Friday, 31 July 2009

Justice Society of America #29 review

The newest team in comics meets the oldest as writers Bill Willingham, Matt Sturges and artist Jesus Merino take over the JSA's creative reins. There's no huge tonal shift, this is the same team Geoff Johns has been writing for the last decade or so (right down to no one remembering that Power Girl is the leader, and a gruesome assault). And that's a smart move, what with Johns' legion of fans poised to point out that the new guys aren't as good as the old. Slow and steady wins the race.

Which isn't to say that there's not lots going on this issue. For starters, there's a huge battle with a new society of villains featuring everyone from old stager Dr Polaris to, er, those dog-themed idiots from a recent Blue Beetle. There's also a mystery involving a strange black egg. Best of all, we have a couple of new members, the snarkily entertaining king Chimera and Mr America's instant sidekick, the All-American Kid. This last chap, I don't trust so far as I can throw him. It's too convenient that he shows up out of nowhere with a story about how he's the descendant of a sidekick no one's heard of. You know who I have heard of? Karnevil, an anti-boy wonder type from Willingham and Sturges' wonderful, and cancelled, Shadowpact series. I tell you, the kid's an infiltrator, the Bad Seed of this arc's title.

One thing I really liked about this issue was that we were given a focus on Mr America for the first time since he joined the JSA, ages ago. And that without any page hogging of the Mr Terrific/Dr Midnite type - there was plenty of room for other characters to have their moment, whether in the Brownstone or during the conflict on the streets of New York.

And everything was beautifully illustrated by Merino, finally getting a high-profile assignment at DC after years of stalwart service - often as an inker. His JSA characters look heroic without hitting self-parody, there's a good variety of faces and his fight sequences are outstanding. I'm not usually a fan of big spreads in 22pp books but the crowd scenes here are just wonderful, easily earning their keep.

Merino is well served by colourist Allen Passalaqua, who never stints on the hues - no great swathes of monotone here - every figure, every background has had thought and craft put into it. I particularly like the way he's set up King Chimera's power aura, and hope his successors follow suit.

All in all, I'd rate this an outstanding start. JSA feels fresh without any superbabies being thrown out with the bathwater.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #7 review

The regular DCU has Batman believed dead while lost in limbo. In the Johnny DC all-ages line, Batman is alive and loving it. The latest issue of the TV spin-off begins with Batman and Greek hero the Olympian battling Wonder Woman headache Circe. That's strictly pre-credits, though, with the bulk of the issue featuring a team-up with the World's Strangest Heroes, those fabulous freaks, the Doom Patrol.

Batman's called in by their leader the Chief when Robotman, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man are captured by a foe he presumes to be General Immortus ('You know how he enjoys attacking my team.'). Not quite . . .

This is sheer delight from start to finish, as writer J Torres and artist J Bone (such shy fellows) gel wonderfully, the dynamic art matching the fast-paced script. Extra credit to Torres for dropping enough hints that it's actually possible to guess who the mystery villain is, if you've ventured into the odder corners of the regular DCU. There are so many brilliant bits of business it's tough to know where to begin, but I'd rather you discovered them for yourselves anyway. Hey, at $2.50 this book's a steal. Still, here's one of my favourite moments (click on image for a better look). Feel free to discover your own.

Wonder Woman #34 review

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, how to win over a reviewer - begin the book with cute snow beasties. Here we see that Aaron Lopresti draws polar bears every bit as well as he draws albino gorillas. The heck with Wonder Woman action figures, I want a Lopresti plush (a bear, that is, not a plush of Aaron Lopresti ...). Diana's in the Arctic, thinking sad thoughts about last issue's rejection of the Amazons, hoping that as Superman finds succour there, so shall she. It doesn't work so she's soon back at her apartment in Washington DC for a quick, amusing scene with her ape followers. Bet I'm not the only one who let out a 'fnar fnar' when Toliphar referred to Nemesis as 'That human. The one who can't use his spear.'

Then it's off to work where the aforementioned Tom Tresser brushes off Diana's bid to address the fact that she metaphorically castrated him a couple of issues back, admitting that she never loved him but was hoping to use him for baby making (at least someone has faith in his spear!). The supposedly repentant T.O. Morrow sends her off to Japan in search of Dr Psycho and Devastation, with Diana wondering if he can be trusted in a piece of narration that had me scratching my head: 'I could use my lasso. Or I could trust to faith and hope. To show mistrust to a man who is trying to do right goes against my nature entirely.'

So Diana, you're considering using the lasso to check that you can trust he's trying to be a better man. But you won't use it on him because he's trying to be a better man. Someone either answered her own question, or needs to go back to logic class.

Still, the basic point is that Diana is trying to see the good in a man who helped build a creature which killed dozens of people. If it were me I'd make the creep earn my trust, not worry about betraying myself by failing to take him at face value. He then reveals that he wasn't born Thomas Oscar Morrow, but Tomek Ovadya Morah - he's remembered that he's Jewish and engineering a character called Genocide may not be heritage-appropriate. Took him long enough - if he's not lying.

Anyway, his information seems on the up, as Diana and guest star Dinah Lance - the Black Canary, as Wonder Woman respectfully puts it - are soon off to Tokyo to infiltrate a metahuman fighting ring organised by Psycho, in Sarge Steel's body. Before that, though, we have some of my favourite scenes in ages, as the two heroines talk over coffee, and the ocean. They chat about their costumes, Power Girl's d├ęcolletage, the practicality of fighting in heels and, more seriously, why the Amazons would bother following 'hosebag' Zeus. Diana points out that he's their top dog god, their fountain of faith, and when he stands in front of you and spurts out orders, that's not to be dismissed. Which makes Diana's dismissal of his demands last month rather awesome.

A separate scene, on Themyscira, shows us just how far the Amazons have fallen, as military leader Phillipus stupidly surrenders her weapons to new king Achilles, who then makes the nutjob Alkyone his queen. I'll assume Phillipus, at least, has a plan; otherwise she's had some sort of lobotomy, Yes, the Amazons might owe fealty to Zeus, but the other side of the 'my god is real' coin is that they know he has feet of clay. Zeus' wisdom is lacking, his morals even more so. That they would follow his wishes without resistance beggars belief.

In Japan, the hilariously disguised Dis announce themselves ass The Orphan Sisters and gain entry to the arena, where they engage in some amusing fights and something weird happens to Diana. They're watched by Psycho in the body of Steel, and Steel in the body of a jestered-up, commentating Psycho. The issue ends with Psycho greeting a new player, someone who promises to be rather - or even, lava - formidable.

