Sunday, 31 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #595 review

And a new storyline begins, American Son, in which Spidey determines to take down Norman Osborn, currently head of North America's super-powered defenders. And quite right too, though I'd expect a big brain like Peter Parker to come up with something sneakier than kidnapping and beating up Osborn in public. And his anger makes him rather slapdash with his re-secreted ID. Still, it makes for an entertaining scene, and gives penciller Phil Jimenez a chance to homage a classic Spidey moment.

Writer Joe Kelly gets his first major arc here and comes in all guns blazing. Prior to the Osborn confrontation there's an amusing vignette with Harry showing off his skills as a pick-up artist, followed by a terrific scene in which Peter and Harry join May and fiance J Jonah Jameson Sr at JJJ's new home, official mayoral residence Gracie Mansion. OK, I'm not convinced that an old newspaperman such as JJJ would entertain someone he knows to be a psycho killer, but that's Marvel these days - deals with the devil are the order of the day.

Harry is on superb form, dealing with his demons and telling JJJ's special guest, his dear old dad, where to stick his latest job offer. And when Harry's erstwhile fiancee, Lily Hollister, shows up in full Menace mode there's a shock ending I never saw coming.

Jimenez and inker Andy Lanning more than earn their page rates here, providing good-looking, easy to follow artwork. A special thanks to them for tweaking JJJ's hair to make it less silly, yet recognisably JJJ; now they just have to do something about Norman and Harry - by all means let Osborn Sr keep his trademark wave, but as Harry is distancing himself from his father, you'd expect him to want to stop looking like his twin. Even their hairlines are the same (I want me some of that Goblin serum).

The new-look Menace - she's no longer letting people assume she's a guy - is a treat and the action scenes are splendid (though I'd like to see a few movement lines, it's become part of the grammar of superhero comics for a reason). The cover is a montage in the classic Spidey tradition and it's almost a winner, but is far too busy. There's about half an inch of bare space at bottom left, which I can only imagine is the result of Jimenez forgetting about when he popped off for a soda. The cover's fussiness is made worse by too many mastheads - as well as the Amazing Spider-Man logo we have Dark Reign and American Son fighting for space.

Don't be put off by my quibbles though - they're minor, and don't detract from an engaging beginning to a story that promises big things.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Superman #688 review

Holy Seventies Flashbacks, Mon-El has Supergirl's on-again, off-again super-powers. It turns out that Brainiac 5's cure for Daxamite-on-Earth lead poisoning is actually a bit rubbish, and he'll be dead within 18 months. Darn. Luckily his partner-in-Superman's-title The Guardian is going to teach him fisticuffs and swimming, to lessen his chances of dying in an off moment.

Apart from the powers revelation, the other big moment this issue sees our heroes rescue time-displaced Legion of Super-Heroes member Tellus from . . . er, I dunno. Writer James Robinson isn't big on scene-setting captions and I can't remember which of Metropolis' many secret vaults this one is. Sort it out, someone. It's likely US Army, as some high-up soldier (seemingly not regular pain in the backside General Sam Lane, as, I think, he has one more uniform star than this fella) and a handily unidentified Codename: Assassin. Anyway, Tellus is rescued and I've no idea where this story is going, which is a plus.

Another plus is the addition of a fresh supporting character for 'Jonathan Kent' aka Mon-El. Mitch owns the deli below Jon/Mon's flat and is a good cook and nice guy, though one of those crashing bores who won't just let you eat his food - you have to hear about its provenance, how it was cooked and what the farmer had for breakfast. Why people go to McDonalds . . .

'The Fall and Rise of Jonathan Kent' also features an appearance by Dr Light II, in her role as DC's all-purpose scientist du jour, and screen grabs of the Red Circle and Milestone superheroes (this week's Wonder Woman also helps prepare us for the RC characters' official DU arrival). Instead of a battle with a master crim, we have a couple of skirmishes with armoured goons, one on-panel and, refreshingly, one off. I can live without massive confrontations month in, month out, as Robinson does what he does best - slow-burning little mysteries and character portrayals that build to a satisfying big picture. And while I was a big fan of Starman, it's heartening to know we're going to get the Mon-El/Guardian story in a year's worth of issues rather than 80-odd.

