Thursday, 30 September 2010

Wonder Woman #603 review

Wonder Woman and her Amazon sisters are still in the Turkish desert, fleeing from bad guys. The Keres, creatures of myth, appear and send Diana to Tartarus. It's hot down there, the Keres show up again, but some of the natives are friendly and soon she's back in the real world. There, the bad guys' boss, who killed Diana's mother, challenges her to meet him alone. The Amazons bugger off, which is no great loss as they're about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Seriously, the Holliday Girls could slaughter this bunch without batting an eyelid.

So there you have it, part three of Odyssey, the story refitting Wonder Woman for today. A very dull day, apparently. Not much to it, really - most of the issue is the old trip to hell bit, in which we meet the usual suspects. Seemingly, the biggest torment there is banal dialogue (click to enlarge):
It's a side trip which I can't see moving the main story along, but it was interesting to see that this version of Diana is cheerier in Hell than on Earth (the first panel of the story sees her as the picture of pessimism and she doesn't much improve). Her final words to one of the Amazons is 'I'll see you on the other side', which seems to mean they'll be reunited over the water, but likely mean she reckons they'll all be dead soon. Bless.

As for feats of wonder, she shoots a gun at the ugly winged ladies, and does a bit of Third Grade tumbling.

There are one or two decent lines here from writer J Michael Straczynski, but a few decent lines don't a great read make. The Hell trip is far too familiar and reads like filler, while the 'real world' sequences continue to show us a miserable, clueless Diana. I get that we're on a (yawn) Hero's Journey but shouldn't that allow for reasons to cheer along the way?

Don Kramer pencils some of this issue. Eduardo Pansica and Allan Goldman handle the rest. There are inkers too, a colourist, a letterer ... it's all very professional but the book never soars.

As it is, I'm almost hoping this comic succumbs to the curse of lateness that somehow or other always seems to afflict Straczynski-scripted books (see Superman, The Brave and the Bold, The Twelve ...). Even if we don't get a cheery fill-in, I could go a month without despairing over Diana. Yes, of course I should just pack the book in for awhile, but I'm a cockeyed optimist. I can't believe that a confident, good-humoured Wonder Woman isn't going to pop up soon. A Wonder Woman who uses her unique weapons and skills - maybe even her brain - rather than a sword and gun. I'd hate to miss that.

Valkyrie #1 review

If DC's Donna Troy is the poster child for convoluted histories, she has a counterpart at Marvel in Valkyrie. The role of Norse handmaiden Brunnhilde has been borrowed or stolen by the villainous Enchantress, spoilt rich girl Samantha Parrington and tortured soul Barbara Norris. Wikipedia mentions another alter ego, Sian Bowen, of whom I've no memory, despite having read the issues in which she appeared.

That's comics, folks. And that's the mess Marvel attempts to sort out in this one-off, set some months ago, to complement Valkyrie's current membership of the Secret Avengers. So which Valkyrie is this? Enchantress Amora? Samantha? Barbara? Sian?

None of the above - in a cheeky bit of 'we're a comic and we don't care' business, the spirit of Brunnhilde winds up in the body of a woman named ... Valerie, whom we see murdered at the start of this issue. Confused by the memories she has of Valkyrie's days as a superhero, Brunnhilde finds old pal Janet Van Dyne, who proceeds to play to the worst aspects of her image, wittering on about fashion. She eventually gives Brunnhilde some sensible-sounding advice - be honest with yourself.

This leads Brunnhilde to seek out the paramedic who shocked the dead Val's body back into animation, to see how he may be tied into her destiny - well, he's nicknamed Ziggy, surname Siegfried. And she wants to give the brute who murdered Val, a hotel concierge, what for. It turns out that he, too, has links to Valkyrie's past.

The two wind up in a big, satisfying sortie, and she learns that while Siegfried may be around, she's not tied to him the way she was in the past/Wagnerian opera. The heck with destiny, Odin's will or whatever - like Mary Richards, she's gonna make it on her own.

I enjoyed this comic lots. It could have been one big continuity nightmare, falling into the Donna Troy trap of trying to explain everything, but instead adding layers of convolution. What it does is simply acknowledge that a few souls have used Brunhilde's body, but the original is back, and she's reclaiming Valkyrie's place in the superhero firmament. Yes, the new body had one previous owner but, as they say, that's not important right now ... and Marvel's Asgardians do have a proud history of benign bodysnatching.

And without banging us over the head with an Uru hammer, the story points out that Brunnhilde isn't a one-note man hater, there's more to her than that. For one thing, while she's quick to anger, she's not one to kill a foe when there's an alternative, unlike some of today's 'edgy' heroines (ahem, Wonder Woman).

A big thumbs up to Mice Templar writer Bryan J L Glass, in his first Marvel work, for entering the 616 universe with seeming ease. He knows his way around this world, providing Brunnhilde with a decent starting point for new adventures. While his Wasp seems a little too ditzy given the situation - confused friend turns up needing help, you tell her she needs a makeover - her apparent idiocy is a story point, and it's not like Jan hasn't been played this way a thousand times previously. Plus, she comes through with a very useful speech relating Brunnhilde's situation to singing fat ladies.

Glass also brings in Bugs Bunny, as you would.