After eight months of Rise of the Olympian, this story - concluded next month - is a breath of fresh air. The meat of the issue is the relationship of Diana and Dinah, the JLA's longest-serving heroines, and it allows writer Gail Simone to play to one of her strengths - dialogue. The contrast between the formal Diana and the sassier Dinah is a joy. Dinah's roots as a Forties femme fatale are honoured here as her already more colloquial speech patterns are given a decidedly broader slant. The Canary seems flighty, but she can afford to - Dinah Lance knows she's among the best. If you want an in-story explanation, assume she's been hanging out a lot with time-tossed Forties gal Zinda Blake, Lady Blackhawk. Me, I'm happy to accept that that's how Dinah Lance talks and Simone's the first writer to remember this in years. I may not know where the 'rumpus Magoo' reference springs from, but 'pish, tosh, b'gosh' I like it. This is a hero with real character, not simply Green Arrow's other half - it's telling that the sexist, cheating git isn't so much as acknowledged this issue.

I really would like to have had Diana and Tom discuss their sham relationship, now they're both back in Washington, but this issue was so much fun I'll let it slide; just so long as things are sorted out after this side trip.

Lopresti's pemcils are gorgeous throughout, and the lush brushwork of Matt Ryan really brings out the bext in him. There wasn't a duff page in the bunch. They even made a potentially corny transition into flashback for Rabbi Morrow look good.

No one could make Canary's current costume look good, mind - the fishnets and bathing costume are fine, traditional Black Canary, but the black overcoat looks ridiculous. It's impractical, likely heavy and hides Dinah's boobs and gams, going against her comments about the value of distraction in this very issue.

Thank goodness, then, that Lopresti gets to adorn Dinah in a 'high end trashy hooker' outfit. It rather suits her . . . well, she has the class to pull it off.

The final word on fashion this month - is Diana going to the same hairdresser as the JSA's Cyclone?

Friday, 24 July 2009

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 review

Several Legionnaires die but that's OK cos more arrive to beat the villains and then everyone goes home. Superboy Prime dies, but it turns out he's just gone back to a reborn Earth Prime to live in his basement, scare his parents and whine about comics. White Witch gets a black makeover and a new Karate Kid gets snotty. George Perez and Scott Koblish draw pretty. Associate editor Adam Schlagman serves fries. Mart wishes he'd not bothered.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #600 review

In Spider-Man #400, Aunt May died. In issue #600, she's getting married. That's comics, folks.

Yup, it's the big day, May Reilly Parker is getting hitched to J Jonah Jameson Sr and all hell's breaking loose as every mechanical object in New York gains a mind of its own. And that mind belongs to Dr Otto Octavius. Obviously, her former beau wants to wreck May's big day.

Actually, no. What he's really up to is one of the nicer points of Dan Slott's story, "Last Legs", lending a poignancy to proceedings. Before the massive, 62pp tale is done Spider-Man's fought Octopus and his surprising seconds, teamed up with the Avengers, Human Torch and New Avengers and generally shown why he deserves to have kept his comic for nearly 50 years. And as much as I enjoyed the action scenes - Pete's rapport with Johnny Storm is especially delightful under Slott - it was the supporting cast scenes which had me cheering (click for bigness). And, in the case of Aunt May's wedding day talk with Peter, weeping. The other scene stealers were CSI Carlie Cooper and Newshen (copyright Lois Lane, 1939) Norah Winters, forced to team up and search for the missing Jameson Sr. And if the comics work ever dries up for Slott he could make a fine living penning wedding vows . . .

Spidey veterans John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson provide pencils and inks, in fine style - their action scenes are all-out terrific, and they're not afraid to get a little goofy with some of the everyman faces. I was planning a little moan about Aunt May's tendency to move from aged crone to silver foxy momma from issue to issue, but here we see it's merely a matter of mood; hair up in one scene, down the next.

Oh, and they get five million points for actually daring to draw the post-Jackman Wolverine as a short-arse. Nice one, chaps. And nice one to Dean White for superb colour work, especially in a window washer scene (I'll assume Flash Thompson was trying out a blond look for the ceremony). Joe Caramagna letters in fine style - his fingers must be knackered, if he does it by hand.

But that's not all - this is a 104pp issue with no ads, allowing room for stories by the rest of the Spidey Web-heads, writers Mark Waid, Bob Gale, Joe Kelly, Marc Guggenheim and Zeb Wells.

Waid offers a lovely flashback story of Uncle Ben and young Peter, with lush art from Colleen Doran that's marred only slightly by some really weird clothing creases - I refuse to believe May Parker was so slatternly with the iron. Still, this was where Ben matched May in the main story, and made me sob a little.

Gale's short was less to my taste, a depressing little look at why kids don't want to be Spider-Man, with art by Mario Alberti, apparently using oatmeal as his medium.

Kelly gives us a prelude to a plot beat that's apparently going to run all year in Spider-Man, featuring portentous old Madame Web, that annoying Kravenette kid and her supervillain stage mom. Grim stuff, but it did at least acknowledge that Spider-Woman III, Mattie Franklin, exists (she may even be at the wedding, with Auntie Marla). The art's wonderfully creepy, courtesy of Max (thank you Google) Fiumara.

Guggenheim may have missed a memo, as his Aunt May piece is a different spin on a plot point from the main story, but it's a touching affair, with lovely art from Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser - never has May's wattle looked so enticing.

Now, who's Derec Donovan? Zeb Wells's ode to the Spider-Mobile was already good, but as drawn by this fella it's an instant classic. The art is bright, open, just all-round feelgood. If five pages of drawings can be your best mate, this would be it. Antonio Fabela should also be bowing about now for a perfect colouring contribution.

The issue's rounded off with four 'Spider-Man covers you'll never see' and apart from the final one, by Brian Bendis and Klaus Janson, I'd be happy had things stayed that way. Really unfunny stuff.

Oh, hang on, there's another story here, drawn by up and comer Marcos Martin and written by some fella name of Stan Lee. It's a light-hearted piece of meta-fict . . . oh, the heck with that. Did you hear about the super-hero who went to the psychiatrist? If not, here's your chance. It's silly fun, commenting on some of Spidey's transformations down the years. On the evidence of this, I'd say Lee may have a future in comics.

The Romita Jr/Janson/White cover is a wraparound, though it didn't need to be, what with the back portion being mainly skyscrapers. The part showing Spider-Man, though, is something to treasure.

