Friday, 27 November 2009

Justice League: Cry For Justice #5 review

And here's another issue of the best superhero comedy around. As ever, there's lots of banter between the heroes with barely a villain in sight. Batwoman shows up on screen to let the established heroes know how cool she is, husband and wife Green Arrow and Black Canary (soon to be spun off into cafe-set sitcom Ollie's Dinah) bicker at the fact he's not phoned her for weeks, and Supergirl realises she's in a comic book (click on image to enlarge). Nooooo, not weaponry and science! Whoda thunk it?

With two more issues to go it's likely writer James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli will have to tie up the maguffin that has rent the Justice League asunder-ish, we may even see a battle with Prometheus, but don't let that ruin the fun for you. Mind, the fact that the cover illo and blurb have zilch to do with the interiors show they're winking (I think I got the right vowels there) at the reader. And the expository dialogue and regular close-ups of Supergirl's bum alone are worth the price of admission . . . your sanity.

Superman #694 review

First off, the new costume as seen on Cafu's cracking cover. Mon-El looks deeply weird without a tunic. This was proven in the Nineties when he had a big stupid
M-shaped starfield on his chest, and again here. A tunic, with a centre split, would add interest but here the little blue S-shield, cute as it is, looks lost and awkward. If we can't have a tunic, a big slash down the centre would make the symbol look like it couldn't possibly be anywhere else, as demonstrated by Supergirl's superb Seventies look. As for the little blue trunks, brrrrr, they're so NOT Mon-El. And those seams - eek!

Something else Mon-El has in common with Seventies Supergirl is the on-again, off-again super-powers. Fortunately he has his Daxamite abilities for most of the time here, as he battles Bizarro, who shows up so often these days that he's lost his charm. Here, for example, there's neither the comedy nor the poignancy that makes for a good Bizarro appearance, he's simply someone to bash.

Half of this issue is another of those scenes which have become a terrible cliche in the Superman Family of books - the Talk to Ma Kent moment. Can't relate to ordinary folk? Talk to Ma. Not handling the stress of big city life? Talk to Ma. Need a cure for cancer? Talk to Ma. Honestly, there's nothing that woman doesn't know. Here Mon-El fears he's letting the absent Superman down but she channels the wise ghost of Jonathan Kent and he soon feels better. She also knocks up the new costume - as seen in the current Superman: Secret Origin, there's nothing the old gal likes better than putting young men in too-tight pyjamas that'll get them laughed at.

After the recent revelation that future Legion of Super-Heroes teammate Sensor Girl is watching over him disguised as science Police colleague Wilcox, another supporting cast member stands revealed as a Legionnaire, and old timers like me will be slapping their heads and yelling, 'of course it's him.' I am, though, sad for Mon-El - doesn't anyone like him for himself?

The revelation does bring my favourite moment of the issue, though - the expression on Mon's face, despite being strangled, as he sees this future friend in action for the first time. That's the work of Javier Pina, who draws some mighty fine battle shots and quieter moments (during which enigmatically named colorist Blond acquits themselves well in terms of Adventure Comics skies).

Robinson's script is souffle light and tasty, though I wish he weren't tying in so much to Geoff Johns' Legion of Three Worlds leftovers. Great as it is to see 'my' Legion I want to see Mon-El have space to become his own man rather than have the future hook him like a super-salmon.

Not to worry, I had a good time with this comic - you can't say fairer than that.

Justice League of America #39 review

Over the years I've come to hate the way today's comic writers slag off Justice League Detroit. They weren't losers, they were heroes as much as any member of the JLA before them. And when their day in the sun was nearing its end, confrontations with two Silver Age villains, Despero and Professor Ivo, gave us some of the most powerful, dramatic JLA stories ever. The second of these also brought the deaths of members Vibe and Commander Steel.

And it's Hispanic tremor chap Vibe who is our viewpoint character in this Blackest Night tie in, his memory download recapping his short history in the DC Universe. Happily, writer James Robinson doesn't take the opportunity to knock the Detroit League, they're presented as nothing less than a valid incarnation of the team.

While I'm not the biggest fan of corpses as villains, I like Vibe so much that I'm delighted to see him get some play here, going up against old teammates Gypsy and Vixen in the darkened Hall of Justice. We also meet Black Lantern Commander Steel and the campest-looking BL yet, Zatara. He battles daughter Zatanna in the daftest hero/villain confrontation in ages (Kcilc ot egralne): Neither combatant comes across as the brightest of buttons here . . .

My favourite scene in the book has Red Tornado unleash his full, as they say, elemental fury on Vibe, slashing him to ribbons. My least favourite sees the good Dr Light, Kimiyo Hoshi, come across her evil predecessor, Dr Arthur Light, licking the detached head of a character whom I rather liked - sure, I know she died last month in Blackest Night, but the paedo-necrophilia I can live without.

Kimiyo, by the way, must be missing Aquaman, as she refers to Arthur Light as (Arthur) Curry.

As a by the numbers Blackest Night drive-by cash-in, this is fine. but for some reason DC has packaged it as a 30pp issue for £3.99 and there just isn't the story to merit it. For all the world it seems as if the decision to up the page count was made at a late stage and James Robinson's script stretched out to fill the extra space. That might explain the very rushed-looking art job, full of needlessly large panels, and easily the worst work I've ever seen from penciller Mark Bagley. Look at this, for example: Now you can probably tell the human satellite dish at the bottom is meant to be Dr Light, but seriously, did you spot Gypsy? Bagley, here inked by Rob Hunter, is usually far better than this.

