Friday, 29 January 2010

Atom and Hawkman #46 review

In the Sixties, the solo titles of the Atom and Hawkman were amalgamated into one comic when sales fell, with the numbering continuing from Ray Palmer's title. The book, flagged as starring 'the Titan and the Fury', limped along for another seven issues before dying out. Well, it's Blackest Night and the Dead Will Rise and all that, meaning the not-exactly waiting world gets a 46th issue.

They needn't have bothered. Writer Geoff Johns here gives us a bit of fighting between the Atom - now an Indigo Lantern - and his old mucker Hawkman, now a Black Lantern. Hawkgirl's here too and equally keen to chow down on Atom's heart, but in a Sixties revival she can't expect any sort of billing. Also present is a tiff with Atom's ex, Black Lantern Eclipso Jean Loring (phew!), in which we get to see the horrific/ridiculous death of Sue Dibny yet again. And a bunch of Indigo Lantern mumbo jumbo about powering up other Lanterns for the next stage of battle. Or something.

This isn't exactly unmissable comics, merely giving us what we've seen elsewhere in fuller, duller detail. The ending offers some hope for Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and it's fantastic to see a spirited Ray after years in which his depression has been in inverse proportion to his height. But really, this is a great opportunity to save $2.99. Don't tell me you have an Atom and Hawkman collection which simply must be completed . . .

The art's pretty darn decent. Ryan Sook obviously has fun drawing Ray Palmer back in a Sword of the Atom style costume, with mini-bling and flappy loincloth protecting Ray's privates (he's famous for his six inches, you know). And dig that Paddle of Doom he's wielding.

Fernando Pasarin, drawing the last half of the book, channels original Ray Palmer artist Gil Kane to produce some gorgeous art
- yes Virginia, there is a nostril shot. I even liked his version of Jeanclipso, and a moment which brings back the jungle shortarses from Sword of the Atom conveys a genuine evil intensity. The artist's been doing some gorgeous work as a DC pinch-hitter of late - won't somebody please do us all a favour and give him an assignment all his own? And if there's a second printing of this comic, a cover credit alongside Ryan?

So that's Atom and Hawkman 2010. You can go back to Comics Limbo now.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Batman and Robin #7 review

When I was a kid, reading imported comics from North America, I was often confused by the impossibly exotic things referenced. Baseball? Amtrak? Martha Stewart? Back in those pre-internet days the specifics of the mysteries often remained, though I could usually work the generalities out from the context.

And hopefully any non-British readers momentarily thrown by the wealth of British references Grant Morrison throws into this issue will still have fun (though if they get really confused, Rich Johnston has provided a helpful glossary over at the Bleeding Cool website). We join new Batman Dick Grayson in London, aided by Robin equivalent The Squire in foiling a bomb plot by the fiendish King Coal. After a trip to Britain's equivalent to all those American super-prisons, the Orwellian-sounding Basement 101, we find out what Dick's doing in the UK - bidding to raise Bruce Wayne from the dead via one of the Lazarus Pits so beloved of criminal dullard Ra's al-Ghul. Subplot-wise, there's a domino or 28 present, linking back to an earlier storyline, and the recently injured (ha ha) Damian being immersed in one of those self-same pits by Mother of the Year Talia.

This is a great ride, beginning with a classic chase scene through London and ending with grim portents in the English countryside. The interplay between Batman and the Squire - an amalgamation of Robin and British comic characters Minnie the Minx and Beryl the Peril - is entertaining, though her boss, the Knight, is a little dull. To be fair, he doesn't get to strut his stuff; it'd help if he got rid of the hideous Prometheus-style outfit. Also on hand is Batwoman who, amusingly, is forever being almost sacrificed by cultists from The Religion of  Lame.

Australian Canadian (sorry!) artist Cameron Stewart captures London wonderfully - there's not a medieval hamlet or 1930s bobby in sight - and I took to his Batman straight away. He's very Bronze Age to look at as he bounds around, more suburban than gothic, and it suits the pairing with the Squire, whose garish costume pretty much defines 'dog's dinner'. The panels are expressive, with excellent use of lighting. The only storytelling issue here comes when a couple of word balloons are transposed, but it's something you can easily work through.

With references to such UK villains as Dai Laffin (presumably a Welsh Joker) and the Morris Men, I'm now itching for Grant Morrison to write a mini series set in the UK. Given the amount of money readers over here put into DC, it's be spiffing to have something targeted at us.

Wonder Woman #40 review

This one, as they say, has it all - giant serpent gods, Washington DC in flames, the return of Etta Candy and Steve Trevor, a surprise guest star and five very naughty boys.

The story sees Diana investigating when something big and mysterious swallows a subway train. Being tougher than a serpent's tooth, she soon sends one very hungry god packing, but not before he tells Diana that something outside of himself compelled him to go human hunting. The rest of the issue has Diana visit her best buddy Etta - hospitalised in one of Diana's recent battles - as five mysterious boys sow violent discord in Washington DC.

This is far and away my favourite issue of this book since the creative team of Gail Simone and Aaron Lopresti debuted a couple of years ago, and there have been some great ones. The Wonder Woman presented here is strong, smart, likeable and loyal, someone I'd want to spend time with. While she's confident in battle, the Aztec god Quetzlotl registers as a threat to her and he's certainly a character I'd like to see again - he adds a new flavour to DC's godly pantheon.

The scenes with Etta and Steve are something I've been awaiting for several months as packed storylines kept Diana away from Etta's bedside and, credit where it's due, she feels guilty for that here. Etta's also feeling uncomfortable, for a secret she's been keeping from Diana, and it's something that increases Etta's status in the DC Universe. Don't worry, she's not ascending to godhood or taking over a ninja sect, it makes perfect sense for the character and world.

Our cover boys, the Crows, are adorable - in a bad way, mooching around Washington, spreading hate, while looking like little angels. While their powers are formidable - they're influencing mortals and gods here - what makes them immediately compelling is their ever-so-proper speech patterns, and the way they relate to one another. The children of the war god Ares and some now-departed Amazons, they've only been alive a month or two, but here, in their first real appearance, it's as if they've been in comics for years; they're an assured bunch. By issue's end they've turned another hero against Diana, but you can bet they'll team up and knock the brats' heads together next month.

With their flashing eyes and mental push powers, the obvious comparison here is with John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos, the filmic Children of the Damned. But devil kids have been around as long as literature, and glowing orbs are a common comics shorthand for psionics. I'll take the Crows for what they are - a credible menace to Diana ranking with the too-long-gone Devastation who is, I suppose, their cousin or great aunt or something . . . who can work out Olympian family trees?

Gail's storytelling is on top form here. She establishes characters and situations with economy and vim, and paces the drama so that whether it's battle or conversation, there's always something to intrigue. Diana's narration is delightful, especially her ruminations on the ways of Aztec gods. It's also good to see some of her more obscure abilities here, such as the tracking powers gifted by the goddess of the hunt, and super-hearing that allows her to recognise the sound of her special guest hero.

The marriage of Steve Trevor and Etta Candy never sat well with me, it seemed more a way to get Steve off the table as a potential love interest for Diana than an organic development. But here we see real chemistry between the two, in words and pictures. We also see a touchingly real friendship with Diana.

