Sunday, 28 February 2010

Fantastic Four #576 review

The Fantastic Four battle the soldier scientists of A.I.M. when both discover a new undersea realm. That's the basics of this issue's story, the second of writer Jonathan Hickman's Prime Elements four-parter. The specifics left me with mixed feelings.

I enjoyed the first third of the book hugely, as Sue sets up the mission and there's some economical character work
- in 'worth the price of admission' terms, Johnny Storm's Antarctic exploration outfit/coming out statement is a joy (click to enlarge). Once our family of superhuman explorers descend into the old icy depths, though, the issue loses something for me. The problem is, environmental considerations mean communications in the undersea exploration suits provided by scientists at Vostok Station can't be used. Time being of the essence, it seems Reed - fastest boffin alive - can't rig something up (this is an assumption on my part, we're simply told the comms won't work). Anyway, a nice point arising from this is Sue's confidence that her team don't need no damn comms, they know one another and will be able to communicate just fine.

And this leads to an interesting creative challenge for penciller Dale Eaglesham, who must get the story across to the reader as Jonathan ignores such useful comics storytelling tools as narrative boxes or thought balloons. Cue 12pp of extremely attractive artwork which sees the FF encounter some cute alien fishies, A.I.M. and three humanoid marine races.

I'm ruddy useless with the silent stuff, but I got the big picture, and I'm fairly sure the details of the panel-to-panel progression didn't escape me. But don't do that again, chaps, it's a tad tough on my pea brain. More seriously, I love it when your FF are interacting - the family dynamic is still there sans sound, but it's not half so engaging; I want to hear the banter, the science, even the occasional tiff.

The last few pages see the sound turned back on, as Sue volunteers to be Voice of Man in order to speak to the newly discovered Old Kings of Atlantis. 'You know why it has to be me, Reed,' says Sue. Wish I did . . . is it because Johnny's a bit of an airhead, Ben is Mr Gruff and Reed too high-falutin'? Prince Namor of Atlantis tried to make Sue his wetted wife a few times, so perhaps a regent's role is the only thing that will allow her to sit around the table when the Sub-Mariner meets his fellow rulers, and keep the peace. Hopefully this story point will be made clear.

The chapter closes - like last issue, which saw a hidden city of the High Evolutionary emerge - with a page of notes telling us what happened next. It's the sort of thing that wouldn't necessarily make dynamic comics while taking up a fair few pages if spelled out, but darn it, this is comics; if the info is important it should be dramatised with as much economy as possible. Even if the page used here were filled with, say, six panels and some narrative boxes, we'd have some artwork to look at beyond the kind of faux computer graphic Keith Giffen was giving us 20 years ago.

Still, this run is showing great promise, and providing enough inspirational moments to keep me reading, and optimistic. Jonathan has plenty of ideas, a fine grasp of plotting and isn't above giving us pratfalls, while Dale's FF is an appealing blend of John Buscema and Alan Davis stylings, and he's showing great talent when it come to imagining new worlds - a must for an heir to Jack Kirby. What's more, he gives Reed and Sue the Best Bums in Comics. One of the reasons the artwork looks so great is the colouring of Paul Mounts, who's been a member of the FF creative team for longer than I can remember. His work is bright, beautiful and he gives Reed the most wonderfully hazel eyes. And Rus Wooton's letters don't call attention to themselves, they 'merely' do the job (wonder if he had to take a pay cut this issue?).

So that's two issues down, two to go. I look forward to seeing how these self-contained stories feed into the bigger picture. With luck we'll have a memorable FF sequence. Meanwhile, can we have 'world's greatest comics magazine' strap by the cover logo? It's a great reminder of what FF creative teams should aspire to and, well, just a fun boast.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Thunderbolts #141 review

It's a Siege tie-in so the Thunderbolts are off to Asgard to purloin the fabled Spear of Odin. No one's actually sure what it does, but when Norman Osborn tells the bad boys 'steal', they steal - though not until they've had their transport craft downed by Hogun the Grim. Luckily they're near the Asgardian armoury, so our heroes - sorry, villains - Paladin, Ant-Man, Mr X and Scourge set about breaking in while the gods are distracted by Osborn's little party outside the city walls. Cue lots of fun as mission leader Scourge gets increasingly cranky and the rest of the gang eye up the godly gold.

And when the Thunderbolts finally get their hands on the Spear of Maguffin the Mighty Avengers arrive. OK, so that's a last page event, but I'm hardly spoiling given that Adi Granov's attractive cover shows MA Stature looking down on Ant-Man (well, just over half the cover, the rest is the picture of Asgard's Purple Gasworks that's perched boringly on every sodding Siege tie-in).

I can't say I connect with any of the current Thunderbolts - apart from the traditionally dull Paladin and one-note comedy coward Ant-Man, they're pretty much all bargain basement psycho killers. Well, I suppose roboty oojamaflip Ghost is unique, but after about a year of him in this book I've still no grasp of his limitations or agenda. Still, the mix of characters isn't writer Jeff Parker's fault, he never picked the team; he's just making them entertaining before they're mostly booted out for his upcoming, promising revamp. Adding in the Agents of Atlas last month was a good move, and the Mighty Avengers next month helps too. This issue, though, it's just the four on-mission operatives, with Ghost plotting on the sidelines. Nevertheless, Jeff's grasp of plot and way with dialogue ensures a fun few minutes.

