Thursday, 29 July 2010

Uncanny X-Men #526 review

The X-Men are stalking five possible mutants, in the hope that they'll grow extra heads or develop acid sweat or somesuch. And Hope Summers, poster child for the 'One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble!' brigade, is off looking into her own background.

Such are the two story strands this month. The most interesting, for my money, is the journey of Hope to Alaska, where she learns her surname, Spalding, and that she has a grandmother. Grandma tells her about her birth mother, a single woman named Louise who worked as a firefighter (and, of course, looked a little like Jean Grey, with her red hair and fiery nature: 'Turn bright red when she got mad, Lord ...' Steps back in amazement!). Hope doesn't reveal her relationship to the older woman, but finds some measure of peace in knowing that she still has some family.

On the way back to the laughingly named Utopia, Hope joins Angel and Iceman, who've been spying on a young woman who seems to be turning into Alopecia Lass. Slightly depressed, she jumps off a building, Hope leaps after her and spontaneously ignites the girl's mutant ability. The newcomer turns blue, metallic and flies. Obviously, she's going to be the best X-Man ever.

Underwhelming as the mutation of Laurie is, it gave me an old school kick to see the X-Men out in the field, ready to support a new mutant. I've not had that since Dazzler and Kitty Pryde showed up.

Kitty is also in this issue, as the subplot concerning her continued intangibility continues. It looks like she'll be fine, soon, as it's a psychosomatic thing. I expect Kitty's love for Colossus will pull her through. Literally.

Elsewhere, Emma Frost begins a flirt-off with Tony Stark. I have no idea where that one's going, apart from the bedroom.

Unimaginative mutations aside, Matt Fraction's script is fun, with lots of decent moments with the X-Men. My favourite shows that Angel doesn't always manage to fly sunny side-up (click to enlarge).
Once an angel of death ...
Whilce Portacio's pencils are inconsistent, with most pages looking just fine, but occasional very peculiar moments, as when Hope dives after poor old Laurie. Still, his faces are a lot more interesting than those of many artists, and there's no sign he's using models - there's life in the artwork. And I liked the thought that went into panels such as the one with the massive shadow of an X over a panicking Laurie. Now if only Portacio would remember that women's hairstyles have moved on since the Nineties. Ed Tadeo inks, Brian Reber colours and the overall effect is more good than bad.

The big selling point for me this month is the back-up strip, a prologue to Avengers: The Children's Crusade by Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel. Magneto is interested to learn that Young Avengers Wiccan and Speed may be his grandsons; Wolverine tells him to back off, while Cyclops is more sympathetic. It's a nifty character piece, with Logan, in particular, shining, as he eloquently lays out his position as regards Magneto's latest 'reformation'. The sombre art by Coipel, inker Mark Morales and colourist Justin Ponsor adds to the dramatic mood.

The cover by Terry and Rachel Dodson is Marvel's default 'heroes standing around hoping that a movie poster artist is passing' bit, but the X-insert adds some interest, and it's certainly a pretty piece of comic art. Even if it does include the idiot Sub-Mariner.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #19 review

Departing from the usual mix of action and whimsy, this is a solidly serious issue of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. We don't even have the usual prologue featuring a different character from the issue's co-star - here it's Green Lanterns all the way. So how is it?

The Cyborg Superman, Hank Henshaw, wants Hal Jordan's power ring, but when he captures Earth's Green Lantern, the trinket flies off to seek help. In no time at all it finds Batman - at the good old Ace Chemical Plant - and names him a Green Lantern. Rather than embrace the power, Batman continues his fight with Scarface as if nothing has happened. After that, though, he's soon embroiled in a space saga with Hal, Henshaw, the Green Lantern Corps and the Manhunters.

Writer Adam Schlagman fits an awful lot of lore into 20 pages (a couple of editorial pages are handed over to puzzles and reader artwork) of a suddenly shiny Brave and Bold ... the paper stock has been upgraded and the price bumped up by 49 cents, not a move guaranteed to help sales as this wonderful comic approaches cancellation at #22. Happily, as a former DC Comics editor, Schlagman can structure a story without things getting confusing. I know that as a kid I'd have loved to learn all about the GL Corps, their friends and enemies in a single comic (which, of course, we could back in those days when done-in-ones were the norm).

Kilowog, guaranteed to make a good comic even better
And while I'm not usually a fan of near-radioactive paper, the better stock really suits former Impulse artist Carlo Barbieri's bombastic pencils, as inked by Terry Beatty and coloured by Heroic Age. Every page pops with power-ringed goodness, and while we've seen Batman as GL previously - in the Elseworlds In Darkest Knight book by Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham - I much prefer Barberi's less gloomy design. And the emerald constructs Batman comes up with when he finally lets loose with Oan energy are delightfully apposite.

So yes, this issue eschews the lightness of tone I associate with this comic, but there's nothing wrong with a quality change of pace, and the title remains a darn good all-ages read. I just wish it was remaining for a lot longer.

Wonder Woman #601 review

If there were any doubt that this is a darker DC Universe, it's the calibre of ice cream men. Seriously? A kid would buy from this guy? (click to enlarge)At night, in a run-down street? And pester him for a product he's already told you he hasn't got?

Somehow, this dope survives the issue. As does Diana, after the gum-obsessed Oracle shows her that mother Hippolyte apparently killed herself rather than be murdered by the soldiers who razed Paradise Island. She also learns that Uncle Happy is a surveillance man for the island invaders, who want to track down all the women who escaped, and kill them. Clambering on to the ice cream van, Diana reaches the mystery men's base, hears of their intent to slaughter a pocket of survivors in Turkey, and hitches a ride on their plane. But is she too late?

Ride is the word for this first full issue by writer J Michael Straczynski, penciller Don Kramer and inker Michael Babinski. We're taken from the sewers and streets of New York to the past of Paradise Island and the present of Turkey. The emotional journey of Diana - not yet a Wonder Woman - is conveyed almost entirely through the artwork; there's neither internal monologue nor thought balloons. But Kramer proves up to the task of showing Diana's sorrow, confusion and determination to set her screwed-with past right. And Straczynski's script helps us infer what this younger version of the heroine is thinking and feeling. Normally, I like to be privy to our heroine's private thoughts, but a certain mystery suits the current storyline, with Diana slowly learning about her true past.

I rather enjoyed the siege of Paradise Island, with the Amazons taking the righteous sword to their attackers. It showed what a fierce lot they truly are, inspired by a classic bit of battlefield oratory from Hippolyte. I also liked that the Oracle showed a nice level of self-awareness without getting too cutesy about it, and that Diana managed to crack a smile. Plus, there's no fannying about with several issues of set-up showing Diana's second life, followed be her slowly realising something is awry - Straczynski is straight in there with Diana dreaming about the traditionally costumed version of herself, recalling that her protectors once told her she would fly.

A quibble: in the flashback scene, the leader of the island wreckers is shown only in shadow. We see a bald head and a naked body. Yet Diana doesn't ask her Oracle pal if she knows who the man is. Which could mean the shadow is for the reader's 'benefit' only, and Diana recognises the leader. Please don't let it be Lex Luthor, as Diana can do better than borrowed villains.

Kramer and Babinski's artwork is strong throughout: the battle scenes burn with fury; the modern urban landscape looks as threatening as the Amazon conflict; Hippolyte is stately queen and wildcat by turns; Diana leaps into action without fear or hesitation. It's all made more intense by the rich colours of Alex Sinclair. Even the dull temporary costume looks good at times (that is, when we're not having Amazonian arse thrust at us). I hope this team sticks around for the whole this storyline.

After this issue, I'm pretty sure I will. Having accepted that we'll be getting a different Diana for at least a year, it's apparent to me that she's not so different. This Diana is smart, brave, curious and compassionate. I can't see it being long before she steps forth as Wonder Woman.

Now, anyone want an Orange Doodle Whizbang?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Legion of Super-Heroes #3 review

Reluctant Legionnaire Earth-Man is forced to abandon the team when his new Green Lantern ring compels him to fly off and, even more reluctantly, help some extraterrestrials. Lightning Lad join Saturn Girl in the search for their kidnapped sons. And hypnotic mentalist Saturn Queen continues her one-woman war on the Legion.

Those are the bare bones of this third instalment of the reborn Legion. Warming them are some gripping action sequences and sharp character development. Both show that DC made a wise decision in having longtime Legion writer Paul Levitz return to the team which made his name. Even decades after he last wrote them, there's no one to match him when it comes to showing members' powers in interesting ways, or opening up their personalities without going over the top. For example, Brainiac 5 here uses his traditionally protective forcefield as toughened armour, and we learn that Lightning Lad has something of an eidetic memory.