This is proving to be a happily consistent run; once again penciller Renato Guedes. inker José Wilson Magalhães and colourist David Curiel craft page after well-composed page of good-looking art. John J Hill's lettering is spot on, Andrew Robinson's cover a grabber - there isn't a weak link in the chain. If you have the money to try a new book, and haven't given I Can't Believe It's Not Superman a go, try an issue. You'll probably like it.

Justice Society of America #27 review

'Ghost in the Darkness' is a fill-in prior to the new creative team coming on board, but if we're going to have guest creators, I'm always glad to see writer-artist Jerry Ordway help out. The All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc artist here revives the latter team for a flashback and it's great to see them again. Ordway focuses on two of their alumni here, Atom Smasher and Obsidian.

Atom Smasher presents no problem, as his Geoff Johns-created character arc looks to be a straightforward redemption deal, but Obsidian? Bit of mess, truth be told. Having been a useful supporting cast member in Manhunter he was transplanted here and given the invisible man role of JSA security sentinel, consigned to his shadows with little to say or do. This issue Todd is chattier, but his role remains muddle-headed - having detected a menace at JSA headquarters, rather than brief the team to tackle it, he splits the membership inside and out and plays the part of ambiguous drone, interpreting his duties over literally.

Thankfully, Obsidian's bid to avert trouble comes to nought and a villain unseen since the Second World War (pretend you never saw him in Allan Heinberg's Wonder Woman relaunch a few years back) shows up. That leads to a fun cliffhanger that guarantees I'll be back next month.

Ordway's script and pencils aren't flashy, but as his badly underrated Power of Shazam and Superman work shows, he really knows how to tell a comic story. Characters are sketched economically, situations quickly presented. There's plenty of action and even more fun dialogue (the banter between Atom Smasher, Cyclone and Stargirl is lovely, though my favourite moment here has Wildcat quoting Ghostbusters). And he even allows Power Girl a moment of leadership.

Big kudos to Ordway for having Atom Smasher share a drink with old pal Mr Bones, though I refuse to believe the spymaster would threaten visiting barkeep Bibbo with his cyanide touch. And Jerry the penciller needs to speak to Jerry the writer about drawing someone Stargirl refers to as Asian, as Asian - yes, the villain of the peace is from the East, but at this point she hasn't seen him and means a white, brown-haired chap. Other than that art snafu, it's a big congrats to Ordway and inker Bob Wiacek for a good-looking issue. I look forward to the conclusion.

Wonder Woman #32 review

What I like about this issue is that writer Gail Simone has Diana cut loose against the monstrous Genocide. It's about time, the corrupted corpse of Wonder Woman has been on the loose for too long.

I liked the no-fanfare cameo by DC debutante hero the Shield, aiding the rescue operation as Washington crumbles mid-battle.

The art, by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan is superb, clearly showing the parry and thrust of battle, the emotions felt by Diana, Genocide, Nemesis and Prof Morrow.

What didn't I like? The rest.

The thought-narration by Diana was too melodramatic, with much self-flagellation about her use of what is obviously reasonable force to take down a major menace, and an unliving one to boot. And when at the end she declares the vanishing of Genocide 'impossible' Wonder Woman sounds like an idiot - even ignoring that Genocide is a teleporter, how many times has a defeated foe been secreted away by another villain? I'm all for dramatic statements, but not ones that make the hero seem dense.

The glacial pace of the Rise of the Olympian thread for which this arc is named (though the cover banner has vanished this issue - is someone at DC also just wishing it would end?) is frustrating. This month, part 7, less than two pages are devoted to the plot by Zeus to replace the Amazons.

Most of all, I didn't enjoy the 'revelation' that Diana never loved Nemesis. The moment of truth was well-executed, but unsurprising. The courtship of Tom Tresser by Diana has never convinced. Instead of the meaningful moments that mark out a developing relationship, it's been empty words and gestures. There was no spark, no chemistry between them, meaning Nemesis seemed as confused as the reader by Diana's declarations of intent (if anything, it appeared he had some deception of his own yet to be revealed).

The idea that Diana would lie to Nemesis in order to make him her stallion, father to a new brood of Amazons, is flawed on several levels. Firstly, Diana is about love, respect and truth - she simply would not lie to a man in order to repopulate Themyscira. Then there's the notion that Nemesis, master of deception, wouldn't know he was being lied to. It's as far-fetched as the veteran hero wimpering pathetically with self-pity at the news his best girl made a fool of him, which he does here. Maybe Genocide's psychic aura of misery is at work, but I don't really care at this point - I grew up with Nemesis the master planner, the super spy - not love's fool. I'm beyond ready for him to step up and be Diana's action partner, not pity object - and he was doing so well before the big downer from Diana, using the invisible craft to help her attack Genocide. Then . . . lovesick puppy who needs putting down.