Aaron Lopresti's pencils are just, well, wonderful. The big moments are suitably splashy but he's also a great details guy, showing us the way Diana's boots bend as she walks, or the fluff on Etta's slippers or . . . oh dear, I'm coming across like a foot fetishist. Anyway. Aaron certainly draws great kids, important here not just for the debut of the Crows but for a couple of Sugar & Spike-style children who play a small but significant role (the boy gets my favourite line in an issue full of quotables). This is Lopresti's final issue, as he departs for other DC assignments. He'll be missed - he and Gail have been gelling superbly of late.

Artistic partners Matt Ryan (inks) and Brad Anderson (colours) also deserve a shout-out for their embellishing roles throughout the issue. You see all three artists work together brilliantly early on, as Diana faces an oncoming subway train. And Travis Lanham letters as elegantly as ever, picking just the right spooky font for a rampaging Aztec godling. Whichever member of the creative team came up with the signature on Etta's plaster cast hinting that no-longer-a-regular Nemesis is at least keeping in touch, thank you! The book is topped off with a striking cover by Lopresti and the mysterious *. Must be French. The image of the kids, ready to gut Diana, speaks volumes for where this storyline might go.

This is the best issue of Wonder Woman since, well, last month, which I also loved. But I love this one more.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Mighty Avengers #33 review

It's hinted that after the current Siege event Marvel is returning to the days of brighter, shinier heroes. The funny thing is, we've had this concept for months since Dan Slott became writer of Mighty Avengers. Optimistic, bright heroes fighting supremely powerful villains while actually getting along and having fun. The transformation of Hank Pym from psychotic loser to the new Wasp - Scientist Supreme, admired and trusted by his teammates - has been a wonder to behold.

But it's not all about Hank - every player can surprise and delight; there's USAgent, with athletics and attitude; Hercules, heroism and hubris; Quicksilver, speed and spite; Jocasta, cybernetics and sauciness; the Vision, depth and perception; Amadeus Cho, brains and bravado; Jarvis, tea and cakes; Stature . . . er . . .

Anyway, this month the team has no choice but to join forces with Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers to take on the Absorbing Man, newly imbued with the power of a Cosmic Cube. Hank out-thinks Norman by looking at the problem from a devastatingly logical angle, while Moonstone - she's been reverted to an earlier state, auditions for the Metatextual Avengers with a much-deserved pop at DC Comics (click to enlarge and chuckle): Slott teases us with the return of the real Vision rather than the dull 'teenage' android while Jocasta receives an unwelcome guest. It's another issue choc-full of intelligence and wit and why it's not Marvel's best-selling team book I have no idea.

Khoi Pham's art is looking a lot sharper these days, perhaps due to the teaming with inker Craig Yeung. John Rauch's colours complement the illustrations nicely and Dave Lanphear's lettering sits seamlessly on the page, never distracting, simply pulling its storytelling weight.

Whatever happens after the upcoming Avengers franchise shuffle, I hope this title survives, as the book which embodies the spirit of the Avengers while finding new ways to tell classic stories.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Blackest Night: Starman #81 review

One comic. One single, slim book. That's all it takes to make the Blackest Night crossover worthwhile, and have me grinning from ear
to ear.

Starman was one of the greatest comic runs of the Nineties, a story in which the human dramas were as grand and memorable as the cosmic and supernatural struggles. And it's that humanity which is central to writer James Robinson's return to Opal City. His central character, Jack Knight, isn't here, which is as it should be; his time in the spotlight ended in a thoroughly satisfying manner and he's quietly raising his baby in San Francisco.

But as anyone who ever read an issue of Starman knows, while Jack was the title character, he was supported by an unforgettable ensemble, any one of whom could carry the book for an issue or two. And some of them did.

And many of them are here, most notably the morally ambiguous Shade and the fiesty Hope O'Dare, only woman among a family of cops. And Opal, as much a character as the human protaganists, is present in all its art deco glory. And Lord, have I missed it, and its marvellously complicated inhabitants. There are no minor characters in a Starman book - when someone gets panel time, they're treated as a lead, with hopes and dreams made evident by Robinson and his artistic collaborators. Original series illustrator Tony Harris contributes a typically attractive cover, but handling the intricate, fascinating interiors are Fernando Dagnino on layouts and Bill Sienkiewicz on mood.

Sienkiewicz has such a strong signature that it's easy to assign him all the credit here, but Dagnino provides the spell book from which Sienkiewicz weaves his magic. I'd love to see more of the artistic team that produces panels such as this (click to enlarge). The dialogue shows that Robinson can go home again, as he brings his cast to life with pithy, personality-filled exchanges. One sees a cop at the Starman Museum - its walls providing a memory jogger for old readers, temptation for new - tellingly refer to Jack's brother David as 'Ted's son, the one who wasn't Jack'.

David, the Starman heir murdered early in his superheroic career, is the Black Lantern here, providing the template for the dark beast bringing death to the streets of Opal. He makes a far better demon than he ever did a good guy, efficiently eviscerating everyone he runs into as a prelude to his planned killing of Jack. And while Jack's not around, his friends rally to take on 'David', foremost among them the Shade.

Based on his showing here I've no doubt that the Shade could carry an Opal-set series, filled with the rest of the Starman cast and the new characters Robinson would be sure to invent. Robinson has said he's open to at least a special starring the immortal master of darkness. I'm hoping he had as much enjoyment writing this book as I did reading it. My immediate reaction is to dig out my Starman run; my longer term hope is a permanent invitation to revisit Opal. Starman may be gone, but his light shines on.

The Brave and the Bold #31 review

'Lost stories of yesterday, today and tomorrow' is the tagline for J Michael Straczynski's current run on The Brave and the Bold. You could put it another way: 'Fun without baggage' That's what we get this month, behind a superb Jesus Saiz cover, as Ray Palmer does the Fantastic Voyage thing to save the Joker's life when he descends into a killer coma.

Because the story is set at some unnamed point in DC's past the Atom isn't miserable because a) Love number one has left him; b) Love number two has been trodden on by loggers c) Love number one has gone crazy, murdered a friend and been possessed by an immortal demon; d) He's crying for JUSTICE and going up the noses of thugs. Nope, here we have Ray doing the superhero thing with a smile on his face, miles away from any personal problems.

Although he does go up a nose.

But why might the Mighty Mite help the Joker? That's what he's asking himself when Arkham Asylum medics explain that their Hippocratic Oath means they have to at least try to save his life. We know that as a hero the Atom is as morally bound as the doctors to do what he can, but his internal dialogue before that is amusing. What follows is an offbeat pairing that provides as much insight into the Joker as the Atom, and delivers a killer ending.

Three cheers to JMS for showing that Ray Palmer is more than just a punching bag to plug into overwrought 'drama', a conveniently homeless comic book character to kick about. He's a smart guy worthy of attention for himself, a hero who moves in unique circles, as we're shown here via organically placed nuggets of science worthy of the Silver Age. But the story is very today, with its interest in character as much as action.

As for Ray's co-star, I get almost as sick of seeing the Joker as I do Deathstroke, Ra's al-Ghul and Lex Luthor, yet this was totally my cup of tea, as JMS finds a new way to use the Clown Prince of Overexposure's madness.