The incidental detail is fascinating too, such as the revelation that self-immolation is virtually a hobby among Saturn Queen's people. Who, incidentally, weren't the Lanothians we saw populating Titan in the telepathic planet's recently revealed origin.

A couple of pages are devoted to subplots bound to lead down intriguing alleyways, and while the note on which the story closes isn't a movie serial cliffhanger, it scores 10 out of 10 in terms of foreboding.

When this book started I really wasn't looking forward to the addition of the xenophobic Earth-Man, so am surprised to find his mini-Green Lantern adventure here so compelling. It helps that, without having his nature flip 360 degrees, Levitz is toning down Earth-Man's scumbaggery - he at least seems to want to be a hero.

And with this being one of DC's extra-length titles, several pages devoted to an individual focus doesn't derail the storytelling; I look forward to many more, spotlighting characters who are already favourites (pretty much everyone this side of any version of Karate Kid). Before that, 'Earth-Man's Choice' offers loads of little moments for the side-players in this first arc - Sensor Girl, Phantom Girl, Shadow Lass, Brainiac 5 ... they're all on impressive form. And Invisible Kid just has to drop in some of his random French words and maintenant I'm charmed.

Just three months in, and Levitz is weaving a rich tapestry I'm hoping goes on for a good while. With direct connections to the 21st century severed, the Legion's corner of the DC Universe has a chance to shine.

Adding several layers of polish are the art teams of Yildiray Cinar and Wayne Faucher, and Francis Portela and, er, Francis Portela. While they take turns at bat throughout the issue, Cinbar and Portela's pencilling styles are similar enough that there's no jarring disparity. And they're drawing different sections of the tale, which helps. It's good, clear storytelling all round, with every action and emotional beat hit.

Among tons of terrific moments this issue, there's Cinar showing the real love between Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad without sappy looks, and Portela foregrounding the inspiring moxie of Phantom Girl. The anonymous colouring droid at Hi-Fi, and letterer Sal Cipriano, bring their own skills to the mix and help ensure a good-looking, readable comic.

If you've not tried this book yet, please, give it a go. Legion history is present, but doesn't overwhelm. Characters and plot points are succinctly introduced as necessary. The script is smart and the art looks great. The logo is pretty ...

... OK, that last one is a tad desperate - but I want you reading this book. I believe you'll like it a lot. The Legion haven't survived 60 years and 402 reboots for nothing, you know. The concept of young heroes in a shining, yet ever-threatened, future is a grabber. The characters demonstrate infinite variety. And when a creative team gels, the series flies. Right now, we're going into orbit. Grab a transuit and enjoy.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Justice Society of America #41 review

Any less long-in-the-tooth DC fans out there willing to tell me what they're making of the constant cameos from obscure characters in James Robinson's recent scripts? I love it when we're reminded that Naiad is still around, or Faust. Or, as in this second part of the current back and forth JLA/JSA team-up, Yellow Peri and Devastation.

But what about fans who have to go running to Wiki to learn that, say, Yellow Peri was a pre-Crisis Superboy and Superman semi-villain who was obscure even when she was the featured antagonist? Is it annoying, or can you enjoy the characters as background colour alone?

Questions, questions ... This issue is brought to you by the colour green, as the Starheart, a cosmic mcguffin connected to original Green Lantern Alan Scott, continues to send DC's mystical metas mad. The JSA splits into teams, with some members battling the immediate threat while others try to glean enough knowledge to stop it. It's a fine issue, from the sneaky opening with Miss Martian to the arrival of a new ally at the close. In between there's some nifty character work involving Jay Garrick Flash, Wildcat and former Outsider Faust; a smart scene showing that the Justice League know how to think through a threat; and, wonders never cease, a vignette in which Lightning and Mr America find each other, and their personalities.

That's not to say the entire issue isn't full of well-differentiated characters, from never-say-die Donna Troy to war-weary Congorilla via pithy Citizen Steel. All this and the introduction of the idea that DCU prison guards are tested for latent super powers ... and some have some really crappy ones. Along with the use of Lightning and Mr America, the big revelation this issue is the artwork. Penciller Mark Bagley has been inked by Norm Rapmund previously since he took over the JLA book, but never - so far as I can see - for a whole issue. In this crossover to JSA, though, it's Bagley/Rapmund all the way and the result is startling ... in a great way. Rapmund's delicate line weights ensure figures look lighter and faces lose the gaunt look that has bedevilled Bagley's DC work. There's an attractive airiness to the work that has me hoping these two are joined at the hip from now on.

And then there are the colours of Allen Passalaqua. This guy is good, bringing the finishing touches that make good comic art look great. He knows how to light a scene and how to light up a character, directing our eyes to the most important elements without adding in daft big ACME arrows. It's an impressive showing.

Two issues in and this Dark Things storyline is thoroughly entertaining, solid superheroics with the odd surprise. Good stuff.

The New Avengers #2 review

Earth's Mightiest Heroes united against a common threat! On that day the Avengers were born to fight the foes that no single hero could withstand! So goes the legend attached to hundreds of Avengers stories. It's dramatic, concise and challenges creative teams to come up with stories worthy of the brightest and best.

And on this day the New Avengers prove that while they may be Earth's Mightiest Heroes, they're far from its cleverest. The Rubbish Avengers? The Thicko Avengers? The Soppy Girlie Avengers? Any of these would do, but Mighty? Not so much.

The team is fighting one of their own, Giant-Sized Luke Cage, who's possessed and pissed off. The force inhabiting the hero wants the mystical Eye of Agamotto, which Sorcerer Supreme Dr Voodoo has given to him for safekeeping.

The Thing - Fastastic Four founding member, crack pilot and victor in dozens of metahuman conflicts - is presented as brainless, wondering why he's being tasked with getting the Eye away from the bad guy.

Wolverine stabs possessed pals Dr Strange and Son of Satan, hoping for the best.

Spider-Man, asked by Jessica Jones to take her baby to safety as all hell breaks loose in Avengers Mansion, leaves the kid upstairs, alone: 'Baby's asleep. I got the baby monitor' Very responsible. When not failing at babysitting he's collecting kitchen paper to help mop up poor Dr Strange.

Mockingbird advertises an iPhone.

Guest stars Dr Voodoo weeps and the Son of Satan wails because they lose this round and the skies are on fire.

Also on hand is Hawkeye, who appears in about four panels and does bugger all; Ms Marvel, who at least shows she has her brain switched on before being swiftly dispatched; Jessica Jones, who gets a few punches in; and Iron Fist, who gets possessed too.

Overall, it's an appalling performance from a group of veteran heroes. There's no teamwork, no strategy - just a lot of running around like headless chickens. I get that we can't have the team all blase, speedily defeating a foe on the basis that they've faced this situation a few times previously. But this comic goes to the other extreme, presenting the players as startled does, hardly able to believe they're having to face a foe no single hero could withstand.

The treatment of Spidey particularly grates - sure, he's a funny guy, but the humour comes mid-battle, not as he stands around, doing anything but get involved. He's meant to be not simply Amusing, he's supposed to be Amazing.

I suspect writer Brian Michael Bendis was aiming for some comedy action, with the Eye of Agamotto bouncing around New York, but if so, it didn't come off.

What is good about this issue is the artwork of Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger. It's big, it's brash, it's gorgeous to look at.

It's not enough to save the day. Last month I said I'd be with this book for awhile. This month, I'm changing my mind. I don't want to shell out good money to see an Avengers team who could be punked the Great Lakes branch. I'm out.

SPECIAL GUEST REVIEW Marvel Her-oes #4

Her-Oes graduates to its fourth and sadly final issue as Janet, Namora and Jen end one adventure together and draw up plans for future ones. The issue begins with the heroic triumvirate using their unique abilities to defeat Moonstone and her yellow-clad (and fashionably blind) henchmen at Namora’s mansion. While Namora and Jen fight with confidence, Janet struggles against Ghost Shocker and her own anxiety (highlighted well by her stress-induced tears) drawn by Craig Rousseau and colored by Veronica Gandini (click to enlarge).
With last-minute guidance from Miss America, Janet zaps and defeats Moonstone and thus foils the villain’s plans to abduct and sell Jen to a “Professor Sterns.” The remaining plotlines are resolved neatly as Janet and Wade opt for a movie instead of the basketball game (to the thinly veiled annoyance of Namora), and Janet starts helping out on the school play. Despite government warnings not to use her powers, Janet, out of defiance and distrust, decides to form a secret team with Jen and Namora to protect themselves from potential threats. The story ends with Carol Danvers being considered for recruitment after Janet watches her redefine the term “air ball” by floating above the basketball court.