Phil Winslade illustrates, taking Brunnhilde on a journey from confusion to anger and finally peace. While victim Val is obviously the same physical person, there's a gentleness to her not immediately present in the fesity Brunnhilde. Winslade draws a splendid New York city, never skimping on the backgrounds - the pages are filled to bursting with buildings, vehicles and everyday folk, all pleasingly naturalistic.

Making his art look even better is colourist Veronica Gandini, who softens the edges without ever taking away from the strength of Winslade's work. And Dave Lanphear letters for maximum drama.

Jay Anacleto has Valkyrie looking majestic on his cover image, which works well with a tweaked version of the logo from the character's last special, way back in 1997.

I don't think Valkyrie's ever had an ongoing series, and this story would make a fine starting point. For now, though, Brunnhilde folds back into the Secret Avengers. Let's hope she's developed some there, rather than ignored, as happened after the last 'new beginning'.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Justice League: Generation Lost #10 review

Cliff Chiang's striking, deceptively simple Batman cover is the most obviously memorable aspect of this issue, but there's plenty of good stuff inside too. 

There's the unexpected opening featuring the world of Kingdom Come, the wrap-up of Ice's crisis of confidence and the ever-more impressive Rocket Red. There's Max Lord manipulating the dimwit Magog, despite giving in to evil snickering. There's a smart scene between Batman and Power Girl hinting that they will eventually beat Lord's mental manipulation. And there's a bookend appearance by one of comics' truly unique teams.

Writer Judd Winick is maintaining the high standard of script that's helped this book become a twice-monthly treat. The storyline is moving forward at a satisfying pace, with the regular introduction of new pieces of information, and plenty of smart lines - my favourite this time concerning Batman's relationship to the criminals of Gotham.

Winick's artistic collaborators give the book a consistent look, without being boringly uniform (which isn't to say I'd not devour a guest shot from Chiang). This issue's team of penciller Joe Bennet and inkers Jack Jadson and Ruy Jose are adept at action but also excel with the talking heads, even making dialogue from the robotic Skeets interesting to follow.

Sixteen issues to go and despite my initial doubts that the JLI vs Max Lord could sustain a series, I can't see myself being bored any time soon. And I'd be seriously surprised were DC not prepared an ongoing JLI book even now. On this form, they deserve it.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Legion of Super-Heroes #5 review

On Earth, the Legion deals with a xenophobic attack on the camp housing survivors of Titan's destruction. On Naltor, Oan spawn Diogenes fails again in his bid to find a new Green Lantern, as a member of the cast turns him down and throws in an insult to boot. And back on Earth, a longtime friend of the Legion departs this life at the hands of Durlan extremists.

So once again writer Paul Levitz focuses on a handful of storylines, with one standing out as the A plot - the attack on the Painted Desert Camp. It's here that first a handful, then a squadron, of Legionnaires struggles to rescue survivors and fight off an unexpected army. There's more room than usual for splash panels, and while I'm not always a fan, here they really work - one advertises a surprise, another sees Legion reinforcements arrive and a spread shows the team explode into action. Together they leave us in no doubt that this isn't your average team book - it has a big cast and isn't afraid to use it.

And there's still room for little moments that help define the characters - Sun Boy's oafishness, Chameleon Boy's resolve, Cosmic Boy's weariness, a surprise for Brainiac 5. And finally, Earth-Man decides on which side his bread is buttered - or at least, seems to. I suspect Brainiac 5 is influencing his new colleague's nature via tweaked flight ring. And good old horniness may also help explain Earth-Man's softening (followed by some hardening) towards extra-terrestrials.

Yildiray Cinar and Francis Portela again provide sharp pencils, with the latter inking himself and Wayne Faucher finishing Cinar. The layouts are dynamic, the pacing perfectly measured, the faces expressive and someone's even bothered to draw a fly on Sun Boy's shorts ... I appreciate that level of detail (he's been waiting to go to the toilet for 50 years now). Visually, the standout Legionnaire is Timber Wolf, bounding about like a glorious madman as he rescues, then defends, the Titanians. And we even get to see an original representation of his super-smelling. If the boy keeps this up he'll be a strong candidate for the upcoming reader-decided Legion leadership elections.

One thing I'd like to see changed concerns the mini-bios for characters, the stuff that explains their names, powers and homeworlds. On a spread such as the fight scene here, they really clutter up the place, acting as a Stand Back notice that prevents us getting absorbed by the atwork.  DC, let's either trust the readers to know who people are by now or to pick up the info as they go along. If neither of these notions is a goer, simply shift the info to the first page or three, outside the narrative artwork.

At first glance Cinar and Faucher's cover - attractively coloured, like the interiors, by HiFi - looks like another iconic 'team leaps into action' shot. But we soon see that it's a twist on that old favourite, with the members reacting to having the controversial Earth-Man front and centre. It's a typically clever bit of business from one of the best superhero comics today.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Fantastic Four #583 review

This issue of Fantastic Four starts with the team fighting in the Neutral Zone, land 'between United States territory and that claimed by the Forever City of the High Evolutionary'. It's the first time in ages we've seen the whole team battling baddies, so what happens? A single page of that and we're with future 'Are You Smarter Than a 10-Year-Old?' star Valeria, as she snoops around the Baxter Building checking security. She stumbles upon dad Reed's plan to 'solve everything' and next thing we know, she's teleported over to Latveria to ask family foe Dr Doom to help her dad, as she reckons he's made a bad choice.