The 'fun' is set to go on for at least another issue. Don't be surprised if it turns out to be an 80pp giant.

Teen Titans #77 review

I enjoyed the recent Blackest Night: Teen Titans mini hugely and a big reason for that was writer JT Krul, who mixed adventure and emotion to excellent effect. So seeing he was filling in on this regular issue, and noticing the cover homage to New Teen Titans #1, I was rather interested to see where the story went.

As it happens, nowhere. This story has nothing to do with anyone on the cover, and only one recent Titan, Ravager, appears in it. What this is, is a Deathstroke solo tale in which the corpses of family and friends come to visit. What they finally ask of him is a clever little twist but it doesn't make up for the rest of this 30pp story (Ravager's usual competently dull back-up is absent). If you want to see two more Ravagers, one butler and an ex-wife mangling and being mangled, this is the book for you. If you like the self-deluded murderer Deathstroke and his damaged daughter Ravager Rose, go right ahead. If you've a yen to see some barnstorming Black Lanterns and first-rate fight scenes from a top team of artists, hand over that $3.99.

Me, I want the story that goes with that corker of a cover. Thanks for nothing, guys.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Wonder Woman #38 review

Wonder Woman stares defiantly off Aaron Lopresti's cover, one eye plunged into darkness as light strikes the bar of her cell. You can see this isn't a heroine about to sit meekly in a cell.

I open the comic, anticipating Diana's righteous fury, sparked by her mother's imprisonment at the hands of Paradise Island usurpers Alkyone of The Circle and Achilles the Olympian. But who's the pathetic creature who won't accept the help of fellow Amazon Artemis to escape, because 'They have my mother. If I set one foot outside this door, she dies.'? Oi, Diana, gifted with the wisdom of Athena . . . the idea of escape is that you don't go up to your captors and announce you've left.

Diana doesn't get much better this month. Her name may be on the cover but the stars of the issue are Artemis, Donna Troy, Achilles and Alkyone, all of whom get big scenes. Donna, whom writer Gail Simone here takes to calling simply Troy (stop it!), confronts Alkyone, and whacks her about a bit, coming across as as the fierce heroine that's needed. She then lets Alkyone go, trusting she'll bend to her will rather than enforcing it, which seems odd until Donna reappears in the issue and the urgent reasons for her departure become evident - she had to go change her costume. Of course Donna should be tweaking her sexy superhero costume into a dowdy Amazonian number rather than searching for her mad mother and freeing her idiot sister!

Donna hooks up with Artemis who, ignoring Diana's protests earlier in the issue, isn't going to let Diana be executed by Alkyone. Achilles' men, the Gargareans, are similarly unhappy their new queen has ordered Diana's death, but their leader is too thrilled with his gift from Alkyone - a Wonder-corset and mini-skirt - to give them permission to interfere. Mind, the corset does give Achilles a spine, finally, and he frees Diana, clad in his lovely new frock. Isn't he FAB-U-LOUS? The very sight of him resplendent in what may very well be Diana's own granny pants, and his clunky statement that 'We have a war to kill', persuade Diana to join him in battling Alkyone and co.

Alkyone, meanwhile, has a surprise up her sleeve, and it's a shocking one I won't wreck here. Suffice to say, her plan to restore her preferred version of Paradise Island is more complex and crueller than we knew. Nice one. Other good moments this issue include the subplot involving Genocide's spirit being in a 'whittle baby' (a phrase I can never never not read as 'ickle bay-be') coming to a head, the Amazons and Gargareans fighting a battle neither wants, and the entrance of a new player on the final page.

This comic has a lot to recommend it - it's a great issue of Tales of the Amazons. It's just a shame that Wonder Woman is barely in the book, totally sidelined until the final few pages, when she has been persuaded into battle by a 'hero' so weak-minded he should be called the 'Oh-wimpy-one'. Remember, the incitement for Alkyone's plots is the fear that Diana's birth would mean the end of the Amazons (and there's a smart panel in which Alkyone quite reasonably catalogues the horrors inflicted on the Amazons since Diana's coming); yet the last few issues Diana has been no dragon. A hamster, at a push. The woman meant to embody the Amazons' fighting spirit has been content to place herself at the mercy of her enemies rather than use her immense gifts to at least try and restore order. This issue Donna gets a better showing than Diana. Artemis shows a passion to protect Paradise Island and her royal family. Even Achilles sees the light and turns against Alkyone.

But Diana sits in a jail cell with no plan of action, musing on the suitability of Artemis as a dinner party companion rather than joining her in kicking arse. She whines that she has no gods to trust despite recently having sworn fealty to Hawaiian fire deity Pele. She's allowed Alkyone to take her lasso, costume and tiara (and look darn crummy in it - where's the back of the thing?). She's simply waiting to be taken for execution. On this showing I'd have no reason to protest were the next storyline to see Diana condemned by the Amazons as unworthy of her role as Wonder Woman.

It's truly frustrating to see the level of intrigue, action and character Gail brings to this issue while sidelining the title character. Next issue is the finale of the Warkiller story arc and it should showcase Diana at her best - smart, spirited, focused and in absolute control of her abilities and weapons. Diana really needs a moment to remind us why we buy her book.

And hopefully we'll see Queen Hippolyte too - her total non-presence here is a little worrying.

Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan produce stellar work here. Scene after scene is moodily mounted, and filled with great-looking, powerful people. The anger of Donna, the madness of Alkyone, the fury of Diana's gorilla guard, the lovely hair of Achilles . . . all are wonderfully captured, and coloured by Hi-Fi. And while Diana is mostly a waste of space, there's no denying she looks fantastic.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Justice Society of America 80-Page Giant #1 review

DC is certainly pushing the JSA brand, what with spinning off a second team book, giving ongoings to the very popular Power Girl and, er, Magog, releasing an annual and, here, putting out an 80pp giant. It's asking a lot of the wallet, but this is a worthwhile entry if you've $5.99 or local equivalent to spare.