Her-Oes overall is an engaging and fast-paced mini-series that uses its limited space wisely to present a clear and enjoyable story that is not trapped by simple high school situations. Writer Grace Randolph delivers by allowing readers to connect and care about characters they may not be familiar with, as Janet uncovers the larger Marvel Universe hidden around her. The moral of discovering and fully using one’s potential to accomplish great things is presented in a subtle way that does not derail the plot.

One minor quibble I have with Her-Oes is that Valkyrie did not show up despite being on the cover of the first issue. One hopes she will appear in the future, for this all-ages title is rich with the story potential to make a sequel mini-series desirable. The trade for Her-Oes will be released this November and will include a full color reprint (for the first time in six months) of Savage She-Hulk #1. Her-Oes is ideal for anyone looking for a well-rounded story in a self-contained and fun world that I hope we get to visit again soon.

Eugene Liptak is a librarian and author who is grateful to Martin Gray for the opportunity to write these guest reviews for his blog. Cheers Mart!
You're very welcome, thanks for a breath of fresh air!

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Avengers #3 review

At the end of last issue the Kang time travel storyline finally started to show signs of forward movement, as Apocalypse appeared, joined by some rather fearsome-looking new horsemen. A master planner such as the X-Men enemy was bound to throw some spanners in the works for the Avengers.

Not so much, as it turns out. This month blasts aplenty, but no useful bits of information, are exchanged by the Avengers and the newcomers. The heroes banter inanely (quelle surprise), Apocalypse makes a few vaguely threatening comments, a couple of lackeys manage a 'Master' but the fight seems to be going nowhere.

Finally, we have this moment (click to enlarge): Ah, right. It is indeed a meaningless fight, padding the issue out. Shouldn't team geniuses Spider-Man and Iron Man have cottoned on too? Probably not, given there's no real deduction involved on Logan's part, just a vague feeling. And the most excitement the latter pair see is when Spidey saves a falling, de-armoured Tony Stark with his webbing (hurrah, two pages filled, no imagination necessary).

The last few pages see Marvel Boy (now renamed Protector or Defender or Dulldude or somesuch) rebuild his just-destroyed time machine when two more refugees from the timestream, Killraven and Devil Dinosaur, appear.

Never mind the heroes, it's the reader who's truly in time travel hell, with a bad case of deja vu. You could skip this comic and be no worse off in terms of keeping up with what story there is - the issue admits the skirmish is pointless. Marvel hasn't even bothered with an issue-specific cover - Kang, the Maestro and Future Spider-Person are all absent from the issue.

This was going to be my make or break issue, after two months of disappointing story and below-par artwork. While far from their best, the visuals from John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson are improved on previous issues (although having recently been replaced by a Skrull, it seems there's now some sweaty crone impersonating Spider-Woman).

But the script has deteriorated. Nice guy that writer Brian Bendis is, traditional Avengering just isn't his forte - the grandiose stories with mad, characterisation-filled fights that serve the plot ... they're not here. New Avengers, as was, was tailored to his strengths - character banter, conspiracies, 'street-level' heroes. I thank him for at least trying to please old school/fart fans such as me with the likes of this latest book, and Mighty Avengers before it, but it's time to step away. Hand this latest reboot over to a Dan Slott, Jeff Parker or Paul Tobin, someone more keyed into the Roy Thomas/Kurt Busiek Avengers school.

Until then, I'm dropping this comic. It isn't working.

Supergirl #54 review

Dear Superman, while you're plodding through Philadelphia, spreading the gospel of Superdickery, your cousin is protecting Metropolis.

Mind, the threat this issue is firmly Kara-centric, being the Bizarro Supergirl. And Bizarrogirl makes history by being the first twisted duplicate that's genuinely scary. I noted in my review of last issue that she was freaky on the final page. Here she's chilling throughout, with penciller Jamal Igle and inker Jon Sibal making her look as fearsome as Sterling Gates' script demands. They're helped by new (guest?) colourist Jamie Grant, who brings that glowing All-Star Superman vibe to the party. And Jared K Fletcher letters with aplomb, his Kara narrative boxes being a nice addition to the look of the pages.

Plucking citizens off the streets, dumping them in tunnels and killing on a whim (but happily, off-panel), Bizarrogirl is just the thing - and I mean, 'thing' - to get Kara out of the funk she's fallen into following the destruction of New Krypton. Well, you'd think. In fact, the Girl of Steel doesn't bother to find out what terrible thing is happening in the streets outside; that's how shaken she is by recent events. Thank God, then, for 'big sister' Lana Lang, who phones her to deliver a, shall we say, pep talk. It's a shame someone else hears it ...

... but that's a subplot to be followed up later, as is the identity of the man who lures a kid off the streets, claiming he's leading him to safety. That's a shame, as young Eli had only just had his life saved by this issue's standout character, the one, the only, the exceedingly ginger Jimmy Olsen. We're shown the characteristics that have won the cub reporter his first ongoing series in 30 years, starting soon in Action Comics (click to enlarge). He's brave, resourceful and anything but dependent on Superman to save his bacon. Scornful of his own safety when there's a story to be had, he laughs at danger; I do hope he pals up with Kara while Kal is doing his Superest Hobo bit. She could use a larky friend like him to complement the motherly, magnificent Lana Lang.

When Kara finally gets it together, she's the consummate heroine, flying into the face of Bizarrogirl despite the fact this being could easily kill her.

I loved this issue. Loved it. Kara, Lana, Jimmy - all get great characterisation and there's even some classic Perry White for good measure ('Somebody call the Science Police! Olsen's been kidnapped again!'). The Daily Planet scene shows what a mistake the Superman books make when they jettison Clark's connections there in service of some high-concept, rambling, stunt story. No setting or cast in comic compares to the that offered by the newsroom. Characters come - there's a new chap, Norrie, this very issue - characters go, but the place always crackles with a dynamic mix of personalities.

Gates just gets better by the issue. He opens with a brilliant moment of misdirection and goes on to pack the comic with incident, including the debut of Supergirl's Closet of Solitude. Igle also improves constantly, here showing a real knack for conveying motion, whether it's super-people or flying cars. Gates and Igle work so well together that I'm amazed they've not yet been split up - could it be they'll be allowed a long run on a character they so obviously adore? I hope so, as this series is shaping up to be a classic of solid, smart superheroics.

The cover illustration by Shane Davis, coloured by Jamie Grant, is marvellous. A cool, confident, beautiful Kara. More, please.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

DC Universe Legacies #3

Last issue we saw the Justice Society retire due to the Communist witchhunts of the Fifties. As we rejoin narrator Paul Lincoln he's out to help fill the gap left by the heroes who inspired him as a kid. He joins Metropolis PD and soon finds himself partnered by one officer John Jones.

And then the heroes return, a decade or so after the JSA vanished. Superman debuts, followed by Batman, Wonder Woman ... all the original Justice League members, including J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars. Paul - husband, father and indulged fanboy - couldn't be happier, though he's sad when pal Jones takes a job as a detective in Colorado. If only Paul knew how close he'd been to one of his heroes ...

There are no amazing new revelations here, just one minor, enjoyable continuity implant. There's no gore or 'dramatic' deaths. If Len Wein's script is old-fashioned that's because he's nodding towards substance rather than flash. God is in the details - the ongoing story of Paul and boyhood pal Jimmy, his love for Jimmy's sister Peg, the reactions of the man in the street to the second coming of the mystery men, Paul's logical assumption that the new Flash is the old one in a changed costume. And so on. Particularly clever is the way Wein includes the Western characters who overtook the superheroes in publishing popularity during the 1950s. Who knew Fess Parker never influenced fashion in the DC Universe? DC's sci-fi books, Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures, are also integrated into the narrative in perhaps my favourite page (click to enlarge).The choice of artists on the main run is smart (Scott Kolins again does a nice job on the 2pp framing sequence). Seventies stalwart Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez provides beautiful layouts which Eighties star Dave Gibbons finishes in a rare inking job. Together they capture a Sixties sensibility even though their work always looks modern. I've not seen this combination of artists before, but they make magic and I'd love to see at least an entire mini by them. They also produce that gorgeous cover. Can you say 'iconic'?

Non-powered adventurers Cave Carson and crew, the Challengers of the Unknown and the Sea Devils cameo in the main story, and star in the back-up. Len Wein provides a short and very sweet treble team-up, with Gibbons going solo for eight fantastic pages. He could very well be the greatest artist these teams never had.