There are two artists this issue, divided along lines that make perfect sense for the story. Chad Hardin, pencilling the real world sequences, is very Bronze Age, Alex Saviuk crossed with Luke (mental block about drawing spectacles) McDonnell. Looking at Chad's blog, he's an adaptable fellow, so I assume the clear, dynamic style is deliberate. Credit, too, to inker Wayne Faucher, or perhaps Walden Wong - they're both in here, along with singular sensation Trish Mulvilhill, handling the hues. Justiniano pencils the sequences inside Joker's head, bringing a wild intensity to the book and providing a standout splash . . .

. . . which you'll have noticed I'm not spoiling - this book is well worth your time, as a whip-smart, original, well-crafted piece of work. Support a classic Atom tale and do yourelf no small favour.

Blackest Night: Phantom Stranger #42 review

Last week, in The Power of Shazam, we saw that minor super-person Osiris was able to overcome the Black Lantern influence due to the magic within him. This week, in The Phantom Stranger #42 (not really), we see that the most powerful magical presence in the DC Universe, the Spectre, can't say the same thing. Work that one out.

Nope, despite the entreaties of the Phantom Stranger, and hellfire blasts of Blue Devil, the Spectre is unable to expel the Black Lantern energy. So off the naughty, haughty Spectre goes to judge Hal Jordan. Or something. The rest of the book sees our mystical heroes trying to connect the missing Deadman with his mortal remains. It seems Boston Brand's body and soul must both be in the Shangri-La-La Land of Nanda Parbat for some upcoming Big Shiny Moment.

Could be a clue to the end of the Blackest Night crossover and start of the Brightest Day stunt. Or it could be one of those bits of nonsense we're tossed in one-shots to make them seen relevant that DC knows we'll have forgotten by the time an alleged conclusion arrives.

We'll know soon enough. Meanwhile, this is a decently dopey mystical adventure, with the Phantom Stranger being his usual useful, but always irritating, self; he gives the other characters enough hints to get them to bend to his admittedly benevolent will, but never drops the Man of Mystery bullshit long enough to put his purported partners in the picture. Blue Devil and Deadman are always fun, though having them in the same story is a bit risky as they share the same personality, and Ben Grimm needs it back.

There's an odd moment in which Deadman starts wittering on about Ben and Jerry ice cream. Do they have product placement in the afterlife or is Peter 'Story and Words' Tomasi getting the odd free tub? I did get a fanboy kick from the visual reference to the four possible beginnings of the Phantom Stranger suggested in a Secret Origins issue back in the last millennium, though it must have meant nothing to the majority of readers. And I liked the minor meditation on the power of masks and totems.

Overall though, despite some very pleasant art by Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes, this isn't so much Phantom Stranger #42 as Irrelevant Filler #14. Miss it, miss nowt.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Outsiders #26 review

Today the Scottish Parliament published the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, which would make it legal for doctors to help the terminally ill die at a time of their choosing.

Today this blog publishes the End of Useless Comic (Outsiders) Review, which implores that this terminally tragic book be put out of its misery.

Outsiders #26 is meant to be a new start, the new direction that will stabilise a comic that never found its feet, despite getting two #1 issues in seven years and about a dozen new directions. The last one, just a year ago, saw the team organised by Alfred the Bat-butler to round up Arkham Asylum escapees. Alfred was soon pulled away again by some silver polish emergency or other, but the team kept chasing the Gotham crazies until last issue, when a Blackest Night cliffhanger pulled Halo away and an epilogue showed Geo Force having returned to his homeland of Markovia.

Which is where we join him this month, having a little breakdown in his Mittle European castle and threatening Owlman for daring to notice. Geo, sorry, Emo Force finally tells Owlman that he's sent Katana and Black Lightning on a mission.

When we join them, fighting pirates on the high seas, Katana is treating Black Lightning as obnoxiously as Geo Force treated Owlman. Black Lightning, outrageously, would prefer her not to murder criminals with her bloody great sword. Nevertheless, she slays at least one and tries to off another.

Metamorpho, meanwhile, is in a 'capital city' (psst DC, it's called Markovburg) cafe, being a total dick to Jack Ryder - the Creeper in his other form - because he actually wonders out loud what they're doing in Markovia.

As do I; Metamorpho and Katana are on side with Geo Force, whereas Owlman, Black Lightning and Creeper are out of the loop. Now how does that happen? How does a team move to another country without a discussion? Why is anyone kowtowing to the obviously deranged Geo Force, rather than staging an intervention? Where is Halo and why does no one mention her (I suspect a Noble Sacrifice in an upcoming Blackest Night; she's better off out of it, having spent the last year of this book as DC's answer to the Invisible Girl)?

And what the heck was editor Michael Siglain doing when this book was in production? I don't doubt that when your boss is the new writer, it pays to be diplomatic, but there are ways of conveying diplomatically that a story isn't working. That in the first issue of a new direction it might be a good idea to introduce your characters and their abilities, to not assume readers are intimately familiar with their backstories. Even longtime readers, for example, might have missed 2008's DC Universe Last Will and Testament, in which Geo-Force gained the physical and mental scars on which this issue's opening scene pivots. Those who did read it will have tried to forget.

And as a British reader, I have to say that I find it tiresome that every time we see a European man in comics, he has a stick up his metrosexual arse. And lives in a 12th century hamlet. Wearing ermine. Honestly, we have genetically engineered sheep and everything these days.

Here Geo-Force seems to be playing Dr Doom, but where he recently offered sanctuary to Asgardians, Prince Brion is inviting in the New Kryptonians. Yes, having spent a year tagged on to a Batman storyline, this book is now grabbing the coattails of a story that's already been going on for a year in four other DC books. Oi, Outsiders!How about actually not worrying about a Big Concept, and just having a few self-contained good vs evil stories showing these characters acting like adults? Letting the book grow organically, rather than throwing stunts at it and hoping something sticks.

DC has trumpeted this issue as the start of the Dan DiDio/Philip Tan team, but the artist, despite sole penciller credit on the cover, shares duties with Don Kramer. Luckily, Don Kramer is talented, and both illustrators - with inkers Jonathan Glapion, Michael Babinski and the excellent colourist Brian Reber - produce some good, moody work. OK, there is the small matter that no one seems to have bothered to check out what Owlman looks like without his mask, but if we're having new personalities - the formerly assertive Owlman is reduced to startled Bambi here - we might as well have new faces. And the splash panel reveal of the villain, a new version of Seventies nobody Captain Fear, is awfully underwhelming. But overall, the artwork is decent comic book fare.

I'm sighing heavily as I write this, and it's only fair to say, Outsiders, I'm out. This book has had enough chances. Let it die a dignified death before the inevitably falling sales make its demise even more painful.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

R.E.B.E.L.S. 12 review

Starro the Conqueror. Kanjar Ro. Despero. This comic has become something of a home for Silver Age Justice League villains. But it's no rest home, as all three are at the forefront of a galaxy-spanning storyline, alongside Vril Dox and members of his former L.E.G.I.O.N. law enforcement agency, the Omega Men and Adam Strange.

