Friday, 28 May 2010

Secret Avengers #1 review

We've had the Secret Defenders, the Secret Warriors and now Marvel brings us the Secret Avengers.

Sshhh, don't ask me how I know. The set-up is that Steve Rogers, having gathered warriors to fight the foes no single hero could withstand in Avengers last week, has actioned his own sub-team to fight the foes no single hero will admit they're taking on. It's a black ops team of Avengers, though as this is (fanfare please) The Heroic Age, it's unlikely anyone will be killing - super-secretary Sharon Carter even refers to them as Shadow Ops.

Basically, it's superheroes with an espionage edge, which explains the bizarre sight of the Asgardian Valkyrie joining Black Widow for a spot of Sydney Bristow-style seduction in Dubai. Mind, as a warrior maiden, Valk rather objects to being pawed by a chief of sinister oil group Roxxon. She blows the op in fine style, leading to the funniest exchange I've seen this week (click to enlarge). Fighting ensues with Steve Rogers jumping in from the sidelines to help out, and our heroes grab what they came for ... the Serpent Crown.

Or maybe a Serpent Crown, there are so many knocking around the Marvel Universe, and the corrupting wee critters always make for a good yarn. By issue's end we learn there's one on Mars too, and it's going to cause trouble for Secret Avenger Nova (he's so secret that his fellow members don't seem to know he's with them).

Apart from the Widow, Valkyrie and Steve, fellow members include War Machine, Moon Knight and a nattily re-costumed Ant-Man, last seen being a thoroughly bad lot in Norman Osborn's Thunderbolts. Still, redemption looks to be a theme of (fanfare etc) THA so Steve gives him a chance, likely realising that it's good to have another trained Shield agent on side. Ah yes, actual professional espionage types ... well, the Widow spent years as a SHIELD agent, Sharon has had a lifetime with the organisation, Beast has, er ... Valkyrie ...? OK, War Machine aka James Rhodes is a military type and he's dealt with industrial espionage in Iron Man. And Beast is a mutant genius, Valkyrie is a demi-god, Moon Knight a mercenary, Nova a cosmic hero.

Oh all right, they're basically cool characters with nowhere else to go (except maybe Beast, but he's always been more fun as an Avenger than an Uncanny Angst-Man). And they provide Steve Rogers with as much raw power as any Avengers team, while hitting the necessary specialist boxes - Cap (I can't not call Steve Cap, dammit) is the strategist, Widow the superspy, Ant-Man equals stealth, Beast is brains, War Machine the super-powered pilot, Nova brings sheer power, Moon Knight is the wild card and Valkyrie the mythical warrior - you really can't have a proper Avengers team without a mythical warrior.

At least that's my guess as to everyone's roles. This issue has flashbacks of Steve inviting a few of those on his wants list to sign up and while he says what's in it for them (a shot at redemption, being less nuts etc) he doesn't say why he wants them. So yes, I'm going with him desiring a decent mix of skills.

Whatever the case, writer Ed Brubaker does a very good job of showing them working together. They don't all know one another but they're bound by mutual respect for Cap, and he gives them that back in kind. They're his people and he cares for them, checking that they're happy with their role, feeling OK after a mission and so on. I've really missed this guy and the sooner he's back as Official Cap the better - here he's taken to wearing a pretty darn Cap-like union suit, though with his face unmasked. Very stealthy!

I can live with it, though - this debut issue was a fine romp, as Brubaker throws us right into the action, giving us background details when it fits the rhythm of the story. The characters are likable - even Ant Man has shown a good side on occasion - and the first mission, while darker-tinged, is firmly in the realms of the traditional Avengers mythos. There's a shock ending showing that a beloved character may be working the wrong side of the tracks (what, again? Nice loincloth, though) and I'll be back next month to see what comes next.

Hopefully more excellent Mike Deodato art - he's spot-on for this book, able to draw good-looking, athletic characters in near perpetual motion against hi-tech backdrops. The storytelling is first rate, with Deodato proving a master of pace. And the colours of Rain Beredo are the icing on the cake, adding mood and interest throughout.

I'd rate this issue a success and (cheesey review ending alert) that's no secret.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Power Girl #12 review

I knew I'd love it, but it's the issue I've been dreading - Power Girl #12, the last hurrah by creators Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner and Paul Mounts (I haven't heard that the book's fine regular letterer John J Hill is leaving, but if so, thank you too!).

A day in the life of Power Girl, The Little Things is the perfect capper to DC's most consistently high quality superhero book of the last year - a veritable Power Girl's greatest hits (I said HITS!).

With thoroughly original storylines featuring engaging new characters and clever new takes on existing characters, it's been a refreshing read, month in, month out. I described Peege in an earlier review as the Mary Tyler Moore of the superhero set and I stand by that - she's the funny, warm friend you welcome into your home, often bemused by the odder folk around her but always willing to give them a chance. And everywhere she goes, she makes friends.

We're reminded of that here as would-be teen blackmailer Fisher shows up and we see how Peege helped him turn himself around; there's a return visit by cosmic love god Vartox, as bumptiously narcissistic as ever and with a rather fearsome friend in tow; Atlee, aka teen superheroine Terra, shares her feelings with Karen in a surprisingly literal way, then introduces Peege to her lovely parents; the space brats from Vega 9 and their cute bodyguard show their appreciation for Kara helping them set up home on Earth after a somewhat bumpy beginning.

It's feelgood stuff, but not at all icky - a perfectly pitched scene between the evil Satanna and the eeevil Dr Sivana adds a nice touch of sour while tidying up their subplot nicely. And while the evil Ultra-Humanite is getting another shot at living a decent life courtesy of subterranean technology, anyone who read last month's issue knows he ain't going to take it.

Oh, and there's one more scene, a pageful of panels in which Karen finally names that darn cat (click to enlarge). And I rather like the one writers Gray and Palmiotti plump for - unless I'm completely barking (miaowing?) mad, I suggested it to the talented Mr Palmiotti on Facebook. Made my day, that.

If any single sequence can encapsulate the appeal of this run, this is it - it's pure charm as the smart dialogue complements the adorable art of Conner, so beautifully coloured by Mounts, to create magic. Every page of this issue - of every issue - is so filled with delightful detail, whether it's foreground expressions or background business, that you could enjoy the series without dialogue. Factor in the scripts of Gray and Palmiotti, though, and we're talking bona fide classic, one of the finest runs I can remember, and one of the finest I'll ever see.

I'm going to miss this creative team so much. They've redefined Kara for the 21st century, moving her forward from stroppy, self-pitying soul to everywoman, the most human of DC's superhumans. She can still lose her rag, but when she does, it's justified, she doesn't do excessive force and she tries to understand her foes. This book has emphasised her brains, and her heart. And maybe the odd set of fleshy melons ...

Dazzler #1 review

Ah Dazzler, she never had a chance. Debuting as the Disco Dazzler in 1980, long after the musical fad had died, saddled with shocking eye make-up, a glitterball around her neck and roller skates. Sent against some of Marvel's toughest villains - Dr Doom, the Enchantress, Galactus - in order to prove she had what it takes, Dazzler just looked even more incongruous. Finally she lost her solo title, was absorbed into the world of the X-Men and became little more than an occasional background player.

And yet, Alison Blaire did have what it takes. She started out using her mutant power to convert sound into light to make flashy effects for her stage performances, but she soon learned how much more she could do. Laser blasts, concussive pulses - this was a woman limited only by her power source, the surrounding sound to be tapped into.

But her biggest asset? Her character. Time and again she faced ridiculous odds, but time and again she'd overcome them. Never say die was Alison's motto and while that's hardly unusual for a super-being, few characters have been so often underestimated, so denied respect.
Still, as with even the most obscure act, Ali had her fans, and one of those keepers of the faith is Jim McCann, who writes the heck out of this book. Labour of love doesn't begin to describe it.

The scenario has Alison kidnapped and dropped into Arcade's Murderworld at the behest of her lunatic half-sister, Lois London (an unfortunate name, because the minute you see 'Lois' written down you can't but think of the original comic book, equally alliterative, Lois). She's also a mutant, able to kill with a touch, but rather than touch Ali and have done with it, she wants to see her suffer as she believes Alison made her has suffer - I won't go into detail, it's standard mutant pity party stuff. Before entering the Murderworld set, Ali is cajoled into donning her original stage outfit, the legendary silver pantsuit. This makes for perhaps my favourite page as Ali - who narrates this extra-length book's first story, In the Blood - contemplates her journey from gimmicky pop act to superheroine to ... what? She's changing clothes but the sequence isn't at all prurient, rather, the close-ups of the outfit's constituent parts accentuate her thoughts.