Yes, Legacies is a bit like Marvel's Marvels, in foregrounding the man in the street rather than the heroes. But lots of comics are a bit like other comics in theme. The execution here is different, the universe is unique and the comic is wonderful.

Amazing Spider-Man #638 review

Almost 100 issues after Marvel erased Spider-Man's marriage, the furore's pretty much died down. While a few diehards still protest the business - and I don't blame them, One More Day wasn't a great story - most readers have managed to move on and simply enjoy a seriously good comic book.

So why start picking at old scabs? The Spider-Man office always said they'd get around to explaining what happened on Peter's wedding day in the rewritten history, after they'd concentrated on showing us how Spidey worked within the new status quo. It's a promise I was hoping editor Stephen Wacker wouldn't keep - Peter and MJ never married, that was all that mattered. Revisiting the day MJ made a pact with hell lord Mephisto in order to save the life of Aunt May is as nutty as sending in the Parker clones again (which Marvel did, to no great acclaim).

We begin with the revelation of MJ's previously unheard words to Mephisto, while Peter was sleeping on what turned out to be their final day of marriage. The whispered request turns out to be logical, but underwhelming. The rest of the issue is inventive in the way it shows what stopped Peter and MJ swapping vows. Joe Quesada's story combines an all-new sequence set today with snippets from the original marriage issue, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21, and 'deleted scenes' from that book leading up to the non-match. It's a clever technique, and does indeed show what happened, with the explanation proving to be daringly banal.

Quesada draws the today sequence, reminding us what a fine visual storyteller he is. Mind, I wish he'd draw MJ more on-model. Maybe it says something about me, but I'm seeing Alyson Hannigan, something not helped by MJ's flame-hair being coloured chestnut. Mind, this is the 'how I never met your mother' issue ....

The reprinted scenes, written by David Michelinie, are drawn by Paul Ryan and inked by the legendary (ahem) Vince Colletta, and it's fun to see them beside sequences meant to flow from them. Paulo Rivera's simple line pays service to the style of the annual, but the mood is very much today. That's mainly due to the colouring - so far as I can tell from the credits, by Rivera - which is a lot more subtle than the work of Bronze Age master Bob Sharen, whose efforts wind up looking garish on glossy white paper for which they were never intended.

I suspect the more restrained palette is to indicate that these sequences show the moments remastered by the unseen Mephisto. Eddie Muerte, a hood employed by Electro in the annual and likely never seen again, here becomes a tool of the big red fella who, I assume, is manifesting as the eerie red bird who appears to aid Muerte. There's also a deal-making guy with a red tie who answers to a mysterious employer.

The scenes between Peter and MJ - they're finally having a conversation about the fact that they're not together any more - smoulder with emotion. It's heartbreaking to see two people who so obviously love one another, split by ... now there's the question. It's kept ambiguous as to how much Peter and MJ know. Do they recall the Mephisto business, and go through life desperately trying not to think of what once was? Or are they simply cut up because sometimes things just don't work out?

That's the big hook that will keep me glued to this book for the next three issues, now that we know what happened on the wedding day. I didn't want to see this story, but it's here and there's no denying this is a compelling first instalment. Unless Marvel are intending to undo the undone marriage, Quesada may be scoring an own goal in showing just how much chemistry Peter and MJ have. As of this issue, I'm betting we'll soon have a Mr and Mrs Parker once more.

The extra-sized issue contains another two pages of the charming Spidey Sundays strip by Stan Lee and Marcos Martin which has me wishing Marvel would just get on with giving us their version of Wednesday Comics.

Rounding off the issue I bought is a cover by Rivera which illustrates the phrase 'worth the price of admission all on its own'. Just gorgeous.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

I'm just popping over to Comic Book Resources ...


... for a little article on DC's all-ages titles and why I'd like to see a Wonder Woman title attempted. If you've the time and interest, give it a read. Thanks!

Here's the link

Friday, 16 July 2010

Adventure Comics #516 review

After last week's disappointing Atom Special #1 I was keen to see how the debut of his regular Adventure Comics feature turned out. Very well, actually. I won't harp on about what I saw as the special's deficiencies - the review is below, if you're interested - I will say that 'Nucleus part 1, Splitting the Atom' is a tiny treat.

After the stroke suffered by his estranged father, the Atom, Ray Palmer resolves to bring down whoever organised the recent break-in at his lab, and likely motivated his father's collapse. The word on the street is that supervillain turned information broker The Calculator is involved, but can Ray find him?

In the old days he'd simply have gotten hold of his phone number, and dialled himself down the phone lines and into a bad guy's hideout. Tech-god the Calculator, though, isn't going to just answer his phone, meaning Ray must try the decidedly more difficult travel route of the internet. Diving into a data stream, he must negotiate billions of bits of information, riding the information current in the hope he can reach the Calculator before he realises something's up. I've seen the Atom do the phone thing dozens of time, but writer Jeff Lemire makes the trick seem new again - and seriously impressive.

And as illustrated by penciller Mahmud Asrar, inker John Dell and colourist Pete Pantazis in a dynamite spread, it's amazing. The rest of the strip looks equally good, with imaginative storytelling that's never showy for the sake of it. Rounding off the core creatives is letterer Sal Cipriano, whose work is as sharp as ever ... the only change I'd like to see with regard to his work is in the production arena; Ray's narration is printed grey out of blue. How about making the words white, DC? My eyes are so very old.

The words themselves are excellent, as Lemire gets us inside the head of our hero, helping us to see why he's cool. The strip ends with a neat cliffhanger and you can bet I'll be back next month. On a historical note, I'm delighted to see Ray take on the Calculator, as the villain debuted in an Atom short back in 1976. Oh, and thanks for surprising me, Mr Lemire, and keeping Palmer Sr alive (well, when dealing with the DC Universe it saves time to assume folk are dead).

The Atom gets ten pages, with the other 20 going to the Legion of Super-Heroes. Paul Levitz continues to recap LSH history, with this instalment filling in the details of team backer RJ Brande. Newer readers may find the minutiae of how the LSH began interesting, but the 'three teens on a spaceship save the life of one of the galaxy's richest men' has never been a thriller. Levitz does his best, going so far as to give Brande a personality for the first time, including such a weirdly cod-German speech pattern that he'd fit right into Golden Age stereotypes of the skies, the Blackhawks (actually, he does look somewhat like Hans).

There are some new details to provide spice, such as the possibility that Brande is Chameleon Boy's mother as well as his father, and Superboy's role as Legion inspiration going back a little further than previously revealed. But at base, this is a history lesson. A hologram of the recently deceased Brande tells his story to listening Legionnaires, all of whom already know most of it. It doesn't make for great drama. It does make me wish Levitz hadn't taken fellow writer Geoff Johns' challenge to produce a Legion primer without it turning into a Cliff's Notes. Sadly, if there were a Legionnaire named Exposition Lass, this would be her favourite comic.

Then again, as a Legion fan of old, I'm hardly the audience this story is aimed at, and it's entertaining enough. The artwork by penciller Kevin Sharpe, inker Marlo Alquiza and colourist Blond is fine - there's not a lot of room in the script for them to go wild. Everyone looks good, the story is told ... but whose idea was it to change Brande's homeworld shape from tendril-headed monster to fish fella? Now that's just weird!

The cover by Scott Clark and David Beaty is attractive, though the Superboy visual fades into the background some - stronger colour, please, unnamed artbot, though I love the overall orangieness! Still, it's Adventure Comics starring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, so it's a winner on nostalgia value alone. A half-decent story - and this was more than that - is a bonus. The excellent Atom strip ensures Adventure Comics #516 is a winner.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Brave and the Bold #35 review

Michael J Straczynski is a versatile chap. On the one hand, there's this week's Superman #701 which is, to say the least, a sober comic. On the other there's this confection, a team-up between two of DC's lesser-known teams. I've always loved the Legion of Substitute-Heroes, the plucky Legion of Super-Heroes rejects who built their own legend. And the Inferior Five, wow ... er ... I've never actually read an issue of their short-lived Sixties book, but I've seen their cameos down the years (could we have a Showcase collection please, DC?) and wanted more.

Now here they are, together for the first time. As in their previous starring roles, in the Eighties, the Subs are dafter than in their LSH appearances, even making the Inferior Five look smart at times. Some purists will complain, but I'm all for the odd comic story that dares to be both comic and odd.