The big threat is Starro who, it turns out, isn't just a big dopey starfish, he's a master planner with the blood-spattered body of a barbarian. His humongous mental powers have allowed him to enslave planet after planet for thousands of years, via face-sticking starfish that take away free will. Dox and co are determined to take him down. It's not easy - one year into this book and it's only now there's a chink of real hope - but it's entertaining. The past 12 months have seen Dox (now styled Brainiac 2 in case the green skin, blond hair, massive mind and bigger arrogance isn't pointer enough to his parentage) gather a team with the skills and spirit to take back the galaxy. It's been non-stop incident, never venturing near Planet Boring; if anything, I'd welcome the odd breather for some sheer soap.

But what I'm getting is a terrifically exciting, densely plotted and richly characterised cosmic superhero comic. This month we have Starro fighting Black Lanterns and finding Dox's even smarter son, Lyrl, useful but annoying; Dox looking to cross a doomsday gong with a gene bomb; and the Omega Men coming up with their own anti-Starro plan.

Dox was one of the best new characters to emerge from the Eighties, alongside the Suicide Squad's similarly manipulative Amanda Waller, and it's great to see both getting some regular play after years in the wilderness. There is a new wrinkle added to Dox here, though. Back in the days of L.E.G.I.O.N and the original R.E.B.E.L.S. he was presented as a bastard, but a bastard who believed in what was right. A suggestion this issue is that he's not as far removed from the likes of the despotic Despero as we believed.

Given the immense nature of the current crisis it's understandable his associates are following Dox almost without question - he's the man for the job. Once things settle, though, I hope that we'll see other personalities rise up to match his, and challenge him, as the likes of Phase, Stealth and current member Captain Comet did in their L.E.G.I.O.N. days.

Writer Tony Bedard has charts. I'm sure of it. Paul Levitz, in his heyday as Legion of Super-Heroes writer, had charts keeping track of his crisscrossing storylines and characters as the best way to track a huge cast in an ambitious series. And I think Tony has similar spreadsheets. Elsewise how could he keep a book this busy on track
- unless he's a member of the Brainiac family himself?

He certainly shares one writing tool with Levitz's Eighties LSH, the regular use of Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy style infobites to bring us up to date on locations and situations, while the character tags used by more recent LSH writers are also deployed, to introduce characters succinctly and stylishly.

Because of this, I guess an intelligent soul could jump on this book midstream and pick up on the action. It'd be better if they didn't have to leap blindly, though. This month's first R.E.B.E.L.S. collection, which contains the first six issues of the book, will go some way to providing a better experience, but it's a shame the next volume isn't due until August. Surely by now DC could be collecting books every six or seven months?

Never mind, I'm all right Jack and all that. Especially with the art of series regulars Andy Clark and Claude St Aubin, and this month's penciller, Geraldo Borges. Like his predecessors, Borges shows a facility for alien races - whether they're scary or cuddly, they look brilliant and we can recognise their emotions. Regular inker Scott Hanna also deserve a lot of credit, especially for the delicate way he finishes Dox's face, giving him a benevolent Paul Newman quality that belies his methods (in one incident he destroyed a naive young girl's body to bestow on her the power set he needed, without bothering to so much as warn her, never mind ask permission). Jose Villarrubia somehow keeps all the colour schemes from clashing while finding other hues for backgrounds and props, and Travis Lanham letters with pizzazz.

Editors Brian Cunningham and Rex Ogle have put together a great monthly and with luck the recent Blackest Night crossovers, which Tony seamlessly integrated with his ongoing story, will pull in the new readers R.E.B.E.L.S. needs to survive and prosper. And if it takes Starro drones on the faces of a few thousand comics fans, so be it.

R.E.B.E.L.S. The Coming of Starro is out on January 26 and no, I'm not getting paid for this, darn.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Adventure Comics #6 review

Superboy calls Lex Luthor's bluff. Sick of hearing him harp on that if it weren't for Superman he could cure cancer/feed the world/win Dancing With The Stars, Superboy tells him to prove it. Cure his crippled sister, Lena, mother of Superboy's juvie classmate Lori. And Lex agrees, if Superboy will go on a scavenger hunt through time and space.

That's the set-up for this issue, which concludes both Superboy's obsession with his 'what would Superman/Lex Luthor do?' notebook, his strip and the creative team's involvement with the character. And it's a treat from start to finish. The Superboy/Lex/Lori dynamic is fascinating, while our clone hero shows the spirit he could only have inherited from Superman. He's not as learned as Lex, but he's smart, with a heart as big as the sun. And he has Krypto the Superdog by his side, meaning a smile is never far from his face.

There are few smiles here though, as the personal stakes are high: the happiness of a classmate, the health of a sick woman and proof that Lex - donor of 50 per cent of Superboy's genetic material - has some good in him.

The outcome guarantees this is a Luthor story that will be remembered for years to come, up there with the Silver Age's Lexor stories, and the early John Byrne work. And the ending lets us know that Lex isn't finished with Superboy yet . . .

This is fine work from writer Geoff Johns and artist Francis Manapul. Their Lex looks and acts like the cold man he should be, while Superboy's alternating hope and despair is obvious. The interaction between Superboy and Lex isn't the same as that between Superman and Lex, but it's at least as fascinating. And I was kept guessing as to how the story would end. We never do find out why Lex abandoned the sister he loved, though I suspect the answer is there in the question.

The Smallville Manapul and colourist Brian Buccellato create is modern yet classic - I found myself looking at the details of Lena's home as much as the people in it; the odd mix of paintings, the mystery kitchen equipment, the scuffed floorboards . . . this artistic team is a huge asset to the strip so no matter how good their work on the upcoming Flash book, I'll be hoping for a return to Superboy.

And they'd better bring Johns with them - despite the acclaim he's getting for his Green Lantern reinvention, this is his best work in years, as he tells stories smaller in scope, but easily as complex. Instead of sprawling fight scenes involving thousands of gaily coloured Lanterns, we have mindgames centred on one or two people whose tighter focus makes for a more original story and enjoyable experience.

With the ending of this short Superboy run the DC Universe loses a unique flavour. That's sad.

Titans #21 review

Well this is annoying. After a run that never really found its feet - to be polite - Titans gets good just as the book is effectively being cancelled. With Starfire, Wonder Girl, Batman and Cyborg heading for the JLA, Raven and Beast Boy back with the Teen Titans and Flash sidelining himself after the return of Barry Allen, there are no Titans left and DC is handing the book over to Deathstroke the Tiresome, making this first of two parts my penultimate issue.

So it's bittersweet that wind-up writer JT Krul shows one of the best understandings of the members and how they relate to one another than any writer has for years. His handling of the Kory/Dick relationship, for one, is superb. Ever since they failed to get married and Dick began sniffing around Barbara Gordon (again) and Huntress, they've been awkward around one another. Not here. Here Starfire and the new Batman demonstrate the intimacy of ex-lovers, friends and team-mates. They know and trust one another in a way that actually has me yearning for them to get back together.

Kory and Victor, too, demonstrate the length and nature of their friendship as they discuss Vixen's recent offer to Starfire to sign up with the JLA. Cyborg wants to keep the Titans going, but he's not going to dissuade her from a path she should at least investigate.

Mind, this issue does feature, oh, let's call her Downer Troy, telling anyone who'll listen that the loss of a limb over in Justice League: Cry for Justice means Red Arrow's life is over. Forget his lovely, smart daughter*, the fact that the heroic community will be able to whip him up a self-loading blender or something, and that he's a born fighter, the guy's doomed. Doomed! This attitude is so wrong for Donna it's not true - she's the most optimistic of heroes - but I'm not blaming Krul. The subplot smacks of being editorially imposed; Donna is helping to make the case for Roy's descent into God knows what in a series of stories Krul is writing later this year.