That's quite the package for $4.99 - congrats to editor Stephen Wacker and his team for giving Peter Parker, and fans, such a terrific present.

Captain Britain and MI13 #15 review

Ah, this was a bittersweet book. The final issue of my favourite Marvel series, but chocful of great things - reunions, endings and new beginnings. The main story sees the dismantling of the threat from Dracula and his cohort, due to a combination of trickery, force and courage. Alongside that are the resolutions to good vampire Spitfire's problem with bad vampire son Baron Blood, the lip of Faiza's undead father stiffening through something other than rigor mortis, an appalling/fantastic gag involving the very obscure Tangerine, and Captain Britain and Meggan showing that you can have a great love without being embarrassingly icky. How very British.

Writer Paul Cornell is big on the British this issue, with several wonderful moments, drawn by Leonard Kirk and Jay Leisten, in which our national character is complimented. And then, after referencing life's sitcom nature, they produce a note perfect final page. OK, if you've never seen Dad's Army, Are You Being Served or numerous other BBC shows it'll mean nothing specific, but I bet you'll still smile.

This book has had me smiling for 15 issues and an annual and if that's all I'm getting I'll be thankful for that, and move on. Now that's British.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Disney, Warners, SOMEONE make these movies

Over the last few years there's been an explosion in superhero movies, what with The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and so on. What there haven't been are many action-packed films for the younger set or, even better, the whole family. There was The Derivatives - sorry, The Incredibles, about a fantastic family. There was Sky High, which saw teen rivalries transplanted to a School For Gifted Youngsters With Less Angst. And there was . . . hmm, how about I get back to you?

But there are at least two properties from DC Comics which seem tailor made for the family audience - Dial H For Hero and Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. While Dial H has never been a massive hit, it's had several solid runs. It's been tried three times, in the Sixties, the Eighties and the Noughties - three generations of creators have been drawn to the idea of a magic dial granting its possessor super powers for a short time, simply by dialling H-E-R-O. Further twiddles of the H-dial have brought us H-E-R-O-I-N-E, H-O-R-R-O-R, V-I-L-L-A-I-N and more. Tell me that wouldn't make a fine fun-filled romp (or, if you want things a bit more messagey, dial H-E-R-O-I-N. Or perhaps not). Ignore Robby Reed and use versions of Eighties characters Chris and Vicky, with H-dial watch and necklace, for dual gender appeal, add some nasty kids trying to get their hands on the transformers, a soccer mom, comical grandfather, dog . . . the trinkets can go through various hands, wreaking chaos everywhere. There'd be obvious merchandising potential via a dozen or so super-characters to fit various dolls, his and her H-dials and so on.

Then there's Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E, the first comic series written by Geoff Johns, featuring teen cosmic girl Courtney Whitmore and her metal-suited stepdad Pat Dugan. As well as fun heroics - who doesn't like a sassy lassie and a grumpy robot? - there's a nice character arc as Court and Pat realise there's more to each other than boring stepdad and snotty kid. I'd ignore the Second World War ties of the original Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy, so as not to stretch credibility in terms of Pat's age, but certainly show them as having been in action about 20 years back in a pre-credits sequence. Court's main rival, Shiv, would be ignored as she was dull and her name invites a spot of consonant swapping. I've no idea who I'd replace her with, but I'm sure screenwriter Geoff Johns - well, this would make a fun assignment for him after his upcoming Flash co-writing gig - could come up with someone suitable.

And again, think of the toy potential. A S.T.R.I.P.E. action figure with all kinds of attachments, Star-Spangled Kid doll with a Barbie-style wardrobe . . .

As for actors, the Disney Channel is constantly grooming - oh dear, there must be a better term - young moppets for TV and multi-media stardom, so by the time these movies are made there'll be a new Miley Cyrus or Hilary Duff available to step up. Heck, there's no real reason Dial H's kids have to both be white/be white at all. And if they start out white, they can always be replaced by non-white actors at various points in the film, so that leaves room for the next Raven Symone.

So that's two family films right there. Any more for any more?

Sunday, 19 July 2009

X-Factor #46 review

This title got a lot of publicity last month due to Rictor and Shatterstar snogging after many years or hints and fan speculation. They're still snogging as we join them this issue. That doesn't make them interesting, though. Layla Miller is interesting and happily she gets lots of play here, in a terrific scene with an elderly Marvel villain. Yes, we're still spending half of each issue 80 years in the future, in the type of dystopia that has me dropping the X-books every few years. I thought X-Factor was meant to be the X-book for people who don't like X-books, but for months it's been future Cyclops, future Cyclops's daughter, future Sentinels . . . and this issue ends with another X-Men character showing up, one of the dullest ever to see print.

Thankfully, the future storyline has at last started to be fun, even if that's mainly because I'm laughing at an old bad guy's infirmities. Also, it turns out to be connected to the present day assignment accepted by Monet, Theresa and chums, and it looks like things will be wrapping up soon. I do hope so, I like X-Factor when it's going its own way, a little Noir here, off-kilter superheroics the rest of the time.

As ever, Peter David's script is a witty wee thing, and thankfully not as self-conscious here as at odd moments in recent issues (such as when Jamie Madrox observed that nobody cries in Noir; to us it's Noir, to characters it should simply be crap weather, chiaroscuro lighting and French mood swings).

Despite the interior credits, the penciller here is Valentine De Landro, and with inker Pat Davidson he produces a great-looking comic. Their techno-organic Monet is a fine new take on an X-books staple, their aged villain is far scarier than the same chap at his peak and their Darwin is . . . squidgy.

Convoluted as this storyline is, David's recaps allow new readers to come on board, and the book is even gaining a lettercol soon, giving me a chance to write in and demand Siryn's name is changed to the terribly logical She-Banshee. Feel free to do the same.

Superman/Batman #62 review

It's years since I read this book, having gotten tired of stories that were nutty without being entertaining. And the back and forth narration, with Superman and Batman constantly mancrushing, was excruciating.

But the promise of a Supergirl/Robin team-up was too tasty to resist. That would be the Tim Drake Robin, around the time Kara arrived on Earth. And there's a more recent, though not that recent - Batman isn't dead and Robin isn't grim, gritty and Red - framing sequence that gives us a look at Supergirl's new secret ID, Linda Lang.