The fight scenes with Arcade's robots - representing the worst foes Dazzler defeated - are fun, showing our heroine is as handy with her fists as with her voice. They also allow her to critique their earlier run-ins. And while that sounds as if it may be annoying in a meta-fictive way, it's not; McCann's too smart a writer for that. His Alison is insanely likeable - smart, funny and not ashamed of the sillier-seeming parts of her past.

If things seem to be going a little too much Ali's way, as she despatches robots left and right, the appearance of a flesh and blood villain, Klaw, puts a stop to that. Think Alison - who converts sound into light energy - versus a being of living sound would be a rather quick win for her? Not here as, like Dazzler, he's learned and grown.

And after Klaw, Alison has her sibling to face who, as well as her death touch, assails Ali with some very Claremontian skanky lingerie. It's probably not spoiling anything to say Alison prevails, showing both heart and pragmatism as she has Lois shipped off to the X-Men's island Utopia (yeah, right) for physical and emotional treatment.

McCann's script is gifted the visual energy it requires by artists Kalman Andrasofszky and Ramon Perez. I'm not a devotee of the 'we must have a name artist' school, but a single artist would have been appreciated, as while both illustrators have merit, their work doesn't flow easily into one another. Under Andrasofszky, Alison looks strong and attractive and the battle scenes are simply spiffy - powerful when there's a physical confrontation, crackling when it's all energy blasts. The angular work of Perez, in the second half of this story, isn't the best match as pinch-hitter for the softer stylings of Andrasofszky - Klaw, for one, looks like a manic ballet dancer. I'd be interested to see Perez handle a strip alone, so he gets to control the whole thing - the pages here are reminiscent of very early Alan Davis, back when he was doing covers for Marvel UK reprint weeklies, so there's certainly promise.

The only image I was especially un-keen on was, sadly, the money shot, as a splash by Andrasofszky shows Ali in her silver-suited glory for the first time in years. She should look powerful, defiant, ready for anything ... what we get is a full-figure upshot with Ali looking drag-queen pouty.

This book does like the low-angle shots - look at that cover, with Alison apparently suffering a bad case of bleeding gums as she stares down from the stage at us, her adoring public. It's a nicely produced piece by Andrasofszky, but really, I could have done without the blood. Plus, the furniture layout meant I missed the book on the shelf on my initial visual sweep. With that meek new logo at the bottom and some X-Men crossover memorial at the top, this comic seemed to be called Necroshax. Do US comics always display individual titles fully, with no overlap? Either way, that's pretty much a zero impact masthead. Black on purple? The whole cover could do with a shot of red, brighten it up - hey, this is Dazzler, bring on the artistic bling.

The story continues in a back-up by McCann and Francesca Ciregia, with Ali having delivered Lois to Utopia, where Cyclops lectures her about how a killer has no place there. Ali, no wallflower these days, reads the pompous twat the riot act, pointing out that he's sleeping with Emma Frost, has Magneto living there and so on. So Lois will stay, and stupidly named mentalist Psylocke - a friend to Ali since their days on the X-Men together - offers psychic counselling. For her part, Ali must get in touch with their mother, let her know what's happened to Lois. You just know she'd rather be facing Dr Doom.

McCann's script for Tough Call is note perfect, as estranged mother and daughter reconnect in a pleasingly unschmaltzy manner, and there's a clever bit of sideways business showing what Ali would really like to say. And Ciregia's art, open in the style of a Seventies romance comic, suits this diversion well.

McCann has some work to do with this comic - reintroduce Dazzler, lay out her past, make her present interesting and pray he does that well enough to make readers want to see her future. Well, I certainly want to see more of Alison Blaire, solo artist. She shouldn't be confined to the X-Men's chorus line, she's too good a character. And as McCann and co remind us here, she's a star.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Superman/Batman #72 review

Superman in space. Batman in Metropolis. Lois Lane in danger. Lex Luthor in charge.

That's what we get as Paul Levitz brings his not inconsiderable writing talent and knowledge of the DC Universe to this book. Our heroes aren't actually together in this first instalment of 'Worship', which is fine by me; it takes away any temptation to indulge in the 'Clark is great/Bruce is tops' narration which had me running screaming from earlier issues.

There is internal narrative in the usual icon-appended boxes - well, thought bubbles are so passe! - but it's speaking more to personality and situation than mutual adoration. So we have Superman awed by the beauty of the universe even after his many space trips, and Batman bemoaning the bright lights of Metropolis. Whereas this kind of thing can feel contrived, as writers strive to show their cleverness, here the monologues seem natural - these are the thoughts the heroes would be having, given their natures. And while we don't see them together, the Batman/Superman friendship is evident in other ways.

Superman is in outer space to sort out a meteor threatening to harm other worlds. It's the kind of mission we used to see regularly, before creators seemed to decide that if Earth wasn't directly involved in a crisis, it wasn't happening. But here we do have Superman considering himself protector or the entire universe, and it's refreshing.

Sadly, a moment of overconfidence sees our hero hurt and a planet paying the price. While Superman does what he can to repair the damage, he makes no friends.

A watching Lex Luthor - he has rather advanced CCTV - instructs his people to research this new world to see if its people can be useful to him (they should just ask me, I have a tremendous eye for Silver Age fashion and faces). More local cameras bring Batman's presence in Metropolis to his attention - he's beamed in to help Lois, having been alerted to the fact that she's in danger.

He knows due to something I've not seen previously, but it's a device that makes massive sense given Lois' position as Mrs Superman. And that role also explains just why she puts up such a good fight against kidnappers, using martial arts - presumably Kryptonian Klurko. Luthor is impressive here too, positioned not simply as Superman's nemesis - while his motives and ends are very different, his methods and thought processes aren't so far from Batman's.

Throw in a corker of a cliffhanger and you have a wonderfully well-crafted, thoroughly entertaining comic book script.

Add to that the artwork of illustrator Jerry Ordway and colorist Pete Pantazis and you have a classic DC Universe story in the making. This is gorgeous work. Take a look, click to enlarge, I'll wait.


Seriously, if DC said Superman/Batman #72 was the work of some fantastic new team the book would fly off the shelves. But because Ordway has been producing rock solid artwork to regular deadlines for a couple of decades, this tightly composed, marvellously rendered work won't get the attention it merits. Here he's creating his artwork in ink wash with plenty of extra tone, so that when Pantasiz adds colours the pictures pop with a painted effect. If any editors are reading this, could we please see this art team regularly somewhere? DC's coming Earth One line would likely be an excellent fit, a Wonder Woman book perhaps. Maybe even one written by Levitz - he does have form with the Amazing Amazon.

But back to the current comic, which features a moodily attractive cover by Fabrizio Fiorentino. It's part of a continued storyline, wrapping up in #75's giant anthology - yet part one gave me a satisfying experience in and of itself. With character, action and ideas, all beautifully expressed, I thoroughly recommend it. The entire creative team - let's not forget Steve Wands, who presents an alien language alongside his typically fine lettering job, and editors Rex Ogle and Eddie Berganza - should take a bow.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #17 review

Goodness, look at that cover - Batman's phone bill must be huge. Good job Bruce Wayne's such a rich fellow.

But who's he teaming up with? As it turns out, pretty much everyone. For this is a special issue, one veering away from the fun formula of a mini team-up followed by the main event. Here it's one TV-style prologue after another as we spend a week with the Caped Crusader and learn that 'A Batman's work is never done'.

And the pairings are a treat. There's Metamorpho, the Green Lantern Corps, Jonah Hex, Hawkman, the Inferior Five, the Creeper. Merry, Girl of 1,000 Gimmicks for crying out loud, beating a bad guy with bubblegum and sass! The villains are equally eclectic, including Mongul, the Gentleman Ghost, Mr Element ... some guy in a tracksuit. And there are cameos to boot, including the one 'Bat' character I don't believe Batman has yet met.

It's a speedy read, yet a satisfying one, with good-natured energy and banter carrying us from one Sunday through to the next. A Batman bound to contemporary Gotham may be the standard these days, but who wouldn't wish to be this version of the character, a guy fighting in space one day, the Old West the next, courtesy of writer Sholly Fisch and artists Robert W Pope and Scott McRae?This series doesn't have the following of other Batman books, but it's building to be one of the most consistently entertaining of them all. Have you tried it yet?

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Spreading the good feeling around


When I was about 12, away at the St Vincent De Paul Boys' Camp on Lindisfarne off the north east coast of England, I won the Camper of the Week award. It was a booby prize for a kid who didn't win races but was cheery and helpful - hey, I'll take what I can get. I got a rather nice set of plates which is still being used chez Gray.

And now, in a seemingly never-starting stream of triumph, I've been nominated for a Kreativ Blogger award. No, it doesn't mean I can't spell ...

... it's a networking thing, I suppose. Someone who enjoys another person's comic blog - in this case Colin, of Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, of which more below - nominates them, thereby bringing their page to the attention of others. Here's the deal:

You must thank the person who has given you the award.

Copy the award logo and place it on your blog.