And if Diana truly needed a sperm donor (has she forgotten that the Amazons were magically created?), there are likely thousands of fit, bright chaps who would love to help out.

But the notion that Diana would conspire with her mother Hippolyte - recent leader of a murderous Amazon attack on the United States - to deceive a friend and colleague and resupply her with Amazons is, at base, ridiculous. Given that, I expect Simone to reveal full details of the situation that will make Diana a heroine to admire again. Because there's no way the manipulative female we meet this issue is any kind of Wonder Woman.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The Brave and the Bold #23 review

Rip Hunter, Time Master, returns from a trip to the future under attack by JSA member Magog. Booster gets rid of him with time tech, Rip passes out and, when he wakes up, he refuses to tell his partner in time what gave rise to the assault. It's one of those 'protecting you from too much knowledge of your own future' deals the Legion used to inflict upon Superboy. The ones that make you want to stuff a flight ring where the Sun Boy don't shine.

Soon the present-day Magog emerges, tackling a hostage crisis in Kahndaq, and Booster joins him there, needing to know more about the man who attacked his friend. Suffice to say, they don't get on ...

The question that has to be asked here is, why is this story in the Brave and the Bold? It's a Booster-centric tale, featuring Booster's cast, written and drawn by Booster's creative team. I'd guess the idea is to give Booster more exposure, though I don't believe B&B is much of a seller, unfortunately. Or perhaps DC needed to tread water with B&B prior to the arrival of new regular writer J Michael Straczynski (it's only been a year since he was announced) so asked editors if they could borrow a spare team-up.

Whatever the case, this is another good comic book by the always dependable, sadly overlooked Dan Jurgens. Story and art make sense, and while this is a 'done in one' there's obviously a sequel or two planned. Jurgens's art, finished by Norm Rapmund, is as accomplished as his script, with Booster and Magog providing a nicely contrasting pair - sleek man of the future, stupid-looking Cable wannabe. Or, as one child puts it on seeing Magog, 'It is a goat man'.

Indeed, in the parlance of Peanuts, this is Hero vs Goat, and the brutal Magog is far less than the hero he thinks himself to be.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Agents of Atlas #5 review

'Taking the Fall' book begins with another of this book's idiosyncratic recaps, this time delivered in song by Venus, goddess of love.

If not scansion.

This issue sees Jimmy Woo, M-11, Namora, Gorilla-Man, the Uranian and the aforementioned Olympian face Wolverine, Spider-Man, Ms Marvel, Luke Cage, Ronin and Captain Shiny who are, as one hood puts it, 'the AWOL Avengers'. Still pretending to be part of an evil empire, the Agents have been cultivating a relationship with Norman Osborn, which has brought them to the attention of the New Avengers. Woo and company see this as an ideal opportunity to wreck a fake weapons facility they've set up to dupe Osborn, while furthering their reputation as cads of the first order.

Jeff Parker shows once more that he's one of the brightest writers in comics today, presenting pitch perfect portrayals of all the characters and having action occur logically. A bit of business involving Spidey's spider sense is spot on, while the fight scene is nicely choreographed and cathartic.

Penciller Carlo Pagulayan and inker Jason Paz deserve massive credit for bringing Parker's scripts to gorgeous fruition, while Jana Schirmer's colours are breathtaking. A double page spread of the teams clashing is one of the best I've ever seen - well-composed, skilfully delineated and brilliantly coloured, right down to reflections on the floor.

With luck, this issue will persuade New Avengers fans to consider adding the book to their regular purchases. With Captain Britain and MI13 disappearing soon, Agents of Atlas has no competition for the cleverest, best-looking team book from Marvel. Let's keep it around, OK?

Battle for the Cowl #3 review

So the Battle for the Cowl concludes and the big question remains unanswered. Why are Black Canary and Huntress trying so hard to get Nightwing to notice their arses? Don't they know he has brooding to do? Dick has to decide whether or not he'll take on the mantle of the Bat in order to, I dunno, be more effective against Gotham criminals than the - just a second - 17 allies standing by him on the double-page splash. In a fit of true comic book logic, he feels this would indeed be the case and by the end of the issue, following a fight with nasty old Jason Odd, he's declaring that he's Batman. That's despite a post-death holographic Bruce telling him not to bother, that he has faith in Dick and Tim to carry on his fight against the superstitious and cowardly as Nightwing and Robin.

