Sunday, 27 June 2010

Thunderbolts #145 review

I never saw the end of last issue coming, as Baron Zemo returned to claim the new Thunderbolts. I never saw the beginning of this issue approaching either, but I liked it every bit as much. I won't spoil this surprising turn - yup, I'm trying to push the undecided into buying, here - but I will note that once that business is resolved, the new team goes troll hunting in Oklahoma.

And behind a tremendously attractive cover by Marco Djurdjevic, a fun time is had by all. After using poor old Man-Thing as transport, Luke Cage gets to see how Juggernaut, Moonstone, Ghost, Crossbones and Songbird work as a team. Or not. After the black ops feel of the Dark Reign Thunderbolts, we're in magical territory here, and seeing these strange bedfellows try to capture bounding, gleefully murderous creatures of myth is awfully refreshing. Especially as drawn by Kev Walker, who gives us a cross between Wild Things and gremlins - they look hilarious, but aren't to be crossed lightly (click to enlarge).
Walker, with colour artist Frank Martin, makes the rest of the issue look great too, whether it's the Zemo battle, introduction of a new-look USAgent as prison warden or monster mucus gags. The excellent raw material is provided by Jeff Parker, who has made this book his own in just a couple of issues - I can't wait to see where his scripts take this bunch of reprobates and reformed criminals. One place I'd dearly love someone to take Songbird is the hairdressers - her new hairdo makes her look like a bad-tempered German welder. Songbird brings my only complaint, though, and obviously it's in a minor key. If you've not tried the new Thunderbolts, give it a crack. It's worth it just to find out the title of next issue.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 review

Titan has blown up and the Legion are reacting on two fronts. There's a sub-team in space looking after search and rescue and another on Earth trying to keep peace at the camp set up for Titan refugees. Saturn Girl is in the timestream searching for her missing kids. Lightning Lad and Lass are leaving Winath to assist her. Dream Girl, Dawnstar and Gates are on a diplomatic mission to Naltor. The xenophobic Earthman is, in his own way, trying to work with the Legionnaires. And Titan-born villain Saturn Queen takes control of one of the most powerful Legion members.

This is not a dull issue. With 30 pages to play with, writer Paul Levitz can give good face time to 19 team members. Nineteen! I don't think we've seen the like since the Eighties, because most writers aren't as confident in their talent as Levitz. Or maybe just not as talented. They stick to small casts and even then, team members often all sound the same ('... the hell!'). There are no identikit folk here, though, with plenty of personality on display. Even without the visuals, there's no way you'd mistake Brainiac 5 for Ultra Boy, or Invisible Kid for Gates, for example.

With the visuals, this is a gem of a comic, Hill Street Blues with superheroes. Characters and storylines are quickly and efficiently sketched in, with adventure always at the forefront. The Legion are working to make the United Planets safe for all sentients, acting as a mature team rather than snarky teenagers. So when Cosmic Boy keeps the alien-looking Chameleon Boy away from the xenophobes, I baulk, but as a political decision it makes sense - quiet the mob now, raise their consciousness later; safety first, all the way.

This version of the Legion is basically the original team last seen around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, but with the addition of the always fun Gates from the 'Archie' years. It gives a new look to the rarely seen Tyroc, making Marzal an actual world rather than an embarrassingly segregationist island for black folk (don't ask me how his sonic powers work in space - vibrations rather than sound?). It's the best of the Silver, Bronze and Modern Age team, a tasty legion jam for today.

I'm gushing, aren't I? But look at the way Brainiac directs superhero traffic, how Sun Boy lets his feelings be known, how vicious Saturn Queen is, how Saturn Girl is calm without being cold. This is the work of a writer in his comfort zone, yet ready to stretch beyond it.

Mind, Wildfire really does need an invulnerable costume - how many times has he been rendered useless via the simple tactic of exploding his suit? Or perhaps he could actually learn how to be effective in his shapeless energy ball form?

I'd love to see Levitz say bugger it, and just bring back thought balloons. He can work the narration boxes as well as anybody, and their distinctive looks make sense, but really, what's wrong with a simple bubble? The tool worked for generations. The thought boxes are like kids who laugh at their parents, only to one day realise the old guys were right after all.

And boy oh boy, the artwork is marvellous. Yildiray Cinar shares the book with Francis Portela, with the former inked by Wayne Faucher and the latter handling his own blacks. I could guess at who drew which scenes (come on DC and Marvel, gives us credits breakdowns like in the old days of, oh, a year or so ago), but the entire book is a love letter to spiffiness. The updated costumes look particularly good as rendered by Portela (that would be one of those guesses), recognisably superheroic sexy, but wearable. If I were to pick a favourite scene from the eye candy point of view, it might be Saturn Girl's journey through time, for the kinetic layout and smooth colour effects from Hi-Fi - which I'm attributing to Cinar. Or it might be every scene Portela's sultry Shadow Lass appears in.

The colour is also wonderful on Cinar and Faucher's cover - a nice pink logo to tone with Saturn Queen's costume - unusual, and attractive.

This latest Legion comeback is a winner. DC just need to keep promoting it so audiences applaud.

Power Girl #13 review

The opening panel of this debut issue by new creative team Judd Winick and Sami Basri has Karen referring to her complicated past - survivor of a parallel Krypton, and all that. My initial reaction is, give it a rest. That storyline's been done to death, Can't we just ignore the convolutions of Power Girl's past and fly into the future.

As the issue goes on, though, the references prove reasonable - having seen Karen angrier than she's been for years in the current Justice League: Generation Lost series, we're offered an explanation here. After seeing her happiness erased once by the Crisis on Infinite Earths, she's wary that the resurrection of the now-crazed Max Lord - who represented happier times with the League after the trauma of the Crisis - signals the end of her current good times.

The issue flicks back and forth between a Max-hunting sortie to Russia with the Justice Society and the daily doings at Starrware Industries. Both scenarios hold the attention, with Power Girl encountering the ever-annoying Omacs in an inventive tussle, and big problems at the office. Plus, Karen's given a pair of earrings-cum-cellphones-cum-plot device*. Well, I'm assuming friendly inventor Nicholas is up to no good, this being comics.

Winick's script is impressive, with Karen recognisable as the person we've gotten to know over the past year, and her supporting cast present and correct. There's a lot of information conveyed without the story getting bogged down. I'm hoping that said story, so far as it ties in with JL:GL ends here, though. Twenty-six issues is enough to tell the Max Lord story, so now we know where it fits into Power Girl's book, that should be it. Winick's had as many brickbats as bouquets over the years, so if he's smart he'll use his two regular books to tell different stories, show his versatility.