Link to the person who has nominated you for the award.

Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.

Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.

Leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.

So, blushing as I am, let's turn away from me and spread the good spirits.

First of all, thanks to Colin for the nomination.

Too Busy Thinking About My Comics
If you've never visited Colin's blog, it's one of a kind, with thoroughly thought through reflections on such subjects as Gerry Conway's recent Last Days of Animal Man mini series, and crime and punishment in superhero comics. And he wants you to join in the debate.

And here are seven other blogs I particularly enjoy (though anything on my blog roll is worth a look):

Mighty World of Bronze Age Marvel
Thoroughly sick of modern Marvel, Terence looks back through the mists of time at his personal Golden Age, the Seventies. I love to be reminded of those wonderful old stories in which you could never go two pages without a double spread of ads.

Strickly Speaking
Painter, novelist and designer of everyone's favourite Light Lass costume, Carol Strickland writes about her artistic pursuits, with images and links to her projects, such as the best online resource for fans of the Amazing Amazon, Wonder Woman Central.

Supergirl Comic Box Commentary
Anj loves Supergirl in all her incarnations and here he looks at moments from her past while keeping an eye on current events and looking to the future. If you've interest in Kara Zor-El in any incarnation - from the Silver Age original to the Eighth Grader - this is the site for you.

Comic Per Day Reviews
Timbotron puts me to shame with a pithy review every single day, from a wider range of publishers than I frequent. Plus, he's not such a cynical old stick. (There's currently a malware warning attached to the site - I've contacted Timbotron and he says it's a glitch not to be worried about. I usually visit via my phone and haven't had any problems.)

Raging Bullets
The DC-dedicated Raging Bullets is probably the longest regular podcast around, as Sean and Jim take in-depth looks at events past and present, as well as offering up creator interviews and con reports. And this blog will keep you updated on new episodes, while linking to the Raging Bullets forums and columnists.

Bottle City of Kanga
And-Ru isn't the most diplomatic of comics reviewers but he is one of the funniest. Plus, he's waging a campaign to get Sensor Girl's current tarty costume dumped in favour of the stylish original, which is totally fashion forward if you're Cheryl Cole. Help him!

It Came From Darkmoor
Mark looks at the originated offerings of Marvel UK and the British characters created by Marvel US, keeping the flame burning for the likes of Captain Britain, Death's Head and the Clan Destine.

The Blog of Oa
Myron knows Green Lantern. He could probably name 7,200 members of the Corp, which is why this is a tremendous resource for fans of all things Oan, with reviews, video spotlight and articles. I'm green with envy.

So please, if you're unfamiliar with any of these blogs, visit, say hi. I'll likely lose my own reader, but there you go.

Now here's the bit I've been dreading, wherein I have to find seven interesting facts about me. Lordy, i think I'm fascinating. My other half's cats rather like me. But the rest of you fine folk?

Let's go for random:

1) When I was a teenager, a red-eyed, dark figure that should not have been at the botttom of my bed freaked me out with its reeking-of-malevolence thang. I passed out on feeling hands on my throat.

2) Similarly (?) I have been chatted up by both Bungle from Rainbow and an actor who played Ronald McDonald, only one of whom was in costume at the time.
3) I won a job editing UK DC reprints - such as the short-lived weekly Heroes - pretty much on the basis of being known to London Editions Magazines Editor-in-Chief Brian M Clarke from the lettercols of his DC The Superheroes Monthly and Dez Skinn's Warrior. And despite knocking tea on him at the interview. What a chap.

4) Durning my time at London Editions/Egmont UK/Fleetway I wrote a story for My Little Pony featuring a monster named the Schmooze who debuted in a MLP movie. Oh, Hasbro were delighted. I also got to colour in their rump marks on occasion

5) While working for UK publisher Chatto & Windus I showed a sweet, addled old lady who wandered into reception back out onto the street in a most caring manner. Later that afternoon my boss asked me if Iris Murdoch had ever showed up ...

6) My Great Grandad was a bigamist, which doesn't actually have much to do with me but hey, I'm desperate (he got a young girl pregnant while away in the Great War and did the decent thing, don't judge; admittedly, Great Grandma didn't deal with it well, and pretty much faded away from a broken heart while he was in prison ...).

7) I wrote to legendary DC editor E Nelson Bridwell in the Seventies asking for the solution to The Great DC Contest from Superman #169, May 1964 (one month before I myself arrived from Krypton). I was convinced the only place the letters D and C appeared in the story were a panel with puffs of cloud in the shape of those letter. He kindly wrote back that they were in word balloons. Darn.
And that's that! Thanks again Colin!

SPECIAL GUEST REVIEW Marvel Her-Oes #2

Secrets are revealed throughout the sophomore issue of Her-Oes - the Marvel mini reimagining its heroines as high schoolers - as Janet Van Dyne mulls over the revelation that Namora, whose assault last issue she barely escaped by shrinking and flying away, also has powers. We discover that Janet’s father was responsible for her abilities due to an accident at his lab two years previously. After this breakfast revelation, Janet’s day becomes more complicated when she nearly blasts cute boy Wade after he startles her in the hallway. While wondering what's making her blasting powers trigger so suddenly, Janet finds that her father can't get the basketball tickets for her date with Wade.

This crisis is pushed to the side when Namora faces Janet in the parking lot to talk about their “mutual uniqueness”. Best friend Jen Walters, who is about to give Janet a ride, becomes upset that Janet would want to talk to Namora alone and, as with last issue, we see her leave abruptly.

While engaging in slushie diplomacy, Janet and Namora develop a form of adolescent d├ętente as they discover that their families moved to Cresskill County two years ago. Their surprise visit to the lab where Janet’s father works again results in Jen - an intern there - becoming agitated and fleeing after Janet wants a private conversation with her father. Namora follows Jen to a dark corner and, as if she knows what will happen, splashes some saline on her. Jen “goes green” in one brilliant splash page as Namora is punched through a wall. Unfazed, Namora reveals her winged feet and literally flies straight into battle with She-Hulk.

To her great distress, Janet finds out from her father that he knew about Jen’s condition, before she is told to get her friends inside to avoid being seen. Namora and She-Hulk hold their own as they exchange massive blows, until Janet intervenes - and Jen instantly reverts to normal when she recognises her best friend. Jen passes out after muttering that they will now be taken and locked away forever. Before Janet fully understands the implications, the issue ends with the appearance of a mysterious red haired girl floating above them.

The debut of She-Hulk is the highlight of the issue - she appears more like a feminine Incredible Hulk than the gamma-powered supermodel in the regular Marvel continuity. I find this version more appealing story-wise, for if Jen could transform into a stunning jade beauty, what would be her motivation (aside from avoiding torn clothing) to not remain She-Hulk? Artist Craig Rousseau and colorist Veronica Gandini accomplish a homage to both the Savage and Sensational She-Hulk, showing a torn white coat and a purple outfit respectively. Fishbrain’s green lettering of She-Hulk’s word balloons has you hearing her deep booming voice reverberate across the panels. And writer Grace Randolph does a superb job of keeping the reader engaged with a plot that does not lose focus or drag in any way. The reader is left wanting more and I’ll be counting down the days until the next issue.
EUGENE LIPTAK

Eugene Liptak is a librarian and author who celebrated the 50th anniversary of Supergirl with a comprehensive display at the Pima County Public Library in Tucson, Arizona.

Friday, 21 May 2010

DCU: Legacies #1 review

It's 1938 and on the streets of America, the mystery men begin to emerge, changing the course of one young boy's life. The kid is Paulie Lincoln, who narrates the first story in DC's anthology series looking at how its universe has developed over seven decades. Young Paulie is in a kid gang, but not of the type seen in many a DC comic of the Golden Age, battling crime with only wit, knuckles and the odd baseball bat. No, Paulie and pal Jimmy are young thugs, messenger boys for the local protection racket, and they look set for a life of crime until they see the Crimson Avenger - DC's first masked mystery man - mete out his own brand of justice.

An understandably perturbed Paulie is fascinated as newspaper reports of more mystery men, and actual superheroes, appear - Flash, Zatara, the Spectre, Hawkman, the Sandman, Hourman - but Jimmy remains gung-ho, willing to take his chances with the Mob. It's not as if he sees a choice, having been born into Suicide Slum during the Great Depression. Finally, an encounter with the Atom and the Sandman seems set to spur them on to decide, one way or another, what path they'll choose.

Paulie, we know from the narrative set-up in which he shares his memories with an unknown interviewer, turns solid citizen. Jimmy? I guess we'll find out in future issues.