For whatever reason, rather than actually share this information - letting Tim know how much faith his adopted father had in him - Dick has been allowing his loved ones to nag him about the necessity of doing his supposed duty. It's a proper pickle, and no mistake.

Oops, I've turned into a comic book Brit. 'Still hot rubbish, whoever they are', says 'Batman of England' The Knight, in a phrase likely never heard anywhere on the planet, never mind dear old Blighty. That's the extent of The Knight's involvement in this issue. He's a bit rubbish.

Not so his plucky ward, the Squire, aka Beryl. She's a proper peril and no mistake, taking demon child Damian in hand and being frightfully useful in helping the brat who would be Robin find his three big 'brothers', Dick, Tim and Jason. I love her. Forget Barbara Gordon, Cassie the Gimp, Bette Kane, Misfit, Spoiler, Detective Harvey Dent and any other pretenders to Batgirl's cowl, Beryl has it all. Writer-artist Tony Daniel obviously likes the girl, so send the Knight home alone/kill him off for awhile and let the Squire move her English muffins to stately Wayne Manor.

Talking of Daniel, his pencils, inked by Sandu Florea, once again look pretty good. Scene after scene by the duo is shot through with dynamism, with the final tussle between Robins I and II on a subway train effective in showing that capes are killer fashion items for the superhero set.

The script, apart from the odd moment which the mean might mock, isn't half bad. I liked that after months of being told law and order has broken down in Gotham we see the military arriving to help, rather than seal the city off. Alfred had some great dialogue and his teaming Beryl with Bratboy is inspired. I was amused by the return and effective use, after 52 years, of Batman Jones (though he seems to have gained a tan). I loved the sound effect of cheeky wee Damian snatching something being 'snatch'. Best of all was the 'Possum reflex', a deus ex thingie that's totally in the Bat-tradition. Dick's narration was strong, despite my not being convinced by his decision to hide that lovely hair under a cowl.

Really, no one could have convinced me this makes any sense. I'm with Bruce, Dick and Tim have their own effective crime-fighting identities and it's not like people won't notice there's a new Batman in town. Given that, and that he'd been assigned three issues which had to seem like they mattered, Daniel did a decent job, with his scripts improving by the issue. There was lots of sound, fury and cracking of heads. Thirty-three Gothamites died, which is great as it makes room for all the visiting heroes.

The only real off-note with me was the revelation that there's something dark and evil in Jason's pre-Robin past. Something more awful, even, than his ginger hair. The implication is that the Batmobile-vandalising hoodlum was sexually abused, which is rather a late excuse for the fact he's grown up into a murdering nutter. Yes, Batman's made some bad decisions in his time (shagging the daughter of an enemy, the JLA protocols, the principal of taking Tim on as sidekick after Jason was beaten to death - pretty much everything he's done since the Nineties, truth be told. OMAC, for crying out loud), but now we're meant to believe that rather than get a disturbed kid some therapy and into a stable home he dressed him in shorts and bootees and told him to go fight the Joker?

When Bruce comes back from the land of Post-Event, could he please bring a brain with him? Meanwhile, Dick has the cowl - give Beryl the crimefighting compact!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Booster Gold #20 review

Bored while Rip Hunter carries out time bubble repairs, Booster steps back to the 1950s, gets involved with some old DC characters and tackles a dastardly Soviet plot. Along the way there's clever plotting, snappy dialogue and a wonderful in-joke I really should have seen coming.

Vague enough for you? This fill-in, written by Keith Giffen and illustrated by Pat Olliffe and Norm Rapmund (with Dan Jurgens and Rodney Ramos providing the bookend art), is full of little surprises that add up to a very satisfying one-shot. Giffen eschews the time tinkering and paradox prevention that has been this title's stock in trade for a straightforward sortie into comics' rich past. It's refreshing, and the direction in which I'd like to see DC take this book - give us a break from the Byzantine plots and follow the direct route to adventure.

The Olliffe/Rapmund artwork is unflashy but does the job nicely, the only tweak I'd make would be to flesh out Booster's face - he's a tad thin throughout. The Cold War characters, though, look terrific and I'd rather like to see DC set at least a mini series back then and put this creative team on it.