Holding his own against the talented Mr Parker is artist Miguel Sepulveda, a new name to me but one I'll be watching for in future. His people are powerful without being entirely unlikely, he knows how to capture a facial expression and he conjures up a fine Asgard - for once the place looks like a city rather than a bunch of geometric shapes. The finishing touch comes from Frank Martin, whose colours are always suited to the scene, while Albert Deschesne letters with verve and clarity.

I'm chomping at the proverbial bit for the next stage of the Thunderbolts' life, but good value issues such as this will keep me happy until then.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Wonder Woman #41 review


And I have to write about this on my blog, but not because it's awful. This is a wonderful comic, as two of DC's foremost femmes fight and neither one comes off looking like a pillock. It's traditional for an otherwise star to get a slightly worse showing when they're guesting, but Diana proves a gracious host. Sure, she hands out a beating to Power Girl, but it's done with respect and affection, and Karen's strength of body and character shows through. Inch by inch and aided by Diana's lariat of truth, she shakes off the deceitful influence of the Crows - the creepy schoolboy sons of Ares - and finally surprises herself with just what she's able to pull off.

And she does it because Diana inspires her. This isn't the Wonder Woman we've occasionally seen in other comics, whose heroine peers resent her supposed perfection. Peege know how good Diana is, and that Diana knows it, but she doesn't resent her for that - she admires her, as Diana likes and admires Power Girl. They're competent, confident metahumans and they can not only work together, they can enjoy doing it.

After they fight for a bit, of course. And the tussle is superb - writer Gail Simone apparently put all the description into the script, trusting pencilling partners Chris Batista and Fernando Dagnino to get the information across. And there's no need for another layer of narrative when Chris, for example, so perfectly describes Diana summoning her aegis shield to block Power Girl, Peege giving Diana a hearty side-on kick and so on. We see how Karen can throw a punch, and how Diana can take it, match it and raise it. We see Diana's super-speed, Karen's relentlessness. A minor complaint would be that we don't see Power Girl try any of her sensory powers against Diana, but I'll put that down to her being not quite herself (and Peege is, at heart, a brawler).

Eschewing fight descriptions leaves space for Gail to give us dual narratives - Travis Lanham's letters and thunk boxes ensure we can always tell who's talking to us - presenting each heroine's perspective. Diana is sharp and funny, analytical and wise, especially when she's thinking about where she and Peege differ. The slight air of pomposity Diana occasionally displayed in early issues, as Gail was fishing for her voice, is gone. Gail's Diana is now, to my ear, pitch-perfect. She's a formidable heroine and a person I'd want to spend time with.

And Power Girl ... Gail gets her first time out, capturing the voice of Peege as heard in Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's superb series. Maybe it's because Karen is naturally as sassy as one of Gail's Birds of Prey, perhaps it's down to the Gray/Palmiotti character being so well-defined . . . whatever, Gail presents a Power Girl who should have her fans cheering.

By the end of the book Diana and Karen have taken down the Crows, but not before one of the little brats pays a terrifying visit to Diana's pals Steve and Etta. Also around this issue, but involved in his own issues, is Achilles. He's mellowed from the Zeus zealot he originally seemed, and moving to Man's World to pursue his reformatted mission of peace. And if he meets the reincarnation of a former lover along the way, well, where's the harm? Who knew Diana had a spot of Dolly Levi in her?

Achilles' journey from the mystical isle of Thalarion to the mundane world of America showcases Chris Batista's skill with monsters. The two-trunked, three-eyed flying elephant Mysia looks stunning as ridden by the armoured Achilles. And then we see that the reborn hero has an equivalent to Diana's clothes-changing twirl, as he spins, while seated, into 21st-century threads (but lose the naff winged collar, kiddo). It's a good-looking sequence, but it's in the fight between Diana and Karen that we really see what Chris can do.

A talented draftsman who draws great people - look at new guy Patrick this issue - along with convincing action and splendid backgrounds, Chris would be welcomed back by me anytime, especially if Doug Hazlewood adds his powerfully delicate inks, as here. Without distorting his own style, Chris uses series artist Amanda Conner's Power Girl as his model, and gets her down pat. The face, the body language - there's no doubt this is the same goddess next door as seen in her own book. I hope some Wonder Woman fans check that book out after this issue (and Chris' excellent work with former Wonder Woman writer Gerry Conway on the just collected and just superb Last Days of Animal Man trade).

A favourite panel sees Chris, aided by the ever sympathetic colours of Brad Anderson, show us what the befuddled Power Girl is seeing, a monstrous version of Diana. Now if that doesn't spawn an action figure (DOLL!) within the year, I'll be a blue-eyed grasshopper.

Our other guest penciller, Fernando Dagnino, is less on-model physically with his Power Girl, but he captures her spirit in a hotdog-eating sequence, and produces some stellar pages, inked by Raul Fernandez. Their compelling presentation of the Crows pretty much ensures someone will bring them back one day. And they give great monkey.

Other delights: recently departed artist Aaron Lopresti's eye-catching cover, Steve and Etta's plan, heroines sitting on clouds, a Black Canary kinda sorta cameo, the return of a Golden Age Paradise Island extension . . . I just loved this issue, the conclusion of a two-part story that showed that tales don't have to be epic in scope to be thoroughly entertaining.