We then flash back to what happened in between her discovering Reed's interdimensional Bridge device, and popping across to Latveria. As captions are so old hat in today's comics, there's no signposting that we're in a flashback ... to me it seemed as if Val had wandered further into Castle Doom, alone, and encountered various members of the cross-time Council of Reeds. We're helped out of the flashback more elegantly than we were hurled into it, via a narrative caption from Doom.

Given that this little Val focus is agreeably diverting, I do wonder why writer Jonathan Hickman chooses an A C B structure when an A B C plot would have given us the same story, without the possibility of confusion (I don't doubt some readers comprehended the timescale quicker than I did). Unless there's a compelling reason to go non-linear, I'd say just stick to the facts, ma'am.

Other than this bit of business, this is a rather good issue of the FF; certainly my favourite since Hickman took over the book. Having spent months and months seeding story elements, he's now knitting them together. I relished the interaction between Doom and Val who is, we must remember, virtually his godchild. There's a sweet respect between them that makes for fine storytelling fodder (click to enlarge).
After the Val/Victor scenes, we rejoin the FF so Hickman can show that when he cares to, he can write them as the tight family fighting unit they should always be. And the final cutaway brings back a longtime member of the FF supporting cast, to dramatic effect.

This issue sees the debut of Steve Epting as penciller and Lordy, does this book look good, from detail-filled backgrounds to old Doom henchman Boris, looming spookily off to one side as Victor raps with Val. His figures are realistic without seeming copied, imbued with life by his knack for body language. Epting's Val is a spunky little madam (don't ask me how old she's meant to be in any given month) and Epting has such a nice touch with her that it tempers the inevitable irritation caused by a child who can barely utter a sentence that doesn't begin, 'I'm way smarter than you'. Yes petal, and waaaaaay more annoying. Still, a deal she makes this issue is bound to come back and bite her on the bottom ... and likely cause the promised death of a team member in this Three storyline.

Regular colourist Paul Mounts provides perfect skin tones, background hues and electrifying effects, while letterer Rus Wooton turns on the sound with style. The issue is topped off with a cover by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez that's a masterpiece of mood, as our heroes anticipate the arrival of Death to claim one of them. And good on Marvel for the snazzy bonus gold and silver inks. The logo-side headshots are rather intrusive, mind - let's have a nice neat corner visual, wot?

I was on the verge of dropping FF, Hickman's dense, but slow, storytelling having not chimed with my sensibilities. But the shift in gears this issue has me interested again; I hope it keeps up.

Thor #615 review

It's a while before Thor shows up in this first issue by the new creative team of Matt Fraction and Pasqual Ferry, but there's much to engage the interest before then.

A mortal scientist tries to explain to an unseen Asgardian why he sees a crisis coming, with the reader given hints enough to guess the listener's identity, and therefore feel smart. Then we move across the universe and dimensions to visit Alfheim, one of the nine worlds of Norse tradition, and meet an elf-poet yearning for the one woman who can distract him from his art. Finally, the first signs of the coming storm arrive as refugee invaders slaughter the playful elves.

Each scene has its own tone, as the new creatives show immediate chemistry. We leave the everyday comedy of the Broxton diner for the mind of dire bard Mayzen the Poetic, as he realises what he wants only too late. Boffin Eric Solvang is drawn as a near-caricature in a world lit by fluorescent lighting, the blue elves are rendered in traditional fantasy style in an icy milieu, while the massive attackers turn Alfheim a blood-red to match their skin tone.

It's an impressive debut by writer Fraction, illustrator Ferry, colourist Matt Hollingsworth and  letterer John Workman - yes, the guy whose calligraphy was a memorable part of Walt Simonson's classic run on Thor. It's great to see his wonderfully open lettering here, contained within joyously rounded balloons. And, best of all, the annoyingly faffy Asgardian font we've suffered with for years is gone. The lettering almost steals the show on the spread in which Thor finally appears, a small figure against the sombre sight of the recently ruined earthly Asgard. The Lady Sif yells 'Thor' in a comparatively huge, colourful display font while the big man is having a wee brood. He's missing his half-brother Loki. Sure, he was a murderous cove, but such fun!

And in a nice turnabout, Thor is soon the one telling Balder not to be such a miserable sod, blaming himself for the destruction of Asgard. Thor quotes John Wayne and Kate Moss at him, and who could ask for wiser sages? There's also a moment in which Thor bickers with the Don Blake persona, as they make like DC's Firestorm. I'm not keen on this set-up, preferring them as the same guy, with different bodies and speech patterns, but we'll see how it goes. Given that Blake is setting up a medical practice with on-off love chum Jane Foster, I can't see him wanting to spend most of his time in Thor's helmet.

The issue ends with some fine foreboding, and a reveal of the good doctor's dinner guest.

And that's how you begin a bold new era without undue hysteria. In just 30pp Fraction, Ferry and co reintroduce our cast, add some new players and give a sense of what might lie ahead. Fraction writes great Asgardians, personalities whose passions are suitably larger than life. Convincing mortals are around to ground the comic, aliens and mystical beings bring a touch of the cross-genre fantastic ... there's a canvas being laid out here that has tremendous potential. I have a feeling we're going to see it tapped.