Or maybe not. That won't make this story any less satisfying. It's an intensely well-crafted piece by, apprpriately, three generations of storyteller. Comics legend Joe Kubert inks penciller son Andy, while Len Wein - who forged his own legend in the generation between the two - provides the story. Good-looking framing sequence by Wein and artist Scott Kolins apart, 'In the beginning' just reeks of the Thirties. Wein captures the speech rhythms of the day ('That's bullpuckey an' you know it!') while the Kuberts make the streets of Depression America sing. Training and lineage mean Andy Kubert can homage his father's classic style anyway, but the latter inking a story set during his youth ensures extra authenticity and heart. And on a story such as this, with kids at the centre, it helps that the Kuberts can essay realistic looking children, not the miniature adults we so often see in comics. The sympathetic colouring of Brad Anderson - the naturalism of the streets is gradually invaded by the bright colours of the mystery men - only adds to the magic. And Rob Leigh allows his lettering to be a little more melodramatic than usual, perfectly suiting the material.

The tale reminded me of the Just a Story shorts DC published in the Forties, moral fables for the everyman. And given that the few I've seen were little gens, that's another compliment.

There's a second story, in which newshound Scoop Scanlon and snapper Rusty James - who appeared in the earliest issues of Action Comics - investigate appearances by Dr Fate and the Spectre and explain away their feats. Well, the logic goes, if a stage magician such as John Zatara can fake this sort of thing ...

The short, Snapshot: Reflection, features another accomplished script by Wein, while the illustrations are the work of JG Jones at his realistic best and colour artist Alex Sinclair. The look is gorgeous, naturalistic, but easily accommodates the supernatural moments.

Their combination of talent, craft and graft ensures none of the creators whose work features is likely to prove a flash in the pan; indeed, Kubert Sr and Wein have already gifted a lifetime of great stories and characters to us (think Sgt Rock, Hawkman, Tor, Wolverine, Swamp Thing, Human Target and more). DCU: Legacies is as much a tribute to the craft of the comics creator as the endurance of the characters themselves.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Zatanna #1 review

The bad: Zee's too busty.

The good: Everything else. This is a stylish little comic, as the first-ever Zatanna ongoing debuts. The backwards-talking magician shows a terrifically conceived mystical mob boss and his band of demons what's what after they begin to strike at the mortal world. And apart from the introduction of presumably supporting regular Detective Dale Colton, that's that for big events.

And that's enough, in the hands of writer Paul Dini, penciller Stephane Roux and inker Karl Story. As well as Zee's sorcerous crimefighting, we see her perfecting an oddly tasteless stage illusion - cough Dr Light cough - and relaxing at home. Whether she's casting spells or chatting to her assistants, Zatanna's a delight to be with, she's at once sunny and serious. And extra value is added with the debut of the heinous Brother Night, aforementioned kingpin of the San Francisco underworld (literally). As characterised by Dini's witty script, and Roux's luscious art, he's good for a few more rounds.

Ah yes, the art, I mentioned Zee's bustiness. Seriously. Here she could give Power Girl a run for her money. Except she'd trip due to top-heaviness. I realise part of Zee's appeal has always been her sexiness - raven-haired girl magician in tux, tights and top hat - but the boys should tone it down just a tad, or no one will be listening to those spells! I do like Roux's depiction of Zee in costume, though the cape is unnecessary and ruins her silhouette, while the new boots are rather the clunky ones. The bright red cherry on the illustrative cake is provided by the colouring of John Kalisz, who finds a balance between shiny superhero and moody crime book that fits this script. And Pat Brosseau's letters are faultless as always.

While triumph comes to Zee rather easily here, there's some foreboding towards the end, and it makes sense to show how competent a hero is in their first issue (she doesn't even need to rely on spells to take a foe down); by the close of the book we can see some mystical spanners about to be thrown into Zee's works. I can't wait - if Dini keeps the witty, clever scripts coming, and Roux continues to share his dark vision of San Francisco, I'm here for the duration.

(?kaeps-sdrawkcab arataZ annataZ detnetap ni gnihtyreve gnitirw fo ekoj dlo eht detsiser I dalg uoy t'nera dnA)

Avengers #1 review

Wow. This comic really does lack the 'wow!' factor. It's positioned as the beginning of a bold new age for the Marvel Universe, the Heroic Age, but it feels like just another Brian Bendis Avengers book. Admitedly, the stakes are higher than has often been the case, as Kang the Conqueror warns of a threat to the future. And there are no ninjas (unless there are, but they're actually competent ones who can't be seen), but other than that its endless chatter between heroes, very much a case of 'where we came in' for anyone who read Bendis' debut story, Avengers Disassembled, six years ago.

That's not to say it isn't entertaining. I like banter, and God knows it's good to see Clint Barton as a happy Hawkeye, the Beast back in the throng and the Avengers recognised as a force for good. But Spider-Man still seems weird among the Avengers, and slash-happy Wolverine doesn't fit my idea of a shining hero. And after Dan Slott's thorough rehabilitation of founding Avenger Hank Pym in Mighty Avengers it'd be nice if the new Wasp had more than one, rather pathetic, line.

But it seems Avengers Academy will be his home title, with this one hosting Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Woman, Hawkeye, Captain Bucky and A.N.Other. Wonder Man is also offered a place but turns Earth's 'top cop' (I'm sick of that already) Steve Rogers down, having a surprising, but interesting, perspective on the last few years. Former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Maria Hill is given the job of running the team, and as she never fails to bore, that's a few demerits. But Kang was nicely portrayed and I laughed at the Avengers segways - ooh, sexy!

John Romita Jr's cover is horrendous - did you even spot Spidey hiding in the middle? - but the art's a mite better inside, the main weak spot being Thor. It seems Romita is trying to honour Olivier Coipel's wide-browed Norse god, and it just doesn't suit his style. As Coipel has been drawing the same character created by Kirby, and drawn by Romita himself, I say he should relax and go his own way.

Not that I think Romita is the best fit for the Avengers. I've always been a fan of Romita teamed with inker Klaus Janson, on Marvel's grit operas, but on this showing, they don't suit a shiny team book. The work looks uncomfortable, and while some panels are great, as many are awkward.

Really, there's nothing awful about this comic, it's simply average to good. And given Marvel's months-long hype, I was expecting better.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 review

The Legion of Super-Heroes is back in their own comic. And it's the Legion I grew up with (as opposed to the Legions I grew old with), the team inspired by Superboy, the force as at home battling Darkseid as babysitting the Super-Pets. Sure, there are discrepancies from the comics history which ended in the Eighties - such as Karate Kid having been alive again recently - but I'll consider these things to be explained rather than irritations.

And if returning writer Paul Levitz chooses to ignore them and steam right along with what he's been given, I'm good with that. He's certainly earned my confidence, having written the team in more than 100 issues over two stints. He justifies my faith with every page of this extra-length opener, showing a masterly talent for juggling characters and plots.

The main story this issue is Earthgov forcing the Legion to open their ranks to Earth-Man - who recently tried to kill the team. The Legion don't want it, their extraterrestrial-hating antagonist certainly doesn't wish it, but it's happening. Seems there's a powerful pack of xenophobes at the heart of Earthgov and they're forcing the issue. If the Legion don't agree, they have to move off Earth.

Why the Legion don't call Earthgov's bluff, I don't know. They'd soon come crawling back to the Legion next time Earth was invaded. But the team reluctantly agrees, believing the Legion should be quartered on Earth at the centre of the United Planets, and hoping to bring Earth-Man round to their way of thinking/sanity.

My problem with this plotline - apart from having had my fill of Earth-Man in the long Geoff Johns-written Action Comics story which helped win the team this run - is that the sudden xenophobia makes no sense. By 2110 Earth has had contact with aliens, good and bad, for 1000 years. They've been protected by the extraterrestrial-filled Legion for probably a decade, so it's loony to think Earth-Man could spread enough dissent to get the Legion kicked off Earth and persuade the world to leave the United Planets.

Still, as a maguffin for one storyline, I could accept it. I just don't want the whole xenophobia bit to flow through into this new book longterm. I want all-new challenges, I want Levitz to have free reign to go where he wants.

Where things go this issue is Oa, and the universe's last Green Lantern Sodam Yat, another refugee from Johns's recent storylines. He sees Oa birth a spooky new kind of Oan, Dyogene, who looks like Casper the Friendly Guardian. Well, hopefully his motives are pure - by the end of the issue he's offered Earthman a GL ring. Is that wise?

Oh well, it motivates the comic's rather dull cover, whimpering 'buy me' to GL fans while demonstrating that Earth-Man's too dumb to wear his Legion ring the correct way up. I'd favour a nice team shot to kick off this 'all-new era'?

So, I'd prefer Earth-Man locked up in space prison Takron-Galtos and off panel, and the Green Lantern mythology elsewhere ... at least for the first issue. The LSH has occasionally featured GLs, just not on the team, as I fear will happen here. While Superman and Supergirl are vital to the team's history, I don't want a Legion filled with JLA legacies - in the past, during the team's various incarnations, we've had Flash and Marvel Family types hogging panel space that should be reserved for unique Legionnaires.