So while I don't like this Donna, I can ignore her until the real one - hopefully - shows up in JLA. And there is some more acceptable Donna characterisation here as she discusses her own tragedies.

As with Donna, Wally is a bit rubbish in a way that's entirely down to the restructuring of the DC line, telling Victor he can't commit to the Titans as he has so much to learn from just-back Uncle Barry. Pshaw, I say! At this stage he's had years more experience of super-speed fighting and the Speed Force than his Flash predecessor, and could surely teach him a thing or two. He's already shown Barry how to change his costume via speed energy. Which is nice.

This issue also features a classically attired Black Canary reminding us what she means to Roy, some deliberately anaemic villains and the return of a favourite Titans foe.

And it's all very pleasantly drawn by Angel Unzueta and Chris Batista, inked by Wayne Faucher, coloured by Hi-Fi Design and lettered by Travis Lanham. Worthy of special mention are the Gotham scenes (Batista, I think), with Kory shining against the dark knight, and terrific body language livening up the visuals during the long chat with Dick.

Even the cover is spiffy, with Unzueta resisting the urge to homage any classic 'Titans unTogether' illos in order to provide a moody montage.

It's fine work all round. If the book does a Birds of Prey and comes back in a year or so, DC, could you try this creative team full-time, please?

* Oh, turns out she's dead - it's rather cleverly implied here via dialogue and image, and I missed it. Oops, bye Lian.

Blackest Night: The Power of Shazam #48 review

With one magic word . . . meh.

Billy Batson, sister Mary and pal Freddy Freeman shared The Power of Shazam! for almost 50 issues in the 1990s in a thoroughly entertaining, thoughtful superhero comic book. The writer and cover artist was Jerry Ordway, currently back doing some great work for DC, so the prospect of a coda issue courtesy of the Blackest Night event had me licking my lips.

Well, that was wasted saliva. Ordway is back with a painted cover that's typically attractive, even though it does feature a corpse. And that's the crux of my complaint. Except for seven panels featuring Billy and Mary, this comic is all about Amon Tomaz. Who? Osiris, a shortlived member of the Black Adam family from the pages of weekly comic 52. Given that he was created by Adam during his brief attempt to be a hero, it's unsurprising Osiris wanted to do good, which he did as a Teen Titan . . . for about three minutes.

But he was suckered by man-croc Sobek, snacked on and placed in a nice tomb, which is where we find him at the start of this issue. Sobek's also back, like Amon he's gifted a Black Lantern ring and they use their extra time in very different, yet predictable, ways. Yup, they fight a bit.

Eric Wallace provides a decent script, for what seems to be very much an assignment rather than a passion project - he gets us in, he gets us out, beats are hit in a professional manner, but there's little sense Wallace burned to write about this nice but dim second cousin of the Marvel Family. The very capable Don Kramer pencils and his work looks grainier than usual, teamed with the inks of Michael Babinski and colours of JD Smith. I enjoyed it, bar one of those particularly gruesome moments so popular with DC over the last few years. Rob Leigh letters, handling the white-out-of-black zombiefied captions and pointy brackets that tell us characters aren't speaking English which, given said dialogue accounts for the vast majority of the book, doesn't seem all that necessary. Still, at least I'm not having to deal with sodding Kryptonian (sorry, it's an Action Comics week and I get testy).

But the quality on display is scant consolation to the reader, who likely bought this book hoping for some Marvel Family action. It's not an unfair assumption, DC having put out this solicitation:

Written by Eric Wallace
Art by Don Kramer & Michael Babinski
Cover by Tom Feister
BLACKEST NIGHT infects the Black Adam family when Osiris returns from the dead as a Black Lantern to terrorize young Billy and Mary Batson! Now powerless after the wizard Shazam deemed them unworthy in JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #25, can the Batsons even count on the aid of Freddy Freeman, the new Captain Marvel? Find out in another of this month's one-issue revivals of classic DC Universe titles!

Well, Black Lantern Osiris is in there.

I suppose we should be grateful for even a sighting of the Batsons
- they spot Osiris on TV and note that they can't help if he goes on a Black Lantern rampage - as poor Freddy doesn't get so much as a panel. Too busy crying for justice with Hal Jordan's Justice League, I suppose.

The pay-off to the issue is as you'd expect given that we're shown The Power of Black Adam helps Osiris resist Black Lantern conditioning, but satisfying so far as it goes. I just find it hard to believe Osiris has any fans clamouring for one last look at the sad sap. Certainly he doesn't have more fans than the Marvel Family. The Power of Shazam? More like an outage.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2 review

Having come back from the dead, Wonder Woman is susceptible to the will of demon guy Nekron, so at the close of Blackest Night #5 she became a Black Lantern. This issue takes place immediately after that, with possessed Diana engaged in a vicious, bloody fight with Atlantean queen Mera. Along the way she kills her mother Hippolyte, sister Donna Troy and irritant Wonder Girl. Batman shows up, they kiss . . .

. . . yep, it's all a split second vision, courtesy of the goddess Aphrodite, invoked to persuade protege Diana to shake off the Black Lantern persona and accept the violet ring of the Star Sapphires. Yep, that Wonder Woman is so full of love.

Unlike me, who is sighing heavily at the 'and then she woke up' revelation, the type of thing most of us have avoided since being told off for it by teacher when writing stories at school. We're meant to accept the presence of Aphrodite, literal deus ex machina, to get Diana out of a scrape even though she rejected the gods in her regular book a while back. We're asked to believe that Diana holds such a torch for the dead Bruce Wayne that the thought of snogging him is enough to break the cycle of violence the black ring has been stoking and feeding on.

It's all a bit pants, really. And not the star-spangled variety.

And there was no need. I'd far rather have seen Diana simply use all that special girlie willpower we're told she has in Blackest Night #6 - no one loves the Earth more, apparently - to shake off the black ring, even if it's just for the second needed to swap black for violet. How much more heroic would Diana have seemed had she thrown off Neron's influence herself, rather than with the aid of a Batman vision and a Goddess Barbie? Hmm, perhaps dolls are the key . . . DC wanted to make a Black Lantern Wonder Woman action figure to go with the Star Sapphire one, so there had to be a point in the story at which Diana had that look?

The pretendy skirmish with Mera is intense, a long way from the Lois/Lana catfights of the Sixties, with Diana spitting cruel words left and right. Her foe's best response is to skewer the Amazon - writer Greg Rucka barely has Mera use her unique power to harden water into formidable constructs. We see a few balls of H20 floating in the air, but Mera doesn't bash Diana with them, being content to splash her occasionally. Other than that Mera spends most of the confrontation waving her big fork. It's surprising that the Crossover That Worships Green Lantern should miss a chance to point out the similarity between Mera's interdimensional abilities and Hal Jordan's Oan orbs.