Superman #697 review

Behind a lovely Cafu cover featuring the slobberiest Krypto ever, it's bits of Legionnaire business all round. The Espionage Squad finally reveals itself to Mon-El; police colleagues, the deli guy, a hover-cam . . . future teens all. But we still don't learn what Chameleon Boy, Tellus, Starman, Sensor Girl, Matter-Eater Lad, Element Lad and Quislet are up to in the 21st century, as this issue proves a lead-in to the next issue of Adventure Comics, which will take us forward into the Brainiac & The Legion of Super-Heroes event in the Superman titles, which will herald the new Legion strip in Adventure Comics and its own book . . .

With Superman due to take back his own book in a few months, I'm valuing every moment we spend with Mon-El before his nigh-inevitable return to the Phantom Zone. Because of this I could do without the Legionnaires popping up all over the place, turning this book into a PS to writer Geoff Johns' Superman and the Legion story of a year or two ago.

The Legionnaires - despite my preference for them sticking to their 31st-century turf - are on good form. It's especially good to see Quislet in his first featured appearance for decades (even if his usual powers aren't on display), while Sensor Girl uses her illusions well - but please God the tweaked uniform turns out to be a mirage, she looks like Drag Queen Projectra. We don't see much of the Guardian this issue, even though he's meant to be sharing the book, but Steel - incapacitated since a fight with Atlas awhile back - shows up and helps Mon-El bash some giant or other. And Metropolis is delighted. Me too - John Henry Irons is one of the best characters to come out of the Eighties and I like seeing him whack bad guys with his massive weapon.

James Robinson's Mon-El remains likable, still a little out of touch with the ways of the world, but learning fast. This issue also features a flashback chat in Smallville with Superboy and a scene with girlfriend Billi, but all that amounts to is them agreeing there's no time for anything other than scenes like this.

The art is split into chapters, with Bernard Chang handling the intense Metropolis fight scenes and Javier Pina looking after the pastoral moments. Both capture the required moods, though Pina deserves a special nod for his classically elegant Legion splash. Colourist Blond lends unity with a palate ranging from deep reds for Metropolis battles to pastels for Smallville.

Not an amazing issue, but it does hint at the potential a Tales of Metropolis comic starring Steel, Guardian, the Science Police and - if only - Mon-El could have. Maybe a special, DC?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ultimo #1 review . . .

. . . Stan Lee has lent his name to a manga book, Ultimo, by Hiroyuki Takei, about two porcelain dolls that come to life to manifest the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. I'm woefully ignorant of manga, but took a look at it anyway. And in the spirit of crossover comics I'm giving Ultimo the onceover at Kate Dacey's excellent Manga Critic website. Do please take a look, there's an awful lot of good stuff there.

http://mangacritic.com/?p=3654

But come back here sometime, okay?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Tiny Titans #25 review

They're making comics you know, but not for me.

I love that DC publishes a line for little kids, and have drooled over the like of Batman: The Brave and the Bold on occasion. Tiny Titans? Not so much? I tried a collection of Art Baltazar and Franco's stories, then filed it under 'colourfully bland'. I see how it's going for 'all ages' appeal via exceedingly cute takes on Titans characters, but when the likes of Deathstroke are regulars, and Power Boy and Terra can show up to play with the gang, I get confused.

'Hey Mom, who's Principal Slade in the big kids comics?'

'Oh, he's a murderer with a liking for under-age psycho tarts.'

'Terra?'

'That would be the under-age psycho tart'

'Power Boy?'

'Would-be rapist'

'Oh yeah.'

Yet it's apparently doing decently in sales, and has won an Eisner Award as Best Publication for Kids.

But the latest issue is terribly keen for older folk to buy it, yelling that it features 'special guest Geoff Johns', And lookee on the front, it has his revamped version of Superboy, returning to the book.

And indeed he does show up, bringing a tiny version of usually murderous Bizarro clone Match with him, who eats chairs and fights with Krypto. Another story has the kids become colourful Green Lantern types after getting rings from Mr Johns''s Sidekick City Pawn Shop and Bubblegum Emporium, which may give this book some oddball movement in the back issue market (come on DC, reprint it with a Blackest Night banner!). Really though, I don't get the appeal of the comic - it doesn't seem witty or clever enough for older readers, while the choice of characters and subjects seems a bit weird for younger ones. But it seems to be a success, so good luck to it.

Justice League of America #42 review

Well, that was quick. Last issue wasn't my favourite, but I was optimistic that writer James Robinson would soon get into his stride. But this is very soon
- only the second issue of JLA with the new team presenting the new team and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

There's the fresh League, smiling as they fight; more flashbacks to heroes from history encountering a mystery object; a villain from the Superman books; a poignant moment with Genius Jones
co-opt him for the team!); a surprise guest star from Starman; a too rare appearance by the Power Company; a wonderful scene with Cyborg and Head - sorry, Red - Tornado.

The prevailing tone is optimism, something we've not seen in a JLA book for a long time. Our heroes know there's evil to be fought, but they seem determined to leave the angst behind. A clever scene shows how Hal Jordan, Dick Grayson, Donna Troy and Koriand'r are feeling about the new dynamic. I might have said Green Lantern, Wonderstudy*, Batman and Starfire, but it's the personalities that are important here, not the roles. And that's where it seems I was wrong, dubious at the JLA being replenished with former Titans; in fact, mixing them with their mentor generation makes for an interesting brew. It's not that there's an old/young divide, it's that James is taking full advantage of the new mix - they're all experienced heroes, but haven't fought alongside one another much, if at all. And he adds even more fun by placing the team firmly at the centre of the DCU. Colourful characters, high adventure and exotic locales look set to be the way ahead for this book.