Nevertheless, and despite the fact he's been away from them for a couple of decades, Levitz knows how to make interstellar lemonade. This book grabs from the word go (actually, it's 'The' swiftly followed by 'Arghhh!') as we see that Earth has the tech to dampen Earth-Man's powers - he began as a Legion reject named Absorbancy Boy - and not all Earth folk hate the Legion. One of the scientists here is even a fan of Saturn Girl.

And that's who we soon join on a return visit to her home of Titan, where everyone's mental, in the best possible sense. After a reminder that hubby and fellow Legion founder Lightning Lad is off on a personal mission, leaving her looking after their twins, Imra Arden Ranzz is soon helping at a disaster. And it's a big one, as hubris-filled scientists recreate a famous DC mistake - using a time viewer to watch the hand of creation at the Big Bang.

Despite her efforts, and that of the Legion sub-team she summons, her boys vanish and the planet dies (funnily enough, last week we saw the beginnings of Titan in Adventure Comics; kudos for good planning, DC). The issue ends with the double whammy of a world's end, and the surprising, ironic choice offered to Earthman - Legionnaire working with aliens, or GL working for aliens.

Levitz brings everyone up to speed with the past and the new status quo speedily, with numerous short scenes that build to the double climax. We spend time with a handful of Legionnaires and a couple, Saturn Girl and Brainiac 5, get extra attention as we share their thoughts, but Cosmic Boy, Wildfire and others also get quality panel time. We even catch up with some old supporting characters, Imra's teacher, Dr Aven, and Officer Gigi Cusimano, now promoted to Chief of Earth's Science Police. And we met some new guys, though a couple won't be back anytime soon.

The characterisation of Imra is promising, she's slightly grumpier than when we last met her - at one point she even seems to be wishing bad luck on semi-useless hubby Garth. I believe parenthood can do that to a person, and she always has been a bit of a bossy mare. Brainiac 5 acts as superior as he's been portrayed throughout the last several continuities, but Levitz shows, rather than tells, us why that might be - he does indeed have the busiest of minds. And there's a great gag about his tendency to blow up labs.

Joining Levitz is an artist new to me, and the Legion, Yildiray Cinar. On this showing, I hope he sticks around awhile - his work is clean, strong and dynamic, good with angles and dramatic scene setting. He's not trying to show off, but I know Legion artists ... the best ones ease into the book - easily one of comics' most challenging, with its cast of thousands and many locales - and, on finding their feet, start going crazy with the designs and layouts. My favourite moment this month is a splash of the Legion helping evacuate Titan, showing a team whose members knows what they're doing - you can be sure Levitz will give them interpersonal issues aplenty, but they don't drag them into the field.

I also love the page showing reactions to the death of Titan, done as a nine-panel grid, a wink to the glory days of Levitz and artists Keith Giffen and Larry Mahlstedt that's appropriate for this point in the script.

Cinar draws an interesting Titan, depicting it as a world combining 31st-century design with the classical architecture of Earth. Shame it's dead. His Legionnaires are a good-looking bunch, especially Colossal Boy. His Brainy reminds me of Seventies artist Jimmy Janes', just a tiny bit too manic and eyebrowy. And Imra needs to lose the hoops on her arms and legs that she's been sporting recently, and grow her hair long again - now we're beyond the Adult Legion story in Action Comics there's no need for her, anyone, to look so old. Young adults is fine.

But these are the definition of minor quibbles. I like Cinar, teamed here with veteran inker Wayne Faucher, letterer Sal Cipriano and colourist Hi-Fi. This is a good-looking comic strip, all 39pp of it. Yup, DC gave us 33% extra for our money, cheers peeps. If subsequent issues are in the regular $3.99/30pp format I'll be very happy. Whatever the format, though, I doubt there'll be many buyers of this first issue who won't be back next month.

And praise be, there's even a text page in which Levitz welcomes readers new and old to the book, and himself back. All in all, this is a terrific package. The Legion of Super-Heroes has come home.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Booster Gold #32 review

It's the debut of a new creative crew on Booster Gold and it's not what I expected. Think the writing team of Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis and you think funny comics. Justice League, bwaa-ha-ha and Blue Beetle. And that's what the splash page here leads you to expect, with its jokey credits.

There are funny lines here. Plenty of them. But when a story is set on one of the darkest days of Legion of Super-Heroes history, too many jokes will get a guy killed. The day in question is April 8, 3082, when Darkseid takes over the people of Daxam and has them terraform their world in his image. Tasked by Rip Hunter with rescuing an important artefact, rather than immediately head back 1,000 years, Booster sticks around to save lives.

It's the act of a real hero, and one that, by issue's end, is set to change Booster's life. Before that he does his best to protect a party of mostly cranky tourists from dying amid the devastation, and battles one of the Legion of Super-Heroes greatest foes. It did my heart good to see the original version of this insanely attractive character, but is it OK to give her identity away here? Should eye?

The action here begins on page one and never lets up. Likewise the characterisation, with Giffen and DeMatteis showcasing Booster's intelligence as much as his wit. And for the first time I can remember, someone actually has Booster use his skills as an American footballer during a conflict. The writers also demonstrate their skill with tone, ensuring that the reader isn't jarred as the mood darkens. There's a running gag about one character needing to pee, but given her background, and the situation, she probably would. And it's a refreshing kind of realism for a comic book to embrace. Ditto the mix-up noted by Booster at the close of the story, as he chews out Rip Hunter, Time Master (something he doesn't do nearly enough).

Chris Batista joins the book as penciller this month and he delivers on every page. The visuals are always exciting, not just when there's blasting and dodging, but when people are chatting too. And - this is going to sound weird - there's something friendly about the pages, a good-naturedness that invites you to spend time with them. There's no breakdowns credit for Giffen but if he's not done thumbnails at least, there's certainly his influence here in the figurework, especially the faces. Inker Rich Perotta adds weight to the visuals, giving the pages a terrific strength that's further upped by the modelling from colourist Hi-Fi. All in all, what we have here is a feast for the peepers.

This issue bodes well for the future of Booster Gold, though I hope the final page tie-in to Justice League: Generation Lost is simply a nod to Booster's appearances there, rather than the beginning of an extended tie-in. I'm sure the creative team would do a good job - Giffen is, after all, co-writing the book - but I like Booster's series best when it goes its own way - JLI:GL has 26 issues to tell its story, it shouldn't need to spill over into this one. Whatever happens, this book bears watching.

Friday, 14 May 2010

R.E.B.E.L.S. #16 review

Is this book in trouble or is the excitable cover blurb 'INTRODUCING TWO NEW GREEN LANTERNS!' down to someone being genuinely excited? I'm not, the ringslingers already have two books, with a third on the way, and their imagery is dominating the cover of the new Legion of Super-Heroes book next week. Go on, git!

This month, when we're not meeting GLs from Okaara and Psion, we're with Vril Dox as he rebuilds his intergalactic space agency after its destruction by Starro the Conqueror. He immediately gets a new recruit as Starfire - all sad because Dick Grayson doesn't love her - signs up. But then Captain Comet quits. That's not down to Kory's presence, though, as the telepath and the overemotional space hussy get on like a house on fire. Perhaps he'll stay after all.

This issue is also concerned with the rebirth of Rann, which Dox has placed in the Vega sector to fill the hole left when Starfire's world, Tamaran, went belly up. I'm delighted to have Rann back, it's such a seminal DC world, and Dox's placing his new HQ here means we'll see lots of it.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #16 is basically a breather after the extended Starro sequence and I couldn't be happier. Writer Tony Bedard has my admiration for producing such a rich, tightly plotted book over the past year and a half, but the comic's been so action-packed that we've barely gotten to know the new characters. Ciji the Durlan, for example, previously seemed a total stinker, but here she's a nice kid. And Bounder, will he ever become more than background fodder? He doesn't actually get to do anything this issue, either, but more stories like this mean there's a better chance he'll eventually do more than show up for a panel or two, do his skinny Bouncing Boy thang, and bugger off again for six months.

That is, if charismatic established characters such as Starfire, Adam Strange and Dox don't hog too much panel time. Captain Comet leaving alleviates the problem a little - just so long as a GL doesn't take his spot. I want to know and love the recent additions as much as I did the original L.E.G.I.O.N. members, who show up in a flashback here to make me terribly nostalgic. It's going to be a balancing act - I don't want to not have firecracker scenes with Dox and Kory as we get here - but Tomasi has great writing reflexes.

There is some action this issue, as Komand'r - Starfire's evil sis, Blackfire - turns up to cause trouble. Ol' pointy nose may not be as pretty as Kory, but she's always great value. I bet she cackles next time.