The meat of the issue sees the World's Finest Teens dealing with an Arkham Asylum breakout (there's an R in the month, apparently) and it's as straightforward as straightforward can be. No scary twists, no new psychos, just page after page of heroes pounding on villains as they get to know one another. The most gratifying aspect of the story is seeing a Kryptonian pound on Batman's villains in a way Superman never seems to (click on image to enlarge). Supergirl never received the memo that in Gotham only the Bats get to look good, and once he sees her potential, Robin is only too happy to let Kara cut loose. There's a nod to the dark side Kara displayed at this point in her development, but it's over in a second and entirely appropriate to the story.

I see Michael Green and Mike Johnson are the regular writers on this title, and on this showing I'll track down some back issues. Artist Rafael Albuquerque I already know from Blue Beetle and he's a great fit here, able to place a bright Superman Family character into a dark Gotham scenario without her looking incongruous (it helps, of course, that Robin and Supergirl both have bright costumes). Both heroes are equally at home in this strip, and Albuquerque's facility with facial expressions is put to good use. I was going to quibble that his Joker is shorter and stockier than he should be, but given the way artists have free reign to push him in the other direction, there's really no reason to carp. Joker looks scary, that's the main thing.

Albuquerque also provide a cover illo that perfectly sums up the issue without duplicating any scenes. DC needs to give this man a high profile book before Marvel nicks him.

The colouring is by David Baron, who shows a real understanding of mood (for example, in a scene introducing Commissioner Gordon and Arkham), while Rob Leigh gives us his usual lettering masterclass.

So, is every issue of this title these days as good as this?

Action Comics #879 review

Behind another moody but lifeless Andrew Robinson cover, Flamebird and Nightwing continue their mission to bring down rogue Kryptonians. The main points of interest this time are a change in Flamebird's status quo as her links to the gods of old Krypton are made manifest, Lois Lane realising her father isn't dead and the mystery woman with the facial tattoo being named. Other than that it's the usual mix of fast-paced action, courtesy of writer Greg Rucka and artist Diego Olmos, and annoying Kryptonese translations. I know I harp on about the latter, but they really do slow the stories down, for example this issue we have a Big Moment that requires a Big Statement, but when you turn the page for the splash containing both you have the Kryptonese translations bursting from Flamebird's mouth with the meaning at the bottom. Kinda kills the excitement.

Mind, at least the translations are now of a readable size and colour, so that's something . . . thank you Rob Leigh.

The big news this issue is the addition of Captain Atom with his first regular DCU strip since the Armageddon 2000 summer crossover ruined him as a hero in the early Nineties. But here he is, with no mention of his time as the evil Monarch. Mind, there's not much of a mention of anything as much of this strip is silent, allowing Cap to show off his atomic powers against medieval-style warriors. There's a quick flashback to his Justice League days, so we know it's the same Captain Atom as in previous years, but no explanation as to how he's back as the silver-shelled hero. Which is fine, the last thing writers James Robinson and Greg Rucka want to do is bore readers by explaining away stories that never should have happened. Maybe wave it all away with a wizard in a year or too ...

The artist, Cafu, is a new name to me, but I'm already a fan. The work, coloured by Santiago Arcas, is kinetic, dynamic and all-round excellent. The contrast between the gritty warriors and sleek Atom is particularly striking. I haven't the slightest idea where this strip is going, but so long as Rucka doesn't use Cap's military background as an excuse for lots of offputting Checkmate-style authenti-talk, I'll be happy.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Titans #15 review

It's the return of Tempest, and he's fighting his friends the Titans? How'd that happen?

It doesn't. Taking the idea of a symbolic cover to the extreme, Angel Unzueta and Wayne Faucher give us a moment representative of the insides only in so much as the interior features a) Tempest and b) the ocean.

Still, I'm keen to find out how Garth went from being a powerless, non-water-breathing old guy, in the last Aquaman series, to his magical, groovily be-gilled young self again, as seen in Final Crisis.

Oh, we don't get that either.

OK, but won't it be great to see him reunited with wife Dolphin and baby Cerdian?

What? Killed off panel and sleeping with the fishes?

Might I say that this isn't the most satisfactory Garth tale ever? In one fell swoop he's dialled back about a decade, to where he was before Peter David had him wed Dolphin - not some red shirt player, but a onetime star of her own strip. Hell, why not go the whole hog and give him back the blue shorts, permed hair and call him Aqualad?

At a guess, I'd say the steamrollering of Garth's recent past is to free him up to lock lips with the zombie corpse of Tula, Aquagirl. Perhaps Dolphin will turn up too, and we'll get an underwater zombie catfight - who doesn't love an underwater zombie catfight?

Whatever the case, this is a depressing episode, which acts as a useful Tempest primer, demonstrating the shabby treatment he's generally received (Phil Jimenez's mini series being a notable exception) and redoubling it. It's only a Titans tale in that Tempest is a sometime member, and he seeks out Dick Grayson for advice. Writer JT Krul produces a worthwhile scene here, showing their brotherhood and leading to an interesting change in Garth's status quo. A shame his family had to pay the price . . . it's not even as if something this tragic happening to a Titan is original - Donna Troy's family died off-panel years ago.

The art is tremendous, Jose Luis and JP Mayer rendering a suitably haunted Garth, and presenting a fine action sequence. They produce especially fine mermaids, and even remember that hair moves in the water; if Garth ever gets another mini I'd be delighted to have this pair aboard, along with colourist Edgar Delgado, who adds such subtle touches as light sources in the water, and tones to indicate magic weaving.

So yes, Tempest's back - anyone care to explain how?

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Blackest Night #1 review

Around the time Superman died battling Doomsday, seven million citizens of Coast City were murdered by alien warlord Mongul. The world dedicated a day in Superman's memory, but when it turned out he wasn't so much deceased as growing out his hair, the world decided the Coast Citizens could have the memorial day instead.

But not to themselves. Not when there are genuinely dead superheroes to be remembered. So, Hal Jordan tells us at the beginning of a long expository sequence: 'It's become a day to honour the super-beings who gave their lives protecting the world - and the innocents we failed to save. Among those innocents - the seven million who were incinerated when Mongul and the Cyborg-Superman destroyed Coast City.'

There you have it, Coast City, afterthought. Mind, it's greatest hero seems to be over the loss that send him on the path to Parallax, if the huge great grin on Hal's face as he mounts a flypast of mourners with the air force and other GLs is anything to go by. Yes, he's bound to be happy Coast City is being reborn with citizens too brave to be cowed by alien deathmongers/folk who realise the odds of that happening a second time are infinitesimal. But he might at least look a tad solemn.