The story has the Subs hearing of the 'real' Legion's triumph over a black hole and deciding to steal their thunder by taking a time bubble and saving the day first, relatively speaking. But lack of mathematical nous means they fail to snag the day-saving Doom Patrol, as managed by the LSH in last month's Brave and Bold (still on sale and well worth buying). Instead they're stuck with the frankly delightful Merryman, Blimp, Dumb Bunny, White Feather and Awkwardman - the Inferior Five. Cue a back and forth tale of mad science and madder heroes that's one of the best mainstream comics I've read in ages.

Puzzling moments from last issue are explained, as the Subs manage to show just why, despite their pretty decent powers, they're not ready for superhero prime time. The issue is capped off with a surprise that will hopefully prompt more Inferior Five appearances ere long. Perhaps they'll meet Superman on his road trip ...

Straczynski is on fire, cranking out some splendid gags while keeping the cause and effect thread clear for us science dunces. And Jesus Saiz has a ball with the artwork, letting go with the goofiness necessary to make the story sing (click image to enlarge). The man was born to draw Night Girl's beehive, and if he's not channelling the Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons into Chlorophyll Kid, I'll be a three-eyed Kryptonian babootch.

Comics which embrace the loonier aspects of the DC Universe are always welcome. It's not easy to get it right - the last Ambush Bug mini, for example, proved less than I've come to expect from the creators involved - but this story is a tiny treasure. It made a very wet day much brighter.

Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age #1 review

Just as the X-Men titles descend into the darkness of a vampire storyline, here's a special in which they step into the light. Three short tales are mixed and matched into a whole that marks the beginning of a new era for the team once dubbed Marvel's Merry Mutants. It's a long time since they've been merry, what with writer after writer obsessing on the 'feared and hated by a world they have sworn to protect' bit. I could never buy that so many people in the Marvel Universe gave a hoot whether a super-person got their powers due to birth, accident, technology or out of a Crackerjack box.

Things began to make more sense once the mutant births stepped up exponentially, but after the Scarlet Witch mouthed 'no more mutants' and proved shite at maths, the 198 or so left with powers really had no reason to be quite so hated and hunted. But they were, leading X-chief Cyclops to embrace the segregationist philosophies of Magneto and me to embrace other comics.

But now it seems that the mantra is 'no more moaning'. Molly from the Runaways comic tells the Beast to cheer up, Franklin Richards lets Hope know excitement lies ahead and Proper Captain America advises Cyclops to quit cowering in corners and stand up as a hero.

Amen. So it is that by issue's end there's the beginnings of optimism among the X-Men, as they're given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their efforts over the years. And Hope goes off on a quest to learn who her parents are (I've not been following, but presumably she's had the obvious DNA comparisons with Scott Summers and Jean Gray?).

I can't say I give a fig about the 'mystery' of the latest ginger stray to hit the scene, but I'm chuffed to bits at the prospect of the X-Men being front and centre of the Marvel Universe again, meeting people other than mutants and mutant haters. Once the vampire stuff is over - well, as over as anything in the X-Men's world ever is - I'll check back to see what's going on.

Matt Fraction's script here is pretty nifty, with my favourite scene being the opening conversation between Beast and Cyclops, as the former tells the latter he's lost it. I suspect this has already appeared in some other book, but it bears repeating. I also revelled in Franklin Richards being presented as something other than the doofus to sister Valeria's wunderkind. He's shown as the smart, wise kid the first family of the Marvel universe's first child should be. And Molly ... well, she's annoying a lot of the time, but Fraction captures her frustration as Hank McCoy stomps on her optimism, and it's good to see her turn him around.

Again, not having followed recent books, I don't know much about Hope ('mysterious girl who hangs out with Cable' was never the pitch to grab me) but I expect Fraction's portrayal is accurate. She seems to be your average cypher, not so much a character as a plot point.

But what is this one-off special's problem with dinosaurs? Fraction has Scott de-stressing in the Savage Land by blowing holes through them, and Beast telling Molly it doesn't matter that they're extinct (well, apart from in the Savage Land ... oops) as they were 'dumb'. Doesn't everybody love a big lizard?

The artwork is fine throughout - Jamie McKelvie handles Hope and Whilce Portacio returns to the X-Men for the Cyclops pages, inked by Ed Tadeo. Steve Sanders and Jaime Mendoza draw the Beast scenes, and go a little overboard on his snout, but other than that they do OK. Unless it was entirely down to Fraction's art directions, Portacio's handling of that Cyclops/Beast exchange shows a thoughtful artist at work. At the very least, he does a great job bringing the words to life.

Mark Brooks supplies a good-looking cover, with a clever touch being light shining off Captain America's shield on to the usually moody mutants.

I can't imagine there's a plot point in here that won't be referenced in the ongoing series, making this inessential, but as a taster of - hopefully - what's to come, this works. Especially if you hate dinosaurs.

Superman #701 review

Well, that wasn't a bad one-issue story. Superman aids the little guy. He diagnoses car trouble and heart problems. He helps a suicidal woman find hope and annoys drug dealers. He cleans a storeroom.

I'm down with that. For several years DC would devote a Christmas issue to Superman reading his fan mail and helping one or two people. For the rest of the calendar, he'd help all the people. The stories showed Superman hadn't lost touch with ordinary humans, it was simply that his amazing abilities demanded he look at the bigger picture.

So yes, I'm fine with the occasional issue of Superman dealing with smaller problems.

I'm not so sure I want a year of it, especially if it means more of the lectures we get in part one of 'Grounded' aka The Superest Hobo. Superman's ruminations on John Lennon and JFK, or Henry Thoreau and Gandhi, would have even Captain America reaching for the barf bag. The truth is, the guy who asks, 'shouldn't you be out saving the world or something?' has a point. Plenty of people can be mechanics, or doctors, or social workers. But there's only one Superman. There's nothing stopping him setting up a foundation, or youth clubs or whatever, to spread his inspirational message, but at base, he should be using his powers to help the biggest number of ordinary Joes he can.

What he shouldn't be doing is preaching to the ordinary guy, and making dismissive, facetious comments to reporters asking perfectly reasonable questions (click to enlarge). I don't like that Superman goes to a diner without enough cash for a meal - he's not just got off the boat, he's not the Queen of England. The scene makes him look stupid.

Is it really a great idea to ask a neighbourhood kid to pass on a message from him to ticked-off drug pushers? I'm all for people talking responsibility for their localities, but the lad is, what, all of eight? And is that a word balloon whose lettering has dropped off, or a wry comment? I know I'd be speechless.

I did smile at this line from writer J Michael Straczynski, telling us he's up for the challenge of entertaining sceptical readers. First, though, he has to convince us to stick around for the ride - sorry, walk. I'm giving this storyline three issues to grab me. So far, I'm not giddy at the prospect of a Superman who doesn't accept he's a hero with one breath, while telling people how to live their lives with the next. He may not be flying across the US, but his thoughts are still coming down from on high.

If ever a comic needed to end with a patented Geoff Johns 'coming up this year' spread, this is it. 'WHAT made the giant footprint in Boise, Indiana? WHO is kidnapping all the singing nuns in Nome, Alaska?' That sort of thing, because at the moment all I'm wondering is, 'WHO will Superman deliver a sermon to in Detroit, Michigan? and 'WHICH firehouse needs a lick of paint in Abilene, Texas?' I can imagine being more thrilled.

The artwork's sharp, with penciller Eddy Barrows and inker JP Mayer giving us a nice variety of character types and conjuring up a believable looking Philadelphia. Their Superman is dead on, but I'm already tired of seeing him striding down the street to, as he admits, no great purpose. I bet the artists would rather be drawing Kal-El bashing monsters.

John Cassaday provides a smart cover but does everyone have to look so miserable? Isn't Superman going to meet any happy folk? DC has a contest going in which North American readers can win a visit from Superman, but must they live in areas of gloom? And refreshing as the design is, there's a reason Superman's logo has survived for seven decades - I hope it's back next issue.

So, I'm open to being convinced, but if every issue is a variation on this opening chapter, for me, Superman's trip is going to run out of steam very quickly

Friday, 9 July 2010

JSA All-Stars #8 review

In the beginning, this comic was about a serious bunch of souls who felt they needed to act like a military unit in order to be effective. It was a pretty good read, but never really ignited.

This issue, the sparks fly. And it's nothing to do with a massive villain, or a big death; the villains here are monkey men riding tigers (novel), a giant spider ('there to go squish') and dead cult members (particularly ineffective).