All in all, this is an intelligent, fun issue showing once more that Keith Giffen is the go-to guy to keep your books on track, in style.

Dark Reign: Young Avengers #1 review

Egghead. Melter. Executioner. Enchantress. Coat of Arms. Big Zero. They're the Young Avengers and . . . what's that? They're not? Well, they're trying to be Marvel's teen heroes, or at least some are in the first part of a five-issue mini series.

We begin with the mystery team taking on grocery store robbers and every member gets a chance to shine. Some get a chance to kill, and take it. One way or another, the thieves won't be causing chaos in the neighbourhood again.

But who are these self-styled Young Avengers? The first four share names with members of the Masters of Evil, Coat of Arms come across like a Swordsman tribute act and Big Zero's nomenclature and racist attitudes suggest Zemo, while her growth powers evoke the evil Goliath and Yellowjacket. Not all the powers on display are copies of their namesakes'; writer Paul Cornell is more imaginative than that. This Egghead, for instance, isn't a human evil genius, he's a robot who can induce time-specific comas. As for the rest, I'll leave you to discover the details for yourself - this is a comic well worth trying, full of surprising new characters and mysteries to savour. And given Cornell's imaginative abilities, as displayed in his Captain Britain and MI13 series, I couldn't begin to predict where this book will go.

Among the delights on display are the Asgardian Enchantress, Sylvie's, attempts to adjust to US speech patterns; the name and nature of the secret headquarters; and Coat of Arms' unique approach to superheroics.

As for the art, Mark Brooks makes a decent fist of the storytelling - bar a jarring, unnecessary sideways splash, very Nineties - but I'd like to see him with a traditional inker. I'm not sure whether he has digitally inked his pencils, or if it's been left to colour artist Christina Strain to handle the modelling via her hues, but the overall result is blotchy where I'd prefer sharp blacks. And what's with the random horizontal streaks of colour on folks' hair? I've never understood how this is meant to be motivated by lighting - is it a manga thing?

The cover by Brooks and Strain is very nice, a take-off on Young Avengers #1, right down to the cover copy - a clever topper to a very smart debut issue.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Secret Six #9 review

Last month the spotlight was on Scandal, Deadshot and Jeannette, this time the rest of the team get to shine. Catman, Bane and Ragdoll dash around Gotham City rescuing rich kids being threatened by non-specific terrorists. We don't learn who hired them (I wouldn't be surprised if it's not Oracle in an off-the-books operation, pushing Catman on to the good path as an unasked favour to the Huntress) but that's not important. What is, is that this is the best Six issue yet.

The concept is lean, yet the story is packed with incident and, better still, wonderful character moments. The subplot involving Catman's possible redemption comes to the fore, as he enjoys being considered a hero for one night. Bane, meanwhile, is doing good in order to honour his old foe, the missing Batman.

And Ragdoll? Take a look, in this cute homage to some old TV show (as ever, click on the image for a better view). All we need is some celeb sticking their nose out of the window and my life would be complete. This is Ragdoll 'the He/She wonder' - have I missed something? Has Ragdoll always been a tad androgynous or is the bendy one getting himself confused with his brotherly sister, Junior? Whatever the case, in my review of #8 I said Ragdoll was becoming somewhat one-note. This issue, not so much. It's not all sexual in-yer-end-oh! and there are even moments of sensitivity. Ragdoll, you're off probation.

The interaction between our three anti-heroes - there's no way I'm calling them villains this month - is priceless, going far beyond the banter this book is known for. Of course, there's plenty of humour, but when it's not cracks at the criminals, it's dead-on comments showing how well these three know each other. And even when jibes are being thrown there's affection and respect alongside.

The exchange of the issue comes after a would-be kidnapper tells Catman and Bane, 'Back off, heroes!' Bane is right. I can't get behind him completely, given his tendency to break opponents' backs, but the DC Universe has become so dark under Dan Didio's watch that heroism these days seems less a matter of pure goodness than of perspective and convenience. By the time a 'real' hero appears at the end I'm agreeing with Catman about their sanctimonious nature. And that's great writing from Gail Simone.

You can't have failed to notice the art in the extracted panels. Penciller Nicola Scott, inker Doug Hazlewood and colourist Jason Wright once again make this DC's best-looking book. I cherish the character work, whether we're looking at the ridiculously buff Catman, steroid freak Bane, creepy l'il Ragdoll or realistic bit players (such as the hook-nosed hood in the splash page foreground). Equally appreciated is the storytelling - there's never a moment when I don't know what's going on - Scott organises the action, Hazlewood underlines and Wright defines. It's a winning combination and I'll say it again, Wright deserves a cover credit as much as Simone, Scott and Hazlewood.