I've been reading Winick for years, I know what he can do (Green Lantern good, Outsiders bad). Sami Basri, though, is a new name to me.

Wow. This art is gorgeous. The people look real, wear modern clothing, move naturally, fight thrillingly. I hate Omacs, when they come on panel, I glaze over. That's impossible here, as Basri takes Winick's script and runs with it, presenting the fight scene as ballsy ballet. It's elegant action all the way, with blasts flying back and forth, great grappling and exciting ankle activity (that sounds pervy, oops). But my favourite sequence flashes back to Max Lord's world-wiping, as Sunny Gho's colour choices add drama to Basri's intelligent design (click to enlarge). Oftimes, painted-style artwork leaves me cold, with artists presenting a series of barely related images rather than panel to panel storytelling. None of that with Basri, though, as he leads us through the issue with ease. Using a black keyline around the figures is a big plus with me, as it seems to say, yup, this is comic art, enjoy.

There's no keyline on the cover, leaving the image wispier than I prefer. It's still a stunner - a surprisingly placed figure on a gorgeous background. The cape looks oddly short, but I see the reason. It's a shame the blurbs are brasher than the illustration needs, though.

Talking of lettering, I'm chuffed to bits to see regular Power Girl letterer John J Hill has stayed with the book. He's very good.

It's a good start for the new team; so long as we don't get lost in Eventsville, this could be a fine run.

* how passe, Wonder Woman had telepathic earrings decades ago, and they could translate languages!

Supergirl #53 review

After a long run of Supergirl covers by Josh Middleton, we're about to begin a series by Amy Reeder. In between, though, here's an illustration by series artist Jamal Igle. And isn't it vibrant? Perfectly composed, beautifully executed, it's a lovely take on a motif perfected by cousin Kal.

Is there something I'm not getting? Any reason why Igle can't be allowed to give us the artistic lead-in to the series he illustrates so well? Maybe he doesn't want to do the job regularly ...

Inside, Kara isn't the confident, resolute hero we see on the cover, but I'm fine with that
- we're entering a new period of her life and I've no doubt she'll be this girl soon. Before that, she's somewhat down. Losing your father, mother and entire planet in short succession does that to a person. Happily, she has Lana Lang to look after her. I couldn't be happier that after Kara's shabby treatment of her sorta-adopted-mom in #50, they've made up. No convoluted apology scenes, just an off-panel understanding and here, a brief reference to the incident. Great, we can move on - the falling-out wasn't convincing in the first place.

Kara's having nightmares with alarming consequences - not just the involuntary heat vision blasts, but her decision to ignore most of her remaining links to Krypton (I'm assuming she won't avoid cousin Superman's calls). She wants to be called Linda Lang, rather than Kara, and plans to give up her Supergirl guise. Lana can go along with the one, but not the other, especially when a massive energy blast from Centennial Park resounds through Metropolis. People need the help of Kara - sorry, Linda - and Lana's going to make her see that.

Already on the scene are STAR Labs employees Dr Light and Gangbuster, the super-scientist and the D-list un-superhero who actually recognises his basic rubbishness, even dressing to complement the fact. They're in the issue in the first place because Dr Light, Kimiyo Hoshi, is trying to depower the vile Superwoman, under the watchful eye of new security head Gangbuster. Jose Delgado. And while Supergirl's dithering about using her fantastic gifts to help people, they're confronted with the big threat for the next two issues, Bizarro Girl.

The final page splash of BG emerging is fantastic - it's rare that a Bizarro, who should be shocking, actually has the power to disturb. This girl has that. Big time. I can't see Kara sitting on her Kryptonian arse while this monster's in town.

Writer Sterling Gates and artist Igle, freed from the constraints of crossovers and events, have a whale of a time here. The book is once again theirs, meaning there's space for Kara and Lana's still-new relationship to shine (watch for a lovely bit of business in which Kara subconsciously, sheepishly starts tidying up because Lana's come into her bedroom). And I'm even OK with a bit of Dr Light and Insomniabuster while we're waiting for Supergirl's new college supporting cast to arrive. Dialogue is bright and efficient, the pages - inked by Jon Sibal and coloured by Nei Ruffino - vital. Whether or not it's a big fight like the one that kicks this issue off, or the understated beginnings of a crisis through a cafe window, it's all good. I especially appreciate that, like Francis Manapul in the new Flash book, Igle is prepared to go the extra mile and fill his city with people. Supergirl is living an an honest to goodness Metropolis.

This is the Supergirl comic I want, full of its own meaty characters and storylines - all the crossover crutch ever does for this title is make it limp. Let's hope DC's assurances that the book can go its own way for awhile proves true.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Superman #700 review

James Robinson and Bernard Chang say goodbye to Superman, J Michael Straczynski says hello and Dan Jurgens says, what, that old thing?

I like that this issue bridges the gap between two creative teams, that is, Robinson and recent partner Chang, and JMS and Eddy Barrows. Robinson gives us a simple tale of Superman and Lois reuniting after the former's year on New Krypton. There's a battle with the Parasite too, but that's not important right now ... Robinson writes Lois and Clark so well as a couple that it's a real shame he barely got to use them together during his time on the book. There's a tenderness here that has me forgetting I was ever against them getting wed in the first place.

Making this story even better is the artwork of Chang, whose work on the book has improved as he's softened his line - it's still distinctive and dynamic, but facial features are rounder, more attractive. Chang doesn't shy away from the fact that Superman is wearing tights, without overdoing the wrinkles, and he has a knack for showing something going on behind characters' eyes. Plus, he manages to make Parasite scary without resorting to the daft shark teeth of recent years.

JMS sets up the coming 'Grounded' storyline, in which our hero will walk across America to connect with the people, via a scenario familiar to longtime comic fans. It's the classic - yet senseless - scene from 1970's Green Lantern #76 that prompted Hal Jordan to drive across the US with Ollie Queen rather than protect an entire space sector (click to enlarge). Forty years later ... Yes, same idea. A man on the scene reasonably points out that Superman can't be everywhere, but screw that is Angry Lady's response - he missed helping her fella, that makes him scum. Superman is speechless throughout her rant, but once she's flounced off he springs into action. He's soon off chatting to Batman about the type of injustice the JLA tackles and mystifying Flash with inane questions about what he notices at super-speed. Then it's a mournful glance at the snapshot of the dead husband Widowoman tossed at him, an even pappier than usual Pa Kent memory about being in touch with the soil, some handling of present day muck by our literal-minded hero and a wander off into the distance on foot, as bemused little boys assume there must be an important reason he's not flying. Sorry, kids. Well, if you're not going to be using it Superman, give me strength! Superman's going to be wandering across the US for a year because a grieving woman threw some ill-considered, selfish words at him? Singularly unable, or unwilling, to defend himself, Superman looks like a dumb loser, falling in with the expectations of others rather than managing them.