Mind, he is busy in the aforementioned slice of exposition, detailing the various deaths that have hit earth-based GLs. These panels caught my attention (click to enlarge). Is it not odd that Hal should gloss over the fact that Katma Tui wasn't killed by 'a' Star Sapphire, she was murdered - chopped into bite-sized bits - by his best girl, the just-mentioned Carol Ferris. So is this a clever piece of characterisation, with Hal in denial? Or is it writer Geoff Johns, not wishing to bring up a rather unpalatable time in Carol's life?

I wasn't planning on buying this book, having become wearied by the War of Light in the Green Lantern titles, and the seemingly never-ending Prologue to Darkest Night. But I flicked through this in the shop, saw Aquaman's widow Mera and weakened. On reading it, I was grossed out by Black Hand's licking the skull of Bruce Wayne in the opening scene, only slightly less so on recalling DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio recently commenting: 'The fan knows – or the fans might guess – that was not Batman’s body that was recovered as a skeleton in Final Crisis #6, but nobody else knows that.'

I'm not sure how the mystic forces Black Hand is working with can be fooled by a random corpse, but apparently so. If DiDio doesn't know, who does?

DiDio was also the person who told us that despite what Final Crisis seemed to show, Hawkman and Hawkgirl never died in there (necessitating the clunky redialoguing of a graveyard scene drawn for a subsequent issue of JLA). Anyone who missed that interview may be surprised by them looking so hale and hearty here, but don't worry, that doesn't last for long, courtesy of a couple of two very familiar zombies.

In a literally heart-rending scene, the suddenly sprightly corpses of Ralph (still stretchy - long-lasting Gingold or Black Lantern energy?) and Sue Dibny murder the Hawks, allowing them to be drafted into the zombie army. This comes after a bit of Hawk lore I can't recall seeing previously. Supposedly a love curse has it that when the Hawks declare their love in each new life, they're kaput. Hmm, anyone remember that affecting the Golden or Silver Age Hawks, who seemed to be pretty darn lovey dovey for decades? And the timing of this piece of information is all too pat for me. (Johns loves this sort of thing - apparently Darkest Night has been prophesied, as if that means anything in a multiverse where time travel is possible).

Plus, I know this is a summer horror flick on the comics page, but seeing two old 2D friends of mine rendered so hellishly, and acting so appallingly, was a bit much. I doubt I'll be back for issue 2 if this is the way things are going.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of craft here. The art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert is stunning - they draw a cast of thousands and they draw them well. Standout sequences including the Lanterns' flypast and Hal's showing the recently reborn Barry Allen who's died while he was gone. They're spreads worthy of the space they take up, though the first was a little annoying in forcing me to turn the book sideways. Colourist Alex Sinclair and letterer Nick J Napolitano were also superb team players throughout.

While I found the script a little too Brad Meltzer at times ('She made the Atom feel small'; 'And the fastest man alive does something I haven't seen him do since he's been back - he sits down'), I admire the way Johns keeps all his balls in the air. One splendid touch was that Barry Allen was especially upset to hear Ronnie Raymond had died - appropriate in the DC Universe as Bazza's fellow Justice Leaguer wasn't much younger than his nephew Wally West, and in our world in that Firestorm had a back-up in Barry's book for awhile.

The noise made by the black rings is very smart.

I loved Hawkman's comments about Jean Loring's relationships with Ray Palmer and the Dibnys; it was good to see him writing the Hawks again.

And Johns gets major credit for the coming inclusion of Lisa Snart, the Golden Glider, an obscure Flash villain but one of my favourites. There are bound to be sparky scenes with her brother Len aka Captain Cold, and equally dead lover The Top.

Oh Lordy, I'm going to pick up the next issue, aren't I? The Golden Glider, possibly Mera in action . . . if it wasn't for such grisliness as a vampiric Guardian and the levels of spatter I'd be OK. I really don't enjoy having old pals turn my stomach, but it pretty much comes with the zombie territory. And DC have killed off so many people over the last couple of decade that they may as well make zombie lemonade.

If this event proves to be the last word on death in the DCU for a long while, then I'll be there with the applause. But if it turns out to be simply a bunch of 'kewl' moments linked by decent characterisation, then I walked with a zombie. Right out of the comic shop.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Uncanny X-Men: First Class #1

One of the purest pleasures at Marvel over the last few years has been the X-Men: First Class series, telling new stories of the original gifted youngsters' earliest years. Smart superheroing without the 'everyone hates us' business that came to infect the team after the Uncanny, nee All-New, All-Different (if you ignore Cyclops, Marvel Girl and maybe Banshee) X-Men, arrived.

Well, X-Men: First Class is no more, replaced by Uncanny X-Men: First Class. So how are Storm, Wolverine and co finding their first few weeks at Xaviers, circa X-Men #101? (Nightcrawler has the image inducer and Jean Grey has become Phoenix. And yes, retrofitting has it that Jean was actually replaced by Phoenix and really in a Jamaica Bay cocoon at this point, but unless this stupidity is brought up in First Class, let's ignore it and assume Jean is Jean. Cos we all know she was!)

It's a pretty decent comic. Writer Scott Gray has Nightcrawler and Colossus visit the Inhumans in Attilan after the former's had a day of being hated and feared, etc. What he finds there both tempts and appalls. There's also room for Danger Room larks and a Jean sub-plot. The training session fits the First Class criteria, in that our heroes are a bit green, and the Jean business expands on the aftermath of her transformation into Phoenix, so that fulfils the book's USP too.

'Refuge' is enjoyable both as a superhero romp and a focus on Kurt Wagner. The story is logical in a 'be careful what you wish for' way, without being entirely predictable. Gray's script flows well, and he even finds a new insult for the Inhuman Gorgon - Wolverine calls him Billy Goat Gruff during a nicely pitched squabble that also spotlights Banshee, the Oirishman with the mutant ability to scream and blether at the same time

I also liked that Gray seems to have a spot-on knowledge of Marvel continuity, as evidenced by Quicksilver being referred to as Pietro Frank, as he believed he was the son of Golden Ager The Whizzer back then, and Jean's flatsharing with Misty Knight. And looking in the other direction, there's a subtly ironic nod to current events via a comment by Lilandra to the Inhumans (click on image to upsize). The art, by X-Men: First Class alumnus Roger Cruz, is lovely: straightforward storytelling that's never boring, made even better by the bright, but non-garish, colours of Val Staples.

The first issue is rounded off by a splendid cover from Cruz and Supergirl colourist Nei Ruffino that's enhanced by a smart logo treatment.