It's everything to do with writer Matt Sturges and artist Freddie Williams II seemingly relaxing into the book. The super-soldiers idea has been downplayed and instead we're spending time with a bunch of friends who adventure together. The 'loss' of the ultra-grim, gung-ho Magog has defused tensions, allowing the characters to relate not as soldiers, but as people. So we have Hourman and Atom Smasher reminiscing about their days in LA with Infinity Inc; and jokes about the latter's old mohawk, the biggest tragedy ever to hit any superhero team. There's Power Girl casually chatting about the return to life of old Infinitor team-mate Jade, and lecturing resident hologram Roxy about the need for a modest appearance (Power Pot meet Kryptonian kettle).

Actually, given the appearance here of Infinity Inc supporting character Chief Bracken, and the arrival of a red-haired telepath I'm assuming is another former Infinitor, Brainwave, I'm wondering if a name change isn't in the offing for our super-squad. Either that, or Sturges has been reading back issues and is simply feeling nostalgic.

While there is a tussle, as the team follows the trail of a drug trafficking cult (who debuted in, you guessed, Infinity Inc) to South America, this is basically a Day in the Life issue. Pioneered in the Eighties by New Teen Titans, Legion of Super-Heroes and Avengers, when done well these act as breathers from longer arcs, allow us to check in with the characters away from the battlefield, and set off subplots that blossom later.

New strands here include the mystery of King Chimera's lost love and Anna Fortune's beginnings in the early 20th century. I look forward to seeing how they pan out. There's even a new super-plane, something every good super-team needs. It's sleek, like an Avengers Quinjet of old, but needs a flashy livery ... at the moment it might ass well be called the JSA Generic, not the Star Eagle (hey, didn't Infinity Inc have a vehicle called the Steel Eagle?).

The A-plot sees a mysterious chap, somehow tied to the Parador cult, worrying about the team as they battle weird jungle creatures. He's allowed to take over the narration, a privilege usually afforded only to heroes. Add in his telepathy, the red hair and a conflicted nature and a brainwave squiggle in his thunk boxes and you see why I'm thinking Henry King Jr, Brain Wave. He was a hero, then a villain (it's OK, it was just a phase Mr Mind was going through) and when last seen was being rehabilitated. Follow this bit of intrigue with a cliffhanger as a team member is gutted as physically as, earlier in the issue, she was emotionally, and there's no way I'm missing next issue.

A big part of my enjoyment is the incredibly enthusiastic line of artist Williams. Compared to earlier issues, his digital illustrations look remarkably clean, the figurework and facework less awkward. The exaggerated shots of Power Girl's boobs are gone - they're still big, but they're not asking for their own series. Instead, I'm noticing the level of detail in backgrounds, the attention he's giving to individual posture and movement. It's very impressive. Colourists Richard and Tanya Horie make the most of the various settings - warehouse at night, hi-tech HQ, daytime forest, South American jungle - while letterer Pat Brosseau renders the script with crystal clarity.

And there's more. Namely, the Liberty Belle and Hourman strip, co-starring the villainous/villain-ish Icicle and Tigress. The ins and outs of the Indiana Jones-style storyline have long since turned into goo in my head, but who cares - it's the surprising, delightful dynamic of the four main players that has me smiling from beginning to end. A round of applause for Jen Van Meter on words and Travis Moore and Dab Green on artwork.

If you've not yet tried JSA All-Stars, this would be the issue to sample. If you are reading, I'd love to hear your views.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #1 review

Hey, can Marvel call a book Super Soldier? I know Steve's been a super-soldier since the Forties, but surely DC have the use of 'super' copyrighted for cover usage? No. Oh well.

Super-Soldier it is, complete with the return of the dullest Captain America logo font ever, an ode to washing-up liquid if ever I saw one. Still, along with the shield he no longer uses, it's a nice wink to Steve's former status as the Living Legend of World War Two. According to the title page of this debut issue he's now 'America's top law-enforcement officer and commander of the Mighty Avengers'. So does he sit behind a desk on a flying aircraft carrier, ordering Wolverine to bring him soda pop? Does he heck as like, he's straight into the made-up land of Madripoor (the country that's not Genosha ... beats me which is which) after a tip-off from Britain's own spymaster, Pete Wisdom, presumably on a jolly to the US from dear old Blighty. It seems the grandson of the man who invented the super-soldier serum may be up to no good. You might expect 'America's top etc' use his pull to set up a meeting with pharmaceuticals CEO Jacob Erskine to ask what's up? Nope, not when there's fun to be had sneaking into a hotel, crashing a party, looking suave in a tux and beating up hired help.

And there'll be no complaints from me. Heck, this is the one, true Captain America, of course he's not going to enter by the front door when he can have some fun playing superspy. This strip, with story by Ed Brubaker and art by Dale Eaglesham, is fun from beginning to end. There's no dwelling on Cap's ridiculous recent history, Brubaker introduces his characters, winds them up and lets them run free. There's an interesting mystery or two set up, and so long as the storyline doesn't go on too long (four issues is about my limit), I'm there.

I'm sorry Eaglesham's run on Fantastic Four has ended so soon, but having him here is some consolation - he captures a classically handsome, heroic Steve ... it's no wonder he's tossed any mask aside. And the fight scenes are full of pop, with Steve showing some sound moves. Mind, the artist's pre-serum Steve - along with his fellow super-soldier wannabes - are far too spindly, looking less like skinny guys than malnourished POWs

The But. This comic is $3.99 but instead of several extra pages, as DC gives us, we're stuck with a reprint of Cap's origin. It's Simon and Kirby goodness, right enough, but who hasn't seen this a dozen times? We're even reminded of the origin in the main story. If reprints are going to be a regular thing, it's trade-waiting for me.

The cover's a bit odd, with the Super Soldier costume scaley a la the Forties Captain America suit shown in sepia behind Carlos Pacheco and Tim Townsend's oddly top-heavy Steve. And the flashback-style colouring by Frank D'armata is drab. This is not a cover that stands up off the comic shop shelves and salutes.

All in all, though, a good start. I still don't know the in-story reason for Bucky remaining Cap and the real Cap becoming Nick Fury, but until everyone returns to their regular roles, this will do nicely.

The Atom Special #1 review

Ray Palmer's Ivy Town lab is broken into while he's tackling a hostage situation in the local library. He reminisces with his old mentor, Professor Hyatt, about his origins - family and superheroic - before a final page shock.

Well, it's a shock if you've not read enough recent DC comics to realise that the mention of a previously unknown relative in a book featuring the Brightest Day banner can only mean one thing. So it is that someone departs this life and ...

... oh the heck with it, let's go major spoilers here. Ray's dad is found dead. Our hero looks sad, but it's likely he's intellectualising the emotion rather than feeling it because he's barely spoken to him in years.

Happily, Ray has another 'brand new' relative, who may hold the key to the break-in and unexplained death. It's Uncle David, the man we're told was kind to timid little Ray in a way his father/Chekhov's Gun never was. Mind, Ray's not seen him in years, and has never asked his dad what happened to him.

It's all very odd. Ray Palmer, superhero, super-scientist and Super-Friend, has few feelings for his closest living relative, and no curiosity about the relative who was kindest to him. His dad never leaves his apartment, watches TV all day, but Ray apparently wasn't much bothered.

Then there's the presence of Prof Hyatt, here compos mentis, yet brain-addled when last seen in the DC Universe, just a few years back during Ryan Choi's tenure as the Atom. Oh, and he always knew Ray's super-secret, having been present for the arrival of the meteor carrying the white dwarf star fragment.

And we're told Atom's secret identity is known only to Hyatt and his meta-human mates, despite it having been spilled in a tell-all book years ago.

What's more, the incredibly weird Ivy Town inhabited by Ryan Choi seems to have gone and it's just a sleepy college place once more.

In his origin, Ray wasn't trapped in caves and forced to use his experimental size-changing system for escape, he went in there to save schoolkids, clad in a creepy blue bodysuit.

David Palmer is Ray's uncle rather than his dad and his mother was no longer around when Ray was growing up. But he had a brother, Danny! Oh dear, Danny's dead now ... (Hey, wouldn't it amaze us all if David actually is Ray's Dad, explaining why 'Dad' favoured Danny but David liked Ray? Deep.)

Does writer Jeff Lemire realise Ray Palmer and his world have appeared in comics prior to this week?

I think it's safe to say we're talking soft reboot here. One of DC's fortnightly reality rewriting crises has changed things. For all I know, it might even have wiped out Ryan Choi, as not only is there no mention of his death, there's no reference to him at all. I realise that a one-off special kicking off Ray's return as DC's no.1 Atom needs to focus on him, but even if this takes place before Ryan's murder, a tiny mention of his supposed protege would have made sense.