Worse still, like the first story, this prologue is set just after the New Krypton debacle. Superman, having been away from his wife for a year, is apparently leaving her again. Clark Kent, after a long sabbatical from the Daily Planet, looks likely to be AWOL once more. Please God that next month there's at least a 'before he set off walking' flashback shunted into the first issue proper of this story to address these issues; otherwise, Lois should file for divorce citing abandonment, and the Planet should kick Clark out on his invulnerable arse.

JMS has written some great books since he came to DC, so I'll give this storyline a chance, but gee whiz, I like the idea of a cross-continent walk little enough without the pretext being a 40-year old plot idea that was stupid the first time out. Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer at least make everything look purty, though Barry Allen develops a scarily Joker-esque chin in one panel.

It's great that Dan Jurgens, who has contributed so much to the modern Superman mythos, has a story in here too, but the nature of said contribution is a headscratcher. Set in Superman's early years, it's basically a Robin story with a glorified cameo for the star of the book. It's pleasantly written and pencilled by Jurgens, and nicely inked by Norm Rapmund, but it's terribly out of place in what's meant to be a celebration of an anniversary, not inventory.

The rest of the book consists of plugs for the upcoming Superman Family titles - text pieces by the writers of Action Comics, Supergirl and Superboy, and a preview of Action. I could have done without the lot of them, glorified house ads all. There's a lovely cover by Gary Frank, though - it's a shame he's not inside too.

One way and another, this is a comic that looks to the past as much as the future. On the basis of the Grounded prologue and the excellent farewell work by Robinson and Chang, I think I'd like to live in the past.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Birds of Prey #2 review

Black Canary and Huntress are confronted by mystery woman the White Canary and the former is in a proper tizzy. 'Something about this particular nutcase makes me have to fight to keep from running.'

What it is, I don't know. So far, the newcomer has simply been standing there, glaring at the heroines like Paddington Bear with his 'hard stare'. Sure, she's wounded the Penguin, but he's not known for fighting prowess. Eventually, Huntress Helena and Canary Dinah attack and WC (such unfortunate initials) wipes the floor with them, kicking elegantly, slashing with her spiky hair decoration and generally proving that two into one somehow doesn't go. Finally, Huntress grabs her and Dinah smashes her fist into WC's face several times, blows which should at least disable the girl, if not kill her. But she's fine, surviving until Hawk & Dove and Lady Blackhawk arrive ...

WC slices open the supposedly invulnerable Hawk, while Dove takes her peaceful image to extremes by simply floating around. Hotshot markswoman Lady Blackhawk points, at one point, but does nothing. Oh hang on, the heroes do manage one mini-triumph - Hawk pulls some of WC's hair out. Big win there, they can analyse DNA later and be puzzled by what they find.

As fights go, this is up there with the JLA v Deathstroke in Identity Crisis. So a severely outnumbered villain punks experienced heroes who forget that they're meant to be a team. WC escapes when a GCPD chopper arrives after a news helicopter lets their location be known - the media is in a frenzy, having been fed lies about Dinah by the unknown enemy who's been messing with the Birds since last issue. Worse still, the mysterious manipulator reveals the identity of Black Canary to the media, along with details of her almost-daughter Sin (who may be the White Canary, via time travel, ageing-up jiggery pokery or a really great sports bra).

Also this month, the enemy murders one of Oracle's associates - fulfilling WC's threat that 'one of you will die every hour for the next six hours' - prompting another to kill himself. The characters in question are favourites of many BoP fans, more, I think, to do with their ticking minority boxes than any huge worth - but good on writer Gail Simone for at least killing characters she created.

Anyway, Oracle is upset, but grits her teeth and resolves to win the day. The deaths of male supporting characters incite the female star to reach new emotional heights ... I think this is Simone having a giggle at the whole Women in Refrigerators business.

As usual with her scripts, Simone provides some fine, fun dialogue, but as happened regularly with her recently concluded Wonder Woman run, there are some headscratching moments. The big one here is the question of Dinah's sonic scream, which can blast holes in mountains. She has amazing fighting skills but this is her power, one she should have used against White Canary. Black Canary doesn't even consider using the yell. Later in the issue she's quick to employ it against Gotham cops, but still, unless Dinah's scream is randomly failing her, it should be her weapon of choice when martial arts just won't win the day. If she's not going to use it, I want to know why.

Then there's Dinah's decision to have the Birds take on the police, when the option exists to surrender as a delaying tactic, or beat a retreat. For the daughter of a cop, working with Oracle - child of Commissioner Gordon - it makes no sense that they'd attack non-metas with the badge on their side. I don't care that some may be corrupt - 'may' doesn't cut it.

One problem which I hope will be resolved over time is the addition of Hawk and Dove. Citizens of Washington DC, they've no reason to be hanging around Gotham in the first place and have so far contributed little to the book. Actually, nothing in Dove's case, though we're told she's 'the conscience of the super-hero community', which is new to me. Oh, and despite her super-intelligence she's suddenly talking as if she's in My Little Ponyland, what with 'Ms Canary' this and 'Mr Cobblepot' that. Much as I liked the characters when they had their own series, they make this one too crowded and I'd be happy if they flew off for a mini showcasing their actual powers and characters.

Ed Benes pencils and inks some great pages, with part of the book drawn by Adriana Melo, and inked by Mariah Benes. It's generally very good stuff, though there's the odd pervy contortion (Dove, Im looking at you - and so is the Penguin). The initial fight between Canary, Huntress and White Canary looks great, but there's nothing to convince us WC is anything other than just one more female master martial artist to join the likes of Lady Shiva, Cheshire and Lady Vic. So far as the rest of the art team goes, Nei Ruffino's colours are rich, Steve Wands' letters full of character and the pair help knit the two pencillers' pages together.

I'm a BoP fan, I'm a Simone fan, so I'll keep buying to see how things settle down, but I was disappointed by this issue.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Magog #10 review

You know you're old when you see Tommy Tomorrow in a comic, assume he's on a sortie from the future, then realise that our present day has caught up with the fella.

It's the 21st century? Really? Yipes. No jetpacks, just $2.99 comics.

One of which is this, my first issue of Magog. Firstly, because I wasn't a huge fan of Kingdom Come, didn't like Magog in JSA, hated him in JSA All-Stars and so had no wish to follow him into his own book. But hearing that Tommy and his Planeteers, interstellar policemen and stars of their own Silver Age DC strip, were appearing, I couldn't resist.