I had a better time with this Year One comic than the X-Men books set today, with their tangled continuity that doesn't so much link titles as strangle them at birth. So well done Marvel for putting it out. But can't I have the old X-Men: First Class book too?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Wednesday Comics #1 review

After the terrific 52, the turgid Countdown and the I've-still-not-gotten-through-the-thing-but-God-Rita-is-annoying Trinity, DC's latest experiment in weekly publishing takes a traditional turn. Wednesday Comics, as its title suggests, is a throwback to the US comics section of old - full-colour, lavishly illustrated strips to be enjoyed by all the family.

OK, so there's no humour in here - this would have been a great chance to bring back Angel and the Ape or the Inferior Five - but other than that it smacks of the supplements of old. Let's take it from the top . . .

Batman: This starts where many a traditional Bat-tale has begun, with the Caped Crusader summoned by the Bat-signal. While it's a scene we've seen a thousand times, it's refreshed by writer Brian Azzarello telling us how Commissioner Gordon feels about his dependence on Batman. Eduardo Risso provides gorgeous moody art, intelligently coloured by Trish Mulvihill. And the letters of Clem Robins are spot-on, stylish yet unobtrusive.

Kamandi: Dave Gibbons gives us an all-narrated strip featuring Jack Kirby's post-apocalypse teenager. It's a style I hated as a kid, but here I loved it. The measured, storybook narration evokes the loneliness Kamandi feels . . . and besides, he's the Last Boy on Earth, who's he gonna talk to? Ryan Sook's art is spectacular, and he even does his own letters. Extra points for the 'Kamandi created by Jack Kirby' banner at page bottom, complete with spot illo by The King - I'd love editor Mark Chiarello and assistant Chris Conroy to such acknowledgments a requirement throughout. It adds a fun design element and a sense of history appropriate to this project.

Superman: A swift and fun read from John Arcudi and Lee Bermejo, with the Man of Tomorrow facing a strange new foe. I always like Superman facing a strange new foe. Barbara Ciardo could paint my wagon anytime, as her colour work here is classic stuff, while Ken Lopez letters up a storm. As with the Batman strip, the only tweak I'd make to this page would be to add some kind of 'continued' slug at the bottom.

Deadman: No tweaks necessary here, as co-plotters Dave Bullock and Vinton Heuck hit the bullseye first time out. We get a recap of Deadman's origin and are dropped straight into a murder mystery, along the way getting more details of his mission, a sense of Boston Brand's personality and a cliffhanger ending. Bullock shows how a design-led page doesn't mean leaving the story behind, while Heuck - a new name to me, but one I like for it's onomatopoeic qualities of kebab consequences - gives the story an engaging tone. Dave Stewart adds the swinging colours, Jared K Fletcher letters - and yes, that includes a Next Week panel.

Green Lantern: This gets off to a slow start, but a fun one as the Ferris Aircraft gang go for a drink and wonder where Hal Jordan is. Well, he's in the last panel and, as drawn by Joe Quinones, looking fabulous in a strip that seems to be taking its stylistic cues from Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier. Kurt Busiek, one of my favourites, writes and I'm delighted to see him working on something a little more contained than Trinity. And Pat Brosseau letters by Lantern's light.

Metamorpho: This package be a homage to a great American institution but Neil Gaiman shows that, like fellow Brit Dave Gibbons, he knows his publishing history. In a single page he introduces his cast and sets up the adventure, while not skimping on the immediate entertainment. The story and character beats perfectly capture the style of Metamorpho creators Bob Haney and Ramona Fradon, who both get a namecheck at page bottom. Mike Allred was born to draw the Fab Freak of 1001 Changes, so it's a good job someone gave him the script. He's not aping Fradon - Allred is too much his own man - but Lordy, he captures her cast well. And Laura Allred colours them just spiffingly, while Nate Piekos provides suitably jolly lettering.

Teen Titans: Writer Eddie Berganza gives us a rundown of the various Titans teams since the Sixties before reaching the present lot, on whom I'm assuming the next 11 episodes will focus. That being so, the history lesson was unnecessary - I prefer a 'this is our cast, let's begin' approach. Sean Galloway's art is eye-catching, and modern and, er, well, I'm sure the kids will just love it. I liked the thoughtful layout, but wasn't keen on the washed-out quality of his palette and the beyond minimalist facial features. Nick J Napolitano has one of the best names in comics. He's also a terrific letterer, as he shows again here.

Strange Adventures: This Adam Strange feature fits the Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers mould nicely which is likely why Paul Pope has tweaked his costume for Thirties spaceman style. Wife Alanna, too, gets a makeover, looking less the science chick, more the space seductress. And it works. Pope's story moves faster than a zeta beam, Jose Villarrubia's colouring is sublime and the only thing that stops this strip getting a perfect 10 is the lettering, which I assume is by Pope. Its freeform nature/messiness works as a design element in the artwork, but is bloody annoying if you're actually trying to read it. Oi, Ken Lopez, get over here ...

Supergirl: Amanda Conner illustrates hubby Jimmy Palmiotti's script, which sees Kara Zor-El trying to keep those gosh-darn super pets under control. Paul Mounts colours, John J Hill letters and Mart has the pants charmed off him. Oh, and is that Mr Palmiotti cameoing as Pet Shop Dad?

Metal Men: It's one of my favourite teams illustrated by two of my all-time favourite artists. Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez pencils with the style and drama of a master, while Kevin Nowlan complements him with perfectly laid blacks. Mulvihill and Lopez do that hoodoo they do so well, again. Writer Dan Didio provides a simple set-up that neatly showcases the robots' very human personalities. And seeing the team in Sixties gear was a hoot.

Wonder Woman: My least favourite of the bunch. God bless writer/artist Ben Caldwell for his obvious enthusiasm and desire to provide value for money but my word, this was confusing. Almost 50 panels ranging from small to tiny, drenched in purples and pinks, packed with hundreds of splodgily-lettered words - I found this terribly tough to follow. If it hadn't said Wonder Woman at the top (in a horribly flouncy new logo) I'd have been hard pressed to tell who was starring in this strip. To be fair, it's very much a prologue to the main event, and I liked the grey ladies, the mention of 'Aphrodite's veil', and am intrigued that here Diana is 'the last Amazon' but I really need some simplification if I'm going to enjoy this ride. Don't dial down your ambition Ben, but focus on the vital stuff and throw out the rest.

Sgt Rock and Easy Company: The great Joe Kubert draws to a script written by son Adam and all is right with the world, as our hard nut hero faces torture by the Nazis. In the tradition of many a modern Sunday strip, the top tier here is entirely detachable - it adds nothing to the story, allowing it to be chopped away to fit different page slots. Hopefully this is a one-off nod rather than a signature of the strip.