I might go easier on the continuity crushing were the tweaks facilitating a great story. Sadly, the tale is dull. A bog standard Atom vs non-powered criminals tussle, tons of expository dialogue with Ray telling Hyatt loads of stuff he knows and no resolution as we're meant to follow the story into a back-up strip in Adventure Comics. It's all very average. As a Ray fan of old, I'm trying not to say 'DC dumped Ryan Choi for THIS!?'

But ... DC dumped Ryan Choi for THIS!? Ryan's madly entertaining book was full of weird people in a weird town, with his everyman personality making things seem all the nuttier. This comic has a whiny Ray keener to reminisce than solve a mystery. If this were an ongoing, I'd be jumping off right now. As I already buy Adventure Comics, the strip gets a second chance. Now that the origin has been thoroughly recapped (what do we really need other than 'Ray invented a shrinking device?') there's a decent chance the pace will pick up.

The artwork by Mahmood Asrar and John Dell tells the story well, it's just a shame they don't have a more exciting story to illustrate. The one that went with Gary Frank's smashing cover would have been a good start. Sadly, there are no fights with beetles, lizards or blobs here. There's just me, fighting to stay awake.

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1 review

It's been too long. Too long since Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung brought us a tale of the Young Avengers. The best thing to come out of the Avengers Disassembled debacle, the teens starred in a series which proved short-lived more due to Heinberg's other commitments than sales and reader interest. Over the last few years we've had the kids in dribs and drabs - a mini-series here, a crossover there, a few one-shots - with other creators doing a bang-up job of maintaining tone and character. Yet Marvel never gave anyone the nod to continue the ongoing.

There's still no sign of a regular book, but we do have Heinberg and Cheung back with this nine-part series following the Young Avengers on a quest. And it really is wonderful to see the team back with their two dads.

The characters are swiftly reintroduced in battle as the Sons of the Serpent hiss hatred at sweethearts Wiccan and Hulking. The conclusion of the fracas sees the adult Avengers keen to take Wiccan in for tests, fearful he's going to go mad with power a la his likely mother, the Scarlet Witch. The Young Avengers have other ideas ...

The personalities of the players burst off the pages, as Heinberg shows he's not lost his knack for building chemistry. And Heinberg's plot, well, may I just say thank you, sir. Wiccan voices doubts I had about the Disassembled story (the unwillingness to consider Wanda was being manipulated, the involvement of Dr Strange) and the team plans to uncover the truth, or at least snap Wanda out of her funk.

The only thing I wasn't keen on was the back and forth spouting of Biblical verses, something that happens all too-often in fiction and never in my own experience. On the other hand, full marks for getting the word 'invert' into a Marvel comic - that has to be a first.

The artwork by Cheung, inker Mark Morales and colourist Justin Ponsor is nothing short of gorgeous. The fights can be followed, the characterisation read, the backgrounds appreciated; it's an obvious labour of love for all concerned.

My big hope for this series is that the Scarlet Witch's reputation, along with her mind, will be rehabilitated. Whatever the outcome, I'm going to sit back and revel in nine issues of accomplished superhero drama starring characters whose originality belies their origins
as spin-offs.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Wonder Woman: Amazon. Hero. Icon review

So Wonder Woman has a new costume. Been there, done that, as this latest coffee table book dedicated to the Amazing Amazon proves. Robert Greenberger's Wonder Woman: Amazon. Hero. Icon, among other things, shows how the costume has changed since its 1941 debut. Sometimes it's even been tossed out altogether, during the Mod period, for one.

And it's always returned, along with many of the other elements focused on here, such as Diana's weapons, supporting cast and villains. Over 200 pages we see how Wonder Woman's adventures have been presented over the decades and get an inkling as to why the character has endured. The foundations of Diana, as laid down by creators William Moulton Marston and Harry G Peter, are a big part of that. The bondage days are long gone, but something seems to have been imprinted on the cultural psyche. And with panels such as this, from Wonder Woman #6, it's no wonder. I used the term 'coffee table book' earlier, and that's fair, and certainly not a negative - this is more a book to browse for the gorgeous images than to turn to for in-depth analysis. There are plenty of other books, articles and websites for that sort of thing. What this volume does brilliantly is provide a pacey run-through of Diana's doings and the real-world people who facilitated same, and showcase the work of some terrific writers and artists.

The images benefit from being reproduced bigger than the comics, on glossy stock. Well, usually - one or two excerpts don't look so great at the larger size ... but they did their job in the comics, telling a story to readers who weren't always as fussy as today's.

Greenberger's tone is bright and breezy, making this a great read - I gobbled it up in a single sitting, but I'll be going back to it again and again. Given the size of this work, it's amazing that only a single statement annoyed me. On the subject of the Sixties killing off of Steve Trevor by writer Denny O'Neil, Greenberger writes: 'It was a move O'Neil made because he couldn't figure out what to do with what was essentially a dull character.'

That's a surprise, coming from a man who was a rather fine DC editor - while I don't entirely agree that there are no bad characters (hello Magog, Deathstroke, Gangbuster ..), Steve Trevor was a war hero who captured the heart of the world's most amazing woman. If he was dull - and, to be honest, a total tool in the Sixties - it was because longtime writer/editor Bob Kanigher wrongly felt Wonder Woman could only look good if Steve looked bad.

Rant over. Actually, it's nice when a book gets opinionated, I'd have welcomed a few more contentious lines (even though this particular one seems more a case of Greenberger parroting O'Neill when he might have been interrogating his statement).

But let's not worry about what this book isn't. What Wonder Woman: Amazon. Hero. Icon is, is a primer for new fans and a present for old. And the visual feast shows that when it came to coming up with a standout look to grab 21st-century attention, DC has missed a trick. Just look at this delight from the Golden Age: Now that's 'street'!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Flash #3 review

I'm not at all keen on Francis Manapul's cover image, which is irrelevant to the issue, murkily executed and saddled with rubbish copy.

Inside, things are somewhat happier, as the Reverse-Rogues from the future return to arrest Barry Allen for a crime he hasn't yet committed and Captain Boomerang finds that his bounce back from death has given him the ability to manifest killer 'rangs. When not being attacked, Barry is mulling over a murder conviction and being yelled at by his boss. And the future cops hint that Iris will be breaking a few laws before long.

She's already breaking the laws of credulity by looking about 20 years younger than she should. This issue Iris even jokingly brags about her loveliness; I wish writer Geoff Johns would give us a sentence or two at least acknowledging that Iris has seriously de-aged since the Wally and Bart Flash books. As this comic seems determined to tell convoluted time travel tales, he may as well acknowledge Iris's crazy past/future rather than leave longer-term readers wondering if she's been nicking the bodies of younger gels again..

Points, though, for giving the Barry/Iris relationship a few pages this issue, showing that they love and rely on one another. And I appreciated that without being overly cocky, Barry wasn't perturbed by the 5-1 odds against him. The issue ends on a fun note before an entertaining, two-page surprise look at Captain Boomerang's MO via Flash Facts, by Johns and Scott Kolins.

Oh, and there's a wee gag for those of us who endured the Flash's seemingly never-ending trial (actually, ten issues, which would count as a short these days) for killing Professor Zoom back in the Eighties.

Manapul's art on the main story continues to give the book a speed-charged atmosphere, as Flash roars around a buzzing Central City, the crime lab throbs with activity and Jitters coffee shop judders nervously. Brian Buccellato's colours remain, for the most part, attractive - the green-dominated opening scene at Iron Heights jail looks particularly good - but I'd be happy to see the hot colours that dominate the fight scenes toned down a tad; my eyes are a-hurtin'.

Still, this is my favourite issue of the returned book yet, as Barry settles back into the world and tries to make it better. He could do with being a little less passive at work, but it's early days.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Action Comics #890 review

Another year without Superman in Action Comics. Weep.

Another Blackest Night tie-in. Wail.

What, more Lex Luthor? Gnashing of teeth.

Those would be the reservations. The five-star casino hotel would be the way Paul Cornell and Pete Woods execute the beginning of their Lex Luthor series. Having tasted Green Lantern-style power during recent cosmic shenanigans, Lex wants more and over the next year he'll be travelling across the DCU (and maybe beyond) in order to find it. Along the way he'll meet some of his rivals for the title of DC's Biggest Villain (oh please Lex, while I admit to being puzzled that a self-proclaimed, er, Brainiac, such as yourself can't even cure baldness, do feel free to show Deathstroke the Terminally Boring the door).