As it is, Tommy isn't an active participant in the conflict, acting as the spur for Magog's heroics rather than joining him, but it's fun to see him - and he's hardly changed a bit since 1953. And I appreciated his point when asked by Magog why the Green Lanterns aren't involved, that even with 7,200 GLs, space is big. Really big.

See those toothy critters in the background of the modern image? They're The Cache, part of the threat here, a huge cosmic thingie called The Mass which eats people after sending down The App to infiltrate planetary ethernets. I suppose this is what you'd call a definitive threat. But The App? There may well be some irony in Keith Giffen's script for 'Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow'; Tom Derenick is certainly having a ball with those 'Tribbles with teeth', going all EC sci-fi with the artwork. Let's see that again. I suppose it's not funny if you're the one being eaten, but it looks a hoot.

He may be a brash bugger, but Magog's a good soldier for Earth, and is soon standing on a rock in outer space, zapping spaceballs with his mighty spear. By issue's end the threat has retreated, but not before leaving Magog with troubling questions relating to free will, destiny and the possible future of Kingdom Come.

I enjoyed this comic more than expected. Giffen's narration by Magog makes him far more sympathetic, more interesting than in other appearances I've seen, while Derenick's pencils, inked by Rodney Ramos, make that ludicrous costume work. Muscles straining, 400 teeth bared, spear slicing through the air, Magog is rather the impressive figure. And the mystery of his future, along with what I've heard about some weird relatives, may get me trying a few back issues.

See what happens when ancient characters like Tommy Tomorrow are dredged up? Next I'll be buying Azrael cos it features Johnny Peril...


When we last left our Her-oes it was revealed that Jen has serious anger issues, that Namora never backs down from a fight, and that everyone has not been completely honest with Janet about what has been going on around her. Janet is given little time to sort all of this out before her world expands further into Marvel lore when she, along with Namora and Jen, are forcibly returned to her father’s lab by Miss America. Miss America explains that she is part of a secret military unit that has been secretly gathering meta-humans in Cresskill, where they are forbidden to use their powers publicly to maintain national security.

Fearful that Jen would be locked away forever because she cannot fully control her powers, Janet and Namora break out her of the lab in a meta-powered bid for freedom. Hoping Namora’s visiting cousin can help them, they drive to her house but find him gone for the weekend. Before the girls can plan their next move, they are visited by Moonstone, who has been tracking Jen’s gamma radiation trail. Fleeing upstairs after Moonstone demonstrates her phasing ability with a closed door, the girls are faced with a demand to surrender Jen. They quickly realise that Moonstone and her two male cohorts (who share her fashion affinity for gold) are unaware that Janet and Namora have special powers. Unwilling to let her friends reveal themselves to protect her, Jen selflessly hulks out to combat the villainous trio alone (click to enlarge). Refusing to allow Jen to fight solo, Janet and Namora quickly fabricate ad hoc costumes with designer scarves and Mardi Gras masks to protect their identities and dive into action as the issue ends.

HER-OES #3 is a fast-paced and fun read that does not allow the characters (and the reader, for that matter) to catch their breath, as story elements are unveiled in rapid succession. With the introduction of the two adult Marvel characters Miss America and Moonstone, one wonders, is there a Professor Logan somewhere teaching art? The dialogue continues to be sharp, with Namora delivering some humorous lines in deadpan style, while Jen quotes Hulk icon Bill Bixby when Janet inadvertently shakes her too hard. Another exchange, reproduced below, between Janet (left) and Namora (right) is enough to make any comic book reader smile. While I still feel Veronica Gandini's colouring could be brighter, Craig Rousseau's art nevertheless delivers the action of Grace Randolph's story in great detail with each turn of the page. I love how She-Hulk can still fight with her glasses on, the perfect embodiment of the angry librarian. The last issue of the mini-series cannot come soon enough, and already I am hoping for a sequel…

Eugene Liptak is a librarian and author who is currently working on a display to commemorate the 30th anniversary of She-Hulk at the Pima County Public Library in Tucson, Arizona.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Joker's Asylum II: Mad Hatter #1 review

The Mad Hatter isn't in the A-list of Batman villains. A John Tenniel illustration come to life, he's never caught the general imagination in the same way as the Joker, Penguin and Catwoman. He gets a shot at the big time here as the Clown Prince of Crime tells a tale of Jervis Tetch.

The Mad Hatter is trying to live a quiet life in Gotham. He's fighting his demons, the lure of the hats which let him control the minds of others - a torment embodied by harmless-seeming cups of tea. Meanwhile, he's pining for a waitress he dreams will be his Alice, writing a book about the two of them and yearning for a happy ending.

The narration places us firmly in the Hatter's head, and I was surprised at how quickly I felt empathy for the sad little teaholic. This is just a misunderstood man with a hopeless crush.

Yeah, right. Author Landry Walker takes us in one direction but, step by step, swerves into less comfortable territory entirely. We're finally assured that while Tetch is a man who wears many hats, only one truly fits ...

Walker, known for such whimsical delights as Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, shows that he can play in the darker side of the DC Universe too. He gives us a Mad Hatter who is more interesting, more truly compelling than any I can remember. And the Joker's Asylum framework means the reader can decide whether or not 'Tea Time' is canon.

Not that it matters. The point is that this comic is good. Very good. And the artwork plays a big part in the issue's success as we see the Hatter, and we see how the Hatter sees us. Keith Giffen lays down fractured pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz unnerves some more with his finishes (click to enlarge). Factor in the intelligent, attractive colourwork of David Baron, and skewed lettering of Pat Brosseau and we have a memorable piece of illustration. There's one page, in particular - a splash - that manages to be horribly depressing while looking terribly uplifting.

The issue is topped off with a wonderfully imaginative cover design that's pure Sienkiewicz, pure nightmare.

I'm not following the Joker's Asylum sequence, as most of the characters involved are overly familiar to me from (cough) years of comics reading. But what brought me to this strange brew was the mystery of the Mad Hatter and a genuinely surprising creative team. I doff my hat to them.

The New Avengers #1 review

Luke Cage, quit that &?*£!% cussing, this is the Heroic Age. Yes indeedy, the New Avengers get shiny in this second volume, with Cage and co moving into a rebuilt Avengers Mansion and finally considered good guys in the eyes of the world.

