Friday, 27 August 2010

Wonder Woman #602 review

Lord, that's one scowly superheroine on Dan Kramer and Michael Babinski's cover. I really didn't feel like reading this book, it looks so bloomin' unfriendly. While I'm used to a determined, warrior Diana, this image shows a woman with no heart, no soul ... not someone I want to know.

Inside, Diana is more like the woman I know, at least for a while. She's the fierce defender of the dispossessed - in this case her rediscovered Amazon sisters - and a compassionate friend. Sadly, she's also ready to slaughter their oppressors without compunction.

And she's really badly dressed.

Just as we're getting used to the drab-at-best new look, Diana takes off her jacket and reveals the monstrosity below. It's done over the course of a few panels, so I suspect we're meant to gasp in awe. Awful, more like - I know some Wonder Woman fans have often suggested the traditional bustier gain a couple of straps, but this is ridiculous. It looks as Diana's lost a fight with those ballet shoes she wore in the 1950s.

By the end of the issue she's also gained a sword and shield, all the better to kill you with, my dear. Maybe we're meant to find her impressive and admirable on the final splash, as she poses with her new bits of battle gear, but I'm hoping not - certainly she's drawn with a sadness in her eyes. Or perhaps she's simply dead inside.

If I can cling onto the hope that Diana sees killing as a last resort, and this issue's slaughter is an aberration, I'll likely be back next month; if it seems we'll be getting deadly Diana until the new order emerges for this comic - when the current alternate reality arc wraps - I'll stay away. Better to rejoin Diana when her journey is complete than to get travel sick due to too many unpleasant twists and turns.

Things I liked this month were the depiction of Aphrodite as a mysterious being rather than the goddess next door, and Diana letting rip at her deity's typically useless and frustrating messages. Plus, the Amazons of Turkey come across as brave, good people, so I'm glad at least a few survived the battle against their unknown assailants this time out.

Two full issues into his run and I'm not sure what writer J Michael Straczynski is up to. I know he can present a modern, fun Wonder Woman - he did it in Brave and Bold - so I can't see why we must endure a quest to get her where he wants her. Just write her however, now. So far I'm blowing hot and cold on this often angry Diana, and there's a chill more often than not. Next issue could be the decider.
The artwork is less impressive this issue than previously, as penciller Don Kramer and inker Michael Babinski share the pages with penciller Eduardo Pansica and inkers Ruy Jose and Jay Leisten. It's still decent work, but inconsistent in texture. An early montage doesn't work, with multiple Dianas seeming rather aimless, and I'm already tired of the default battle pose of Diana pushing her chest out as she stretches her arms back. But everyone gets Diana's scowl off pat, that's the main thing. Grrrrrrr.

Alex Sinclair, as usual, turns in a fine colour job, with the eyes of characters standing out particularly - there's some very intelligent work here. And Travis Lanham letters with verve,

I wouldn't say this was a terrible issue of Wonder Woman. As far as Straczynski and Kramer's Wonder Woman goes, it may well be perfect - but the title character feels too distant from any 'My Diana' I've known for me to be comfortable with her. I hope that changes soon.

Dracula: The Company of Monsters #1 review

Even if I wasn't a sucker for a Dracula book, the ever-entertaining Kurt Busiek's name alone would get me to try this first issue. Busiek has provided the story, with the script coming from novelist Daryl Gregory. This initial chapter alternates the dark history of 15th-century European monarch Vlad Tepes with a day in the life of underachieving rich guy Evan Barrington-Cabot. And it's a confusing one for Evan, as his corporate shark uncle, Conrad, whisks him off on a mysterious trip - all Evan knows is that it's connected to the enigmatic scraps of Romanian verse he's been translating at his relative's behest. By story's end, things are looking very weird indeed.

While a traditional fang-filled Dracula is absent this issue, it makes narrative sense to fill in the background of his earlier incarnation as Tepes; certainly I learned a few snippets of information. Of course 'pale' is a synonym for 'big tall spiky pole thingie', but it's a new word on me.

Gregory's script immediately impresses with the terse narration of the first flashback leading to the money shot, which feels fresh due to the atmospheric build-up. And the current day scenes seem like they're happening now without the inclusion of faddish slang. Evan intrigues - everything in life's come easy to him, so will he be able to step up as his uncle leads him into a darker world than he imagined could exist? As for Conrad, so far he's your basic wealthy quester after knowledge ... I wonder if he'll merge with the spirit of Dracula, or maybe provide the blood to reinflate the vampire lord.

The artwork by Scott Godlewski serves the story well. It's strongest in the historical sequences, with pounding battle scenes and a nicely cinematic, shall we say, cutaway. The modern sections look duller, but there's less call for intensity - it'll be interesting to see how things develop once Dracula arrives and ups the ... no, I can't.

Colourist Stephen Downer does a fine job of laying down different palettes for Then and Now, while letterer Johnny Lowe effects a similar trick.

I've not seen the two alternate covers, but I'm happy with the one I've got, which features a moody montage by Dan Brereton, bloodily coloured by the splendidly named Alfred Rockefeller.

If there were any doubt I'll be back for issue #2 it was crushed by amusing lines in the indicia: 'Any similarity to actual persons, demons, anti-Christs, aliens, vampires, face-suckers or political figures, whether living, dead or undead, or to any actual supernatural events is coincidental and unintentional. So don't come whining to us.'

