after a half of shandy.

Peter Krause, whose work I've not seen since Jerry Ordway's terribly underrated Power of Shazam series, does a wonderful job. His character designs make me curious about these people, and his storytelling choices are spot-on. It's just a shame that with three different covers to fill Boom! didn't see fit to let their regular artist actually draw one.

Oh, and the logo's very boring, looking like a tweaked mechanical font rather than the gorgeous creation letter artists such as Todd Klein could have come up with.

Never mind though, this is a terrific debut issue - it feels like Brian K Vaughan's Runaways nodding in the direction of Alan Moore's Miracleman. Try it.