The story kicks off with Dr Strange meeting a possessed Son of Satan, Daimon Hellstrom, and getting mystically tagged himself. Then, at the party featured in last month's Avengers #1, Cap'n Steve Rogers asks Luke's team, until recently outlawed vigilantes, to come into the light and work for him. Luke's agin that, not wishing to answer to any government figure, even one whose cleanness fair squeaks. Cap has the answer - be your own Avengers team, but keep in touch. And Tony Stark 'sells' Avengers Mansion to Luke for the not exactly princely sum of $1, which he's borrowed from the wealthy Iron Fist.

Hurrah, the New Avengers have been given free reign, they can be their own men and women in their own HQ ... so what's former Norman Osborn Number Two Victoria Hand doing 'welcoming' them with a ruddy great gun? Hand hands over a letter purporting to be from Cap asking the team to babysit her, give her a shot at redemption. An obvious fake, thought I, no way would Cap go back on his word within hours, dumping them with a woman they've every reason to distrust, hate even, and via a scrappy piece of paper at that.

Apparently he would. The scenario is presented as straight up, and after understandably stiff words, the Navvies (as absolutely no one is calling them) agree to give Hand a shot.

Really? Until this point I was thoroughly enjoying 'Possession'; it felt like an Avengers comic of old, as members and the book moved on, with the events of the last few years ready to be forgotten. But no, here's an idiot with only negative feelings for the Avengers parachuted in, presumably to provide character conflict. Given the ranks of the team - it's pretty much the New Avengers as was, ie Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Jessica Drew, Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Wolverine, Iron Fist and Ms Marvel, with the Thing signing up here cos Cage likes having him around - it's not as if the book lacks opportunities for engaging interaction. Plus, we already have a tough cookie hanging out with Earth's Mightiest Heroes in the form of Maria Hill in regular Avengers.

The Avengers have had annoying admin folk previously, and I've no doubt writer Brian Michael Bendis can make Hand likable, but it makes no sense to me that Steve would ask the team to take her on, especially in such an underhand manner, or that they'd agree. I can see Luke agree to Cap's appeal to give her a chance, as Luke himself was given a chance via the Super-Soldier Serum, but I can't see him letting her get close ... especially after waving that gun in the face of his and Jessica's kid. By all means, work up a Hand job, but she doesn't merit becoming Cap's eyes and ears in the New Avengers. The 'Redemption is our business' new Thunderbolts would be the perfect place for Hand to show what she's made of.

For my borrowed $1, Tricky Vicky can bugger off back to the poodle parlour where she gets that magenta put into her hair, and the New Avengers can welcome back Edwin Jarvis, Duane Freeman or Henry Peter Bloody Gyrich. But a Green Goblin lackey who's still defending her former boss? Does not compute. Well, unless you're Ultron.

Ooh, went on a bit there. Breathe. Forgetting Hand, there's plenty to enjoy this issue, from the works-on-several-levels title to the stonker of a final page. The scene with Strange, Hellstrom and, later, Dr Voodoo are gripping, featuring such marvellous enchantments as 'the Longorian Spell' (oddly, it doesn't give you lovely shiny hair). There's a moment between Cage and Hand that had me clapping. Plus, Wolverine gets metafictive in a cute exchange.

There's massive pleasure to be had in the sleek art of Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger. The heroes look, well, terribly heroic in this post-Siege moment. New York looks like the gleaming centre of the universe, New Orleans a mystic suburb of same. Even Luke Cage's sofa is gorgeous. Colourist Laura Martin proves once again what a fine mood enhancer she is, giving each scene the appropriate tone and a certain je ne sais quoi, while Chris Eliopoulos letters and handles the production like the mini-legend he is. It's great work all round and I'm in for awhile, something I couldn't say about the previous New Avengers, which never clicked with me. I bet I could even get used to Victoria Hand, given the frustrated humour the artists give her. And Brian Bendis doesn't half make her dialogue with Cage and co fun. But I need to see her apologise hard.

Plus, the spotlight needs to be shared out some more or this book may as well be renamed Luke Cage's Avengers - Luke dominates every scene he's in, which is most of the book, reducing Spidey, Wolvie, Carol and the rest to bit part players and background artists. But it's only issue #1 (again), let's see where we go from here.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Heralds #2 review

As I took a look at #1 last week (see below), I'll not go into much detail here. So why bring it up again? Because this book is so great that I want as many folk as possible to try it, before it's over. And as Marvel, for some nutty reason, is releasing this five-part mini on a weekly basis, it'll be over before you know it.

So, quick recap - Emma Frost, She-Hulk, Photon, Abigail Brand, Valkyrie and Hellcat have become embroiled in a breakout from a SWORD holding facility sparked by a beam from outer space. Last time they fought cloned scientists, dinosaurs, aliens ... just another day at the office, really. This issue they're gathering themselves when the discovery of a dead chap by the road has them heading for the Las Vegas morgue. Meanwhile, mysterious waitress Frances Hyatt, who exploded last issue, tries to find the strength to pull herself out of a ditch, and Nova, former herald of Galactus and former corpse, flies towards Earth.

So far, so superhero comic. So what's the unique selling point? Kathryn Immonen's script, which manages to be even sharper than last issue's while moving the story forward. And rather than throwing random jokes at us, the banter between the heroines is spot-on for the individual personalities. In the tradition of Sally Brown, rather than tell, I shall show (click on image to enlarge, ta).
The TV news report cliche becomes entertaining ...
... Abigail Brand gets likable ...
... Shulkie comes over all philosophical ...
... and, OK, there's pure smut. Tut. It's not all fun and games, Immonen excels on the serious side too - but it's the funny stuff I was dying to share, as it's so hard to get the rhythms of humour right in comic books. How much bad Spidey dialogue have you read? And there's plenty more where these excerpts came from. The scene in which the ladies use different approaches in a bid to gain entry to the morgue, for example, shows they're not interchangeable Marvel women.

Tonci Zonjic doesn't provide all the artwork this issue, as James Harren pitches in. I'm no expert (as is obvious from reading, oh, a whole review by me) but I'm guessing Zonjic handled all the Frankie Raye (oops) scenes while Harren covered the superheroines. If I'm wrong, my apologies. Anyway, while the close-ups are fine, often attractive, some of the midshots are less successful. Shulkie, in particular, is weirdly swan-necked and, with the uncharacteristic short hair Zonjic has saddled her with, looks like a green legume (Pea-Hulk?). I imagine a combination of a rough production schedule, an attempt to reflect the funnier bits of the script and a bid to blend in with Zonjic's pencils accounts for the occasional awkwardness. Whatever the case, I suggest a visit to Mr Harren's gallery at Deviant Art - it's full of great stuff.