There's a chillingly gorgeous cover by Greg Horn and inside the art is equally spiffy, with penciller Nicola Scott aided by Eduardo Pansica (who apparently came in so late in the day that he missed a cover credit). Any notable fissures (no, that's not a Mera pun) in their work are knitted together by the incredible colours of Nei Ruffino . . . if there's ever an award for Best Tiara, Diana and Mera would be rivals for that, given the sheer shininess applied to the detailed pencils.

Lord, I'm drivelling on about tiaras. Good as they look, I should be enthusing about more than this given the involvement in this comic of such clever and stylish craftsmen . . . but the dream business just erased any interest I had in the rest of the issue. I've heard that the final issue of this mini series features Star Sapphire Wonder Woman versus Red Lantern Mera, but now we've had the dream there's always the chance it'll turn out to be a hoax, or red kryptonite illusion.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Doom Patrol #6 review

After two issues of Blackest Night, in which a dark figure wears the flesh of the dead, here's an issue about a dark figure who wears the flesh of the dead . . . Negative Man. But that's where the similarities between the founding Doom Patrol member and zombies-come-lately the Black Lanterns end. For Larry Trainor is very much his own man. Or woman. Or hermaphrodite. And, actually, he's not Larry Trainor. Not any more.

For as writer Keith Giffen spells out in this spotlight issue, Larry never did come back from the explosion that killed the original Doom Patrol - it's always been Negative Man moving from body to body, usually at the behest of crazed boffin Niles Caulder. He's no more the real Larry Trainor than Swamp Thing was the real Alex Holland, or Proty the real Lightning Lad.

And that's all I'm going to say in terms of detail, for this is a rich character profile that rewards reading. We don't simply get the gist of Larry and Negative Man's relationship, we gain insight into how he views the other members of the Doom Patrol. For one, we begin to see why gorgeous and intelligent Elasti-Woman Rita Farr has issues other than her traditional, and unbelievable, 'I can grow and shrink, people will shun me' attitude.

Keith has been working in comics for so long, breathing new life into properties with inventive scripts and art in every genre you care to name, that he's taken for granted. Put the man on a single X-Men book for six months and watch the kids discover him. This is one of the best pieces of character writing I've seen in years - rich in drama and meaning - yet it will be overlooked as flashier, better-promoted and frankly stupider comics walk out of the shop.

Artists Matthew Clark and Livesay, for their part, guide us through the Patrol's many eras, evoking some very different artistic styles without losing themselves. Mind, I'd swear the first and last pages were done by an uncredited Keith, it's his look to the life. Letterer Pat Brosseau and colourist Guy Major add the finishing touches, while editors Elisabeth Gehrlein and Simona Martore should be proud of this team, and story.

Keith shifts gears to plot the light-hearted second feature, which continues the Metal Men's encounter with sinisterly stupid mannequins the Clique (c'est chic). There's more plot and personality in ten breezy pages than in many stories twice the length. Panels are packed with characters, incident and dialogue but never seem crowded (click to enlarge). There's even room for a little subplot, as Tina begins to question her weird attraction to creator Doc Magnus. Keith's co-conspirators - JM DeMatteis on dialogue, Kevin Maguire on art, Travis Lanham on letters and Guy Major on colours - are at the top of their game, making it a crying shame that this strip is ending soon. It's a highlight of my DC month.

If you've still not tried the new Doom Patrol book, give this issue a shot - for sheer variety, quality and amount of content I doubt it can be beaten.

Siege: Embedded #1 review

Nasty Norman Osborn and pals are off to invade Asgard; Volstagg is sad that he accidentally killed thousands of humans, but is more hungry than sad; journalists are pro and anti-Osborn . . . again; I paid $3.99 for 22 pages of pleasant but inessential story and art from Brian Reed, Chris Samnee and Matthew Wilson.

Connection severed.

Siege #1 review

And here it is, the four-part series we're told will end the reign of Norman Osborn in the Marvel Universe. In an echo of the event which ignited the Initiative - superheroes being blamed for the destruction caused by super-villains - the Asgardian Volstagg is tricked into unleashing godly forces to fry a stadium full of sports fans. He's been attacked by the radioactive U-Foes and given that Volstagg isn't known as a bearer of cosmic juice, I'm taking it they added some firepower to frame him. Osborn, persuaded by Loki, believes the incident will guarantee public support for the invasion of Asgard they're planning.

So it's off to Oklahoma with the combined forces of the Dark Avengers and the Initiative, where battle commences. It's Thor and co versus an army of villains and misguided heroes and things are looking bad. Thank God Iron Man and Captain America are stirring . . .

This is good stuff. Brian Bendis writes a fantastically manipulative and quietly menacing Loki and illustrator Olivier Coipel meets the challenge, making him loom high above Osborn, ethereal and haughty. Osborn tries to convey that he's in charge but you can see the front crumbling as he begins to realise just who is the puppet, while maintaining enough self-belief to think he can turn things around. Brian reigns in the mannered chitchat so that all the conversation is meaningful; everything serves the story, building the drama so that when the 23pp instalment closes there's disappointment. Especially when you remember this is a $3.99 book - but more of that later.

So nice one Brian, for producing an episode with fine forward thrust. And Olivier Coipel grows with every assignment. Here he captures the quiet majesty of Asgard, the waving wheat of Oklahoma and the panelled walls of power in Washington. Volstagg's courage and confusion are evident, while under-pressure Norman can't lose the Green Goblin look even when he's out of costume. Credit, too, to Laura Martin, who weighs up the mood needs of each scene and applies the colours to do the job. The page showing Don Blake joining the battle is particularly effective. Letterer Chris Eliopoulos controls the Asgardian font that annoys me so, along with the lovely, happy regular speech typeface. Together, the creators provide quite the ride.

So, what's filling the rest of the book? A preview/advertisement for some irrelevant Hulk nonsense; a three-page recap of the last seven years of Brian's Marvel Reign by Joe Quesada, telling us why we should buy the book we've most likely already purchased; and four pages of script filling out a story scene in which Osborn persuades the Dark Avengers that invading Asgard is what they should be doing.

Ah, that's why the strip is free of the back and forth dialogue many readers, admittedly, enjoy. It looks heavy as heck laid out in blocks here, but I thought, well, show some courtesy, give it a chance, perhaps glean some extra information and insight. It turns out there's nothing here that's really necessary, so congrats to Brian, editor Tom Brevoort or whoever decided to keep it out of the main run.

But, Marvel chaps, do actually read the thing yourself before sending it to press - the entire third page comprises repeated dialogue from pages 1 and 2. Not too impressive when this stuff is already filler - how about more story pages of the quality we get earlier in the book?

Blackest Night: Weird Western Tales #71 review

The cover boasts that this comic features Jonah Hex, Scalphunter, Super-Chief, Bat Lash and Firehair and yes indeedy, all are in here. But only Hex gets any real play, with the others being simply heart-hungry Black Lanterns. I have to say, though, that even as an infernal creature Bat Lash is damned dapper.

The protaganist of this book is Josh Turnbull, descendant of Hex enemy Quentin Turnbull. He's working with Metamorpho's old chum Simon Stagg on alternate energy projects and thrilled to bits when the Ray turns up with one of them thar Black Lantern rings that's been popping up all over the planet. Of course, ordinary folk can't handle the things so chaos ensues. The attack of the zombie cowboys presents the Ray with a chance to shine, though it's a shame Stagg's caveman lackey Java has vanished by this time - I'd pay good money to see him team up with the Ray.