The cover's by Freddie Williams II and it's not this talented artist's best, with the characters looking like melting plastic action figures in a composition that lacks impact. The book is a portmanteau deal, comprising six shorts focusing on various members within an overarching story and while some outstay their welcome, it's good to finally have a spotlight shone on the likes of Amazing Man and Wildcat III. The framing sequence shows off Williams to better advantage (ignoring the fact he draws Lightning as an electric hedgehog), as he and upcoming JSA All-Stars partner Matt Sturges set up and solve, satisfyingly, the mystery that motivates the solo sequences, each of which illuminates the personality of a member. Let's take a look at them.

First off, Cyclone bids to cheer up the new Mr America with a tale of her grandma, Ma Hunkel, and Mr America's pre-predecessor, Tex Thompson, in 1939. It's an unexpected pairing, to say the least, and one that works. It's actually rather touching, so hats off to writer James Robinson. There's the odd moment that doesn't work in Neil Edwards' pencils, such as Mr America's amusingly large head when he gets out of a chair, but the overall effect is attractive, so much so that I'll forgive my personal bugbear, repeated panels. Wayne Faucher's inks are smooth and Rob Leigh's colours help bring things alive. I was going to whine about the flashback being in sorta sepia, then remembered that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which we learned that the world used to be in black and white. So that's OK.

Steel has his moment to shine as he faces the angst surrounding family members having been turned into metal statues awhile back. Along the way he gets to tackle the unimpressive threat of glass fellas apparently sent by old foe Reichsmark. He's aided by other JSA members in this story by Felicia D Henderson. Renato Guedes draws up a storm and, as in his short Supergirl stint, he makes superhero outfits look like actual costumes rather than painted skin. I like this approach.

Next up is Amazing Man, who joined the JSA in one of former writer Geoff Johns' recruitment drives, didn't do much, then left. I loved the original Amazing Man from All-Star Squadron, so was disappointed to see his relative - who shares his powers and attractive yellow and green colour scheme - disappear. Here mystical forces send him back to New Orleans, where he joins beleaguered residents cowering from a random dragon. Handicapped by having his property absorbing powers taken away by mercurial gods, he joins the regular folk to debate the nature of responsibility and faith. It's tedious stuff, but ends well as AM gets his powers back, along with a useful tweak - he can now pass on the physical properties he's absorbed to other people. I wonder if that means he could make Steel's family flesh again.

Wildcat III finally learns why he's able to transform into a werecat - well, to a point - in a story written and drawn by Jerry Ordway, guaranteeing quality. Just seeing the Golden Age Huntress (none of that Tigress nonsense here) again makes the short worthwhile, but we also get an insight into the Fifties lifestyle of his dad, Ted Grant, in a good-looking, clever tale.

We're next presented with a close-up on Cyclone as she teams up with Power Girl and Wildcat to fight the current Icicle in a story set before she joined the JSA. There's a priceless chat with Peege about their respective costume choices, if you ignore the fact that Maxine Hunkel assembled her costume with Stargirl's help after she hooked up with the JSA. Actually, you can excuse this given the overarching plot is to do with time-twisting dream logic and prophecies. Overall it's a smart, fun piece written by Jen Van Meter with gorgeous visuals by Jesus Merino and Jesse Delperdang.

The final vignette sees Damage trying to make sense of a headtrip that recaps his origins. Scott Hampton's art is deceptively complex and perfectly in synch with Zander Cannon's riskily intelligent script. Danny Vozzo's colours add a necessary dash of dream logic to a tale that foreshadows recent events in Damage's troubled superhero career.

All in all, this is an intriguing comic, both for what's on the page, and what's not. For there are definite hints that the interstitial (a posh word that's misspelled in the credits, and pointing this out virtually guarantees I'll have made howlers in this review) material was created to link a bunch of shorts that had nothing to do with one another. That would explain such things as characters apparently being in two parts of the JSA brownstone at once, the reappearance of Amazing Man, and the coming and going of Cyclone's witch hat, which the filler - in the technical, not insulting, sense - story puts down to the mysterious forces surrounding the building. Oh, and there are three separate editors.

Or I could be overthinking and, yep, it was all planned and all the disparities are indeed down to dream logic! Whatever the case, I got my money's worth with a special that provides some fascinating moments and pleasing art. The Sturges/Williams material alone bodes well for their new title.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Outsiders #24 review

It's another Blackest Night tie-in but the main reasons Outsiders bobbed near the top of my pile were the questions that have been distracting me for months.

Will Halo get more than two lines of dialogue?

Might her fellow Outsiders remember that her civilian name is Gaby, not Violet?

And when will Writer Peter J Tomasi stop telling us he's responsible for both story AND words?

For there's really no need to overcompensate. I know he's a writer, and a good one. Certainly this is one of the best-scripted crossovers yet. Tomasi begins with a splendid three page scene recapping the history of the issue's featured Black Lantern - Tara Markov, aka Terra - as it relates to the Outsiders. Specifically her brother Brion, otherwise known as Geo-Force. Terra's narration is tight, to the point, ending with a kick in the stomach.