And I still heartily recommend this book! Buy it before Immonen gets snapped up to write for Big Bang Theory or something - encourage her comics career and you never know, she might just decide to stick around and give us more smart superheroics.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Batman #700 review

Grant Morrison rocks the ages of Batman with a story spanning the Gotham legend's various incarnations. Bruce and Dick, Dick and Damian, Damian and his cat, Batman Beyond Terry McGuinness, Batman One Million and Robin the Toy Wonder ... all get a moment to shine in a story linked by the time-travelling Professor Hyatt. The Joker's legacy also pops up throughout, and rightly so, given his status as Batman's arch-enemy.

Tony Daniel handles the artwork for 'Yesterday', a Sixties meets Noughties encounter between the original Dynamic Duo and Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Mad Hatter and Scarecrow. Morrison gives the cheesey Silver Age sensibility a harder edge without going all-out gritty, while Daniel produces some of the most animated art I've seen from him, full of movement and character.

Frank Quitely and Scott Kolins join Morrison for 'Today', as Dick and Damian star in a sequel to Detective Comics #457's 'There is No Hope in Crime Alley'. We see that Batman's presence really has made a difference to the attitude of Gothamites towards walking down urban alleys after dark. Or maybe that's just one dumb rich broad. Still, Holly's question does facilitate that definitively Dick moment - the 'laughing, fighting, young daredevil who scoffs at danger' has aged rather well.

Damian similarly remains himself for 'Tomorrow', with Andy Kubert on hand to draw up a deadly dreich Gotham of the near future. There's a rain of Joker venom, the wonderfully named 2-Face-2, the creepiest baby ever and the contradicting of Dick's surprising assertion to Damian in the previous chapter that he'd make a rubbish Batman.

An appearance by Batman Beyond has me concentrating hard to see if I could possibly care less. Hang on ....

... nope. 'And Tomorrow' is sci-fi dystopia with a Bat-cum-Tokyo-spin. Holy Zzzzz, Batman. Still, David Finch and Richard Friend offer some cracking visuals.

They also handle the last two pages, which are simply gorgeous - the final image is, of course, the current Batman and Robin, but before that we get the best shot of Commissioner Gordon and co standing by the bat signal I can recall - the composition, the lighting, the colouring by Peter Steigerwald - it's breathtaking. And unless my eyes have gone all Rorschach test, the artists have sneaked in a couple of buildings to form the Batman silhouette, complete with windows as utility belt. That could be a tribute to the classic cover of Detective Comics #567 - look it up at the Grand Comics Database if you're not old!

These final story pages make up for the 'not again' cover of this issue. Batman. Gargoyle. Yawn.

Never mind though, as anniversary issues go, this is a treat. It's similar in theme to Brave and Bold #200, in which the Batmen of Earth 2 and 1 tackle the same mystery, decades apart, but the tone is pure 21st century. (And I realise I'm waxing nostalgic, but it is anniversary time, innit?)

Incidental pleasures include the coining of a great term to describe Adam west-era villain team-ups, 'popcrime'; a hint that Nightwing will be back soon in the way we see Dick misses his escrima sticks; and this grin-inducing sequence. I'm glad Dick is teaching Damian the importance of proper nutrition.

Backing up the lead feature are pin-ups by the likes of Philip Tan, Dustin Nguyen and Shane Davis. There are some striking images, with my favourite being Bill Sienkiewicz's haunting illustration of Batman in a pseudo-London.

Finally, Freddie E Williams II brings us a believable Batcave, while Matthew K Manning describes its delights. And the seeds of a future mystery are planted via the mention of Sublevel 7 (purpose known only to Batman).

A tribute to the Batman legend by talented creators, I can't imagine many Batman fans not finding lots to like here. Wholly enjoyable, Batman!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Young Allies #1 review

I dunno, you wait ages for a decent young hero team to come along and then two show up at once.

As well as Avengers Academy, Marvel this week brings us Young Allies, named for the Golden Age kid group book published by Marvel predecessor, Timely. That had a Bucky and a Toro, this one has a Bucky (currently going by Nomad) and a Toro. Mind, Bucky/Nomad isn't a gun-toting teenage Nazi-smasher but a patriotic schoolgirl, and Toro, rather than being a flaming boy, is a man-bull.

The new Young Allies also calls to mind the New Warriors, being a collection of old and fresh characters who, because they're not wanted elsewhere, are free to go their own sweet way. And in the shape of Firestar, there's even a former New Warrior (Amazing Friend of Spider-Man, Hellion, Avenger, Marvel Diva ...) on the team.

Filling out the ranks are Arana, the former Spider-Girl, and Gravity, who controls graviton particles (I don't actually know what this means, but he's as powerful as he is camply clad).

This issue sees the characters get together when wonderfully named teenage terrorists the Bastards of Evil hit New York. There's a big blast, they all happen to be in the area, they step up - in a city with as many metahumans as NYC, that makes perfect sense.

Other than Arana and Nomad, who are schoolpals as well as crimefighting partners, there's not a lot of interaction between the Allies-to-be this time out. Based on what writer Sean McKeever shows us of them individually, though, I look forward to the coming conversations.

There seems to be some intention that this group will represent America, which makes sense given the legacy of the YA concept. So we have patriotic wanderer Nomad, midwesterner Gravity, illegal immigrant Toro, Hispanic Arana and WASP-ish Firestar. We're not slapped about the head with the idea, but it's there and it'll be interesting to see if McKeever does anything with it.

McKeever seems much comfier here than during his recent stint on DC Comics' Teen Titans. The dialogue reads well, being neither declamatory nor wannabe Mamet. It simply conveys character while helping move the story along. The heroes are likable, the villains ... well, the clue's in the name, they're not nice people. But they're formidable, and fun to watch.

We first meet the Bastards of Evil in an unusually moody page. They're in tight close-ups, enveloped in shadow. It makes me eager for their daylight debut, and they don't disappoint.

McKeever's penciller partner is David Baldeon, whose layouts have a nice energy to them. Whether it's Nomad leaping across a shop to tackle street toughs, or Gravity defying BoE Singularity, there's a fun dynamism that pulls me in. I also like that Baldeon is confident enough to go with an occasional goofiness of expression. Actual cartooning, love it! The finishes by N Bowling work well, while Chris Sotomayor's colours pop, and pop again. Except when he's colouring Firestar in civvies and she has brown, rather than ginger, hair.

For the comic's opening Colombia-set sequence, letterer Joe Sabino uses a rougher font than for the rest of the book, to indicate translation. It's distractingly messy, and unnecessary given the translation brackets, but points to Mr Sabino for at least trying something new.