If you've not tried this book, seriously, give this issue a go. Hopefully the Battle for the Cowl flash atop Scott and Wright's moody cover will bring in new readers who will come for the Bat, and stay for the Six.

So much for all those anti-drug ads

Shouldn't Northstar be starring in this ad?

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1 review

Reed Richards wants the Inhumans to help him find one of those cosmic Infinity Gems, but Lockjaw's ahead of the game, sniffing one out in no short order. What a shame no one pays him any attention, nasty old Medusa even telling him to bugger off. Which he does, to gather a team of heroic animals who will show the humans how it's done. Well, I assume this is the mind gem-boosted Lockjaw's plan, as he's the only animal who doesn't get to speak in this comic.

Whatever the case, Lockjaw begins gathering the McGuffin Gems along with the brave beasties - the Falcon's bird, Redwing; Aunt May's dog, Ms Lion; Kitty Pryde's dragon pal, Lockheed; Speedball's cat, Niels, renamed Hairball; and my favourite, Throg, Frog of Thunder.

This first of four issues is a fun romp and thoroughly light-hearted. Well, almost. God knows why, but Chris Eliopoulos (writer of Franklin Richards: Dark Reindeer, a Christmas special I, er, just made up) brings up the dead pregnant wife when telling the origin of Throg. Honestly, what do the kids need to know other than that a frog had a sliver of Thor's hammer and was worthy enough to tap into its magic?

Oh, and Lockheed is a bit of a downer, whining on about those he's lost - you don't even get that much angst for the lost Kitty Pryde in the X-Men titles.

Overall, though, this is a hoot, with Ms Lion being the other standout character - hey, why isn't that pooch on my Karl Kerschl cover? - managing to shut the chatty animals up with a stunning revelation. Which I'm not going to spoil, but here's an example of the book's general tone: The art from Ig Guara (main story), Colleen Coover (downer Throg origin) and Chris Sotomayor (colours) is a joy too; Guara does a terrific job of giving the animals expression without making them too anthropomorphic.

This mini runs to four issues and I expect I'll love every one. Now, when are DC going to give us Krypto and the Legion of Super Pets?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

So Super Duper #7 review

I've read a lot of superhero comedies over the years. Usually they're spoofs and the obvious digs at the conventions of the genre can get wearisome - yes, we know grown men fighting crime with little boys could be seen as odd, and that the women have ridiculous chests - so it's a blessed relief to come across one created with real affection.

That's So Super Duper, Brian Andersen's comic about Psyche, member of horribly titled super-team the Amazin'naughts. The irony is that this empath has little self-awareness, not recognising his selfishness and fooling himself that he's not a transparent sissy. He's terribly pleased with himself for hanging out with the heroes while having to do little more than point out that the guy killing puppies is evil. Frankly, he's not someone I'd want to spend time with, but he's entertaining to watch, and I do enjoy his pals Skip, hairdresser to heroes, and siblings Comet and Star. Plus, I love the spins on traditional superhero tropes, such as issue 3's Who Will Diet? cover

The latest charming book sees Psyche fretting about his female team-mates meeting Skip as she upgrades their powerful barnets. Not earth-shattering stuff, but it raises many a smile. And that goes for the art as much as the story, as cartoonist Andersen uses a happy colour palette that stays just the right side of Barbie's Little Pony. The only thing I'm not keen on is super female Sass, whose speech patterns enter the realm of Blaxploitation stereotype - still, this is comics, she could get knocked out and wake with a new personality. And wouldn't that be So Super Duper?

If you can't find So Super Duper in the shops, visit http://www.sosuperduper.com/

Friday, 8 May 2009

Battle for the Cowl: The Network #1 review

Batman's still dead (I know, it's been weeks!) so his allies are running round Gotham like blue-arsed flies in the aftermath of an Arkham breakout. This issue sees Oracle and pals out to take down a kidnap and gambling plot by Hugo Strange.

Hugo, you disappoint me - haven't you always had grander visions?