Flash: Ah, now this is clever stuff - a quick, amusing Barry Allen vignette for the top half of the page, a tie-in Iris West romance comics-style strip at the bottom - complete with her own logo! Topped off with a fabulous All-Flash Golden Age page header. Karl Kerschl, you're a very clever boy. Other clever boys are co-scripter Brenden Fletcher, letterer Rob Leigh and colourist Dave McCaig. The Iris panels are likely being blown up even now by the ghost of Roy Lichtenstein.

Demon and Catwoman: I've never liked Jack Kirby's rhyming Lord of Hell, far as I can tell, he's less than swell. But I think I'm going to like him here, as written by Walt Simonson and illustrated Brian Stelfreeze. Because if he's presented as attractively as his alter ego Jason Blood, and co-star Selina Kyle, he'll be a stylish, seductive soul. Steve Wands does his usual magic with the calligraphy set.

Hawkman: At the start I found the bird narration conceit silly, but by the end was grateful to finally learn why any bird would ever follow the Silver Age Hawkman. Kyle Baker, I flap too. And you draw wonderfully.

So that's it, 15 strips and as many approaches to the Sunday page. One or two instant favourites, a couple I didn't take to, the rest all well worth my time and money. I worried that as an artist-led project the stories would be terrible, but there's a lot of promise here. Mark Chiarello dedicates this book to the late and legendary DC editor Archie Goodwin and you know what? I think he'd be thrilled to bits.

As for me, Wednesday Comics, you had me at:

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Marvel Divas #1 review

Take three former Avengers and one of Spider-Man's most trusted allies and what do you get? A superhero Sex and the City that's at least three years too late. I knew this book was to focus on our heroines - Hellcat, Captain Marvel, Firestar and Black Cat - in their everyday lives, but I didn't think it's be quite so shallow. Page after page of swapping stories about crap men over cocktails. Resentment towards such supposedly more successful super-heroines as She-Hulk, Invisible Woman and Storm. And a final page injection of like, super-emotional drama to add a bit of weight.

Taking the last first, and stop reading now if you don't wish to be spoilt, it turns out that Firestar has breast cancer. In the real world this is a horrible thing to learn. In a superhero universe that regularly has people coming back from the dead, it's less so. Two of the exes mentioned in this issue have supernatural powers so it's not unlikely they could zap a few rogue cells. Captain Marvel has about 50,000 light-based frequencies, I'm sure she could do some surgery, guided by the Irredeemable Ant-Man (and she'd get a shag as a bonus). Given how ditsy and competitive the women are here, it's likely Firestar would put in for a Misty Knight-style cybernetic attachment.

I suppose the fluffy portrayal of Patsy Walker isn't so far from her origins in Marvel's Silver Age romance line, Black Cat has always been a bit flighty and Firestar we barely see this issue, so no real problems there. Let's just say we're seeing the same heroines from a new angle.

It's the presentation of Monica Rambeau that gets me. A former leader of the Avengers and extremely capable heroine, she was a bit of a joke in Next Wave, but that was OK as every character was. Here she has another new personality, wittering on the whole time about being black. Apparently she went home to New Orleans to help in the aftermath of Katrina, 'cleaning up the mess you white people left behind'. The clean-up involved being a member of an all-black superhero crew. Am I missing some point? Does Monica only like non-blacks if they get pissed with her?

There's a single panel in which we see our heroines fighting together and what do we get? (Click for bigness) A stupid bloody wink from writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. He can do better that that, if a gag about Beta-Ray Bill is anything to go by.

The art by Tonci Zonjic is delightfully expressive, and airy in a Darwyn Cooke way. If the level of cartooniness was more consistent from panel to panel it'd look even better.

Oh, and Marvel Divas? Looking at J Scott Campbell's cover, you'd think it was Marvel Slappers.

Justice League: Cry For Justice #1

Green Lantern Hal Jordan lays down the law to the Justice League, annoyed that the team isn't proactive enough in terms of going after villains and ending their threat for good. He reminds them that as the local representative of the Guardians of the Universe, he is the law. And he's going to step up before more heroes such as Batman and the Martian Manhunter get killed. So, with the ever-loyal Green Arrow, he exits the League satellite to do ... something. If you're not with him, you're against him, apparently, and Ollie so wants to be against him. Rubbing.

The reduced version: GL throws a hissy fit and tosses his toys out of the pram. Ollie is gay for Hal.

Let's look at this again. While Hal has in the past told the Guardians where to stick their rules, and led segments of the Corps in battle, he is at heart a company man. Not only does he follow regularly stupid Guardian orders, he's a disciplined member of the USAF. Yet here he's unhappy with his third team and rather than properly talk the whole thing over, quits after a discussion that must take all of two minutes. It's not convincing - either he's a man who respects rules, or he isn't. While claiming to be the former, here he's demonstrably the latter.

I'd say he was showing uncharacteristic disrespect here for Black Canary, one of his oldest friends and current League leader, but writer James Robinson ignores her status here. Rather than being front and centre, and calling Hal out, she's whispering in the background to her husband as Hal addresses, basically, Superman and Wonder Woman. As for what Ollie - not even a current League member - is doing pledging his loyalty to Hal, rather than standing by his wife, heaven knows. I'm also not sure why Supergirl and Plastic Man are, silently, on hand, although the former is slated to join Hal's new team.

The rest of the issue features vignettes of GLJL members to be - there's Ray Palmer, teaming up with former Atom placeholder Ryan Choi; Starman Mikaal Tomas visiting a funeral home; and Congorilla facing his own tragedies. Each scene ends with the formerly mild-mannered heroes deciding that they want . . . JUSTICE. Say it loud, JUSTICE! Their reasons are, to be honest, rather contrived. Starman's boyfriend has been murdered, Congorilla's old pal B'wana - sorry, Freedom - Beast has likewise been slaughtered and, er, a scientist pal of Ray Palmer's that we've never heard of has also been killed by criminals. Gawd, couldn't they get his old lab assistant Enrichetta Negrini out of mothballs and kill her? I always liked her, how can she still be alive?

Like Hal's outburst, these heroes' reasons to be cheerless are less than compelling. Heck, if losing not one Jean Loring, but two (>ahem Countdown<) weren't enough to make Ray Palmer shrinking violent, the death of some acquaintance isn't going to to do it. And never mind his having debuted in comics in 1940, in the DCU Congo Bill has been active in Africa for many a decade, so why would a bunch of poachers suddenly get his gorilla dander up? As for Mikaal, wasn't he meant to be a lovely hippy space alien?