We're gifted a wraparound cover, with art by fan favourite David Lafuente, but I'd rather Baldeon had been given the assignment. Arana and Bucky look spiffy, but Toro resembles a pimp genie, Firestar screams 'emaciated witch' and Gravity looks to have lost his legs. Nice logo, though.

Given that there's not a single character in this book I'd consider a favourite - Firestar comes closest - I'm impressed I enjoyed Young Allies #1 as much as I did. A back-up feature helpfully recapping histories and powers ends with the legend: Five heroes against tyranny in all its forms. Five students pushing to make the grade. Five friends together on the road to adulthood. Friendship and the greater good - it's an old-fashioned excuse for a team book and one that suits this combination of characters. I'll buy it.

Avengers Academy #1 review

Spinning out of the recently concluded Avengers: The Initiative series, Avengers Academy gathers six young would-be heroes and puts them in the hands of experienced Assemblers. Out of the dozens of teenagers in Norman Osborn's Initiative programme, Reptil, Hazmat, Finesse, Mettle, Striker and Veil are the best the next generation has to offer.

At least that's what the senior Avengers are telling them ...

... the truth is a little more interesting than that, and it's worth sticking with this daringly unflashy first issue to learn it. Writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone present an engaging bunch of newbies here - all but Reptil are making their debuts - and with the Wasp (Hank Pym version), Justice, Quicksilver, Tigra and Speedball as permanent instructors, we're guaranteed character-based fireworks (click to enlarge). So, the teachers at Avengers Academy - based in the Infinite Avengers Mansion created by Hank in Dan Slott's superb Mighty Avengers run - have been selected because they've had as many bad times as good. I like this idea, as it means the young 'uns aren't going to assume life as an Avenger is all priority cards and parades. Just so long as there's an occasional visit from Cap'n Steve Rogers to give them someone shining to aspire to.

The power sets, so far, are pretty much superhero archetypes - energy hurler, super mathlete, body morpher, strong guy, fading female and stuck-in-a-suit siren - but it's the personalities that will make them stand out. My early favourites are Mettle, for his common sense, and Finesse, for her understandably cocky attitude (it's just a shame her codename sounds like a feminine hygiene product). But I can see the league table shifting from issue to issue.

Wispy woman Veil, Maddy Berry, is our point of view character, and she's appealing so far as needy wallflowers go. The book's opening scene, set three months ago, has me immediately empathising. I can see her blooming, as she faces the kind of curves thrown her way this issue.

We don't get equivalent backstories for the other members, which is fine by me; Maddy's 'origin' is our way into the team's raison d'etre, it'll be fun finding out everyone else's over time, whereas an over-formulaic, repetitive first story would have hobbled this book at the first hurdle.

As it is, there's room to catch up with Speedball, newly costumed by House of Marvelman for his post-Penance period. We see Tigra get some respect, and Quicksilver's view of his tumultuous past. Hank's mental problems are brought up in a way that encourages the belief they won't be a monkey on his back, and Justice, we see, looks set to be an accidental heartbreaker.

My favourite moment sees Hank Pym drop in a piece of information about superhero physiology that makes perfect sense in the Marvel Universe, going back to the earliest days of Peter Parker. It's not some mad retcon, just a subtle piece of info that fits certain facts, yet can be ignored if preferred.

Gage knows what he's doing. While a danger-filled mission might have made this first effort more splashy, it'd be inappropriate on the kids' first day. So we get training room action and it works just fine, giving the Academians a chance to simultaneously show their abilities and personality traits. Their characters, we'll see as time goes on.

McKone's illustrations, coloured by Jeromy Cox, are something special. The new characters are distinctive and alive, while the longterm Avengers seem heroic yet world-weary. Infinite Avengers Mansion looks great, decorated with artwork we recognise as scenes from Avengers covers. If he's taking suggestions, I'd ask McKone to rescue Hank Pym from his current costume - it's just one tragedy too many (don't click to enlarge, it'll hurt your eyes). His new lab coat is a keeper, mind.

The cover illo is suitably Heroic Age, with confident young heroes inspired by the Avengers pantheon. The logo's a shocker, though - who really thinks the front-facing 'cademy' fits with the slanted Avengers logo? Fix it quick, Marvel! Letterer Clayton Cowles does a fine job of getting this issue's script onto the page, let him have a crack. Maybe a new logo based on the original Avengers masthead, as seen recently in Mighty Avengers - a classic look for what will hopefully prove a classic run.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

JSA All-Stars #7 review

Matthew Sturges is a mischievous fella. Here he uses a funeral story for JSA member Damage - killed in the recent Darkest Knight storyline - to make me finally like the guy. The explosive Grant Emerson has been in the 'angry young man/self-pitying tosser' category for years, but here we find that he finally found peace before winding up in pieces.

Them's the breaks.

Learning this fact alongside me this issue is Judomaster, who has been in dire need of a focus issue since she turned up on the JSA a few years ago. Until now she's seemed little more than a trademark placeholder, a cypher who kicks villains into corners while muttering in Japanese. Recently, though, Sturges has developed a cute little romance between Judomaster, aka Sonia Sato, and Damage, making her the perfect person to eulogise him. She gets to know him better after his death via a revelation by Sand and a taped message from Grant himself.

While Judomaster can't get revenge for Grant's crossover cannon fodder death, she does set out to murder some guy named Tiger, who was involved in her father's demise. Being Judomaster, she plans to ... shoot him from a rooftop. Luckily, intervention by Damage, facilitated by JSA colleague King Chimera, stops her becoming a cold-blooded killer. I do hope she gets counselling, though - the fact she comes so close to committing homicide hardly marks Judomaster as a shining example of heroism. After this issue, I know more about her, but am unsure she's worthy of being on the team. Yes, she throws off some bitterness here, but this woman's problems seem pretty deep-seated.

Sturges does a commendable job of getting us under the skin of his two troubled heroes, and throws in decent moments for other team members. And Freddie Williams II's artwork is more to my taste here than in previous issues, with fewer oddly twisted bodies and more good storytelling choices. Mind, with that feminine flaring coat and criss-cross chest rag, Sand is officially the worst dressed superhero today; seriously, I've filled in the paperwork (click to enlarge). The back-up strip starring Liberty Belle and Hourman, The Inheritence (sic), continues to be an entertaining romp around Europe. Icicle and Tigress are so much fun as reluctant allies that I'd love them to join the JSA as probationers. And Jen Van Meter, Travis Moore and Dan Green should be tapped for a fill-in issue on the lead All-Stars strip, they've a great creative chemistry and feel for the heroes. The only thing I'd advise to All-Stars editors Mike Carlin and Rachel Gluckstern would be a reader-friendly recap before each episode, but it's likely too late now.