We then rejoin Terra at Outsiders HQ, into which she broke last issue. I was expecting a knockdown, drag-out fight between the sibling soil-shifters and spare Outsiders Metamorpho, Black Lightning and Owlman; instead, Terra pours her heart out, telling soppy old Brion she's fighting the Black Lantern ring's insistence she hurt him. She says she realises she has no right to ask for forgiveness for the crimes committed in life but does request one boon - oblivion. Terra says she wants nothing more than the darkness of the grave.

We don't hear Brion's answer, as the rest of the issue we're on the road with Katana, Creeper and Halo as they bring Arkham Asylum escapee Killer Croc back from Louisiana. And yes, Halo speaks - she's positively chatty, engaging in girl talk with swordswoman Katana, Tetsu. And no, she doesn't point out that even though she's back in the body of dead sociopath Violet Harper, people should still be calling her Gabrielle Doe, as she was known to the Outsiders for ages before learning of her alien/human background.

Perhaps if the chat had gone on longer the subject would have come up, but the road trip is interrupted by three more Black Lanterns - Katana's late husband and children. Hubbie Maseo uses his own magic sword to stop and split the lorry she's driving, scattering superheroes and villain in a corker of a spread and the two equally strong pages that follow. The family reunion that follows is creepily touching, easily one of the most effective scenes of the DC-wide event, and it's refreshing that the strong-minded Kata is on the verge of caving in when her colleagues take action. Halo is no-nonsense in her attack, while Creeper sets off to find the still-strapped-into-a-chair Croc. I cannot bear the Creeper but double threat Tomasi gives him such terrifically nutty dialogue that I enjoyed him for pretty much the first time ever.

The book ends on a satisfying not-quite-a-cliffhanger note, but so far as next issue goes I'm more interested in seeing what happens with Terra and Brion. I began the scenes with her thinking, oh yeah, more of her duplicity, but by the end I was thinking that maybe the teen corpse is sincere. When I wasn't wondering how come a decomposing skeleton girl has such lovely blonde hair.

I appreciated seeing Owlman, the team's supposed Batman substitute, advising Brion to engage his brain when Terra appeared, and as a newspaperman I was delighted to see him namecheck AP as a way to find out information about Blackest Night. Turns out he wasn't talking Associated Press, but Alfred Pennyworth. Dang.

It was also fun to see that when Terra is reading the team's emotions, everyone has just one apart from Metamorpho, whose mixed feelings reflect his Battenburg body.

Artist and illustrator Fernando Pasarin, aided by inkers and embellishers Scott Hanna and Prentis Rollins, turns in a surprisingly beautiful job given he has so many corpses to draw. Apart from the road smash scene, highlights include Creeper and Croc snoring away together, Gaby and Tatsu's moving slumber party and Katana's
J-horror family.

I'd like to give a shout-out to letterer and calligrapher Travis Lanham for such fine touches as Terra's earthy narrative boxes and the EC-style title lettering. Colourist and, hmm, tinge technician Brian Reber balances the pages superbly as we move from artificially lit interior with soiled corpse (I'm such a child) to night-time exterior with alien lighting and zombies.

Oh, and the Outsiders logo on Tom Mandrake's lushly textured cover looks a heckuva lot better on one line than artificially broken, as is usually the case. Keep it that way, editor and coordinator Michael Siglain.

Adventure Comics #4 review

Love Jerry Ordway's art as I do, I must admit initial disappointment at seeing he's subbing for Francis Manapul this issue; Manapul's melancholy stylings, aided by colourist Brian Buccelatto, have given Adventure a pleasing, unique tone these last few months. The latter is on board here, laying down both pre- and post-Crisis tones, and it's interesting to see how he looks combined with Ordway and inker Bob Wiacek. Overall, the art is very nice - in fact, it's probably better suited to this month's script which, rather than the usual pastoral work, demands something more bombastic.

What else would be required when fists-first buffoon Superboy Prime is starring. Note to the whiniest Clark Kent in the Multiverse: pointing out that everyone thinks you're annoying doesn't make you less so. And while I can see you, don't pretend you can see me or you'd be sobbing because when you were on the Page 1 splash, I was making a splash of my own, on the bog. Let's just say I was getting you out of my system.

(Oh dear, what a tacky little review this is! Still, now I've established Superboy Prime isn't real, I can stop addressing the no-mark directly. Part of the problem with this fella is that he's impossible to take seriously.)

I laughed at the title of this issue, 'He primed me' and it turned out to be appropriate as the Black Lantern corpse of Alex Luthor shows up on Earth Prime to repower Prime, the better to feed off his teenage rage. Before you know it he's back in those peculiarly piped metal control pants. And still moaning. Well, he's been reading recent DC Comics - this issue in fact - and wonders where it will all end (goodness, he IS just like me!). This makes his surprise at the appearance of Alex Luthor surprising in itself, but who knows how these things work . . . perhaps the details of the Adventure Comics he read were slightly different until his actions here firmed things up. Best not to think about it.

We still don't know if Prime killed his old girlfriend Laurie, as previously hinted at, though a picture of her fancy dressed as Superman's mermaid ex Lori Lemaris hints that she's sleeping with the fishes. His parents are understandably terrified that their brainless brat might vaporise them but there is a moment of twisted hope for their relationship here.

Sterling Gates joins Geoff Johns on scripting duties for a story which offers such delights as 'I like you when you're angry' and 'Because I demanded it'. Cheesey, yes, but very suited to a story featuring twisted fanboy (yeah, thanks Geoff) Prime. The addition of Black Lantern Luthor makes for one of my favourite tie-ins yet - the guy is fun, wanting nothing more than to use Prime and annoy him along the way. Plus, he looks a lot better defleshed than he ever did with skin (the loss of the ginger perm helps).