Regular penciller Claude St Aubin gets a new inker this month, Walden Wong, and the difference in comparison with the previous teaming, with Scott Hanna, is apparent. A few panels - usually mid-shots - look a teensy bit awkward, but overall, I like the combo and I've no doubt that the artists will get the measure of one another soon. I definitely appreciate the effort being put into matching facial expressions to script - the faces pulled by Captain Comet, a matinee idol of a hero if ever I saw one, give him a bit of character. That never happens. And the smiling Dox is suitably weird.

If anyone is noting these things, though, could we please have Adam Strange back in his traditional costume rather than the tracksuit version he's currently sporting? And that bloody great harness has to go - streamline, dahling!

Kudos to colourist Jose Villarrubia for some fantastically bright work, that works, and letterer Travis Lanham, collector of intergalactic typefaces.

With luck a few Titans fans will jump on board now Starfire is here, and help grow this book's audience to the size it deserves.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Birds of Prey #1 review

You can go home again. The Birds are back from their Bat-event-imposed cancellation, back together and back in Gotham City. Oracle, Black Canary, Lady Blackhawk and Huntress are all great separately, but together they're legendary. This issue isn't the beginning of a six-part storyline, showing the team gathering, one by one. Nope, Oracle simply calls her pals up, informs them of a threat and the women drop everything, obviously glad of the excuse to reunite.

Before the reunion, though, we get a mini-adventure focusing on Black Canary, who's out to save a little kidnapped girl from scumbags. It's heartening to see Canary get some attention on her return to the series that suffered so when she was stolen by other editorial offices, having been made popular by BoP writers Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone. The Icelandic episode here fills new readers in on her skill, sonic scream and situation as foster mother to a kid, Sin, whom she allowed to be shunted away as soon as they bonded.

This issue, written by the returning Simone, sees two new Birds-to-be introduced, Hawk and Dove, characters I've enjoyed since their Eighties debut as a pairing, and two characters I want to see out of this book as soon as possible. For one thing, they deserve a series of their own, something unlikely to happen while they have a regular slot. For another, they're dragging tedious Blackest Night baggage with them. And they're crowding a book that works best with a tiny cast of regulars.

I've faith that Gail can make their presence worthwhile, but I hope she kicks 'em out as soon as DC bigwigs Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns aren't looking. We need room for Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Huntress (Helena Bertinelli), Lady Blackhawk (Zinda Blake) and Black Canary (Dinah Lance) to shine and interact. And if Gail can manage that and still find room for wannabe heroine Misfit, all the better.

Hawk and Dove don't sign up this issue, but it looks likely after Zinda and Dinah track them down to a bar where Hawk (Hank Hall) is drowning his sorrows and tomcatting, and Dove (Dawn Granger) is being uncharacteristically wet about it.

As ever, the dialogue sings - each regular has their own voice to the extent you'd know who was speaking without looking at the artwork, and the narration by Canary, along with a little bit of Babs, provides insight into them and their team.

There's a final page shocker, as ... someone or other appears. It may be the villainous Lady Shiva with a new look. It might be the aforementioned Sin, having gone through the ageing-up that often occurs when unwanted comic book kids aren't simply killed off (see Aquababy, Bobby Long, Cerdian, Lian ad infinitum). Just so long as it isn't Cassandra Cain, the former Batgimp.

The artwork by Ed Benes - another returning creative - is hard to fault. Let's see: Dinah's head looks a tad large on the cover, quick, someone inform Chandler Bing! Other than that, no complaints. Ed has a good handle on the regulars, and his Hawk and Dove show promise. There's little in the way of the cheesecake associated with him, just attractive comic art. He even allows Dinah and Zinda to be sensible and cover up those fishnetted/bare legs while in Iceland ... unless that was the work of colourist Nei Ruffino, who here gets to use a moodier palette than for her regular Supergirl assignment. She really is very good, as is letterer Steve Wands. His Canary chatterboxes, in particular, sit wonderfully well with the rest of the art.

The only visual tweak I'd like to see is Huntress out of that dumb midriff-baring outfit and into something more befitting a Mafia princess schoolmarm turned gangbuster, and Babs given some sexier specs.

Really though, there's nothing to dislike about this issue and plenty to praise. So praise be, the Birds are home to roost.

Justice League: Generation Lost #1 review

Brightest Day brought Max Lord back from the dead, giving DC an easy way to reboot him as the good guy he once was, rather than the megalomaniac murderer seen in the Infinite Crisis crossover. Sadly, DC has gone for box number 2, as I increasingly suspect the term 'Brightest Day' is being used ironically.

Evil certainly wins the day this issue, as Max murders without compunction and consequence prior to using his mental push powers to make the world forget about him. Previous to that big finish (previously seen in Brightest Day #0), though, we see former Justice League International members Fire, Ice and Captain Atom get back together to hunt him down. But fellow former member Booster Gold is sidelined. That's either because everyone thinks he's an idiot - Power Girl certainly does, in a scene harking back to her angry days and not boding well for scripter Judd Winick's upcoming takeover of her book. Or because, Max having killed best friend Ted Kord, he's considered by his friends to be too close to the case.

There's a bit of a disconnect at the start of this issue as Superman tells the world, via a press conference, to watch out for Max. A news report explains that people were alerted to his resurrection when Max was spotted by a street camera. Really? I realise Superman wasn't around for the conclusion of Blackest Night, but most of the hero community were there as Max was brought back by the white entity thingie (henceforth known as the WET, if I remember). Didn't anyone consider him a threat back then?

Still, if that's an editing glitch rather than an unnecessary creative choice to reintroduce Max, it pales beside some narrative boxes on page five.

'Sight'? 'Self imposed transplant'? The whole of that third box? I realise we're in Russia but doesn't anyone speak English? Oi, DC, if you're in need of a copy editor, I'll up sticks and move to New York, no bother. I'll even throw in some lettercols for you. But you do already have editorial staff - wake 'em up.

Thankfully, the book gets better after this. Ice is stirred from a blue funk, Fire shows her Checkmate chops as field leader, Captain Atom has shaken off the shadow of his Monarch persona (please DC, at least leave that awful blip buried) and Booster proves a decent detective. Winick's dialogue crackles nicely once Fire, Ice and Atom get into action, and while I don't like having an eeeeevil Max, he's written rather well here as a self-deluding Bond villain. And Ice has a fantastic new sound effect for her powers, SCROOCH! Don't we all need a scrooch every now and then?

The big idea that only our four JLI heroes remember Max's existence and crimes is a tough one to sell - even if he's wiped out electronic records of his existence, newspapers survive - at the very least there'll be records of Wonder Woman's trial for his 'murder'. Booster could take colleagues back in his time bubble to witness Max killing Blue Beetle. Or, in a highly original twist, heroes might actually give their trusted colleagues the benefit of the doubt.

What's more, unless this is the end of Max in Generation Lost, he's going to be plotting naughtiness soon enough and then he's back on the heroic radar. So why set this conceit up at all?

I've no idea, but co-plotter Keith Giffen has written enough smart stories over the years to deserve the benefit of the doubt, and this issue was sufficiently entertaining to bring me back for more. Another big plus is Aaron Lopresti, one of the comic's rotating pencillers, working over Giffen's breakdowns and inked by former Wonder Woman partner Matt Ryan. It's simply beautiful superhero work - expressive, dramatic and perfectly paced.

Tony Harris's Booster Gold is a little too Keaton-Slater manic of face for me, but I do like the rest of the characters on his nicely composed cover. I look forward to seeing how he handles the rest of the series. I'm pretty sure I'll be buying.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Secret Six #21 review

Awww, who could resist Daniel Luvisi's cover? Seriously, that poor little Catman doll needs a hug. Inside it's poor little Catman as we see that young Thomas Blake's dad was almost as bad as teammate Scandal's. For around the time she was being beaten with sticks by Vandal Savage's minions to toughen her up
- he read Dr Spock, you know - Tommy-boy was being encouraged to kill an injured lioness to learn about life. Hmm, who's the animal here?

It's an interesting insight from writer Gail Simone into Catman as he faces the fact that his own baby son is likely dead at the hands of kidnappers. The obvious assumption is that given his background Catman was afraid of being a rubbish dad himself. Then you remember that he's allowing the boy to be raised by his mother Jade, the mass murderer known as Cheshire. (Her daughter, Lian, being looked after by her dad, Arsenal, has just died in an attack on Star City. Oops. Time for Cheshire to find another hero or villain to father a kid - preferably an invulnerable one.)

But back to the flashbacks, in which there's a strong implication Catman eventually blasted his father with a shotgun when his mother, a buxom wench who starred as Phantom Lady on screen - suddenly there's a team-up I want to see - was threatened by him one time too many. 'Hoist and 'petard' come to mind.

In the present, Catman tracks down Loki, a massive South African mercenary involved in the loss of his son, and shows him that you don't mess with a member of the Secret Six.