Oh well, that's the set-up for a one-shot focusing on Huntress, Batgirl, Manhunter, Misfit and Ragman (characters such as Grace, Man Bat and Lady Blackhawk appear in a splash page roll call, but nowhere else). There's lots of Oracle sending people here, there and everywhere, telling them what's up with Hugo's electronic betting boards, who has them on camera and so on. It's brain deadening stuff from the usually sparky Fabian Nicieza - suddenly there's not a single hero in Gotham who can act without Oracle's advice. I get that Barbara Gordon is coordinating, but I'm sure that once she helps people get to the scene, they could be trusted to handle the rest.

It seems not - take Huntress, for example; her characterisation is thrown back about ten years to when she was still being lectured by Batman and Oracle for her willingness to use lethal force. The fact that she's back in the imbecilically impractical belly button-baring costume has me wondering if this Huntress has been supping the Superboy punch.

The art doesn't rescue the comic from the Land of Middling; pencillers Jim Calafiore and Don Kramer, and inker Mark McKenna, do a serviceable job only. And Ladronn's cover isn't as appealing as his previous Battle for the Cowl entries - Manhunter, for example, looks like she's been drinking Gingold. Overall, this is Birds of Prey with added boys and boredom, a Network that goes nowhere.

Final Crisis Aftermath Run #1 review

Because no one demanded it, the Human Flame gets his own mini series. Still, there's always room for great books that arise from a stroke of creative genius rather than focus groups.

The story takes up where Final Crisis left off, with him having killed the Martian Manhunter. He's dusting himself off and throwing himself back into crime to gain enough money to disappear off the radar, convinced that both heroes and villains will want his head.

The Human Flame is a sweaty, hairy, overentitled bulldog of a guy, as deluded as he is violent. And he's very violent, savagely punching a nurse in an uncomfortable opening spread. He treats his family like crap, puts kids in danger and doesn't think twice about hurting adult bystanders.

Yes. writer Matthew Sturges and artist Freddie Williams II do a terrific job of fleshing out Mike Miller . . . and there's the problem. He's such a shit that spending a whole issue with him in heavy going - and there are five issues to come.

So yes, some books do arise because someone has a terrific story they really want to tell. This one, though, reads like it was assigned to extremely competent creators - so far, I can't see any point to it other than character-building unpleasantness. Supposedly there's at least one shocking moment each issue. I'm not entirely sure what, among the catalogue of nastiness, qualified as that this time. I think it involved the Human Sheep, poor lamb.

I don't need guaranteed shocks to convince me to buy a book, just a strong story featuring a compelling character. I'll give this another issue because Sturges and Williams are good, but I'll be studying the solicitations closely to see whether I want to try another Run after that, because as of this issue I'd be happy to never see 'Nipple Flame' again.

Flash: Rebirth #2 review

I wasn't too keen on the first issue of this mini series - yes, I see writer Geoff Johns' point that Barry Allen has never been written as a man living in a post-Crisis world, but he was far too gloomy for me. This issue gets credit for having Barry recognise that he's a little off, that the sense of doom he's feeling isn't natural to him. It also gains Silver Ancient points for featuring Barry's old lab partner, Patty Spivot, for about the first time in three decades. I also liked that the lab rats apparently include Al Desmond, the future Mr Element/Dr Alchemy, and a guy who looks like a relative of Wally's long unseen pal Chester Runk aka Chunk.

I must, though, award several Roy Thomas demerits for explaining something that doesn't need explaining: why Barry Allen wore a bow tie.

He wore a bow tie because it was the Silver Age and that's how some guys dressed; by the Seventies the thing was pretty much gone. If, in bringing the date of Barry's hero history forward, his past escapes the Silver Age and the bow tie seems less likely, well, there you go. If asked to think about why Barry might have wore a bow tie my reasons would be a) he liked bow ties, as some guys do and/or b) it was smart workwear that didn't dangle in his scientific experiments (UK surgeons often wear bow ties for the same reason).

But really, you don't need to address it - if the bow tie is considered outre, simply don't draw it in flashbacks. When was the last time we saw Tony Stark with a pencil tache, Bruce Wayne with a pipe or Tom Kalmaku referred to as Pieface? If you don't like something from decades ago, sidestep it.

Oh, and since when did Iris West work for something called the Central City Citizen? It's a clever title but since her first appearance Iris was a journalist for Picture News? It's not the snazziest title, but who even noticed it? Arbitrary changes really get on my wick. (And I demand an explanation as to why Iris is seen with long hair rather than a swept-up bun jobby - it's sooooo confusing!)