We also see the rest of the new League - Atom, Guardian, Mon-El, Dr Light - along with holdover Black Canary and soon-to-be-members Congorilla and Blue Starman. It's great to see such a large cast, committed to JLA involvement, and I like the idea of members moving in and out according to story, without undue drama.

The villains here appear to be alternate New Gods, and while proper introductions would be lovely, they're serving a plot function just fine.

The multiple narration at the start of the book, while reminiscent of earlier writer Brad Meltzer's technique, works better here, as James doesn't try to cram too much in, or sustain the device. I would, though, still prefer good old-fashioned word balloons, like they have in, y'know, comics.

In a clever touch, the heroes in the Second World War flashback are all characters then published by Quality Comics - Uncles Sam, the Ray, Blackhawk and Plastic Man.

On the artistic side, Mark Bagley's pencils have a terrific energy but he's still finding his feet with the characters - some pages look spiffy (Red Tornado, the Challengers sequence) while others are iffy (Dr Light chats to Donna, an awfully wispy Starfire). Maybe 30pp a month is too much for him - is JLA $3.99 for the foreseeable future, or just while the new team debuts? And there are three inkers here, all talented, but it'd be great to have one pair of hands finishing the entire book.

Pete Pantazis adds vibrancy with his colours, and Rob Leigh has fun with the calligraphy - the hand-lettering effect for Prof Haley's diary entry is an appreciated realistic touch.

Suddenly I'm a JLA fan again.

* Hey, is it my fault fill-in Wonder Woman Donna Troy hasn't got a heroic name?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Supergirl #50 review

It's Supergirl's big anniversary issue, a time to celebrate. So why am I feeling a bit flat? The story's inventive enough, with Supergirl battling to save Metropolis from Insect Queen. There are heroics aplenty, and Kara impresses by designing the tech that saves the day, something her more famous cousin couldn't do. There's a strong showing by Dr Light, astronomer turned superhero and the Superman Family's all-purpose scientist du jour. There's even an addition to the supporting cast as Jose Delgado - Gangbuster - shows up, which must please his fan no end. Superwoman is alive, well and evil as hell in a bookend subplot.

Best of all, Lana Lang - who recently succumbed to a mystery bug - is hale and hearty by story's end.

But it's the Lana business which brings down the gloom. Thing is, Lana spent ages not telling Kara about her illness, which proved to be part of Insect Queen's plot. Said plot came to fruition and several Metropolitans died. Supergirl blames Lana for not trusting her with the fact of her mystery illness, and says she doesn't want to be around her anymore.

If Lana made a bad call, it was for the right reasons - Supergirl had plenty of other things to worry about, so Lana was quietly getting the best doctors to investigate. In a moment of near-metafictive awareness, she tells Kara: But does this appease Kara? It does not; despite having insisted to Insect Queen earlier that 'fighting is what we Langs do', she doesn't want to be a Lang anymore because Lana ain't perfect. Suddenly the former princess of petulance is lecturing a woman who cares about her, and gave her a home, on right and wrong.

It's not one of Supergirl's better moments, representing a step backward in Kara's development as a person; a throwback to the unlikeable teenager represented on the late Michael Turner's inventory cover.

I expect different from writer Sterling Gates, who made it his business on joining the book to transform Kara into an admirable character, as opposed to the confused kid who won't listen to anyone, who lashes out. Likewise, suddenly Kara is swearing in Kryptonian this issue - what's Kryptonian for 'it's not big and it's not clever'?

I suppose I shouldn't nag a book purely because it doesn't meet my expectations, but if you can't whine on your own blog . . . darn it, I like the Lana/Kara friendship. While we've seen barely anything of Supergirl's secret ID, Linda Lang, we're told here that she's had it for a year. Now it seems unlikely we'll see Linda interact with Aunt Lana for awhile. Get it sorted, Gatesy! This (sweary moment aside) is the wonderful Supergirl you've given us, bring her back. And doesn't she look good? Sterling's artistic partner, Jamal Igle, backed by inkers Jon Sibal and Mark McKenna, produces first class superhero comics here. Supergirl looks noble, Insect Queen is creepy as all get out with her titchy extra arms, Superwoman is crazed, Lana sympathetic . . . there's nary a misstep to be found (psst, Gangbuster's costume is tragic, redesign it or bring back the old one!). The artists look to be having a whale of a time drawing Insect Queen's creepy crawly cohort, especially in a spread which has Supergirl and Gangbuster overwhelmed by them.

Colourists Nei Ruffino and Pete Patazis add extra life to the pages, while Jared K Fletcher is the innocent letterer forced to endure the cusses from Krypton.

There's a back-up too, a harmless short summing up public perception of Supergirl over the past four years, with an injection of Joseph Campbell. It's a tad pedestrian, but does the job, and the sentimental part of me is rather pleased to find it was co-written, with Jake Wood, by one Helen Slater, the big screen Supergirl. And anything that gets Cliff Chiang drawing Supergirl has to be good - I think this is the brightest I've ever seen his work rendered, what with his more usual stomping grounds being in DC's grittier regions. Take a bow, Dave McCaig.