Speaking of whom, Scandal, Deadshot and Ragdoll, worried about their sorta pal, follow him to SA courtesy of increasingly unstable young sorceress Black Alice. She eventually borrows magic from the demon Etrigan and becomes a she-demon named Estrogan. Remember that next time you tell me you don't do puns, Gail Simone!

Bane and Jeanette, meanwhile, have gathered four spare baddies for some mission that will become clear, with luck, next issue - this is the third of four parts. Said nogoodniks are dopey King Shark, anti-Atom Dwarfstar, stupidly named generic assassin Lady Vic and Giganta, ever present at villainous gatherings and ever ineffectual. This alternate Six appears for just two pages but Gail uses her skill with dialogue to establish their differing characters. Panels such as this, with Bane, Jeanette and her lowly, Insignificus, are why I love this book.

Jim Calafiore proves less than sterling at drawing male bottoms - check out those flat-arsed game reserve guides - but great at everything else. Money shots include a shot of Black Alice becoming a young Dr Occult (Intern Occult?), a close-up of Dwarfstar through a glass madly and Catman as pride leader, but the storytelling is fine throughout. The emotions of the characters are ever evident, the storytelling is clear and, in a departure from the norm, Calafiore gives us a spot of border decoration. The flashbacks look especially good as artistic partner Jason Wright conjures up colourways suited to the scenes. The palette for the opening Africa sequence, for instance, reflects the colours of Kenya while referencing the sepia so popular for fictional flashbacks. And the final shot of Catman and lions is magnificently moonlit.

Secret Six continues to be one of DC's strongest books, blending compelling characters, clever plotting and edible art. There's an ever-present viciousness - usually you have the threat of violence, or the aftermath; when we do have on-panel maiming and killing, it's villain on villain, so more appropriate than in a comic such as Brightest Day #1 (see separate review). If you haven't yet, check it out.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Superman: War of the Supermen #1

Zod has declared war on Earth, Lois Lane rallies Superman's back-up team to take down her army chief father, who caused said war, Luthor blows up New Krypton via Reactron, and Supergirl weeps for mother Alura before taking up Krypton's flag ... she's not, is she?

It's an incident-packed issue but War of the Supermen #1 feels like prologue - I was hoping that after months of preamble in the Superman books proper, and a #0 issue for Free Comic Book Day, this issue would come in with all guns blazing, and feature open warfare between Superman's two worlds. But by issue's end no one on Earth even knows they're being attacked. No doubt issue #2 will rectify this, and thank goodness, as I'm fed up with Superman and Zod's super-pissing contest.

The gimmick this four-issue mini is partly being sold on is that it's 'The 100-minute war' but there's no special sense of urgency here, this reads like just another perfectly competent issue of New Krypton-era Superman; a countdown timer might have added to the drama. It's a shame that despite all the happenings, the thing that gave me the biggest kick was seeing the Silver Age Kryptonian flag show up.

The final three parts appear over the next three weeks. Hurry up, I say. With the remit to actually end a story for once, I'm confident writers James Robinson and Sterling Gates will wrap things up swimmingly - well, bar Luthor getting punished, as he's off to star in Action Comics. And Luthor can never get punished, it's the law,

If the artists who follow this time's Jamal Igle do as good a job as he has here, with inker Jon Sibal, I'll be a happy bunny. My favourite moment features Superman stopping while fleeing Zod's men to strike a defiant pose. I do like a bit of attitude.

Oh, and a billion demerits for whichever Brainiac decided the appropriate image for this issue's DC Nation write-up advertising the mini was the spread of New Krypton's demise - it's supposed to be a surprise!

Brightest Day #1 review

In brightest day ...That's bright, all right. I'm old enough to remember when comic book blood was printed black. I'm old enough to recall when comic book blood wasn't seen at all. Heck, I'm so old I was there when Hawkman's awesome looking mace only ever connected with monsters and superhumans.

Not now. It seems that any DC comic book with Geoff Johns' name attached has a good chance of featuring bloody maiming or slaughter. This issue has both, with Black Manta resigning from his job as a fishmonger by gutting elderly customers and a shop assitant, and Hawkman crushing the faces of a couple of henchmen with the aforementioned medieval weapon. Oh, and a pirate is bloodily swallowed by a dead shark.

If we're lucky, next issue will have the Atom kerbing someone while growing to his full 180lb, or Captain Boomerang decapitating toddlers with razor-sharp 'rangs.

And if the violence we see isn't enough, there's the threat of rape towards a little girl. Lovely.

Seriously, there are three editors involved with this book. Didn't one think it a good idea to ask Johns and co-writer Peter J Tomasi to tone it down? Or will this level of violence become standard now the former is DC's chief creative officer?

I hope not, because my distaste with the scenes described overshadows the things I enjoyed, of which there are several. The decision to focus on only a few of the 12 newly resurrected heroes is smart and the individual storylines have potential - I can't wait to see Aquaman and Mera confront Manta, the killer of their son; I'm intrigued by J'onn J'onnz's tweaked memories as he bids to rebuild Mars; the new status quo for Firestorm is a grabber; and I always enjoy Deadman, so I'm happy to follow him for awhile.

It's true that I couldn't be less interested in the mystery of the white lantern, being tired of the ever-expanding Green Lantern mythology, and Hawkman and Hawkgirlwoman seriously need a rest from reincarnation plotlines. But given the talents of Johns and Tomasi, I may yet enjoy these threads.

There's definitely enough to keep my buying this book without the distasteful stuff, but if the spatter count remains high, I'm out.

Let's mention a few more positives: we're reminded that Aquaman, a guy tough enough to survive the pressure of the ocean depths, can therefore repel the odd bullet (and an armoured costume helps too); we see that Mera's old power set is basically still around even if everyone seems to be avoiding the traditional term, 'hard water'; the spread of a giant, departed octopus is marvellous despite someone apparently getting the page proportions wrong, necessitating a thick black border above and below; J'onn J'onzz retains the serenity that's as much a part of him as the sense of humour which we'll hopefully see when it's appropriate.

And the art, it's darned attractive, with scene after scene of well-composed action around the DC universe. Whoever made the decision to have separate artists for each hero segment - let's credit those editors where I blamed them earlier - is smart, as we get appropriate illustrations for each character and are less likely to see this fortnightly book delayed. Ivan Reis, Pat Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark and Joe Prado are the pencillers, Vicente Sifuentes, Mark Irwin, Oclair Albert and David Beaty the inkers, and they can all take a massive bow. As can colourist Peter Steigerwald, even if I am tempted to sneak into his studio and swap the red markers for black (mind, it's probably a bleeding' computer, no gag intended).

Talking of gags, David Finch's cover, with Hal Jordan straining to lift the white lantern, has been the subject of smirks elsewhere. Thanks goodness I'm well brought up.Overall, this isn't a bad comic book - it's polished professionalism to the core - but I found it as objectionable as it was entertaining. I'll give it a few more issues, but many more like this and I'm packing it in.

SPECIAL GUEST REVIEW Marvel Her-Oes #1

It seems that a lot of super heroes are going back to school nowadays. DC Kids has the Tiny Titans in grade school while last year we saw Supergirl have a few cosmic adventures in eighth grade (let's have that sequel already!), Marvel has been enrolling its characters in high school for its all-ages line, and the latest title to graduate to comic shop shelves is HER-OES, a four-issue series written by Grace Randolph and pencilled by Craig Rousseau.

Although the cover shows five female superheroes in costume bursting through the front doors of their high school, you will not see teenage versions of the Avengers share math class with the Fantastic Four here. As in the regular Marvel continuity, our heroes (or perhaps I should write 'her-oes') exist incognito from the general public, and from each other. This is readily apparent when we see Janet Van Dyne secretly abandon her bicycle before shrinking and flying like a wasp to school. Janet is the primary focus of this issue as she overcomes her hesitation to be "less talk and more action" by volunteering to design costumes for the school play and initiating a conversation with Wade Cooper, a cute boy she has admired from a distance.

Janet achieves the latter after overhearing Namora - the foreign exchange diva and romantic rival - bribe Wade’s younger sister to find out what his favorite college basketball team is. Puzzled and upset by Janet’s sudden intelligence coup, Namora confronts Janet in the secluded backstage of the school theatre. After a heated exchange the issue ends with Janet discovering her ability to shoot energy bursts and that Namora is strong enough to lift a large metal cabinet that is about to be dropped on top of her.

Janet and Namora are not the only her-oes we see in this issue, Carol Danvers makes a headless cameo in one panel and Jennifer Walters is introduced as Janet’s tranquil best friend who works at the school library. Although featured prominently on the cover, She-Hulk (who is the reason I bought this title) does not appear in this issue. Rather, we see Jen become greatly agitated and suddenly leave in a huff after expelling Namora and her followers from the library on overhearing them share malicious words about herself and Janet. As a librarian who also worked at my high school library years ago, it would tickle my fancy if we see Jen "hulk out" after someone turns in a book late or damaged. Why and when Jen finally transforms is enough for me to eagerly await issue #2.