Nice one!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Superman: Secret Origin #6 review

It's a weird time to be a Superman fan. No Superman strip in Action Comics, and a stranger in tights and cape in his eponymous book. Thank heaven, then, for the final issue of this comic, which I'd assumed came out months ago, and I'd missed.

Thank heaven, because it's the best single Superman story I've come across in ages. While I've read dozens of retellings of Superman's first appearances in Metropolis, writer Geoff Johns gives the story a fresh sheen, and adds pleasing shading. From Superman's battle against Metallo to the Daily Planet staff's reaction to General Sam Lane's bullying to the beginnings of the romance with Lois Lane and bromance with Jimmy Olsen, this is an enriching meal. It brought back the Superman I've grown up with, the guy who makes inspirational speechlets rather than patronising comments; the hero who looks out for everyone rather than follows his navel. The man of steel with a heart of gold.

Moments I've not seen previously include Superman's friends' reaction to the revelation that he's an extraterrestrial, and the people of Metropolis gradually recognising what a hero they have among them, rather than everyone immediately embracing the strange visitor. I loved the symbolism of Superman starting the long-rusty Planet globe spinning, cheered at Jimmy's resourcefulness and giggled at Luthor's Victor Frankenstein moment. I puzzled over Clark deliberately setting himself up as Superman's rival for Lois and grinned at Lois not believing Clark's useless act for a second.

I wondered why Luthor has the FIFA World Cup on his desk.

And still there's a standout sequence - the tender scene between Superman and Lois on the Planet roof, as they begin to fall in love; I've moaned loads of times about Johns' tendency to go for the jugular and rip it right out, so it's good to see he can still write the quieter - but far more meaningful - moments.

And the art team of penciller Gary Frank and inker Jon Sibal can certainly draw them. I swear I could hear the welling (not Tom) orchestral music as the future Mr and Mrs Superman share a soppy moment. The artists are proficient in  the louder corners of the script too, such as the splash panel of Superman showing the hostile US military where to stick their tank, and Metallo rushing forward menacingly despite the ludicrous thigh-high boots. What's more, the cover's a winner, summing up the issue nicely - there's no pretending Metallo may win this bout, just a dynamite commemoration of the friendship of three comics icons.

So thank you to everyone involved in this issue - I was a tad blase when the series began, but it's proven the perfect tonic for this longtime - ancient, actually - Superman booster.

Superman/Batman #75 review

I've written a couple of posts in praise of the most recent storyline, with Lex Luthor taking advantage of a planet's suspicion of Superman to sow the seeds of a future revenge plot. Knowing the story would culminate in this extra-length 75th issue, with the Legion of Super-Heroes guest starring, I was rather excited.

I'm rather disappointed.

I was expecting a story set in the 31st century, by which time the Planet Lexor would prove a massive threat to both Superman and co-Lex irritant Batman. A big team-up with our heroes and the future's super-teens taking on Lex and an entire planet.

Well, there's a 31st century sequence, and Lex does indeed seem to be worshipped by the planet, but we don't actually see the world. The only representative is a green clone of Lex Luthor who gives the Legion more trouble than he should. He then pops back to the 21st century and bashes Superman around because he's laced with Kryptonite. The Legion follow and enlist Batman's help to steal something from Lexcorp that may help them beat the clone ... while Batman babysits the poorly Superman in the Batcave.

The clone thinks it's killed Superman, so, er, goes back in time to kill Superman again/before, while he's Superboy. Work that one out. Anyway, the clone is defeated but the Legion fret that there are more out there. The end.

Writer Paul Levitz has proven again and again that he's one of the best plotters in comics, so I have no idea why this story is so disjointed. Why Superman and Batman would be relegated to cameo roles in their anniversary issue. Why Lex Luthor, the big villain of the arc, appears on a single page, and then he's not involved in the issue's events. Was the final part plotted to fill a double-sized issue, then squeezed down to 26pp when it was decided to include a series of two-page mini-tributes to the Superman-Batman team?

Whatever the case, it took the shine of what has been a terrific storyline.

It wasn't all bad, I liked seeing Jerry Ordway, coloured by Pete Pantazis, draw the Legion. The clone's prophecy was clever, and very nicely lettered by Steve Wands. Superman can hear the time barrier crack open. Batman's reactions to the Legion - and philosophy - made sense. Frank Quitely's cover is sharp, I've never seen Saturn Girl looking such a minx. There's a nice wink to the Smallville telly show.

And Superboy has this line (click to enlarge):
He's so right.

So the problem wasn't the detail, it was the story said detail was plugged into. If there's a Director's Cut out there somewhere - even if it's just a plot outline - I'd like to see it.