So far as Ferry's art goes, there's pleasing variety in the page constructions, but they're not showy - they simply works. He reigns in the super-broad Norseman face preferred by recent artist Olivier Coipel, for features that anticipate the look of actor Chris Hemsworth in next year's Thor movie. And he's adding some Kirby Krackle to the down-to-earth duds of recent years, making our hero look the god he is.

And as previously noted, the contributions of Workman and Hollingsworth, master of texture and tone, to this story's success are worthy of note, contributing to what I hope will be the book's signature look. Editor Ralph Macchio has assembled a talented team here, so let's hope they're not derailed by Marvel's penchant for events. Thor is on the verge of greatness again.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Zatanna #5 review

That's a superb cover by Stephane Roux, nicely reflecting the interior in which long-lived casino owner Benjy Raymond bids to keep his soul by delivering Zatanna's up to the demonic Mammon. Zee, meanwhile, is busy trying to improve her relationship with cousin and protege Zachary Zatara.

I love Zatanna. Stunning as Zee is, she's the magician next door, the mystic you're most likely to go for a beer with. And that's why it's so great that she finally has an ongoing, in which we can enjoy her special mix of magical and mundane. The mundane is represented here by the dive in which Zach is booked to perform, so very different from the massive casino showcasing Zee. The magical ... well, everything else. This issue includes a trip to hell, a clever trick with a swimming pool, flight, teleportation, a love potion - there's a lot going on, but writer Paul Dini paces the action perfectly.

Credit to him, too, for being the first writer I've come across to make Zach - often to be seen in the Teen Titans - something other than horny brat. Being more than a one-note character gives him a shot at the immortality Raymond wants. Well, at least in comic book terms.

Zee gets physical this month, something she should do more often when she can't cast a spell. And I like that while she's happy to let the battle come to her, and never fazed, she's not overconfident.

The one off-note is a reference to the hugely unfortunate Identity Crisis series - the night that Zee missed Zach's stage act after promising to be there just happened to be when 'that horrible business with poor Ralph and Sue' occurred. Zee considers their deaths horrible, yet in this series we've seen that she includes a skit involving Sue's rapist, Dr Light, in her show. Weird.

Chad Hardin pencils, Wayne Faucher inks and together with colourist John Kalisz, produce some fine-looking pages - sharp, sleek and vibrant. The layouts are thoughtful, and Hardin gives Zee a necessary boob reduction (those first issues by Stephane Roux were lovely looking, but the tits were more intimidating than any demon).
There's a touch of the Brian Bolland to the rendering of Zee's face, which has to be good, and a nice line in possessed casino folk. Zombies, too, look splendid, while Zach and assistant Bunny are a good-looking pair. Even bright red and bloated hellspawn Mammon has something ... it's not something I want, mind. I'll be content with next issue, when this story is, as letterer Pat Brosseau wittily renders it on the final page, deunitnoc.

DC Universe Legacies #5 review

Police officer Paul Lincoln never made detective.

That's not surprising as we watch him see Green Arrow debut his second costume on TV and, a minute later, in another news report, he sees Ollie Queen - modelling the same ridiculous, and brand-new, beard. Does he make the connection? Nope. Soon afterwards, he notes that black-haired acrobat Robin, leader of the Teen Titans, has gone, to be replaced by black-haired acrobat Nightwing. Does he, for one second, consider that it's the same guy, in a different suit? Even after noticing that the Robin with Batman seems younger than previously? Nah.

Mind, this is the DC Universe, in which no one questions Clark Kent wearing identical outfits to work, year in, year out. 

The main thing is, Paul certainly knows how to tell a story, here narrating the doings of DC's Bronze Age of heroes which, we're told, began with the deaths of the original Doom Patrol. That fits rather well as the point at which the DC Universe began embracing shades of grey, what with the Spectre's turn for the vengeful, the Joker remembering that he's a killer and invasions by dreadfully scary aliens.

The notion of a darker DCU isn't over-emphasised by writer Len Wein, which makes good sense since these years also bring the debut of the light-hearted Blue Devil and colourful cub Firestorm. There's also room for a not-especially relevant sequence involving Superman vs Chemo, but as Wein gave us such a fun Superman/Metal Men/Chemo story back in DC Comics Presents #4, I'll let it pass.

And the Metal Men are here too, along with the Charlton heroes, the second Doom Patrol, the Outsiders ... I loved seeing all these fellas again and hope younger readers got a kick out of it too, and will seek out some of the great stories readily available.

Alongside the heroic battles, climaxing in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, there's Paul's personal narrative, which shows us how the man in the street reacted to the red skies, other than to run into the foreground, screaming. It also demonstrates that his nogoodnik brother-in-law, Jimmy, finally makes good. And he does so not because he gets a lecture from Superman or Wonder Woman, as would once have been the case (and indeed was, for Paul in the first issue) but because he's learned a lesson or two. I like that.

And I love that George Perez illustrated most of this issue - not only was he the mainstay of Crisis on Infinite Earths, he drew Firestorm, the Justice League and the New Titans too, so it's fantastic to see him tackle these characters again. The layouts are imaginative, dynamic and inker Scott Koblish ensures everything looks crisp. I don't doubt these gents had eyestrain after working on this issue, with the dozens of characters and backgrounds to fit in. Ditto talented colourist Allen Passalaqua, who has the pages pulsating with power. 