The climax of the book shows Turnbull confronted by two Black Lanterns with a special interest in him and it's safe to say he's not likely to turn up in writer Dan DiDio's forthcoming Outsiders run, to which, I suspect, this is a prequel.

Behind an electric Bill Sienkiewicz cover, this is a nicely measured tale, with DiDio showing good control of his story; the transition to page 2 from page 1 is devilishly clever, and the title - 'And the South shall rise again' - rather brilliant. And while the occasional moment of dialogue is stilted, it's not horribly jarring. By issue's end we've had a satisfying chunk of story, well-told.

DidDio's partner in crime is Renato Arlem, whose art is all kinds of expressive and extremely attractive - quietly textured or full of fireworks as necessary. Colourist Hi-Fi Designs hits all the right mood notes and letterer Ken Lopez gets out his best Western fonts.

Continuity cops might be wondering how come Jonah Hex is here a corpse in Dixieland rather than a stuffed exhibit at Planet Krypton restaurant, but that's likely been explained in something I've missed. If not, I'll just assume he's been repatriated, or things are different on this week's version of the DC Earth. I'm happy to have been entertained with a one-off that can be appreciated without having to have read the several years of Green Lantern stories that preceded it. Sometimes Weird is good.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

JSA All-Stars #2 review

Liberty Belle and Hourman take on Icicle and Tigress in Turkey as they search for antiques and a killer. That's the bare bones but writer Jen Van Meter gives us far more as the JSA's husband and wife team get their own strip. We gain an insight into Jesse Chambers' childhood and learn that Rick Tyler is less opposed to being a parent than he thought. We're told an ancient Greek tale and see that Tigress would make a decent detective. We find Icicle has a nice line in logic and . . . well, you get the idea - ten pages, lots going on, and that's without the odd bit of pleasurable punching and whizzing around.

It's heartening to see that despite being reconnected with the Speed Force and donning a costume homaging her pa, Johnny Quick, over in Flash: Rebirth, Jesse prefers her Mom's look for JSA work. Quite right too, it's a classic and Travis Moore and Dan Green draw it well - though I wish the tight trews were jodhpurs, as in mom Libby Lawrence's day, for uniqueness' sake. The storytelling is sharp, with layouts composed to match the script's pace. The combination of story and art makes for a refreshing short, and I'm keen to see more. I was dubious about Rick and Jesse getting a spotlight as their 'so in love' attitude in JSA stories has seemed creepy at times. Here, though, they're well matched. As well as JSA legacy heroes I'd suggest they're heirs to Ralph and Sue Dibny, the much missed Elongated Man and wife, travelling around Europe (next issue it's Venice) and loving a mystery. I do hope they come to see me here in Edinburgh.

This issue also features Hourman's team, the All-Stars, in a story that's twice as long and half as entertaining as the so-called Second Feature. The team bids to free Stargirl, kidnapped by lovestruck loon Johnny Sorrow, but the sharp cookie rescues herself as her mates stumble upon a scrap between the Injustice Society and the Strike Force. It's all biff bash bosh and how's your father, then the Naughtiness Society teleports away as they have a last-page cliffhanger to sort out.

I didn't much care about any of this as it was mostly the sort of mass fight scene we've had in every JSA title for the last several months. Because they aren't properly introduced the bad guys are interchangeable tools, while the good guys are overshadowed by the obnoxious Magog, whose presence on the team makes no sense - he's not a legacy character, he doesn't agree with their methods, he's only a team player if said team follows him . . . I see how he showed up when co-creator Alex Ross was helping to write the regular JSA book, but Ross is long gone, so why is his pet still here under Matt Sturges? Does anyone like Magog?

Certainly Power Girl likes him less this month as he barks orders and tries to kill enemies. Arse. Poor Peege has enough to put up with trying not to let those ever more unfeasible tits take over the room. Honestly, why move into a ranch when the team could headquarter in one of her bras?

There are some good-looking panels in this book but quite a few that, to me, look awkward and overcooked, with odd proportions. Take Hourman, Judomaster, Power Girl and Steel on the cover, for example. I was a big Freddie Williams II fan when he was drawing the Robin book but something's changed. Perhaps that was before he went over fully to the digital dark side (he's even written a book, The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics, available from all good etc) or maybe his art is simply developing and this particular stage isn't for me. Whatever the case, I can't deny the energy and effort Freddie's putting in.

The best thing about this story was the introduction of the new 'member'. The quotes are due to Roxy being an artificial life form invented by Rex Tyler (the madly-chinned guy whose clothes shrank in the wash) and she has a delightful sense of humour and disdain.

That apart, this issue was disappointing; I need the All-Stars strip to calm down - it feels like I'm being yelled at. I'd also prefer the strained difference in philosophy between the All-Stars and the rest of the JSA to go away - no one but Magog believes heroes need to be military types, and I can't credit the likes of Green Lantern, Flash and Wildcat, who have fought in several wars, with wanting the youngest heroes Hoovering up Magog's angry attitudes. Can't we just say there are a pair of JSA teams because the Society has grown and there are enough nasty sods around for two units?

Blackest Night: Suicide Squad #67 review

The Blackest Night event is pretty much the expected bloated crossover, but so far as one-off tie-ins are concerned, raising comics from the dead is a splendid idea. So here's Suicide Squad #67, for which we've been waiting since 1992. With the Squad's most popular member, Deadshot, running with the Secret Six these days, it makes sense for the villain team to be present, but it's a shame they're quite so present. A quick cameo before Deadshot buggers off to help or hinder his old muckers in battling the many dead Squad members would have satisfied me. As it is, this reads like a Secret Six issue with added Suicide Squad. And given that apart from the first three pages and final page, the story has nothing to do with Black Lanterns, it's a fair assumption that this is an SS/SS team-up with tacked-on Blackest Night. It may be a wrong assumption, but it's a fair one.

Which isn't to say the comic isn't a great read; it is. But when a book is revived for a single issue I'd prefer to see the book's stars actually, y'know, star.

Grumble over, let's have a look at what Secret Six #67 actually offers. The first three pages see the Golden Age Fiddler, who has Six form though not Squad, rise as a Black Lantern and lead other JLA morgue villains off. They're never seen again but will likely make up the numbers when this story hits Secret Six.

Then there's Amanda Waller's Suicide Squad - Count Vertigo, Nightshade, Bronze Tiger, Rick Flag, Multiplex and a relative newbie named Yasemin. Much as I enjoyed Vertigo and Waller as part of Checkmate, the Squad is where they belong. Ditto as regards Nightshade, last seen as a member of spooky superhero team Shadowpact. There's no explanation as to why she's here, but Waller's a master when it comes to getting the band back together - it's likely blackmail is involved. The gang are out to kill a Mexican death camp chief, with the kill shot assigned to Yasemin, 'born with the gift of all my family's female children - infallible aim with any gun of any kind' (a pretty useless gift until someone invented the gun). Crackshot she may be, but Yas loses her nerve and the mission is bungled.

Which determines Waller to get the never-fails Deadshot back in the fold, by any means necessary, resulting in the Squad and Six facing off during a fake Six assignment set up by Waller. The Wall herself, meanwhile, is burning down her opponents' House of Secrets base, with recently deposed leader Scandal still inside.