All in all, a thoroughly decent issue of Supergirl, but sadder in tone than I'd prefer for an anniversary.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Secret Six #18 review

The Secret Six's encounter with the Suicide Squad concludes here with the factions teaming up to take down the Black Lantern Homicide Squad. Their secret weapon tallies with what we know about their weaknesses, but to my knowledge it's a first for the Blackest Night crossover.

This issue also sees the climax to Squad leader Amanda Waller's bid to bring Deadshot back into her fold, plenty of juicy interaction between both sides, and the revelation of Mockingbird's identity. And again, the truth is perfectly logical without having been stupidly obvious. We get a look at the Belle Reve cutting room, where heroes and villains are dissected, and it turns out an old DC hero works there. A member of the Squad is roundly thumped (and deservedly so) and a medical patch that puts Elastoplast to shame gets an outing. Busy busy busy!

It's good, mean-spirited fun from start to finish. That sly old bird Waller almost steals the show, but writers Gail Simone and John Ostrander give enough great lines and killer action to the rest of the cast to ensure she's more a star than a black hole. Even the Black Lanterns get in a few good lines, in between being shot apart and re-forming (as opposed to reforming).

Illustrator Jim Calafiore matches the writers for skill and style. His intelligently choreographed fight sequences show a grace possibly honed during his days on Aquaman - the best artists of the Sea King learn a rare elegance. And when grace is allied to the undead Black Lanterns, the results are bewitching. Calafiore's bruiser characters, such as Bane and Catman, have a rough-hewn beauty, the good guys are Buster Crabbe handsome, the women reek of power. And it's all in the service of storytelling, there's not a single wasteful splash here . . . I can't wait until Calafiore takes on a regular assignment once more.

Jason Wright's colours are the icing on the cake - the moody tones, as ever, match the Six's souls, but here they're contrasted against the brilliantly burning House of Secrets. Travis Lanham's lettering is spot-on too. Heck, just seeing his Ragdoll font makes me happy. Before we eyeball any interior artwork, though, it's Daniel Luvisi's cover which makes a big impression, featuring an android Manhunter ablaze with energy. Editor Sean Ryan, take a bow for pulling such a cracking creative crew together.

The story comes with the promise of a sequel, but I want more. I want an ongoing Suicide Squad book written by John Ostrander, with art by Calafiore. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Titans #22 review

It's the final issue of The Titans. Well, sort of. The book continues next month with murdering madman Deathstroke helming a new villains-for-hire team, but no one cares. So let's say goodbye to Nightwing, Raven, Flash . . .

. . . hang on, none of them have featured roles here. Let's say goodbye to Starfire and Cyborg, and a brief seeya to a basically cameoing Donna Troy and Beast Boy. The storyline is that writer JT Krul, tasked with ending the run, fills pages with the old 'worst nightmare' shtick. Artists Angel Unzueta and Wayne Faucher make things look good and were likely delighted by the amount of big panels and splash pages required.

Oh the drama! The first few pages see Cyborg leading a team of Titans into a massacre, something all too believable given DC's handling of its teen heroes these last few years. But his worst nightmare? Surely by now said scenario is like counting sheep to the tin man?

What could Starfire's bad dream be? Being made to wear something that covers her body? Nope, it's being left all alonio - which might have made for some tension had special guest villain Phobia not announced this before we join Koriand'r for her unsweet dreams. A two-page spread of Starfire, terror-stricken because the Titans' Hall of Dead Types contains statues of Donna and co, is never going to be effective when we know going in that none of this is real. It's a pointless waste of pages, and my money. Even the characters admit Phobia has no specific motivation for her attack (click to enlarge). The book also fills more pages, unconvincingly, with an irrelevant recap of Phobia's history. It's horribly 'poor me' as she takes no responsibility for being a cold-hearted cow. The woman talks gibberish (click left). Phobia's recap features a reference to the rightly derided Salvation Run mini series of a year or two back. Bad mistake, DC . . . when something doesn't work, ignore it, don't keep reminding us. Let it fade. (See also the continued references to Amazons Attack, the very definition of crap comic scab picking).

The issue ends with Phobia defeated but Starfire miserable, wondering about her place in the universe blah blah - you know, the sort of issues she conquered decades ago. Presumably this indicates that Kory Needs Purpose, 'explaining' her joining the new Justice League; I'd rather DC simply presented Starfire as the strong character she's been for ages, and simply have her join the JLA because she fancies trying something new - being a superhero is her job, after all. Why not a change of company?

I really do hate phony angst. Yes, we're superhero fans so expect a bit of 'everything you know is wrong' or 'the end of the Titans!?' but this issue's cover line, 'Together . . . for the last time?' is especially rubbish. Together again? Nope, Starfire and Kory don't fight together here. For the last time? Not when we've already seen both joining the JLA earlier this month.

The creators on this issue are good. I've enjoyed their work lots in other comics. But assigned to make a bridge between one failed series - this Titans run never caught the readers' imagination - and the revamp of another, they've come up with an awfully weak construction.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Tails of the Pet Avengers #1 review

If I could talk to the animals I'd tell them to read this book - I love me some Pet Avengers. They had a great mini series last year, an ongoing begins next month and here's a special filled with solo stories of Earth's Mightiest Species.