Veterans Ordway and Wiacek's combined line is rich and powerful - these are not men liable to make bad storytelling choices. They're so good, in fact, that the emotions on Prime's face almost had me feeling sorry for them. But not quite.

The recently designated Earth 1 Legion of Superheroes have a cameo and if they show up next issue to join the battle between Prime, Alex and his cadaver crew, we're in for a fun ride. If it proves to be the final Superboy Prime story, all the better.

A version of the Legion also occupy their usual back-up slot in a story which just doesn't work. Following on from the sturm und drang of Legion of Three Brain Cells, we have Blok, Dawnstar and Wildfire popping over to Sorcerers' World to see how the former White Witch, Mysa Nal, is doing now she's black. There, Mysa sorts out some health problems Blok's been having, tells him that his staying with her will help her stem the newfound darkness in her soul, and Blok stays. No surprises there, though some confusion - why does Mysa turn back into her old White Witch self briefly? Is it a visual cue that Blok has a purifying effect? I dunno, but even for a short this didn't account to much, being a journey from A to B with none of the speedbumps a dramatic story needs.

The cover has an intense Prime at its centre, but it's far too busy, what with Blackest Night trade dressing, three logos, credits and an extra puff for Geoff Johns because something called Spike TV likes his work. Plus, it's set against a splintering previous cover, what with Prime being Billy Metafiction. Too much, man!

Flash: Rebirth #5 review

The eeeeevil Professor Zoom faces off against more good super-speedsters than you can shake a winged helmet at at an issue with the wow factor on pretty much every Flash-packed page. There are character moments, story revelations, costume changes, power tweaks . . . the speed trick writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver pull off here is to have me not knowing whether to race to the end of the issue or slow down to savour the goodness.

Johns is positioning his characters for the post-Rebirth launch of the new Flash and Kid Flash books, so Wally West's latest costume debuts and it turns out to be his old one, the dark, shiny Speed Force-generated number. Well, with added nose. I never saw that coming for a minute. Mind, Wally's lightning bolt has only a zig and a zag, rather than the old zig-zag-zig; the effect is of a stylised S, so I wonder if he'll be getting a shiny new name despite DC's pointing out that we've had simultaneous Green Lanterns and, indeed, Flashes for years. Yup, it's probably just one more point of differentiation rather than anything significant.

Any fears that Barry's return will sideline the speedsters who ran with the torch in his absence look to be groundless as Johns delights in showing their coolness. Almost every member of the Flash family has a chance to shine this issue, displaying courage, ingenuity and heart. And the interplay between the four foremost Flashes - Jay, Barry, Wally and Bart - is natural and smart.

The big revelation this issue - the truth behind the murder of Barry Allen's mother - has me wishing Johns were handy so I could apologise for my lack of faith. I was fuming when issue #1 of this mini laid out the tragedy of Henry and Nora Allen, as it directly contradicted a continuity that had never been tweaked by the original Crisis or its descendants('My name is Martin. I am a fanboy'). But here we learn that the memory mangling is all part of the picture and perfectly in line with the DCU's house rules and Professor Zoom's MO. It's actually rather brilliant and while I severely doubt he'll ever hear of it, and I can't imagine any reason he'd give a darn, I'll feel better if I say: Geoff Johns, I apologise. You said to trust you, and I didn't.

From the cover, a stylish homage cover to the Silver Age's Flash #123, onward, Van Sciver carries his share of the storytelling. There are loads of characters here with basically the same powers, but the artist keeps everyone's moves distinctive. The storytelling never flags and the several splashes earn their keep. I can't remember ever reading a comic and hoping for more full-page illos and spreads, but as the story beats got bigger and sexier I wanted the art to match. And it did.

The only thing I didn't like was the floating energy chest logos inspired by Van Sciver's redesign of Green Lantern costume conventions - Jay's fat shiny lightning bolt looks appalling. But the effect soon goes and my blanket whinge is rather punctured by the clever, visually attractive application of the Speed Force energy crackle to Jesse Chambers' Liberty Belle outfit.

Hi-Fi's Brian Miller makes the art pop, and Rob Leigh keeps the wonderfully wordy script legible. Veteran editor Joey Cavalieri deserves a sackful of credit for putting this team together.

There's one more issue to go and I'm rather optimistic. I won't be at all surprised if my memories of Barry's parents become relevant once more, before the various Flashes and sub-Flashes race off into new adventures. Flash fact.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Batman and Robin #6 review

So when was the last time you saw a pink cover on a Batman book? Probably never. Expect this issue to score highly in the little girl market. It's just a shame no one thought to make a glitter variant.

I bet new villain the Flamingo loves glitter, mincing matador that he is - the man's named after a gay club in Blackpool, for crying out (very) loud. Robin isn't slow to note the guy's flamboyance, but he pays for it. The Flamingo proves a match not only for Damian, but Red Hood, Scarlet and even Batman. One unknown guy doing so well against two seasoned veterans, a kid assassin and a crazed wee girl? Some might argue against the possibility, but given he's just been introduced by writer Grant Morrison there's no reason to think Flamingo can't beat the snot out of them - his origins are unknown, his limits undefined. It's safe to say his threat level is down by issue's end, but not before he inflicts serious damage on some of his foes.

Powerful as the fight scenes are, the real meat of this issue is the talk between Dick and Jason, as the former tries to persuade the latter to come back into the Bat-fold, accept some help. Jason, of course, has a few things of his own to say, things that look set to culminate in next issue's Blackest Knight (sic, and most likely sick) sequence.