The issue pretty much keeps last issue's structure, mixing the mystery of Barry's return with flashbacks to his beginnings as a superhero and retconned childhood tragedy. I still find the latter terribly annoying, injecting Barry Allen with a grim motivation he never needed, but it's a thread that looks to be here for the duration so I'm at least interested to see how things turn out. Plus, where do super-scientific gorillas who can only manage cave paintings fit in? The main plot is advanced as we see that Barry's return is definitely hurting others connected to the Speed Force, even killing some. This makes for a surfeit of speedsters that is pretty annoying in a series I expected to focus on Barry - the Speed Force was Wally's thing, seeing it slathered all over a Barry story is weird.

The focus leads to a predictable ending, with Barry becoming something awful, but at least gaining a cute new logo. I did find it rather funny that one scene has Barry asking 'How do you kill Death' when he did that very thing in the Sixties story Death Stalks the Flash (if you're not familiar with that gem, Thomas Katers recaps it to fun effect on #176 of his Tom Vs The Flash podcast - accept no substitutes).

Even funnier, though, was this scene, part of Johns' ongoing bid to convince us that Barry is a Serious Cop - click on the image for the insight of a seasoned investigator: You think?

Ethan Van Sciver's Showcase #4 cover homage is a keeper and the interior art is pretty decent - my only real problem is that the speed force effect dancing around Barry and Wally are hideously faffy; I like my speedsters with clean lines.

In all, a decently daft comic, typical of Geoff Johns in its preoccupation with death. It's not nearly good enough, though, to convince me that Barry's wonderfully heroic ending should have been undone.

Power Girl #1 review

Power Girl gets her own ongoing series and it's as confident as the character deserves. Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Amanda Conner hit the ground running as Peege learns an old Superman adversary is behind the latest attack on New York. And he has big plans for her. Peppering the action are flashbacks showing Peege in her long-neglected secret ID of Karen Starr, refocusing her old software company into an ethical engineering company.

That's not as dull as it sounds - there's plenty of room for mad science, as interviews with prospective staff show. There's also humour, with a terrific gag centred on Peege's snow globes collection which inclines me to stop moaning about the businesswoman's upfront assets. I'm such a hypocrite.

But at least I'm not going to spoil it by duplicating the panels here; I'd rather you tried this book, which is a lot more interesting than the fun preview in recent DC comics hinted. Peege is written not as the hothead she's too often seen as, but a smart, capable cookie. Yes, she bristles when faced with an idiot sexist, but she doesn't lose her rag. Better still, she's a great superhero, respected by New Yorkers and opponents alike.

The new supporting cast look fun and as drawn by Conner, full of character. I've taken an immediate liking to chatterbox Martie Lieb, partly because Karen does and I'm already comfortable with her as a solo character. Peege herself has rarely looked better, cute, strong and smart as a tack. She looks especially great as the smartly dressed Karen, and her apparent assistant, Simon, is equally natty - I do like a dapper comic book.

And this is a very likable comic all round. It deserves to do well.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Justice Society of America #26 review

Writer Geoff Johns ends his generally commendable ten-year tenure with DC's first super-team via a pleasant Day in the Life issue. The day belongs to Stargirl - it's her belated birthday, her actual one having been spoiled by super-villainy. And she's not happy, as she makes clear at the start while leaving the Blue Valley school bus (I thought she was now at college?) in an illustration reminiscent of the classic X-Men #168 splash page featuring a rather peeved Kitty Pryde. The issue is a treat for fans of the old Stars and STRIPE book as we get to see Courtney Whitmore with her mother Barbara, stepdad Pat (aka Stripesy), blended brother Mike and pal Mary (who I always thought would become a new Merry, Girl of 1000 Gimmicks - darn, wrong gain!). Court's party is the scene of lots of characterisation showing how members old and young have matured through Johns' run on this and the previous JSA book. The sentimental conceit is just the right side of self-indulgent, with the only off notes being the many gags around Starman's supposedly charming schizophrenic illness. Oh, and it seems that Stargirl no longer even tries to protect her identity, as evidenced by her allowing a batch of JSA-ers to hover around her as she goes to the dentists - that's even creepier than Jay's hair.

The also-exiting Dale Eaglesham draws up a storm as ever, though his Jay Garrick, with longer hair and more wrinkles than usual, yet still madly buff, looks a little creepy. Alex Ross provides three linked covers showing the entire team; mine is nice and colourful, but almost everyone looks eeeeevil.