There's even room for odd Easter eggs, such as the name of a jewellers, or the legend on Paul's apron - little things that add up to big fun.

A nod, too, to letterer Rob Leigh, whose way with fonts ensures we 'hear' everything that's said, and framing sequence illustrator Scott Kolins and colourist Mike Ativeh.

Speaking of the opening, I was fully expecting it to be revealed in the final issue that Paul is telling his tale to Clark Kent - is there a more appropriate figure than the original DC superhero reporter? But take a look at the reflection in Paul's specs ...

It's Mr Bones, cigarette-addicted DCU spy guy ... 

... or maybe just a bit of symbolism in the coffee. All theories etc.

Len Wein is also the author, once again, of a back-up strip, less-related than usual to the main story. It's a heck of a lot of laughs, though, as Silver Age space heroes Adam Strange, Captain Comet, Space Ranger and Tommy Tomorrow face a horde of villains from Adam's past, including one brandishing a cosmic vacuum cleaner. It's a straightforward, light-hearted romp with a delightfully fluffy script. What lifts it above the realm of the thoroughly decent is the artwork of Walt Simonson, which is as dramatic, open and expressive as ever. His usual letterer, the great John Workman, also puts in appearance, and Allen Passalaqua is back to colour the adventures on other worlds.

Add in the simply spectacular Perez cover and you have a gorgeous comic which pleases by revelling in DC's complex history rather than being dragged down by it.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Birds of Prey #5 review

The four-parter that kicked off the Birds' latest series is over. But not really. The two-parter that begins here is called Aftershock, but it's a continuation of the initial story. White Canary is still around, Penguin is hanging on in there, the Savant and Creosote business isn't resolved ... and given that most superhero stories these days just go on, and on, why ever not?

What's with the artificial splitting of the story? The first four issues saw non-killer martial artist Black Canary attacked by killer martial artist White Canary. Now we have the two of them travelling to Bangkok to - last issue's ending implies - kill killer martial artist Lady Shiva, who's apparently behind the recent attacks on the Birds' loved ones. Same story, different chapter.

I need to get over this, don't I? Probably it's something as simple as writer Gail Simone avoiding advertising stories are awfy long after the poor reception given an eight-parter in her often exemplary Wonder Woman last year.

All righty, moving on. Black Canary, aka Dinah Lance, buggers off to Bangkok with White Canary in handcuffs, though White Canary makes out that she could escape at any time. That's probably right - DC Comics martial artists can do anything. I expect White Canary is simply enjoying the bondage.

Dinah tells Birds leader Oracle, Barbara Gordon, that she may not be back, which could mean she really is considering murder. It more likely means she thinks she'll get killed. It definitely means Gail's getting a tad melodramatic. Dinah actually asking her friend and partner - who has access to all the world's knowledge, and superheroes, and a brilliant tactical mind - for help would end this storyline in two panels, and we can't have that. Black Canary has to accept the terms of the treacherous White Canary, play by the rules of her enemies - despite having already defeated White Canary.

Normally I'd assume Dinah has a plan, but her internal monologue tells us otherwise. We can take her actions at face value - she's wandering blindly into danger because she's too proud/idiotic to ask for aid.

Having been told not to by Dinah, surprise surprise, Birds chums Huntress and Lady Blackhawk follow and, surprise surprise, are intercepted by agents of Lady Shiva. Because in the DC Universe, martial artists know everything too. Seriously, in this comic Black Canary, possessor of a sonic scream that can smash brick walls, is wary of small, non-powered ladies. Hey, they're sneaky, and liable to put your eye out with their Plait of Pain, and it's soooo tough to remember you have super powers. Let's hope those magically strengthened Birds, Dove and Hawk, keep well away - Hawk has a healing factor, which means the judo gymnasts can hurt him again and again, and Dove can fly, so she's a heck of a target. Doomed.

In their own storyline (Dove and Hawk get their own storyline because despite being named after Birds, they've bugger all business being in this book) Brightest Day things are occurring. Were I still reading that series I might understand what they were. But I doubt it.

Elsewhere, Oracle, having persuaded criminals turned social studies project Creote and Savant not to murder her after they discovered the location of the Batcave, wants to give them jobs. She stops them from ever discovering her new headquarters, compromising the Birds' security, by taking them there. Meet Barbara Gordon, folks, one of the smartest people in the DC Universe. She failed to reform two bad guys, so she's going to try again.

I suggest she just lets them go to prison, while she trains as a probation officer, and mops up her bleeding heart.

Oh, Babs also nags Huntress into letting the Penguin go free - that's the Penguin who stabbed a Bird last month and has caused the team all kinds of trouble - because she has nothing on him. Think about that. The greatest computer genius in comics,  a woman who worked with the world's greatest detective for years, whose father is the police commissioner of Gotham, whose sometime boyfriend can sneak anywhere in pursuit of evidence, can't think of a crime for which the Penguin might be convicted.

In other news, Oracle's new HQ is a Seattle Tower-style building, because 'if you're going to hide in Gotham, it's best to hide in plain sight'. We're not told why this might be the case. In the Kord Tower the Birds will be so high up that by the time they get down to the street, the Threat of the Month will be over. I suppose Lady Blackhawk could fly them from the top of the tower to the scene of danger, but that's rather conspicuous for heroines who are hiding. Maybe they'll invest in a very long Batpole.