I liked the way Scarlet's plight opened the cold hearts of our two twisted Robins, Damian and Jason; the girl's been to hell and they see no sign of her getting back, no matter how much she pleads for the agony to end. When it comes, the fate of Red Hood's sidekick is both surprising and satisfying.

It was also wonderful to have Jason's wacko journey in Countdown referenced - it all happened, dammit! Plus, we see just what a terrible bunch the good citizens of Gotham City are when, irony alert, Jason offers them a phone vote.

Other than his preference for pink, do we learn why Flamingo is so called? Nope, though there is a clever panel in which penciller Philip Tan and inker Jonathan Glapion have him look like a beaky winged guy while brandishing his whip (click to enlarge): It's one of the standout artistic moments this issue, in which the finishes vary between sharp and rough, seemingly at random. Unusual close-ups are used to convey the terror of Scarlet, and the madness of Flamingo, while Batman has determination without the Bruce Wayne grimness, Damian looks like the little kid he is and Jason has just the right lost soul quality. It's an all-round better art job than we had last month, with none of the storytelling problems.

That's the three-part Revenge of the Red Hood over, and it didn't go where I expected to - I thought Jason would get away, to return in three months with yet another new costume and MO, but there's real reason to hope the poor, abused sod will yet find his lost sanity. Right now he may disagree, but that's a win.

Action Comics #883 review

Excellent, Nightwing and Flamebird finally get some decent costumes, sleek spins on both the Superman suit and Silver Age Kryptonian wear. The cover by Cafu and Santiago Arcas shows them off nicely.

Inside they're drawn by Pere Perez and look equally good, as does the John Byrne-style Science Guild outfit of this issue's villain, another Silver Age revival, Jax-Ur. In the old days he looked like Lex Luthor, now he's the image of Dr Sivana - and a lot scarier. I'm not into stereotyping by appearance but it's amazing anyone can look at him in his secret ID as a STAR Labs scientist and not think 'evil genius'.

Jax-Ur is the creepiest Zod sleeper agent yet, looking on humans as lab rats and treating them accordingly. I rather like him and his way with the super-senses. If only he'd shut up with the Kryptonian-speak. Arabic is spoken and we get a nice editor's note introducing in-balloon translations. Kryptonian? Nah, we're still getting the whole blah-bloody-blah pointy-symbol chapter and verse.

Nightwing finally shows some proper personality, displaying a sense of humour and pride in his girlfriend. Perhaps we can credit new co-writer Eric Trautmann with that. Flamebird, too, comes alive, though she's mainly even nuttier than previously, talking about herself in the third person.

The standout character in this nice mix of superheroics and mystery is Perry White, who investigates the whereabouts of Jimmy Olsen (he apparently died in Jimmy Olsen Special #2 recently; I'm betting Mon-El faked his death to protect him from Codename Assassin). Trautmann and co-writer Greg Rucka give us the best Perry scene in years, showing him as veteran newshound rather than barking cliche of a boss.

One thing I don't get is the continued insistence of the world press on vilifying Flamebird and Nightwing. Here TV cameras capture them quite obviously ending the immediate threat of mini-Brimstones and still they're attacked by the media.

The ending of the story takes us somewhere we've been heading for awhile, and I look forward to seeing where things go from here.

In back-up land, Captain Atom fights Major Force and returns to Metropolis, where he's given a hand by a surprise figure. It's a quick read, but a worthwhile one, as we finally get away from the magic world Cap's been stuck in. Now, if only he'd stop being a passenger in his own strip. Rucka and James Robinson's script gets us in and out quickly, with Cafu and inker Bit stealing the show with a two-page spread of hero fighting villain.

This is the best issue of Action Comics in a while. Anyone know how to say that in Kryptonian?

Strange #1 review

Look at the cover by Tom Coker - well designed, nicely executed, moody as all get out. It promises great things for this four-issue mini following the former Sorcerer Supreme since his demotion to would-be Master of the Mystic Arts once more.

Now look at the interior artwork by penciller Emma Rios and colourist Christina Strain. I'm not saying it's bad, subjectivity and all, but there's almost a 360 degree disconnect between what's on the outside and what's on the inside.

I'm not saying the art's bad - I will say I don't like it. The immediate problem for me is that I'm no fan of Christina Strain's colouring style, in particular the approach to skin tone. The uniform flatness leavened by blotches of brown to add a bit of shadow modelling . . . to my eye it's heavy handed. A few more graduations of tint would likely work wonders. I'd be interested to see how the art of Rios looked with a traditional inker.

Kudos, though, to Strain for having the shirt colour and trim echo Stephen's old Cloak of Levitation - a neat touch.

So how's the story? Waid gives us his spin on Damn Yankees, with a baseball team at the mercy of a demonic pact. It's good to see Stephen Strange is still tackling dark forces, but the sight of him in a baseball shirt, looking like a bum, made my heart sink. And while it makes sense that he's going to need a second to help cast spells, given his old hand tremble, disciple-to-be Casey (as in 'at the bat') is so annoying I'd have been happy had someone dragged her to hell. Waid had me hating her from the second she was introduced via annoying text-speak. I'm sure she'll improve, but I hope she's not going to be around at the expense of existing disciple Wong and Stephen's other half, Clea.

The dramatic climax of the issue is woeful, page after page of Stephen trying for a home run or something - hey, I'm a British comics fan, what do I care about baseball? - against a team of hellspawn. We're dialogue free for this sequence and after a page or so I simply skipped past all the tentacles and balls to get to the end and the unsurprising coda.

I'll have a look at issue two, but if it's as slight as this one I'll likely pass.