Finally, the cover's ugly, grisly and not reflective of the issue's contents - Damage died months ago, a heroic pose for his home book would surely have been more fitting.

Heralds #1 review

Valkyrie, Emma Frost, Hellcat, She-Hulk, Photon and Abigail Brand, Agent of D.U.L.L.
- sorry, S.W.O.R.D. - team up in an offering from Marvel's Year of Women. This first of five issues has them celebrating Emma's birthday in Las Vegas when they're interrupted by rampaging dinosaurs and dead scientists. Nearby, a waitress explodes ....

Brand originated in the X-books but Lord knows why Cyclops would corral Valkyrie, Monica Rambeau, Shulkie and Hellcat to entertain Emma, I wasn't aware they were more than passing acquaintances, if that. The comic tries to get round this by acknowledging that the X-Men's White Queen barely knows these people - Cyclops promised Emma no surprise parties with anyone she knows. So it's people the readers know instead.

Well, OK ... any excuse to see the hilarious Hellcat is good, and seeing her and Monica drawn once more by Tonci Zonjic makes this feel like a sequel to last year's excellent Marvel Divas mini-series. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote that one, but here we have Police Squad fan Kathryn Immonen in charge - she previously helmed a Hellcat mini so has form with Patsy Walker, Marvel's most fun-loving heroine. And her fondness for the erstwhile Avenger shines through, with Patsy shooting off some wonderful lines (click to enlarge). To be honest, I could read an entire comic from Immomen of nothing but characters bouncing off one another - there's a Cyclops/Emma scene here that actually makes their bizarro relationship believable - but we're lucky enough to get high stakes action too, with cosmic shenanigans centred on a hotheaded, mysterious redhead named Frankie, presumably a certain former Herald of Galactus

Zonjic handles the action well, though the panel in which the genius clones first attack tourists might have highlighted Einstein, as he's the only hugely recognisable real-world dead scientist we have. As it is, the heroines react to the scene as if it's obvious geniuses are on the loose, when it really isn't.

Apart from that, I enjoyed Zonjic's work - characters move like real people, the women have individual faces, the backgrounds are full of personality and the storytelling's fine. It's good cartooning.

Jelena Djurdjevic's cover is rendered in a more realistic style than the interior art and while figures and composition are lovely, it's all a bit brown - no one really stands out.

I'll be buying this next month - I'm intrigued by the story, the mix of characters is endearingly weird and you never know, boring old Agent Brand might get eaten by a T-Rex. That's worth $2.99 of anybody's money.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1 review

The debut issue of Clint Barton and Bobbi Morse's first ongoing series opens with the partners in crimefighting on the trail of gun-runners. It's tough to make a high-speed chase work on the comics page, but it's pulled off here. Hawkeye and Mockingbird use bow, baton and banter to win the battle, but the war is far from over, with an old enemy revealed to be up to ... something.

Aiming to find out just what, are the super-spies in Bobbi's World Counterterrorism Agency, an engaging bunch including obscure Marvel soldier of fortune, Dominic (a lot of energy went into naming me) Fortune. Hawkeye, meanwhile, is en route to pissing Bobbi off by going behind her back in a bid to offer help she hasn't asked for, and Bobbi is en route to pissing Clint off with her creative approach to covert agency finance. What's more, a figure - or rather, a spirit - from the couple's past emerges to spark big trouble.

It's difficult to type while I'm applauding. Writer Jim McCann has scripted the perfect superhero debut issue. The leads are introduced via an action scene showcasing their skills and relationship, and when things calm down we get background and more leisurely introductions, of characters and plots. There's even room for a scene with Hawkeye and fellow Avengers Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, pointing out that former cocky upstart Hawkeye is today one of the most respected of heroes. McCann doesn't try any tricksy narrative tricks, concentrating on providing a good solid story, simply - but very well - told. It's superheroics with a spy sensibility, comprising action, emotion, humour and mystery.

Clint narrates this issue and the idea works well - I'm no fan of dual narrations, a la Superman/Batman, so Clint and Bobbi handing the perspective back and forth would be an ideal approach.

Artists David and Alvaro Lopez aren't trying to dazzle with visual pyrotechnics - like McCann, they're letting their craft speak for them, serving the story rather than ego. And they're quite the craftsmen, leading us through the book with appealing illustrations. They capture Hawkeye's swashbuckling nature, Bobbi's differently styled bravado and, vitally, the chemistry between them - these two look like they belong together.

If I were to do a spot of back-seat editing (who, me?) I'd give Bobbi back her old, flared mask
- the horn-rimmed specs make her look permanently annoyed. And I'd up the colour gradients. Colourist Nathan Fairbairn here follows the style of the mini-series that preceded this ongoing sequel, New Avengers: The Reunion, and Bobbi has lost her visual pop - she used to be a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, now she has drab vanilla hair, almost the same colour as the jaundiced skin tones. What's more, I'd return Clint to his classic Hawkeye costume - think John Buscema-era Avengers - as the current version seems different for the sake of it, and duller.

But these are tiny quibbles around what is a great book. The whole creative team does a great job, including letterer Cory Petit, cover artist Paul Renaud and editors Rachel Pinnelas and Bill Rosemann. The new story is 22 pages long but feels longer, in a very good way. There's plenty going on and it leaves me wanting plenty more.

'New story'? Yup, there's a back-up which, although it uses a collage of old artwork, has a splendid script by Sean McQuaid recapping all the significant points in the lives and love of Clint and Bobbi. And while it's a dual narration, I'm considering it the exception that proves the rule. Rodolfo Muraguchi designs the pages and does a smart job.

DC failed with its attempt to give us a decent superhero series featuring an archer and a bird-themed blonde. Marvel, though, is quickly getting it right. Unlike the Green Arrow/Black Canary creative teams, whose stories favoured archer Ollie while giving Dinah the shaft, McCann and co find both leads equally fascinating. Which means I do too.

As unpleasant a piece of furniture as Marvel's Heroic Age banner is - see how much better that cover illo looks when you can see the full shadows? - it actually fits the feel of Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1: Clint and Bobbi aren't perfect, but they're heroes through and through, caring for each other and the greater good. The book is dramatic, but there's a tone of optimism that's terribly refreshing after the last several years of doom and gloom at Marvel. This is a fine start to what looks set to be a fine series.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Wonder of Wonders at Comic Book Resources

I have a wee article about Wonder Woman and story lengths up at Comic Book Resources, all comments welcome. But if not comments, page views will do!