Now that's a pretty good set-up and the quality of this first issue guarantees I'm buying the book for as long as Cornell and Woods are on it. Lex is at his deliciously evil best, plotting grandiose schemes while displaying the self-knowledge of a dead gnat - John Henry Irons, Steel, is 'just a genius in a power suit'; Lex asserts that he's the best yet can barely get through a sentence without comparing himself to Superman.

The obsession is one way of guaranteeing that while his Kryptonian foe is off playing The Superest Hobo, his presence is a constant. The addition of one Lois Lane to the supporting cast is another. And despite my knee-jerk reaction to the announcement that Lex is taking over the comic, he is a darned charismatic character.

I'm also immediately fond of new assistant Spalding, a natty dresser with a dry sense of humour. Let's hope he survives the year. And while the issue's mystery villain is unveiled at the end (YES!) I'm dying to know more about his well-designed lackeys.

The designer would be Woods, who fills the book with believable people and environments. Lois is a standout, especially when we see her without her make-up. My one qualm is the decision to draw Lex without eyebrows, like the rather wonderful British swimmer Duncan Goodhew, who lost all his body hair after falling out of a tree (Superman, sadly, was busy rescuing a cat). Duncan, I'm used to, and he smiles a lot - Lex looks weird. Forget Wonder Woman's costume, Bring Back the Brows!

But again, despite my grumbling, Lex's new look won't put me off buying. David Finch's cover is powerful, Woods' pages look great and the script - well, in one issue Paul Cornell shows he's very comfortable in the DC Universe. Never mind an exclusive, give that man permanent residency.

Wonder Woman #600 review

Wonder Woman gets a #600th issue and George Perez marks the big number rather cleverly on his marvellously cheery cover. It's appropriate the book's former writer artist has the cover assignment here, as this issue marks the end of the era he kicked off in 1987 and the beginning of a new one.

Well, so DC hopes ...

Perez is inside the issue too, drawing a story by most recent writer Gail Simone that has Diana leading a squadron of DCU ladies against fembot sirens, before attending the graduation of Vanessa Kapatelis. Given that Nessie and mother Julia were the most important supporting players in the Perez run, it's heartwarming to see them both here and happy for the first time in years. Yes, Vanessa is over her evil Silver Swan thang (teenage girls and their phases, eh?).

The action sequence is a cool way to show Diana's natural leadership and, whisper it, majesty. She has no airs and graces, but her peers treat her as their queen. Even the surly solo artist Ravager, asked how come she showed up for the fight, admits: 'She asked. I came.' Simone's script is a fine coda to her own run, a nice callback to Perez's, and a sweet 'see ya' to readers - the story's entitled 'Valedictorian' which, we're reminded, means 'farewell'.

There's a lovely surprise as Amanda Conner draws and writes a team-up between Diana and Power Girl, apparently set just before Power Girl #1. Who knew that after she closed her 12-issue run on the latter's book last month, she'd be back with Peege so soon.

But she doesn't favour Karen; both heroines are on great form, and it's Diana who teaches her pal something in a rare usage of her unity with beasts power. Whether you're a fan of Diana, Karen, manga tentacles, cats or all of the above, you'll like 'Fuzzy logic'. Even more so if you're not too politically correct to laugh at daft old Egg Fu.

There follows another team-up (checks cover - is this actually the 'Sensation-Comics-as-team-up-book' revival which fans have requested for years?) as Superman joins Diana to take on pre-Crisis villain Nikos Aegus. The sexist sod throws lighting bolts and 'tosser' is probably the best way to describe him. Nevertheless, 'Firepower' is a fun few pages by Louise Simonson, Eduardo Pansica and Bob Wiacek.

Scattered throughout the issue are some amazing pin-ups of Wonder Woman, all showing Diana's power and grace. It's a tough call to single any out, but the double-pager by Phil Jimenez (another former WW writer-artist, of course) is a fantastic tribute to the last quarter of a century. It's just a shame it's not in the centre of the book, I might have bought a second copy to actually - gasp - pin it up. Also worthy of mention is Guillem March's shot of Diana playing bullets and bracelets while apparently having a pee. Points for originality, there.

Oh, I'm so coarse. Back to the ever-graceful Diana, whose next strip in this bumper book is awfully perplexing. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Scott Kolins, it has the Amazing Amazon chasing a younger version of herself. The Wonder Girl asks: 'Don't you wonder what's beyond the next horizon?', a mysterious voice tells us, 'Diana is far too undervalued by this world. This must change. Let the Odyssey of Wonder Woman begin' and our heroine leaps into the light.

It's a little heavy handed as DC mission statements go, but nicely drawn, and serves as a transition sequence between the earlier stories and the main event of this issue, the debut of Wonder Woman as reinvented by J Michael Straczynski and Don Kramer. A Diana with little memory of her past, clad in that new costume, beats baddies in an ally, gives her curtain-clad protectors attitude and doesn't care that she has no gum for the sassy teen Oracle. She's a cold fish this Diana, and no mistake! Despite the lack of chewey, Diana gets a bit of information about her past. Well I never, it's all a lie! The final image of Diana standing amid the wreckage of Paradise Island should ring a few bells with her - she's done it enough times previously.

If scripts could talk, this one would say, 'I'm a TV treatment', as it takes the bare bones of Wonder Woman's story and leaves out the spark. Diana could be any martial artist here, as she's yet to get her full power set. She has no emotional connection to Themiscyra, having been smuggled away at the age of three when her mother was murdered and home destroyed. Whereas previously Diana fled a love-filled Paradise Island in search of adventure and romance, this version looks set to spurn a cold environment - her bald Amazon guardians line up in sewers - in search of a past that could lead to a better future. Wonder Woman may have lost the flag-waving uniform, but she's more American than ever, due to her US upbringing, so there goes the stranger in a strange land angle.

I can't know where this is all going. At a guess, I'd say we're getting a year-long quest which will end with Paradise Island and Diana's true history restored and, unless the new costume gets a positive response that's been absent in the two days since its reveal, a return to the classic look.

I'm fascinated to see what happens. In ten pages JMS has presented a Diana so grounded as to be anything but a Wonder Woman. I'm assuming it's the old 'strip them down to build them up/it's always darkest ...' bit yet again. I do hope so, because if Wonder Woman is going to remain a joyless soul with little connection to her heritage, well, what's the point? A Wonder-free Wonder Woman isn't going to inspire anyone.

I'm more optimistic than not, given the delightful way JMS wrote Wondy recently in The Brave and the Bold, a comic DC cites this very week as one worth grabbing.

And while I argued in a column at Comic Book Resources in January (Yes I did) for the debut of a new costume in #600 as a fun publicity stunt, Jim Lee's design is a bit bland. Wonder Woman should stop you in her tracks - a woman so confident, so comfortable in her skin that she can make the most outlandish outfit work. It's all very well DC wanting an outfit that could work well in the oft-mooted Wonder Woman movie, but let's not put the cart before the horse - don't we deserve something that looks great on the comics page now? The adaptations can come in the adaptation.

In an essay at the back of this issue JMS says the thinking behind the redesign included: 'Let's give her clothes that she can fight in, that add to her presence and her strength and her power.' Could it be that they're still working on such a design? A key phrase for this look is 'street-wise'. As in streetwalker? Cheap shot, sorry(-ish). I don't want Diana to look like just another urban vigilante, I want her to look like she's from another world. The joy of JMS's Diana in Brave and Bold #33 was that she was a hugely impressive figure able to deal with regular folk on the same level.

Mind, thank God that exploitative old costume has gone the way of all flesh. The poster gallery this issue demonstrate that with the right artists, Diana looks like the first lady of comics she is.

So let's hope that Wonder Woman returns and Mundane Maiden is put away with Diana's many other temporary makeovers. Let this stunt run its course and then JMS and Don Kramer - whose artwork with inker Michael Babinski is pretty impressive here - can get on with showing us a Diana who is unique. Bring back the iconography and if they really want to recapture Diana's Golden Age impact, embrace the wacky. That doesn't necessarily mean a return to ideas of bondage and loving submission, but a weird sensibility would certainly be welcome. Alan Moore managed it with Wonder Woman knock-off Promethea, it's time for the original to show how it's done. The publicity this week has done its job - Wonder Woman was ridiculously high in the iFanboy pull lists, for example - but if readers are to be kept, Diana can't be reduced to just a costume. Especially one so daft even Sarah Jessica Parker wouldn't wear it.

Which reminds me, 10,000 demerits for the hideous title 'Couture shock'. I love puns but it was very wrong for the story.

Meanwhile, thanks DC, for a special issue that actually felt special. What's in #700 then?