Batgirl #4 review

If I were into star ratings (I'm not, far too indecisive), this issue would immediately bag an extra star for the fun bit of business on Phil Noto's cover. Holy Sixties TV references! It made me want to hear the Batgirl theme again, so here it is: It's a striking image - literally, for the poor hood in the foreground - and extra-clever in that the debut proper of her own costume is the first time we've seen a full-figure Batgirl on the outside since the series began.

Having spent the first three issues finding her Bat-feet and persuading Oracle to mentor her, new Batgirl Stephanie Brown enjoys a night on the town. We follow her testing her outfit on the streets of a Gotham plunged into pitch black by a power outage.

And this is the most fun I've had with a Bat-book in years. Stephanie's delight as she finds that, yeah, she can do the hero thing as well as anyone makes for a refreshing read. There's not a single moment of 'would Batman approve?' - having Oracle behind her has relaxed Steph, letting her ascend to the next level from her days as kid crimebuster Spoiler.

Babs, back in the Batcave, monitors Steph as she grapples with the swinging chick bit and foils robberies. When Steph finally meets the villain behind the power cut, it's a Superman-level baddie, but is she cowed? Nope, she's confident, not cocky and wins the day due to a combination of luck and the fresh suit. Well, it's so ugly that it has to be useful.

Writer Bryan Q Miller produces a superbly structured and realised script, using a typical Gotham crisis to give us both a tour of the city and Steph's head. But it's not just Steph - every regular in here has a moment to shine. We see Leslie Thompkins at her clinic, where recently crippled Wendy Harris is trying to force herself to walk again. Babs spends half the night bidding to outquip her protege and the rest helping Wendy deal with her issues in as non-patronising a manner as possible. And Commissioner Gordon and new CGPD detective Nick Gage mirror the growing friendship of Steph and Babs in sharply scripted scenes.

My moment of the month has Steph encounter a Gotham City tour bus, an idea so obvious it's surprising I've not come across it previously.

Usual penciller Lee Garbett shares the work here with Tim Levins and while their Batgirls are pretty similar, the disparity in Oracle is slightly jarring. The hairstyle alters and - wonder of wonder - we get Babs smiling. A lot. This is how it should be, she's done the stern Bat-figure bit in previous months, advising Steph to stay off the streets. Now she's anointed the younger woman her successor, it's fair enough she gets infected by Steph's joie de vivre. It could be that Miller asked for a perkier Babs as the script went on, or perhaps there's simply less of the grim in the Levins pencil. Either way, I like it.

Both artists do a good job - assisted by three inkers - in giving us a kinetic ride. A page where the emotions become too much for Wendy, I'm guessing Levins, is smartly conceived and works wonderfully well. I'd be very happy were Levins to be regular pinch-hitter and, were Garbett to move on, penciller number one.

Letterer John J Hill and colourist Guy Major do their usual fine jobs but please Guy, get Wendy out of that red vest, she's starting to reek.

All in all, this is like a second first issue, and easily the best instalment since the book began. If you've not tried Batgirl's book yet, make like a tourist and hop on.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Batman Confidential #36 review

Last month the Flash teamed with the Blackhawks in a Second World War adventure in The Brave and the Bold, now Batman encounters the legacy of the flying aces in the present day. 'Blackhawk Down' sees short-term member Ted Gaynor, supposedly long-dead, show up young, vital and deadly at Blackhawk Propulsion Laboratories. Customer Bruce Wayne is there so Gaynor suffers a few lumps from Batman before escaping. The trail leads to Poland, where things get a little crazy and Batman gets help from my very favourite Blackhawk . . .

This is a fun comic. McGraw confidently lays down the story, not forgetting to leave room for a wry Alfred moment, while Marcos Marz and Luciana Del Negro turn in a gorgeous art job that stays just the right side of photo-realistic. The scene in a Polish graveyard is the standout, with the team displaying a mastery of light and shade. He might have made more of the moment we first see the 'dark Blackhawks' but overall this is a lovely piece of work, thanks also to the dramatic colours of David Baron.

I'll be back next issue to see the story continue - and learn who the mastermind is on the final page. I think I'm supposed to recognise him . . .

Doom Patrol #4 review

The Blackest Night crossover rumbles on, with corpses attacking DCU heroes for reasons I've long since lost track of. The reason here is to boost sales, and I'm not just down with that, I'm positively six feet under - this is a great book that more people should try.

Cue the corpses of the Seventies Doom Patrol - Celsius, Tempest and Negative Woman - in a tour de force from writer Keith Giffen and artists Justiniano and Livesay. The Black Lanterns' memory download is a neat device for Celsius, Arani Caulder, to narrate the short, inglorious history of the Patrol she put together after the death of her husband, the Chief. After that it's hijinks all the way. The dead Patrol attacks the formerly Dead Patrol, perhaps annoyed that the Chief, Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl-now-Woman were all resurrected. The fisticuffs are fast and furious, with the dead guys trouncing their predecessors.

This issue also features an insight into Robotman as Negative Man helps him into yet another new body, Elasti-Woman raging at having ex-husband Mento crawling around her head and the return of rubbish Silver Age DP villain Dr Tyme.

Giffen has a ball with the Zombie Doom Patrol, who spit spite at the living heroes every chance they get. My favourite moment sees Elasti-Woman dismissed as a 'size-shifting slattern' - who doesn't love insulting alliteration? This instalment closes with Robotman facing a surprising, but logical, Black Lantern. I can't wait for next issue. How I'd I'd love for the reanimated Patrol members to be returned to life at the end of the big Green Lantern event.