The comic soon put the smile back on my face with the two page back-ups. Let's have a speedy run-through.
  • 'It's a bat ... Conjoined!' by Steven T Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen is self-referential/indulgent fun - a breath of fresh air.
  • 'Brightest Day' - oh, hang on, that's an ad ...
  • Con fable 'Brothers in arms' by Billy Tucci is sweet, and sexy.
  • 'World's end' by Adam Hughes is surprisingly touching as it contrasts the fates of Barbara Gordon and Kara Zor-El. It's set on a world where the Crisis never happened - oh, who cares, it's gloriously illustrated, sad and hopeful at the same time.
  • 'Friendly advice' sees Superboy and Red Robin individually seeking romantic advice from their mentors, and has a pleasant script by JT Krul and lovely linework and clever colouring by Francis Manapul.
  • 'Batman's siren' and 'Superman's better half' are pin-ups of Catwoman and Lois, both beauts, by Jill Thompson.
  • 'Night and Day' is the least successful to me, as I didn't 'get' it. It features a very morbid teeny Batman and a possibly deceased l'il Superman. I suspect it may be a call-back to when writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson were on the book. Shane Davis and Sandra Hope provide the artwork for page one, Rafael Albuquerque goes wild on page two.
  • Krypto (the Superdog) vs Ace (the Bathound) in 'A Superhero's best friend' is just awwwwwwwww. Seriously, this is cute without being icky as the madly underrated Duncan Rouleau compares and contrasts the relative merits of the pooch partners. Here's my favourite panel:
  • 'Joker & Lex' is a spot-on homage to the look and sensibility of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo.
  • 'Eternal' aims to be inspirational but somehow depressed me in a scene starring future Conner Kent and Damian Wayne, with links to Batman Beyond. The art by David Finch, also writing, is impressively gloomy, with elderly Conner actually looking dead.
  • 'We can be heroes' sees a dad and his kid share their love of superheroes in a sweet vignette.
There are more hits than misses in that lot, and every short has some merit. I hope DC gives us more experiments in anniversary issues - even made-up ones like a 75th issue!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Power Girl #15 review

I hate super-characters whose names are acronyms. S.T.R.I.P.E., O.M.A.C., M.O.D.O.K. . . .

Oh, hang on, I love M.O.D.O.K.

Let's call the large-headed one the exception that proves the wotsit. Dunno why, it just annoys me. Luckily I didn't know the villain of the last two issues was named C.R.A.S.H. until near the end of this month's story. And it's not as if I could ever really think of him as anything but 'that guy who's like Parasite in fat mode'.

C.R.A.S.H.'s thing is that he's big and strong and programmed to smash cities. He's a cybernetic being with the mind of a Russian arms dealer, and to the newly minted monster, smashing stuff feels like sex, gambling and making money. But better. It's a fresh angle for one of the oldest of comic book archetypes, the big guy who wrecks stuff, and the big fight is well choreographed by writer Judd Winick.

The meat of the issue, though, comes with the scenes between Peege and employee Nico. In order to get game-changing intel on C.R.A.S.H. she calls him as Karen Starr and persuades him to hack into government files. For 'persuades' read 'blackmails' - our heroine tells him that if he doesn't risk a jail term to help her friend, Power Girl, she'll tell the world of his past as a computer fraudster turned FBI informer.

While I see the urgent need to get info to take down C.R.A.S.H., this isn't the way a good guy should be behaving - Power Girl chooses to risk her life for the masses, she shouldn't be forcing a civilian to gamble his freedom. And unsurprisingly, by issue's end the matter comes back to bite her in the Kryptonian butt as the man she hired for his genius turns out to be able to recognise her despite a change of wardrobe. And of course, Power Girl is wearing the radio earrings he designed for Karen.

In other cliffhangers, Max Lord shows up with a Boom Tube-style teleportation thingie and whisks away the defeated C.R.A.S.H., putting himself back on Peege's radar after previously wiping himself from her memories. And that will come back to bite him in the bum over in the Justice League: Generation Lost.

'Bomb Squad part 2' is another winner from Winick, who's showing real skill at developing the story through violence as much as dialogue. He's managing to progress both Karen's solo plotlines and move the JL:GL book forward. There's a good balance of seriousness and light-hearted moments (the best of which sees Peege provide Nico with physical evidence of C.R.A.S.H. in a wonderfully showy manner), with neither tone tripping up the other. He even gives a new villain a distinctive personality.

Artistically, exterior and interior illustrator Sami Basri continues to make this comic his own, drawing a powerful, characterful Power Girl who thinks as much as she punches. You really can see the intelligence in her eyes, the determination in her movements. Also making a huge contribution to the look of the book is colourist Sunny Gho, whose warm, hazy glows give it a feel all its own. John J Hill letters with his usual flair, while editors Rachel Gluckstern and Mike Carlin deserve plenty of credit for ferrying this book along.

I'd vote this one a success.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Avengers Academy #3 review

The first six issues of this series are being narrated by the new characters who make up the student body. It's a smart way to give us an insight into the newcomers, and change the perspective on the Avengers' aim to ensure these troubled teens don't turn to crime.

In the spotlight this month is Hazmat, the radioactive girl so deadly she's condemned to life in a containment suit. And that's no life at all. Given what happened when her powers activated for the first time, it's impressive she's not spending her days screaming in a padded cell, but here she is at Infinite Avengers Mansion, ready to take her lessons.

Like fellow pupil Veil, she was tortured by Green Goblin Norman Osborn as he sought ways to exploit her, dialing her tendency to emit poisons up to terrifying levels. So it's not surprising that when the Academy instructors, led by the Wasp, Hank Pym, take the kids to supervillain prison The Raft, that slipping away and finding Osborn is high on her agenda. Will she, accompanied by Veil and metal man Mettle, be able to scare him into telling her something that may help her condition?

The arc title is 'Scared straight', the students figuring that's what's behind the Avengers' oddball field trip, and it's a reasonable assumption. It seems a little early for such drastic measures, letting the worst of the Marvel Universe leer and threaten the Academians, but Hank doesn't always make the best decision. For example, after starting her super-career as a criminal, pretending to reform, and betraying pretty much everyone she's ever met, is Moonstone really a sensible person to have assess the teens' psyches?