The battle between the teams is marvellous, as the always well-characterised Six swap jabs of the physical and verbal kind with their spiritual parent, the Squad. I really hope we see a lot more of the Squad in the continuation, as the likes of Bronze Tiger and Rick Flag get so little play in the DC Universe.

The comic is co-written by longtime Squad author John Ostrander and Six scribe Gail Simone and it's impossible to see the joins. There's not a line out of place and while the story moves back and forth over a few days, there's never any confusion as to what's up. I just hope a few more lines go to the Squad as the story continues. There's an especially well-observed, entertaining scene with Bane interviewing strip club dancer Liana for the position of Scandal Savage's girlfriend which is a hoot - but it really belongs in the regular Six book.

Jim Calafiore's illustrations are A-grade all the way, from dead Fiddler through a creepy conclusion via a Catman and Bronze Tiger face-off. Then there's Rick Flag throwing his hat (and very tight tee shirt) in the ring for the position of hottest man in comics . . . watch out, Catman. If Jim doesn't get the regular Six gig should Nicola Scott be nicked by other DC books >cough Wonder Woman cough < someone isn't thinking too clearly.

Regular Six colourist Jason Wright applies the hues here - funny that - while Steve Wands weaves his lettering magic. Sean Ryan edits and a very good job he's done.

Now, how about Suicide Squad #68, #69 . . .

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Dare Detectives 1.1 and 1.2 by Ben Caldwell review

Reformed bad girl Maria Dare, hulking farmboy Toby Taylor and cynical bunny Jojo are the hottest crimefighting team in Chinatown. In these two fat digests they've lost their detective license but remain determined to fight the good fight, rescuing a crack team of chefs from the bewitching Madame Bleu and her gang - hardboiled pandas and the odd abominable snowman. Also on hand are such lowlives as Mr White, Furious George and Killer Gorilla.

This is my first exposure to Ben Caldwell's comic and it's a delight. Maria and co have likable, well defined-personalities revealed through the action, which pummels through each 96-page episode like a rollercoaster (click to big up). The character designs are ridiculously attractive, from cute and feisty Maria through instant gay icon Toby, glamourpuss vixen Madame Bleu and beyond, in a Chinatown that's a glorious combo of noir and neon. The confident script is full of snappy, sassy dialogue, the artistic 'camera' never stands still . . . Dare Detectives is a tour de force from an artist who really knows his craft and if Disney, Pixar or whomever don't pay Ben big bucks for this property and put the Dare Detectives on the big screen, they're nuts. Heck, he's done all the hard work already.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Stay Dead by Steve Wands review

It's always nice to see a comics creator add another string to their bow, and here's crack letterer Steve Wands sticking to a single font for a stab at original fiction. His 14-bite short story, Stay Dead, is a zombie tale, though the word is never used. The young heroes simply refer to 'dead things', but Steve never tries to hide where the shambling, twisted, flesh-eaters fit into the horror genre.

We don't learn just how Keith, Connor and Kayla's town has fallen to darkness, but as they used to say on Police Squad, 'that's not important right now'. What is important is the struggle of two brothers and their neighbour to survive in a world in which every new day is an occasion for equal parts celebration and despair. With the adults mostly turned into slavering monsters, the only rules are the ones you make, and follow the wrong one and it's death.

While there isn't a great deal of individuation between the boys' personalities, there are encouraging moments of insight into how a kid might feel if life became a horror movie. And Kayla is a great creation, believably self-conscious about the state she's in after days trapped in her room, zombie Mom scratching at the door, while never seeming too much the Soppy Girlie Person. Besides, she's very handy with a penknife.

There are some smart lines, such as 'Keith pulled the blinds up and began waving like a lunatic on a sugar rush' and 'The man didn’t like ‘maybe,’ the world was run on yes and no, and nothing else.' Yes, there's occasional tautology and a few literals, but given that I don't usually enjoy zombie fiction it's a tribute to Steve's imagination that my attention was held from beginning to end. I especially liked a sequence in which we find that zombies ain't the scariest thing out there. And the bad guy featured here is very well-characterised.

All in all, Stay Dead is a fun read, with flashes of great promise - a cameo for something that, revised and enlarged, could prove a terrific portrait of fear.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Blackest Night #6 review

The Blackest Night event goes on . . . and on . . . but I can't really complain as this is the core book. And Corps book, for that matter, as Green, Yellow and lots of other colour Lanterns gaze off the cover. They're the newest New Guardians, apparently - there's no reference to this in the comic but I'll take the cover's word for it.

An old Guardian gets a new look inside, as our very Oan Ganthet decides to don an emerald ring and join the Green Lantern Corps. It makes for a big moment but little sense - aren't the Guardians basically living power batteries, far more powerful than any individual GL? It's like giving up a tank for a Tonka toy.

Other big events this issue include Ganthet reminding the Colour Corps that in times of great need rings can replicate/do whatever the story requires, meaning a battery of familiar DC characters get to be a spare Red Lantern, Star Sapphire, Pink Flamingo and so on. Some of the match-ups make sense (love-filled Wonder Woman as a soppy Star Sapphire, Scarecrow as a scaredy cat-killing Yellow Lantern, Lex Luthor wanting the lot) while others seem more to do with writer Geoff Johns' current list of favourites (Ray Palmer can feel great compassion, Mera is chocful of rage, Barry Allen can instill great hope). Still, the sight of Ray Palmer once again in that bloody stupid Gil Kane loincloth from his Sword of the Atom* days is worth the price of admission.

I don't really mind that queen of Atlantis Mera is getting some face time in this mini, mind - she's been a favourite of mine for decades due to her wonderful look, neat powers and intriguing background. And who knew she's 'always wanted to find out' if she could take out Wonder Woman? Of course, they did meet at Mera's wedding to Aquaman - maybe Diana ate all the cake? In 1964 - talk about holding a grudge.

Flash and Green Lantern manage to outrace the Black Lantern rings with their names on them in a way that makes some sense, but doesn't manage to advance the plot. Despite the flashy moments, as usual there's still far too much random bashing back and forth between the forces of life and death. And am I the only DC reader of a certain age unable to recognise super corpses once they've been turned black and white and had a ruddy great Black Lantern symbol slapped on 'em?

Oh . . .

Never mind. It's all very nicely drawn by Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert and Joe Prado, who make their cast of thousands look marvellous. They give some fantastically intense looks to our determined heroes, and the issue's obligatory random sideways spread does rather drip with the old awe. Alex Sinclair colours enthusiastically and Nick J Napolitano letters, but doesn't tell us what that middle initial stands for.

The issue's rounded out with another tiresome extract from Black Hand's Shopping List and eight pages of cover previews cum adverts for the next round of Blackest Night tie-ins. Whee.

All in all, this issue is loud and colourful and likely inconsequential in the big scheme of things. There's nothing so amazing as to justify the secrecy surrounding its contents but it did give me a slice of DCU fun when I rushed to the comic shop two days after it went on sale as the only title from DC this week. Only two more issues to go, and they can't come quickly enough.

* A 1980 revamp in which Ray Palmer, whose one super-power was shrinking smaller than anyone else, goes to live with a bunch of six-inch tall people, brandishes the eponymous sword while riding frogs and wears that loincloth over his trunks. It was a hit.