Thor, Frog of Thunder, returns to his Central Park colony for a mini adventure; Ka-Zar's sabretooth tiger, Zabu, encounters decidedly unfriendly dinosaurs; Aunt May's dog, Ms Lion, fights crime on a cruise; the Inhumans' massive mutt, Lockjaw, battles Hellcat's ex, Mad Dog; Kitty Pryde's pal, Lockheed the dragon, helps a young girl get some respect; and the Falcon's mascot, Redwing the, er, red bird, learns not to be so darned uppity.

The stories aren't as all-out funny as last year's mini, but they're clever, good-looking reads and none outstays its welcome. The only actual downer is the Frog Thor tale, with our hero displaying Asgardian-level pomposity, but it's still a decent palate cleanser for those of us drowning in Dark Reign. Zabu takes on new responsibilities in a vignette which doesn't have much room for fun, but leaves you feeling good anyway. Even the Lockheed entry, while mildly sick-making in a L'il Carrie way, had me aahing at the end.

The rest of the stories were souffle light, my absolute favourite being poncified pooch Ms Lion's attempts to nip a poisoning incident in the bud. I laughed out loud, thanks to writer and artist Colleen Coover.

Ms Coover of the charming line also draws the Redwing strip, while 'the two Gurihiru ladies' handle Lockjaw and Zabu and I can't wait to see more of their sleek, characterful work. Ig Guara, artist on the mini series, is on typically gorgeous form with Frog Thor, while Pet Avengers creator Chris Eliopoulos draws appealing characters in the Lockheed strip but skimps on the backgrounds. Mr Eliopoulos also writes some of the scripts, grabbing him back some credit, while Scott Gray, Buddy Scalera and Joe Caramagna pitch in too.

Humberto Ramos gives us a tremendous group shot for the cover, and I'd also like to shout out production goddess Irene Y Lee for a very snazzy contents page (you find a lot of this sort of thing in editor Nate Cosby's books).

Overall, a fun taster that makes me want the main event - the Pet Avengers reunited - even more, for as adorable as these heroic beasts are, they're better together.

Adventure Comics #7 review

'What did Black Lantern Superboy do?' That's this issue's title, one reflecting the Geoff Johns/Francis Manapul/Brian Buccellato serial that's run through Adventure Comics since its revival last year. Because 'What would Superman do?' is the question Conner Kent finally answered to his satisfaction last month.

But what would Black Lantern Superboy do? Click to enlarge and hold back your lunch . . . A round of applause! What took Superboy months to get right, Black Lantern Superboy manages in about two minutes flat. Superman would lust after his cute 15-year-old cousin. The idea scarred a generation, but that's not the point - it's what Superman did back in the Silver Age; once he almost married a Supergirl double, Luma Lynai, and he even kissed Kara after persuading her to 'help' him by disguising herself as 'Mighty Maid'. And now it's what Black Lantern Superboy did too! You go, Dead Boy!

The deal here is that Superboy, possessed by death god Nekron's Black Lantern ring, doesn't just want to win Wonder Girl's heart, he wants to rip it out of her chest. But the situation brings out the best of him; he doesn't stop fighting the evil for a moment. Tony Bedard writes this issue and a fantastic job he does too. He uses the Blackest Night crossover to finish off Superboy's physical development, having him gain the final super-ability Superman has that he hadn't. And while Superboy can't expel the dark influence, he's mentally strong enough to exert enough momentary flashes of control to start weighing the scales in his favour.

Bedard also addresses a plot point that's hung around since Johns brought Superboy back from the dead in the 31st century future of the Legion of Super-Heroes - the status of his corpse in the 21st century. And he shows the many Wonder Girl haters out there that Cassandra Sandsmark has the brains and character to fight alongside DC's best.

She and Conner are certainly perfect for one another, there's a courage in their love that helps win the day. Their ace in the hole is based on previous experiences and it's not a deus ex machina, it's something that makes perfect sense - of course they'd do this! Conner and Cassie are aided by the other love of Superboy's life, Krypto. And so what if he's a Black Lantern, Superboy's pride in his super pooch is a joy to behold.

Travis Moore pencils and while the finish is inconsistent - he has three inkers - the storytelling never suffers. It's a pacey performance, full of energy and heart. There are a fair few memorable panels here, but none moreso than a clever shot of Lex Luthor as that old devil moon. The aforementioned inkers are Dan Green, Keith Champagne and Bob Wiacek, ensuring that even though succeeding sequences don't mesh exactly, they always look good. Colourist Buccellato, the only Adventure Comics regular here, squeezes all the emotion and action of of the script with his choice of hues.

Topping off the issue is a beautiful cover by Aaron Lopresti which has me hoping he gets to draw a Conner/Cassie special one day - they look terrific together. Even if one is a Black Lantern.

New Mutants #10 review

I used to love the New Mutants. The next generation of X-Men, they were a colourful bunch, with personalities and powers that set them apart from other mutant heroes. Their stories shifted from enjoyably X-Men-lite under Chris Claremont, Bob McLeod and Sal Buscema to insanely, entertainingly intense under Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz. As the success of their book led Marvel to expand the number of X-teams and minis published, and the title transformed into the terribly silly X-Force, their uniqueness and charm vanished. As an X-line refusenik - I pop in and out according to levels of disappointment - I lost track of the likes of Cannonball, Mirage, Magik, Sunspot and Magma. My impression was that most have been either dead, depowered and evil at some point. Sometimes all three.