The notion makes for a fun page, but undermines the idea that Hank and co - who have all come through their own hells over the years - are suitable mentors. Hank doesn't even know that one of the instructors is self-harming (a turn of events that had me groaning ... I really hoped this character was moving forward after years of abuse by writers).

And it's not just Hank whose idea of a suitable curriculum is dubious. Tigra brings in old pal Valkyrie - well, whichever version of the character is active these days - to take the girls in Superhuman Gender Roles. Taking a logical look at how a Norse warrior woman would think, writer Christos Gage provides a memorable scene.

Also guesting is Iron Fist, leading the course on Intermediate Hand-to-Hand Combat. He makes what seems a very fair point about the talents of copycat fighter Finesse, which is immediately - and fairly - undermined by young Stryker.

The Raft visit is to be shown from the point of view of the supervillains in the Thunderbolts, though this week's issue doesn't touch on it much. In this book, we have Gage mixing personalities and ideas to present a different perspective on the metahuman teen experience to that shown by all the X-teen books that came before.

And Mike McKone captures the emotions of the characters well with his pleasingly precise pencils. There's not a lot of traditional action scenes, but the book still has a big, bombastic feel. Andrew Hennessy and Jeromy Cox ink and colour respectively, making this one very good looking comic.

So that's three issues in and every one a winner. Still hate the logo, mind!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Supergirl #55 review

Amy Reeder debuts as cover penciller and provides a striking piece, inked by Richard Friend and coloured by Guy Major. The visualisation of Bizarrogirl as a bizarre reflection of Kara Zor-El is perfectly captured. It also serves to sell the essence of this issue - two beings who share so much, but can never understand one another.

This is the third issue in a row to feature the twisted version of Supergirl from the Bizarro World. But am I bored? Am I heck. Writer Sterling Gates keeps the twists and turns coming thick and fast (with far less cliched writing than I'm managing here) and Jamal Igle continues to be the best Supergirl penciller this book has had since it began five years ago.

The battle between Kara and, hmm, we can't call her Arak, that name's taken ... anyway, the tussle between the twin titans is ridiculously entertaining. One gets the upper hand, then the other, then the one, which is how it should be in two beings so different, yet so similar. Bizarrogirl's powers may be the opposite of Supergirl's, but she's every bit as determined to win, even if she does occasionally get distracted.

Oh Lord, the character is a delight. I'm not keen on her being a killer - and potential cannibal - but Bizarrogirl is massive fun in her unpredictability. She even comes up with a remarkably apt new name for the ever-tiresome Gangbuster.

As well as the present day tussle, this issue shows how Bizarrogirl came to be on Earth, with a flashback to a Bizarro World that's just the right mix of whimsy (the Fortress of Togetherness in the Anti-Arctic) and creepy (Bizarro Lois). Gates proves to be one of the few modern writers who gets the Bizarros, while Igle finds a seam of wildness in his pencil that's perfect for the unrestrained, lunatic emotions of the imperfect duplicates. Sepia shadings by either Jamie Grant or Jim Devlin, who share the colouring credit, also add to the unnerving air.

As well as two colourists, this issue features three inkers - John Dell, Marc Deering and Richard Friend - who all do a fine job of keeping Igle's art looking great. Favourite scenes include a stellar spread of Kara showing Bizarrogirl what she's made of, and panels depicting Dr Light II actually getting to be useful for once. Jared K Fletcher is sole letterer, producing a terrific skewed font for Bizarrogirl.

Gates surprises by having Kara do something I can't recall Superman ever managing, a Flash-family trick, and letting Jimmy Olsen do some actual reporting. There's a very nice scene, too, of Kara demonstrating true Superman Family concern for victims.

I'm getting a little tired of Cat Grant's anti-Supergirl obsession, but I suspect things are coming to a head soon, and she does get a subplot all her own. Plus, she says 'Ta ta!' in a very Bronze Age Lana Lang way, which made me smile.

And I don't know whether it was Gates, or Igle's, idea to have Supergirl punch Bizarrogirl right out of her boots, but it's a masterful moment. It's likely they came up with the idea together, given the creative synergy this pair have. I'm a tad sad at the prospect of Igle moving to Birds of Prey, as I could only see the team's greatness growing were they to stick together awhile longer. Still, nothing's been announced officially, and Igle really loves Kara, so who knows?

There's an awful lot going on this issue, and an awful lot to praise, but there's only one thing really occupying my mind - what the heck is up with Perry White's hair? Traditionally he has receding brown hair with grey sideburns, but it's been getting thicker and greyer of late ... is he wearing a wig? That's what Cat Grant should be investigating.

Amazing Spider-Man #640 review

So far in the current telling of the post-One More Day history of Spider-Man, we've seen why Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson never made it to the altar. We know how Aunt May survived an assassination attempt. This issue we learn just how bad things get that Peter decides to ask for help to restore his secret identity, make the world forget the well-considered yet stupid decision to 'come out' in support of the Superhero Registration Act.