And anyway, the tower will be totalled as soon as the Batman Family has its annual cataclysmic crossover.

There are some sterling moments this issue: the Creote/Savante relationship; Huntress trying not to care about Dinah any more; then attempting to emulate her moves; the growing partnership between Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, which is beginning to rival the early friendship of Oracle and Dinah for believability and enjoyment; the subtle shadow of the Bat as Oracle wonders what Batman would do; everything that comes out of Lady Blackhawk's mouth.

But the good stuff is overshadowed by the overarcing plotline, which depends too much on two veteran heroines acting like rookies. Stupid rookies at that. And I'm just not caring about Black Canary and her ties to Lady Shiva. Once again I'm going to be asked to believe that a woman who has faced the wrath of Darkseid thinks she can't handle a fighter who knows a few more moves.

If we're going to have a team of six regulars, some of whom are seriously super-powered, bigger challenges are needed. Perhaps that's what we'll get after this first arc - I certainly can't blame Gail Simone for focusing on Dinah, having had her snatched away from the book last time she was writing BoP.

The artwork this month is by Alvin Lee and Adriana Melo. Some pages are very nice, others suffer from awkward faces. I like Lee's Huntress a lot. Overall, the art is fine - it does the job, and I'd be happy were either guest to get the regular gig, I'm sure that with practice all bumps could be ironed out. Inkers Jack Purcell and JP Mayer  both do a decent job, while colourist Nei Ruffino earns her fee with some fine lighting effects. I would, though, like someone in Production or Editorial to sort out the (gratefully received) character bios that appear on page - the writing gets so tiny, and in the case of Dove, unreadable due to the colour scheme.

The cover is by Alina Urusa and it's rather nice, in a Seventies Marvel Black and White Magazines sorta way. I'd like it more if the figures had a convincing relationship to one another.

I'll be back next month, hoping for a clean ending to the Canary shenanigans. I'm looking forward to this book settling into a fresh direction promised by the new legend, in which the Birds are the go-to-gals for the heroes of the DCU. Meanwhile, there's enough to enjoy to make me feel I got my money's worth

Monday, 13 September 2010

Batman #703 review

Now this, this is how to do a fill-in. Red Robin writer Fabian Nicieza and former Buffy artist Cliff Richards quietly pop by in between Grant Morrison's Batman RIP 'missing chapter' and the start of Tony Daniel's new run as writer-artist and knock it out of the park. 

The story bounces off the familiar - but not tired - scenario of the new Robin being a cheeky sod to the original. Damian Wayne is singularly unimpressed as Dick Grayson chases the latest rogue in town, with Nicieza immediately capturing Damian's snide voice: 'You're supposed to be a renowned acrobat. Why can't you catch this common thief?'

Dick's sharp, measured response shows that he's in good hands too, and he's soon remembering when he gave similar gyp to his Batman, Bruce Wayne. That's the key to identifying who they're dealing with - a new version of Silver Age obscurity Getaway Genius. By the end of the issue, Damian's a tad more impressed with his unwanted big brother, while snapper minx Vicki Vale is very impressed indeed.

Tim Drake is also in here in his Red Robin guise, but we're talking cameo. A bigger presence is Bruce, who transcends a flashback to inform the current case and Dick's handling of it, justifying the cover blurb insisting this is 'A Prelude to Bruce Wayne: The Road Home'.  The idea is strengthened by the faith Dick and factotum Alfred  show in the eventual return of their partner against crime.

Nicieza proves that comics veterans get to be comics veterans because they're bloody good, producing an immensely satisfying drama in just 22 pages. There's a smart set-up, a wee mystery, fabulous interaction, sly humour, arcane detective knowledge and a little character growth, all perfectly paced. A scene with Alfred and Damian is a sublime piece of writing, showing the depth of both personalities, and helping Damian understand that Bruce had/has many layers. And it's gratifying to see that Dick won't patronise the ever-snoopy Vicki Vale. Plus, daft as the idea of a villain whose raison d'etre is to show how nifty they are at getting away from a crime scene remains, Nicieza manages to make the newcomer's real motivation more interesting.

I don't know if Cliff Richards has illustrated any of the 47 regular bat-books previously, but he draws the heck out of this one. His opening splash page and spread, coloured by Ian Hannin, puts a lie to the idea that Batman titles must be set in the dead of night to be effective. Their neon-lit Gotham has me dying to see what this team could come up with if challenged to produce a full-on Dick Sprang update.

There's a wonderful fluidity throughout the pages, whether the characters are racing through the city or at relative rest. Richards aces the facial expressions, nails the 'camera' angles and generally does a superb job of selling the story.

And if it wasn't Richards, a 'nice one' to whichever production department squirrel dug up the old artwork commemorating the misadventures of the original Getaway Genius for the Batcave screens; it makes for a delightful comparison with current art styles.

There's another artist represented on the cover, Tony Daniel, and I like the striking image of the nest of Robins, while feeling a little ill at the sight of Dick's - what is it? - ten-pack?