Will we have more of the same next issue? The team members sure look annoyed in the banner house ad currently adorning DC message boards. Is this going to be Grrreen Lantern, Grrreen Arrow, Supergrrrl, Congrrrilla, the angriest Leagrrrs of them all? I do hope not - if I wanted scowling, ill-motivated maverick heroes I'd dig out my old issues of Extreme Justice. As this is Robinson, I actually have extreme optimism, I am the Super-Pollyanna. But next issue needs to be a lot better than this one if I'm going to stay on board. No more unconvincing motivations. No more 'we-don't-care' editing. No more horrible sub-Superman/Batman (who knew that was even possible?) back and forth man-crush dialogue involving the Atoms. And a reminder that these characters have smarts as well as guts.

Mauro Cascioli's illustrations are impressive, realistic and intense, perfect for a grim and gritty throwback title such as this. It's more natural than much painted art, with no obvious model shots a la Alex Ross. I prefer more traditional linework in my superhero comics, but he's put an awful lot of work in and I'll certainly be looking at this book again and again.

I'll give issue #2 a try, but a word to the wise - if Ollie Queen calls Hal Jordan 'baby' again, I'm out of here.

Secret Six #11 review

Ah, they're an odd bunch, the Secret Six. Perfectly happy to maim and murder for money, but when it comes to the matter of slavery, qualms unexpectedly enter the equation. Last issue the team took the shilling of slimy Mr Smyth, Deadshot killed an escaping prisoner for him and now he explains his plans: to erect the world's biggest and only prison, a wonder of the world to be built by slaves.

But he's no abuser of the poor, Smyth is an equal opportunities slavemaster, keen to gather his workforce via lottery from all levels of society. God bless Ragdoll for pointing out to Scandal the ridiculous nature of her objections (click to enlarge). By the end of the issue the team's split down the middle on the matter, a stark contrast to the way they stand united against Smyth's men at the start.

In between we've met Artemis, the woman tough enough to have once taken Diana's place as Wonder Woman. She's in a sorry state here, shackled and physically weakened, but her spirit is strong. She won't stand for the courtly hypocrisy of Smyth's master jailer and tells him so calmly and intelligently.

This is one of the chattiest comics I've read in a while but it's not a matter of Marvel's Mamet mannerisms - every word is important in progressing situation or character. Writer Gail Simone's dials down the book's usual humour (Ragdoll stays snarky, but on point), leaving us a sombre tone appropriate to the subject matter. What we have, via the seductive logic of Mr Smyth, is a gripping examination of the place slavery could have in a post-credit crunch world. The ambition of ideas on display here is rare in mainstream comics and I can't wait to see where things go next - especially with the arrival of a certain heroine on the final page.

Issue after issue I praise the art team of penciller Nicola Scott, inker Doug Hazlewood and colourist Jason Wright and they don't let me down. They create powerful people in a richly textured world appropriate to the comic's refusal to paint characters in black and white. And if characters such as Scandal Savage and Catman appear in their skimpies along the way, hey, it's vital to the plot.

I'm not a huge fan of painted covers by Daniel Luuisi's portrait of Artemis enslaved is a winner. Let's hope he's on board for all five issues of Bound.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Last Days of Animal Man #2 review

Eating my words department: I had no interest in this mini series. DC has made continuity so much the be all and end all of their line that I saw no use for a short run set in the future of the DC Universe - if stuff in it comes to pass, I've been spoilt a couple of decades too early; if it doesn't, it's just an irrelevant imaginary story.

Then I began hearing good things about #1, so bought it. So, did I find the book irrelevant? It turns out that was the wrong question, I should have been asking, do I find it good? And that's a definite yes. Very good. This book marks the return to comics after years in TV drama (only bloody Law & Order!) of Seventies and Eighties DC writer Gerry Conway, and it's turning out to be a terrific calling card. The first issue was clever and fun. The second issue, I like even better, as ageing superhero Animal Man, aka Buddy Baker, must fight the ludicrous but deadly Bloodrage and, more significantly, his self-denial. He's refusing to acknowledge that his powers are fading, and that attitude's been hurting his relationship with wife Ellen. Here he can no longer deny that his ability to instantaneously tap into the morphic field that unites life, and borrow the abilities of any creature, is on the outs.

Luckily he's given a hand here from fellow Justice Leaguer Green Lantern. But it's not Hal Jordan, or any of his human replacements. It's . . . well, check out that gorgeous cover. God knows how this guy fits round the table at meetings, but he's good. The new GL is a surprising but logical change for this future DCU, and just one of the signs that Conway knows what he's doing. Another is the characterisation of Buddy as very much your ordinary guy, even after all his years running, flying and swimming with the super-pack. He's not brilliant, hence his needing a hand when his powers go kaput while fighting Bloodrage. He's not the most emotionally intelligent guy, which is why he won't open up to the always understanding Ellen about his fears.

But he has a big heart, and whatever happens, he tries to do the right thing. If his spotty powers are going to get him killed, he's willing to go out fighting. And when the second of this issue's villains appears, a new legacy character, it looks as if he might do just that. We're introduced to Prismatik (who's her bad guy relative? Not telling, buy the book!) via an awfully long speech she makes to her dead mother, a device I found rather clunky, possibly indicative of Conway having an old-school moment. Or perhaps he was showing us that the new girl is actually rather old school and corny; certainly she's a tad mad.

That one scene's forgivable, as the rest of the storytelling is so good. Buddy's dialogue and narration had me warming to him for the first time in many a year, even when he's crankier than he should be (there's that humanity again). And the direction in which Conway takes the man with animal powers is clever, and welcome. There's even a shocker of an ending which has me wishing this was one of those biweekly series DC have been turning out of late.

Pencilling the book is Chris Batista, producing the best work I've seen from him. Yup, his Buddy looks nowhere near as old as he should but he's the man with animal powers, he's probably channelling a tortoise's longevity or something. The character work is great, the layouts smart and, under inker Dave Meikis, there's an echo of longtime Animal Man cover guy Brian Bolland (back for this mini) with a smattering of original series penciller Charles Truog. Mike Atiyeh's colours are bright without being garish, always appropriate for the scene and - Lord, it really is old home week - the book is lettered by DC legend Clem Robins. Huge credit to editor Joey Cavalieri and assistant Chris Conroy for assembling this team and I'd be delighted to see them together again, and back with Buddy, after these six issues wrap.