Her-oes #1 is an enjoyable read with a promising storyline that does a good job of gradually introducing familiar Marvel characters and their abilities in a high school setting, without making it feel like Marvel 90210. The dialogue conveys well, without profanity or sexual undertones, the anxiety and aspirations high school kids express towards one another. The artwork is colourful, if a bit toned down, with the facial expressions and background details pleasant to look at.
EUGENE LIPTAK

Eugene Liptak is a librarian and author of Office of Strategic Services 1942-45. The World War II Origins of the CIA, available now from Osprey Publishing.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Supergirl #52; Superman #699; Last Stand on Krypton #3; Action Comics #889; War of the Supermen #0 reviews

It's the Never-Ending Battle. The war to keep my interest in the New Krypton storyline. And these past couple of weeks, the fight has been lost.

The first three titles here wrap up the storyline around Brainiac's war on Kandor, first city of New Krypton. Action Comics is the side story of Kryptonians Nightwing and Flamebird on Earth. And War of the Supermen revs up the chaos engine once more, as Krypton declares war on Earth. I am, truth be told, more than a little war weary. The New Krypton storyline should have ended with issue #12 of Superman: World of New Krypton which, after a strong start, outstayed its welcome - issue after issue came and went with plenty of turns but precious few twists. It was as if halfway through someone decided to extend the thing, forcing the creative team to meander, and even flail.

The story continued in the rest of the Superman Family books and it's not all been bad. The Legion of Super-Heroes, after months of individual cameos, massed and proved a huge asset to Superman and Supergirl as they sought to protect New Krypton. Superman stopped being a camp follower and quit General Zod's army. And ... well, let's have a look at the issues in order of publication, shall we?

SUPERGIRL #52: The best of the bunch, as Kara and Brainiac 5 bid to bring down Brainiac. That's the plot, the story is Kara trying to unpick Brainiac's 12th-level brain to learn what he's hiding from her. Which is, that in his corner of reality, he romanced Supergirl, only to see her die. Whether that's him remembering the Crisis on Infinite Earths, or other circumstances in these changed times, isn't clear from his inner monologue. That's not important, I'm simply grateful for the bittersweet script from Sterling Gates in which Brainiac 5 bids to distract Kara from her insistent probing. His ridiculously high IQ proves of little use in the face of the sadness he feels around this version of his lost love.

For her part, Kara is attractively bright, focused on the job at hand - she even out-plans Brainiac 5 - but always questioning, not ready to let a mystery stand. And bit by bit, her charm, intelligence and courage pierce his melancholy, while she warms towards the 'cryptic and broody' Coluan.

The issue also has Lex Luthor killing one of Zod's soldiers as he prepares to betray supposed ally Brainiac, and ends with Superman and the Legionnaire Quislet arriving. It's a rich read from Gates, pleasantly drawn by Ivan Rodriguez, and topped off with a splendid cover by Matt Camp.

SUPERMAN #699: And here's another lovely cover, from Aaron Lopresti, with a very intense Superman being burned out of the New Krypton army uniform he rejected, oh, two months ago? Inside, our hero confronts Zod about his duplicity while they reluctantly team up to fight Brainiac drones, Mon-El helps the Legion fight Brainiac drones, Superman gives Kara the bottle city of Kandor to protect from Brainiac drones, Brainiac 5 enlarges it, Brainiac and Zod get down and dirty, the Legion tries to convince Mon-El to return to the future and Luthor starts to grow one of the miniature cities on Brainiac's craft.

It's a busy issue, but hangs together well under James Robinson's script, while the dynamic art of Bernard Chang tells the story well, with one area providing the exceptions; the enlarging of Kandor halfway through, and Luthor's city at the end, are undersold - the final splash, woefully so.

Still, this is a respectably entertaining chapter and it moves the story along nicely.

LAST STAND ON NEW KRYPTON #3: 'The Krypton-Shattering Conclusion' yells the cover. 'Conclusion' I'd argue with, but New Krypton is certainly shattered as the Luthor city causes Brainiac's ship to crash on the surface of the newly enlarged city. Over 10 pages.

Sounds stunning, doesn't it, but the bombast is actually rather tedious - the scene could have been done in four pages, tops ... but this is a $3.99 book so there are 30pp to fill. That'll teach me to moan about scenes being undersold in Superman #599.

The consequence of the crash is that Superman is horribly injured, for about five minutes - the Legion are pretty good at curing bleeding Kryptonians. Meanwhile, Brainiac kills Luthor for smashing his ship, but it turns out to be a robot. Zod fights Brainiac (again) and we get DC's 400th variation on the Superman movie's 'Kneel Before Zod' scene. While Superman and Zod argue over whether Brainiac should die, Brainiac 5 grabs his ancestor and departs for the future. The issue closes with Luthor getting a presidential pardon for aiding General Sam Lane in his anti-alien efforts, and Zod - not appreciative of those efforts - declaring war on Earth.

This isn't a terrible comic, with writers Gates and Robinson writing a lively script and Pete Woods doing a rousing job on the artwork. But it feels very much been there, done that - the same people running around bashing one another, with Superman urging a peaceful solution, Zod driven by misguided patriotism and machismo, the Legion popping in and out according to their mission parameters and so on. Were the story to truly end here - or at least, end as definitively as a comic story ever can - I'd be better disposed towards it. As it is, we're just moving on to the next stage of the conflict. But before that ...

ACTION COMICS #888 Beautiful cover by Alex Garner.

Moving on ... oh don't make me dwell on this comic. It's basically the same one we've had for the past several months. The JSA is fighting a big giant in the wilderness, a fake manifestation of the Kryptonian god Rao, or something. Thara and Chris are channelling the spirits of Kryptonian gods Flamebird and Nightwing. A third Kryptonian god, Vohc, the Breaker, is running Pseudo-Rao, and he's being hosted by evil Kryptonian Jax-Ur.

I think that's a fair summation, anyway. I just can't focus my interest on all these celestial shenanigans and while I could go back and re-read, I don't want to. The truly mythic thing about these strips is the legendary level of boredom they engender in me. Too many revelations and destinies and true selves involving people I don't care about. Kryptonian God bless talented writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, and artist Pere Perez and Bit, for ambition, but to me it's not so much epic, as 'eh?'

At the end of the strip, Nightwing and Flamebird, flesh once more, leave to - well, it's not made clear, but I imagine they're off to get killed in War of the Supermen. Please. The JSA is handling the clean-up and who should sneakily show up to claim the body of Not-Rao for experimentation but Lex Luthor. Oh, what a surprise, that never happens.

The back-up strip here is Captain Atom in which, having defeated the evil witch Mirabai, he learns that one of his barbarian pals is actually the evil wizard Mordru the Merciless. Mordru says to chill, he's not as bad as Mirabai, so Captain Atom doesn't fight him, in fact he's pleased that Mordru can send him home as he has a JLA series to attend to.

This back-up has been prettily drawn by Cafu and decently written by James Robinson, but it's never made much in the way of sense. We might as well have had an editor's note on the main strip saying 'Captain Atom is no longer a multi-dimensional murdering despot. Don't ask us' and given the back-up pages to Rao's Illustrated Catechism or something (actually, we had that about four months back).

WAR OF THE SUPERMEN #0 Can I moan about this? It was free, after all. Oh why not, it's not the biggest complaint: that's a peculiar cover Superman from the usually dependable Eddy Barrows - too many grim dark lines on the face, I think.

No complaints about Eddy's art inside, though, he handles the first short beautifully. The story is 'Zod has declared war on Earth and Superman ain't happy' which I know, but some of the Free Comic Book Day people maybe don't. It's OK. Writers Gates and Robinson do just fine, given that they no doubt aren't supposed to do anything much - we have to buy the four-issue mini that follows for actual new story.

The second short has Lois Lane recapping yet more recent events and introducing the players for latecomers. It's nicely scripted by that man Robinson again, with apparently extracted art from various clever illustrators.

As free comics leading into events go, the quality isn't isn't half bad. It may persuade a few existing readers to try the mini. It's equally likely to put off any non-comics readers who wandered into a comic shop for FCBD, as it obviously requires commitment, and cash, to follow the story.

I'll keep reading as I'm invested in the story. Not emotionally, more in the sense that I've had to take out a mortgage to follow it. The New Krypton sequence ends with issue #4 of War of the Supermen. Supposedly. Please God, or Rao, anyone really, make it be over. I've had enough of artificially extended storylines, exceedingly dumb Kryptonians, Superman being naive and Supergirl not getting to have her own adventure. There have been some good moments over the past year - the growth of Mon-El in the Superman title, mainly - but not enough to justify the serial's length.

So oi! You, 100,000 super-powered Kryptonians! Up, up and BUGGER OFF!