Thanks to editors Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts for assembling this creative team (and that includes the excellent letterer, Jared K Fletcher) and I sincerely hope they're lined up to swoop in and save the day the minute one of the upcoming new writer-artists announces their departure. Because Batman #703 is the most fun I've had with a Gotham-set comic in ages, balancing the regular seriousness of the Batman line and the joys of comics past to knockout effect.  

Friday, 10 September 2010

Doom Patrol #14 review

After years of tragedies, setbacks and general lunacy, you might expect the individuals who comprise the Doom Patrol to slope off into a corner to spend the rest of their lives muttering and dribbling. But no, they're heroes and this issue the Fabulous Freaks decide, the heck with it, they have each other. Even diminutive depressive Bumblebee cheers up and asks to be an official member. They're going to count their blessings, and get on with their lives.

Well, if Elasti-Woman gets away with almost killing her ex-husband, Steve Dayton, after years of mental abuse. And if they survive the latest attack on Oolong Island.

This month's villain is - oops - Dr Niles Caulder, leader/cynical manipulator of the Doom Patrol. Having lost his useless legs he decides to give himself Kryptonian abilities. And, with a dead Kandorian on which to experiment, he manages it, but an overbearing, megalomaniac, superior personality doesn't lend itself to the wise use of Superman-level abilities. He finally has the power to match his god complex and he's going to show that uppity Doom Patrol who's boss. While speaking Kryptonian.

This issue's Fun Fact is, according to autopsy robot Millicent, that: 'Kryptonian biological makeup, with the exception of certain reproductive organs, is identical to that of Homo Sapiens.' Is that why Lois Lane is always smiling?

And this month's testament to the sheer intelligence of writer Keith Giffen - well, apart from the whole bloomin' issue - is page one's recap in song by Ambush Bug, summarising the main plot points of this run in a Beverley Hillbillies-style ditty. Smart, that is.

As usual, the pencils are shared between Matthew Clark and Ron Randall, with inks by John Livesay. There also seem to be some breakdowns by Giffen, though it could be that the creators are merging into The Beast With Several Deadlines. That would be very Doom Patrol.

Whatever the sharing of responsibilities, the result is another attractive bunch of pages, perfectly conveying the intensity of the Patrol's emotions and dramas. The cover by Clark and colourist Guy Major is a winner too. Major also colours the interior, which Steve Wands letters, and both men make a valuable contribution.

I'd love to see DC release a fat, cheap digest of some of its lesser-tried titles, such as R.E.B.E.L.S. and, especially, Doom Patrol. A big chunk of fine reading at a decent price would likely intrigue a lot of folk. Then they could come back and see how our heroes chastise the cheeky old Chief before, hopefully, sending him to the Old Comics Home for Beardy Old Gits.

Click to enlarge

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Invaders Now! #1 review

Longevity, resurrection, vampirism ... one way or another, Second World War fighting force the Invaders are pretty much all active in the Marvel Universe of  2010. So why not get them back together for one more go-round, showing the whippersnappers of today how it's done?

That's this mini-series at its most basic. Captain America and Bucky, the original Human Torch and Toro, the Sub-Mariner, Spitfire, the newest Union Jack, the first Vision ... they're reunited to investigate modern deaths somehow related to their darkest day.

Along the way we're presented with some neat vignettes, such as the mutual disappointment of former sidekicks Toro and Bucky in the modern world (they were promised jetpacks); the Human Torch helping Namor round up a lost 'pet' and impressing the mutant kids with his war stories; Steve Rogers calling the Vision out on his apparent addiction to obfuscation. Everyone gets a moment before coming together. As for how they'll gel as a team, whether the tactics that were right for the 1940s still feel appropriate for the team-mates today, that's for future issues.

With Avengers: Initiative and Avengers Academy's Christos Gage writing (from a story he devised with cover artist Alex Ross), I've no doubt the answers will come, and they'll be far beyond satisfactory. In this debut issue he does a fine job of capturing, or defining, character voices, and choreographing the globally scattered comrades.

And with luck, Caio Reis will continue illustrating, and Vinicius Andrade colouring, as together they whip up a thoroughly appropriate atmosphere of gung ho for our veteran heroes. A pat on the back, too, for letterer Simon Bowland, for a confident job.

This comic shows that you don't have to be flashy, you don't have to have 'shocking' deaths, you don't need to be part of a crossover to succeed. Invaders Now is simply a solid superhero comic, and done right, that's enough for me. There's a mystery, fine character interaction, baddie bashing, pleasing illustrations ... it's thoroughly professional - not in a workmanlike sense, but in terms of craftsmen at the top of their game. And best of all, there's not a tired old neo-Nazi in sight.

Batgirl #14 review

While the X-Men are having problems with just one Dracula, Batgirl and Supergirl take on 24 in this entertaining done-in-one issue. Mind, they aren't the scariest of Draculas, being easily dispatched with an amusing bit of equipment provided by the hapless science student, Newton, who gives them pseudo-life. The biggest threat they pose to Steph and Kara is boring them to death with their incessant moaning about loneliness.