But last year they came back. Somehow enough members were alive, powered and good to try a new ongoing series. (Dani Moonstar, Mirage, is the exception, having lost her mental and Valkyrie powers, but she's a popular girl so gets to go on missions.) I tried the book, and rather liked the first couple of issues - it was good to see my old mates again - but apparently not enough, as I never got round to reading anything after #2.

Yet here I am, having been sucked in by solicitations: Why do the New Mutants exist? Why are they a team? Cyclops runs the X-Men as one giant army, not separate squads. So, why do the New Mutants exist as a squad? The answer isn't what you expect.

Why indeed? Nostalgia, I assumed. Or maybe someone thought there was life in the old dogs (hang on, where's Rahne?) yet? But why do they exist in the Marvel Universe? As it happens, I rather liked the reason presented - Cyclops wants to see who emerges as the leader, as they're most likely to be his successor (and he needs measurements for a throne?) as King of All Mutants.

What's that, you cry? Cannonball is the natural leader? Always has been? Well, not according to Cyclops so far as this month is concerned. Other members come out of a mission to stop a bunch of mutates attacking Japan with more credit than Sam. To be honest, I'd say it was more a matter of bad luck, so it's a good thing Cyke isn't basing his decision on the one mission. He'll be keeping his big red eye on this crew.

I'm not sure I will be - I'll likely try next issue to see how things are settling down, but I could just as easily forget the series exists. The star of the show here is Cyclops - he actually had some personality, and a more attractive one than I've seen in ages. But he has plenty of books for character redemption, and it's the New Mutants I bought this comic for. They don't get much of a chance to show us what they're about: Doug Ramsey has one line demonstrating how he now understands the language of all things, before being told to shut up. Warlock jabbers like an annoying Star Wars comedy sidekick. Mirage is calmly competent, but dull. Karma curses unattractively. Sam is overconfident.

The only sparks come off Sunspot, who seems to have swapped arrogance for whininess and turned into a human cigarette when I wasn't looking. Or perhaps it's this old Superman foe in disguise. Obviously, the lack of New Mutant interaction is due to the space taken up by the commentary of Cyclops - watching the mission with Emma Frost from afar - but I'd rather have more show from writer Zeb Wells and less tell.

There was some good stuff in this issue: human pterodactyl Sauron is always good value, flapping away insanely, and he's niftily drawn by Paul Davidson. It's good to see an acknowledgement by Cyclops of what the New Mutants were created to be - the third team of X-Men, rather than a mere footnote in X-history. I liked Cyclops' rare optimism, and faith in the New Mutants to handle the Japan mission, in the face of a curiously witless Emma's doubt. And Cyclops has the line of the issue while discussing some doomy prophecy of Magik's (click to enlarge). Yes indeed, for a New Mutants story this is a very good Cyclops focus. Still, it's pretty much a given that next issue our heroes will take centre stage once more, with Cyclops, if present at all relegated to a bit part.

Amusingly, there's a character in here whose power is 'psycho-dominant slime', which may be the best thing since shortlived, unloved X-Man Maggott and his detachable slug stomach. Slime Fella is named Worm, the other mutates are Lupus, Barbarus and Amphibius (Heaven knows why Worm isn't Wormus), whose appearances sum them up - wolf man, barbarian man with extra arms and frog man. It's just as well they're obvious types, as Wells doesn't particularly introduce them - they're just kinda there to be beaten up.

Sharing the art duties with Davidson are David and Alvaro Lopez - they give us the Cyclops and Emma pages - and while I like their elegant lines, a few more backgrounds would have been appreciated. Davidson's Japanese pages are busier, but never cluttered, and look fine, providing Soto Color with something to do other than swathe panels in blue.

I read somewhere that Adam Kubert's cover is a homage to something or other. Something, dull it seems. Likely some Dr Doom, Arcade or Grandmaster illustration - can anyone help?

To sum up, this comic tries to convince readers that the New Mutants title, and Emma Frost that the New Mutants team, should exist, while telling an entertaining story. The creators make a decent fist of things, but if they really want to convince me the book deserves a pull-list position, just go ahead and tell compelling stories with fascinating characters. Emma Frost? Who cares what she thinks?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Doom Patrol #7 review

This is one of those comic books in which the stars of the show hardly appear, but you're having such a good time it's barely noticeable. So Robotman, Elasti-Woman and Negative Man are off panel until the final page of the story, recovering from the events of Blackest Night and awaiting transport home. This leaves room for housekeeping of the decidedly non-mundane kind. Writer Keith Giffen catches us up with existing supporting characters, reintroduces old friends and villains from previous DP runs, and brings in an old Justice League International member in a new role and a decidedly dodgy wig.

You want names? The Chief; Rocky Davis; Veronica Cale; Thayer Jost; AVM Man; Danny the Street; Oberon; Crazy Jane.

Crazy Jane! Wow. Never thought I'd see her again. I can't see her becoming a regular but I can't wait to see what she does become, what with 64 personalities to choose from. Oberon shows up to move some DP souvenirs/doomsday weapons from Dayton Manor, including a painting strongly associated with the capital of France. And former DP financier Thayer Jost seems to be gathering an anti-Doom Patrol (the Hopeful Patrol?), whose members include a favourite from the team's original run in the Silver Age.