What happens is that Anna Watson is first targeted, then the would-be hit man turns his attention to her niece, MJ. The highlight of the issue is the struggle the latter puts up against former Elektro hood Eddie Muerte - it's not one of those ridiculous fightbacks in which an ordinary person manages to hold out against a super-villain; it's one very determined, very scared young woman staying just a step ahead of a seasoned crook ... for awhile. When he finally pins her down, she shows the strength of character and sense of sacrifice that led to her making the deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May's life, unravelling her own.

While the demon lord is neither seen nor mentioned this issue, his influence does seem to be present in the shape of a nurse who's been feeding information about May to hitman-hirer Kingpin (Wilson Fisk is also in Mephisto colours). That apart, what we have here is the story that Marvel probably should have just given us in the first place - MJ and Peter split up because, well, sometimes people do, and Peter's secret ID is restored by powers as strong as Mephisto, but on the side of good.

Not that we see the folks at the end of this issue sort the matter out, but things seem to be heading in that direction. Whatever happens, I'm confident that this story that didn't need to be told will at least resolve decently.

That is, if writer Joe Quesada carries on as he has been doing. Apart from a little too much angst last issue, the story of Spider-Man's world slowly falling apart has been nicely measured, and beautifully rendered by Paulo Rivera (who also provides the moody cover illo). And in the present day linking pages - illustrated by Quesada, Danny Miki and Richard Isanov - both Peter and MJ come across as adults who, while not perfect, never doubt their love. I'm chomping at the bit to see where we leave them next issue, as the Spidey editorial office prepares for the end of the creatively excellent Brand New Day period.

This issue also sees another Spidey Sundays two-pager. It's written with a lovely light touch by Stan Lee, and delightfully drawn by Marcos Martin, but terribly out of place in the current run.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Booster Gold #35 review

Veteran comic book writers come in two varieties. The ones who can't keep up with the next generation, and those who wipe the floor with them. Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis are the latter.

In Booster Gold #35 they give us a noble hero, dastardly villain, guest stars, deadly weapon, plot, sub-plot, humour, characterisation, sound, Female Fury, significant nothings ... it's a standard 22pp superhero comic but took me half an hour to read, and while length of time spent isn't a fantastic criteria for what makes a good superhero comic, length of time spent grinning, marvelling and just generally enjoying moment after surprising moment is.

The story continues from last month, but you could jump right in via the recap. Booster has hopped into the past to find evidence at the Justice League International embassy to prove Max Lord exists, but gotten waylaid ... by several light years. He's gone with Blue Beetle, Mr Miracle and Big Barda to a world where the villainous Hieronymous the Underachiever has gotten hold of the Cliffs Notes version of the Book of Destiny. Even this idiot, whose name perfectly describes him, could do a lot of damage with such a powerful mystic oojamaflip.

Can the heroes fight their way to him? Will regal enchantress Artemis resist Hieronymous's demands to help him? How will the scarier-than-it-sounds Planet Pounder be stopped? Dare I ask more questions than the rhetorically sound three?

Oops, just did.

Can Beetle get back on track and find something to help the present-day Justice League save the world? Will Big Barda resist killing Beetle and Booster? What's the surprise from Booster's ward, Rani?

I know some readers have baulked at the return of bwah-ha-ha humour to Booster's life, but as part of a rich meal, I'm fine with it. This diversion to Booster's glory days comes in the context of a devastating threat to his current life, and Giffen and DeMatteis don't let us forget that. This storyline is a gratifying balance between the straightforward superheroics of this book's previous creative teams, and the super-serious world of Brightest Day tie-ins. There's fun, but it's part of a drama that comes with a built-in poignancy, as Booster has the time of his life with a friend who has since met his death.

Want more? There's the return of the Darkstars to a DC book, a scene showcasing the closeness of Booster and Beetle, and a cameo by Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners, as a wiseass extraterrestrial. There's a link to Giffen's work on the Legion of Super-Heroes with Artemis anticipating the look of super-sorceress the White Witch.

Oh, and smutty banter. I do like a bit of decent filth.

Along the way, we're reminded what a loss Jack Kirby's New Gods are to the DC Universe. Mr Miracle is Booster's secret weapon for saving the day, while Big Barda's battle tactics are valuable - but her oaths are priceless (click to enlarge). The sooner the classic versions return to continuity, the better.

The story ends on a cliffhanger, with next issue's title - 'Ted Kord, Chipmunk' - promising a rather original tale/tail.

Penciller Chris Batista and inker Rich Perrotta don't illustrate the entire issue, which may be something to do with the amount of work they put into the 18pp they do manage. I can't recall the last time I saw so many backgrounds, and detailed, interesting ones at that. Castles, characters, cosmic stuff - every page is packed to the gills with eye candy. The foregrounds are rather great too, with nicely rendered figures acting their way through evocative emotions and frantic fisticuffs. Even dustpan robot Skeets looks good, and moves convincingly.

Pat Olliffe steps in to illustrate the last few pages and it's difficult to see the join. He even changes his style for the coda, when it seems a spot of Giffen homage was required.

Kudos, too, to the Hi-Fi person, who obviously relished the chance an alien world provides to go bright with the colour palette, and letterer Sal Cipriano for an awful lot of highly charged sound effects.

Completing the artistic package is Kevin Maguire, whose cover shot is poster worthy.

The tagline for Booster Gold is 'the greatest hero you never heard of''. I suggest it's also the best superhero comic most fans are ignoring.

Mysa ....
... meet Artemis

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Superman #702 review

Right, I'm halfway through the second issue of Superman's walk across America. I just need to bang my head against the wall for one minute ...