Justiniano's pencils look great under Livesay's inks. The artists produce some wonderfully ghoulish moments as the dead attack the living, and the two negative beings look sensational as they zip around the page, fighting for supremacy. And good on the artists if they managed to paint the dead DP's Black Lantern costumes with a straight face. Tempest's, in particular, needs some kind of Queer Eye for the Corpse Guy intervention.

The Metal Men strip, by Giffen, JM DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire, is another fun romp, as three living dolls emerge to take over the world/go shopping. It's not deep, it doesn't impact on the rest of the DCU, but it does entertain. Thoroughly. Giffen and DeMatteis's plot is densely packed, yet sorbet light, while the art of Maguire and colourist Guy Major is open and expressive.

The only offnote with this issue is the low-impact cover by Justiniano, Andrew Mangum and Major. The image is Robotman, Elasti-Woman and Negative Man fish-eye reflected in a Black Lantern ring - the dramatic rays make processing the information tough, the ring-wielding fist's too large . . . the shot just doesn't work. An illo of DP v ZDP would likely have been a winner.

Secret Six #15 review

Guest writer John Ostrander gives us a look at how Deadshot's past has affected his present, via a chat with onetime confessor Revd Richard Craemer. It's a smart tale, showing us that while Floyd Lawton seems one of the saner Suicide Squad members, he's a deeply damaged soul.

As a fan of Ostrander's exemplary Suicide Squad series, in which Lawton was a major character, I'm delighted to see Deadshot and Craemer together again, but I'd rather see the rest of the Secret Six. We had a Deadshot mini a few years ago, and Lawton's had plenty of play in the DCU detailing his death wish, which comes into play here; I don't see any great reason for a solo issue. I know regular writer Gail Simone generously handed this assignment to Ostrander, I just wish someone at DC had given him the leeway to Go Create or, if he asked to focus on Deadshot, gently pushed him out of the comfort zone. This is the kind of character piece Ostrander excels at, but we've seen his take on Deadshot over many years. I want to see how he approaches characters new to him, such as Simone's own creations Jeannette, Scandal and the latest Ragdoll. Secret Six is a group book, so no matter who's writing, there should be interaction. I hope Ostrander gets more work from DC as his current health problems pass, and that he's given a chance to show newer readers just what he can do.

Jim Calafiore is the other name new to the book this issue. His illustrations tell the story with style, always focusing on the dramatic moment, whether it's character or violence based.

I've been a big booster of colourist Jason Wright, but his choices this issue tend too much towards the dark for my liking. We're in Gotham, and the story is mostly set at night or in grubby buildings, but entirely naturalistic colouring doesn't make for the best-looking book. There's a superb scene in which Deadshot chats to his hideous parents but the heavy blues hide the facial expressions. Even when a lightning bolt changes the tones, it doesn't really illuminate. Given we're at a Wayne ball (surprise surprise, robbers come a-calling) there's every excuse for happier hues - lanterns, spotlights, French windows with bats crashing through them . . .

Regular cover artist Daniel LuVisi's portrait of Deadshot is stunning, with character oozing through the blank mask, juggled bullets and gun graffiti.

All in all, a decent issue but one that's filler when it could be far more.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ambush Bug Year None #7 of 6 review

The '7 of 6' business is the funniest thing about this issue. Followers of this mini have waited nearly a year since issue #5, with DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio refusing to tell the fan press why the delays with #6. That's his right - DC may owe the fans an explanation but we've no right to one.

What we do have a right to is a great comic once a next issue finally appears. Well, here's #6, renumbered #7, and to call it a dog's dinner is an insult to Pedigree Chum. What we have are several pages by regular artist and plotter Keith Giffen - some reused a couple of times with a different script - and many linking pages by Tiny Titans creative team Art Baltazer and Franco. Robert Loren Fleming scripts, as ever, and sounds suitably, and self-consciously, embarrassed. The ongoing plot has been thrown out for a self-indulgent stinker entitled 'Whatever Happened to Ambush Bug Year None #6'?

'Whatever happened to standards?' is the question. Again, we can't know, but the reasonable assumption is that Dan DiDio objected to the proposed content and threw out the issue as was. Whatever was in there, it has to have been better than this boring, flat, insulting excuse for a comic book.

For one thing, good as Baltazar and Franco may be - and they've won an Eisner for their Tiny Titans work, as this 'story' keeps telling us - they're not Giffen. And if you don't have the Giffen artistic sensibility, you don't have Ambush Bug. Mind, it's not as though the pinch-hitters get to draw the continuity-hopping teleporter . . . they're stuck with some detective guy fannying around asking the like of former DC copy boys what happened to issue #6. We don't get an answer, just page after page of inane, unintelligible inconsequentialities before Ambush Bug wanders off into one of those all-white Comics Limbo panels that show up with every DC Crisis. His sign-off lines are the bitter, but not sweet, 'Oh well, what goes on in the DCU isn't my concern anymore. What am I supposed to do, get myself killed for a universe that's always treated me like a second-class citizen? I won't even be missed. They can all massacre each other, for all I care!'

Talk about leaving 'em laughing.

I work in publishing. I get that no matter how many editorial checks and balances are in place, sometime a project goes wrong and can't be rescued in a way which retains integrity and honours the original intent. In which case, the kindest thing to do to the creative team, and your customers, is to pull the plug. Cancel the solicited issue, leave us with the decent work we've had, mumble a 'sorry' and move on. Don't exacerbate a problem by bringing out a seriously inferior project, leaving the reader feeling robbed.

Dan DiDio appears as a character for several pages here and, on this shameful showing, should consign himself to Comics Limbo.