There's set-up aplenty for future issues but it's as entertaining as most comics' main events. And while there are characters and elements here from at least four Doom Patrol runs, Justice League, the Challengers of the Unknown, 52 and Wonder Woman, no prior knowledge is needed. Giffen either introduces folks via well-woven infobites or makes their role clear via dialogue. If you know some of the background, the tapestry is richer; if not, it's irrelevant.

Regular penciller Matthew Clark is here spotted by Cliff Richard and each gives us dynamic, expressive work, while ever-sharp inker John Livesay maintains the tone. Between them the trio make the quiet scenes as engrossing as the action sequences, and even provide creepy moments recalling the Grant Morrison/Richard Case run.

The Metal Men are also in this issue, in what is, sadly, their last appearance for now. I'm miserable, as their strip has proven a unique addition to the line of DC superstars, with writers Giffen and JM DeMatteis, penciller Kevin Maguire and the rest of the creative team on heart-gladdening form. Of course, they're segueing into the upcoming Justice League International revival (betcha Oberon shows up there too), but I'm greedy, I want their Metal Men. Heavy sighs.

And heavy size, as Wonder Woman adversary Giganta shows up to fight our robotic heroes, and makes a right tit of herself. A left one too, for that matter . . . as cheap gags go, I'll take one as well executed as Giganta's wardrobe malfunction anytime. The story here also concludes the Douglas, Robot Hunter subplot in fine style, and sees Doc Magnus take on a lab assistant with Universal appeal.

At the very least I hope DC has the creative team offer up the occasion Metal Men Special - the strip's based in science but it's pure magic.

I realise I harp on about how great Doom Patrol is, but it's not a bestseller and I don't want to see work of this quality disappear from the shops. If you've not tried it yet, give it a crack - I'd love to know what you think.

Siege #2 review

This issue, an Avenger dies!

Not 'alf! Before reading this I'd seen internet hints, but managed not to be spoiled as to who was slain, and how. Needless to say, it wasn't who I was expecting, and it wasn't how I was expecting.

And that's all I'm saying, other than if you've not read it yet, have a strong beverage at the ready, because Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales's art is unflinching. It's a treat throughout, packed to the gills with intense battle scenes, ethereal gods, sinister mortals and shining heroes. Laura Martin's colours add another dimension, and Chris Eliopoulos drops a variety of functional fonts.

Brian Bendis follows his cracking script for issue #1 with an equally strong continuation. I've a minor quibble regarding the rescue of Thor from have a dozen alpha level bad guys by two ordinaries, armed only with a (admittedly big) gun and a truck, but nutty things happen in the Marvel Universe, and it made for one heck of a hoo-rah moment. The returned Steve Rogers channels his inner Uncle Sam for a speech to his troops which is actually inspiring rather than corny and Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall is a strong early contender for the Eeriest God Award 2010.

There are two more issues to go and if they're as good as this, Marvel's dark days are going to end in fine style.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Justice Society of America Annual #2 review

The All-Stars respond to the news that one of their members, Magog, has organised a prison break. Of course, he hasn't, but he's such an obnoxious, irritating, hotheaded pultroon that he's soon fighting his colleagues rather than bad guys.

Did he think to tell his team-mates in advance? Does he take 30 seconds to explain when Power Girl asks what's up? Does he request a hand, and say he'll explain as they go? Does he wear something more sensible than a metal billy goat outfit? Nah, he orders everyone to bugger off and leave him to it, putting Peege's back up no end. Then some bad guys do appear, along with the Justice Society, and there's soon loads of fisticuffs and blasting.

It's great fun, all the more so because it's obvious that by the end of the issue Magog will be off the team. The worry is that as this has happened a mere three months since one team became two, it's unlikely he'll be gone for long.

Damn.

Never mind, there are plenty of other things to enjoy in this giant-sized issue, written by Magog writer Keith Giffen and All-Stars guy Matthew Sturges - Lightning getting stuck into the fray and growing some personality; Mr America getting down and dirty; promising new villain Mind Czar ... Power Girl shows that she's very different from co-leader Magog as she solicits opinions on their rogue member. Cyclone demonstrates that she may seem fragile but she's a formidable weather witch, while the Golden Agers - Flash, Green Lantern and Wildcat - prove that they don't just keep up, they lead from the front.

And then there's the art. Tom Derenick pencils, Rodney Ramos inks and your reviewer smiles. This is a lovely looking book. There are around 20 lead characters but the choreography ensures no one gets squeezed off the page. Heroes move in their trademark ways - Jay Garrick has his long strides, Wildcat Jr is a coiled spring, Cyclone gawkily graceful and so on. Plus, it being an annual, there's plenty of room for bombastic splash pages and the art team - finished off by colourist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Kenny Lopez - makes the most of them.

JSA All-Stars artist Freddie Williams II contributes an ambitious cover including pretty much every member of the JSA teams, summing up the book nicely.

This book isn't claiming to change the medium forever, it's not trying to remake the universe with subtextual spells, or teach us lessons about life - it's content to be a big loud comic. Big and loud, but never dumb. Questions are raised about leadership, authority and responsibility. Characters interact in entertaining ways. Twenty minutes pass by in a flash and I feel my three quid was well spent.

Kudos to the whole creative team for giving us a fine, old-fashioned annual that brings a storyline to a climax while pointing towards the future.