OK. I'm back. And I've read the rest of the comic.

Dearie Lord, I don't like the guy starring in this run by J Michael Straczynski. 'Superman' reaches Detroit and says hello to a chap on a porch. Then he does the old 'let the loser beat me at something' it - in this case basketball - so his very dim pals respect him.

Then he happens to come across a bunch of extraterrestrial refugees living quietly in the suburbs, as you do. There's a fight involving a big warsuit and Superman being mighty arrogant. And then, after everyone decides to just have a discussion, Superman turns out to be a massive ass.

If the aliens go home to Natalla, they'll be killed. They're living quietly, using their own resources, and bothering no one. Superman's view?

'Could you possibly have picked a worse time to immigrate here illegally ...?' and 'The point is: what are you giving back to the community?' Despite Superman's super-hearing. the aliens' very fair point, that he's an illegal immigrant too, falls on deaf ears. He leaves them with the passive-aggressive threat that 'I still haven't decided what to do about you. This isn't over. I just need to think for a while.'

God complex, much?

As it happens, Superman needs the aliens' help later in the issue, and the story ends with the strange visitors helping regenerate Detroit, and me feeling nauseous.

I really don't want to read about a pompous, judgmental, sanctimonious, empathy-free arsehole for 12 issues. I'd rather the book was turned over to the Natallans, they're at least amusing. Maybe they could start a new Justice League Detroit or something.
The very-human Natallans
There are some moments I liked: a scene with kids reacting to Superman's fight with the warsuit, our hero remembering he has a wife ... but overall, this is heavy going. Even if I weren't British, I doubt I'd be able to stomach heavy-handed allegories and lectures about the state of the US. As it is, I'm this close to dropping the book.

The only thing that's going to get me to buy next issue is the promise of a Batman appearance. Interfering in another hero's life is the sort of thing Bruce Wayne made an art of in the years before his 'death', so I'm intrigued as to what has placeholder Dick Grayson following Superman; it's just not the fella's style.

John Cassaday's style, on the cover, posits Superman as a big-headed chap with a plastic, action figure quality. Inside, penciller Eddy Barrows' style continues to be pretty, as inked by JP Mayer and coloured by Rod Reis. The layouts do the job, the people look good, Superman is the handsome hero. When we get to the big fight scene, the pages come alive ... and this is from someone who generally prefers soap to operatics.

There is an oddness attached to the tussle. Superman tells the warsuit-wearing Natallan that it's not actually tough to hurt him, 'the hard part is surviving me'. I took that as hyperbolic battle talk, but by the end of the fight he's covered in scratches. I wouldn't have thought twice about that, usually - alien tech has hurt Supeman in the past. But coming after the speech about his vulnerability, I'm wondering if Straczynski's Superman has been weakened to Golden Age levels, with the yellow sun acting as a healing factor. Certainly, by issue's end the signs of a scrap have vanished.

Along with my interest in this storyline. I'm pretty sure I'll buy next issue - I'm a Superman diehard, it takes a lot for me to drop his books. And I did say I'd give it three months. But one more issue of Preacherman and I'm out.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #1 review

Having dropped the two existing Green Lantern books due to the never-ending Crayola Corps clutter, I'm intrigued to see a new series debut. Could this be the Green Lantern book for people who no longer like Green Lantern books?

Possibly. While it does feature Atrocitus from the Red Lanterns, the opening storyline seems not to be focusing on Corps lore. Instead we have Guy Gardner and Ganthet, Guardian turned GL, off to explore the Unknown Sectors (oooOOOHHooooo!). I'm not sure how there can be unknown sectors - surely if the Guardians have Lanterns protecting 3,600 slices of space, they have a decent idea as to what's in each.

Maybe they forgot. They're old, you know.

Anyway, Ganthet has made some pact with sworn enemy Atrocitus and persuaded Guy to go along with it. What the longterm plan is, I dunno ... perhaps it's been outlined in the other GL books. I'm not worried as 'Story and Words' chap Peter J Tomasi has written enough good comic books to merit confidence that he'll reveal all as we go along. Before that, I'm happy to join Guy Gardner on the journey.

Guy is my favourite Green Lantern. He's had a few shifts in personality, with different characteristics to the fore depending on the period - bland, brash, childike, hawk. Some characterisations have been due to medical conditions, but over the last few years it's all been down to experience. Guy has seen so many horrors, so much courage and honour and sacrifice, that he's mellowed and matured. He's still the most ass-kicking of Earth's Green Lanterns, but he's thinking all the time. In this issue's story, 'Last Will', he questions the sanity of working with Atrocitus, him being a lunatic monster and all, but has enough respect for Ganthet to go along with his plan ... for now.

Ganthet has long been the most human of the Guardians, and while he's taken himself down a few notches in choosing to be a regular Corpsman, he's hanging on to the Guardians' enigmatic ways. Remember, Oa's blue man group were Yoda before Yoda; it would likely kill them to give a straight answer to anything. At the moment he's seeming to have open conversations with Guy, but there's obviously lots he's not telling.

His other current hobby is scanning the prophetic Book of the Black for clues to future threats. As the book manifests pictures of forthcoming events, this may not be the toughest of tasks. Lord, I do hate prophecies in comic books ... superheroes have access to time travel - if you wish to unravel a prophecy, go to the past to see who made it, or the future to see if it came true. Instead, characters faff around and worry. A better use of Ganthet's time would be wondering just why the Guardians are so happy for him to quit their membership for the Corps, and for troublesome, questioning Guy to go off on a lengthy quest.

Bleez, release me ...
As for Atrocitus, he's as ridiculous as his name suggests, building a wall of skulls, pouring blood on bone and hanging out with a sidekick, Bleez, who looks like the bastard child of Harley Quinn and Bat-Mite's more embarrassing cousin. I hope the creative get bored with him quickly, but his inclusion as one of the leads implies that plenty of people like him.

The illustrations by Fernando Pasarin and Cam Smith are, as the urban youth once said, fierce. With all the characters, weapons, energy beams, cities and space debris they design and delineate, the pages are frighteningly busy, but the narrative is never lost. Guy Gardner has rarely looked better - well, except for the scene in which blood dribbles from his gob. I believe he spent time as a Red Lantern. Which is nice.

An opening battle between Guy and some space mercenaries is a splendid distillation of his character, with Tomasi laying out Guy's current sense of self, as Pasarin, Smith and colourist Randy Mayor bring the scene to brilliant life. I'm not sure how long this artistic team will last, but the book is lucky to have them. And then there's letterer Steve Wands, going the extra mile to slot in some appropriate Interlac, a nice detail.

Rodolfo Migliari's cover illo is a moody treat, and thoroughly enhanced by the three logos. All books should have three logos. The only bad thing about the cover is the price - $3.99 for 24pp of story? I've just checked a couple of random DC comics from this week (Superman and JLA: Generation Lost) and the norm still seems to be $2.99 for 22pp. If this proves to be this book's regular deal, it's a big black mark against it.

Price apart, this is a thoroughly decent first issue. I'll certainly be checking in again next month. And that's a prophecy.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Hawkeye and Mockingbird #3 review

Just three issues in and this comic reads like it's been going for years. The set-up is solid, the situations are convincing, the characters compelling. I may not like that Mockingbird, Bobbi Morse, is so good at being the hard-faced espionage pro but she certainly gets the sparks flying, and the job done. I'm glad that Hawkeye, Clint Barton, the down-the-line hero of the partnership, is always on hand to remind her that being a human being isn't so bad.

And Bobbi certainly needs the reminder - this issue she treats a paramedic with huge disprespect, yelling abuse at him as he's trying to aid her injured mother. Sure, she's upset, but she's also been in the business long enough to separate the good guys from the bad, and she shouldn't be swearing at a fellow professional. Bad Bobbi.

(And do we to have superheroes letting free with the old &$^%, which appears twice this month? It just looks silly. Actually makes me long for 'the HELL?')

That's the titchy little moan regarding a rather excellent issue. It's 'Ghosts part 3' and Hawkeye, Mockingbird and long-lived mercenary colleague Dominic Fortune are tracking down Crossfire, who's responsible for the attack on Bobbi's mother. With Bobbi as strategist and the boys as ego-free partners, they make a first-rate stealth ops team, breaking into the HQ of Crossfire and fellow blackguard Phantom Rider, where they find themselves in big trouble. Writer Jim McCann is a dab hand at ratcheting up the tension, before finally hitting his characters with a no-win situation. And the relationship he writes for Clint and Bobbi is very believable - they sometimes fight, but boy, do they love one another.

One of the secrets Mockingbird has been keeping from Hawkeye tumbles out into the open and it'll be interesting to see them have a proper conversation about how she funds her WCA counter espionage network. Right now, Clint's too busy playing white hat to get into the rights and wrongs of Mockingbird reselling confiscated weapons of crime to 'friendly' nations.

There's a standout page here in which Hawkeye gives the reader an archery lesson, explaining how he focuses for the perfect shot; suddenly his having played zen ninja guy Ronin in the New Avengers makes sense. And not at all coincidentally, Clint gets his old Ronin swords out this issue. They prove effective, and make for a fun, surprisng moment, but as an old school Hawkeye fan I'll be happy if he sticks with the arrows.

The art by David and Alvaro Lopez is overall satisfactory, though a climactic scene in which two characters confront one another is undersold - a few speed/motion lines would give the panel the energy needed.

So any problems I have with this comic are easily sorted. Heck, even calling them 'problems' is overstating. McCann, Alvarez and co are producing a diverting book that's dense in the best possible sense. It's well worth a shot.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Superman: The Last Family of Krypton #1 review

What if .... Jor-El and Lara escaped Krypton alongside their baby son? That's the premise of this three-issue miniseries, which isn't so much an Elseworlds as an Els' World. Settling on Earth, the senior Els sculpt roles for themselves as scientist and religious leader, while young Kal-El is farmed off - literally - to experience an Earth childhood.

That was the big surprise for me of this story; having escaped planetary doom, I thought the Els would hold onto one another for dear life. Thankfully, the renamed Clark's tenure with Martha and Jonathan Kent is somewhat of a boarding school deal, with him in contact with Jor-El and Lara, and back home for holidays. And Smallville gives him a place to meet young Lex Luthor, as intellectually sharp as ever, but emotionally, a dud - he could be the scientific son Jor-El wants, but on meeting Superdad, his arrogance alienates the alien. Lana Lang is around too, in a cute sequence echoing her old Insect Queen shtick.

Jonathan and Martha justify Lara's faith in them, giving Clark the warm upbringing not available at Jor-El's Metropolis sky palace, but I'm disappointed in Lara Lor-Van. As a person whose religion centres on unlocking individual potential, surely she'd try and answer her son's needs herself?

Other strands of the story include the Els' pet artificial intelligence, an expert in shrinking cities who answers to B (that doesn't bode well); and the changing relationship of Jor and Lara. By issue's end this last is resolved, after one of the hottest scenes in comics for awhile.

Is it too early to nominate this book for some kind of award? The story by Cary Bates shows the confidence of a man who spent a couple of decades in Superman's world. And yet, having been away from comics for almost as long, his script has the freshness of a talented newcomer.

And the illustrations of Renato Arlem are simply beautiful. Jor-El and Lara have never looked so gorgeous, they're fashionistas from another planet, while the Kents have the requisite down-to-earth strength (and boring dungarees). Battle scenes, cosmic moments, Metropolis cityscape, Smallville studies - they're all just perfect. And young Clark, Lana and Lex have personality etched into every expression.

Bringing the extra touch that transforms great comic art into something to treasure is colour artist Allen Passalaqua. Every page is superbly finished in hues that never clash - never mind the hypnotic brilliance of outer space, I could stare for ages at the trees on the Kent farm, or the decor of the Kents' spare bedroom.

Every page of this 48pp story is a winner, visually and verbally. Superman: The Last Family of Krypton is shaping up to be one of the classic imaginary stories. If you've even a little fondness for the Superman legend, don't miss it.
Clark DiDio - nope, can't see it ...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Spitfire #1 review

As a fellow English person, I've always liked Spitfire. Yes, she's posher than me, and a tad more patriotic, but I like to think we'd get on - we're both bright, brave (stop snickering) and British. She shone in the recent Captain Britain and MI-13 series, where she was 'just' one of the crowd. Here Lady Jacqueline Falsworth, vampire and speedster, is the star, lighting up New York with her wit and wisdom. She's a smiling superhero happy to have another shot at life and determined not to let the darkness within consume her.

Not that Spitfire is a solo-act in this delightful one-off - she's sharing the adventure with Blade the Vampire Slayer, and I don't mind at all. For these two are great together; she lightens him up, he makes it OK for her to brood just a teensy-weensy bit. The story has our vampiric heroes tracking down a traitor to the realm, stopping off en route at the least-threatening vamp club ever. The climax has Jacquie fighting solo, using her super-speed alongside her fangs, to take on the quisling Amelia Bertram-Hayes. More than Spitfire's fists, though, what really hurts Amelia are the home truths that she hears.

Cornell shows once more that no one in comics writes British characters so well. Every word of dialogue rings true, speaking to character and class.
With this being a one-off, he doesn't bother with a madly complicated story, he just makes it a good one. There's a helpful recap of Jacquie's past and powers before the story begins, but anyone could enjoy this issue without being acquainted with Lady Falsworth and co. For example, do you need to know that Mys-Tech is a sinister organisation with roots in the comics produced by Marvel UK in the Nineties? Do you heck as like, it's obvious from the script that it's an eeeevil organisation.

Drawing the book is Elena Casagrande, and she does a nice job of keeping Spitfire, Blade and the rest of MI-13 on model, while adding a vitality all her own. I especially liked the depiction of Jacquie's super-speed, lovely sharp speedlines, spiffily coloured by Cris Peter. And I adore her character design for Amelia - Casagrande depicts her as a Dragon Lady/right old trollop .

The sterling cover is the work on one Jenny Frison, who sounds like she may be an MI-13 agent, actually.

With Paul Cornell having signed an exclusive with DC, this comic gets to be his Marvel swan song. I dare say it'll have many of us looking forward to the day he returns to the world of Spitfire and chums.

Doom Patrol #13 review

One of writer Keith Giffen's aims with this book has been to give the readers something new every month - a character, a concept, a fresh take on the DC Universe ... last issue he outdid himself with the revelation of Elasti-Woman's true nature. She's sentient Silly Putty.

I never saw that one coming. This month we learn how that came to be, as Giffen reconciles the appearances of Rita Farr in the Doom Patrol's various incarnations without having to retcon anything. The story makes perfect sense, but more, it makes for a tremendously entertaining issue of one of the most underrated superhero comics out there. Horror, humour, honour, hubris - this one, as they used to say, has it all.

The facts of Rita's second life are upsetting, shocking, such as having to will herself into shape every morning. But in presenting them, Giffen gives us the best look at Rita, inside and out, I've seen. He also shines light on team-mates Robotman and Negative Man. Also playing important parts this issue are the ever-manipulative Chief and Rita's ex-husband, psychic stalker Steve Dayton. There's even room for the little-seen Bumblebee to show there's more to her these days than self-pity as she acts as Rita's listening ear and finds herself starting to move forward with her own life.

The cover, by illustrator Matthew Clark and colourist Guy Major, is a beautiful, cleverly composed summation of Rita's plight. The interior art is equally commendable, with Ron Randall joining Clark on pencils, John Livesay inking sharply, Major colouring and Pat Brosseau lettering. Whether we're in the past or present, watching something happen or having it related via diaries, the storytelling is crystal clear and attractive.

There's no real fighting in 'I'm still Rita' but emotional punches aplenty, and it's fair to say that a situation which could have merited a 22pp wallow sees Rita emerge a bigger hero than ever.

Mind, there's a heckuva cliffhanger ...