Tiresome as it is to hear about constantly, isolation is the theme of this issue, as Steph admits to herself that she's not got many friends, and actually finds herself empathising with the Draculas, moping about their immortality. Kara, meanwhile, is full of life - she's been through enough travails lately that she's ready to grab life by the 
And it's fun to see Kara, in Linda Lang guise, skipping around Gotham U, trying to make Steph have fun. ''You're in college," she tells Steph. "What the British call 'university'!" Hmm, she may be quick to reel off her Kryptonian Science Guild status, but our Supergirl doesn't seem to realise what the 'U' in 'Gotham U' stands for ... who cares, though, 'Terror in the third dimension' is fun from start to finish, with a dollop of poignancy on the side. It's great to see Steph shake off a minor case of awe as she fights with Supergirl, quietly relaxing into the fun side of superheroing rather than worrying about not matching up to a Kryptonian power set.  

And rightly so. As Ginger Rogers might have said, Steph's doing everything Kara does, but without powers and in heels ... well, bat-treads, anyway. By the end of the issue a new World's Finest ('World's Femmest'? Nah) team has been well and truly forged. I can't wait until Steph returns the favour and shows up in the Supergirl book.

Writer Brian Q Miller, as ever, offers us plenty of little character moments that suit the situation, my favourite being the contrast between Steph and Kara when it comes to preparing for an entrance. And it's refreshing to have an issue in which Steph isn't relying on orders from one of her computer genius partners, Babs/Oracle and Wendy/Proxy both being absent this month.
Penciller - nay, cinematographer! - Lee Garbett produces probably his best work yet on this book, making the one-dimensional Draculas proper characters. And while we know he draws a great Batgirl, it's pleasing to see him produce an equally attractive - yet differentiated - Supergirl. Inker cum lighting director Trevor Scott lends weight to proceedings, with Guy Major and Travis Lanham nominated as best supporting acts for their contributions to colour and calligraphy.

And If anyone's having a cover of the week contest, here's your winner. Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau has come up with a stunning piece of artwork which would, appropriately for an issue honouring a legend of the Silver Screen, make a splendid foyer poster.

Month in, month out, Batgirl proves one of the most soldidly entertaining Batman Family books. And one of the best superhero books, full stop.

Adventure Comics #518 review

The Legion of Super-Heroes strip continues to fill in details around the team's earliest years. 'Whispers of Doom' is a prelude to 'The Stolen Super-Powers' from Adventure Comics #304, with odd details changed. So it is that we get an appearance by Dream Girl some time before she met the Legion, as she predicts that a Legion member will die and the High Seer of her home planet, Naltor, determines to get a warning message to the team. That would be the message #304 attributed to the Trylop Council of Mernl, who now enter the realm of Chronicler's Error (1963 storytellers Jerry Siegel and John Forte, bow your heavenly heads in shame!).

We also enjoy an almost-appearance by future Legionnaire Mon-El, trying to communicate from the Phantom Zone prior to his temporary escape in Adventure #300. Legion members are afraid of the vague voices they've been hearing around the Clubhouse, while Superboy manages to receive his words clearly without knowing it's his old pal. He flees the Superman Museum, being already rather creeped out at learning that one day, in his future, Doomsday will kill him.

Much of this issue is devoted to setting up the Silver Age Zaryan story which did indeed see a Legionnaire die, and it's these scenes which interested me least. It's basically just a lot of smashing of rocket ships by a superhero strike team. The Dream Girl sequence proves a lot more engaging, as it adds texture to her later, official debut, in Adventure #317. Now, reading that issue, we know (if we choose to accept this latest story as canon) that a message arising from her precog vision has already failed to save the life of one Legionnaire, so of course she'd take drastic action next time such a flash came.

The reported spooking of Invisible Kid by a 'ghost' is deliciously ironic considering that he eventually falls in love with a ghost girl (and, er, gets killed, meaning they can spend eternity together, which the spectral Myla thinks is just perfect. Cow).

And I enjoyed the idiocy of Zaryan's men in believing they could sneak up on a planet of prophets, and the fun of a fearlessly forward Phantom Girl.

The story continues next issue, and while I'm not finding these instalments among the most compelling of Legion tales, it's fascinating to see writer Paul Levitz endeavouring to add depth to Legion history without falling into some self-made swamp. Heaven knows what new readers are making of such rabid continuity porn, though.

I expect most are enjoying the sharp script on at least some level, while the art of Kevin Sharpe and Marlo Alquiza combines old-fashioned clarity with modern dynamism. Their Nural Nal is as gorgeous as a Dream Girl should be. There's a very nice colouring assignment by Blond, while Sal Cipriano does his usual bang-up lettering job.

This issue of Adventure also features another instalment of Jeff Lemire's Atom story, starring the character now listed in the credits as 'The Ray Palmer Atom'. This time out The Ray Palmer Atom fights some small men, who explode, and almost flirts with Oracle. It's a decent enough time passer (about two minutes, truth be told), with pleasant art by Mahmud Asrar and John Dell (including  a plug for Lemire's Sweet Tooth book),  but I'd rather the pages had gone to the Legion.

Amazing Spider-Man #641 review

Delayed by a week, possibly due to its extra-length, here's the conclusion to the One Moment in Time storyline, in which we see what happened with the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson relationship in the changed continuity of the last couple of years.

And my conclusion?

Ermmm ...

... imagine that Confusion were a person and you drowned her in the soapiest of baths. That's this issue, which shows that Peter and MJ don't remember the demon Mephisto wiping out their marriage in exchange for saving the life of Aunt May in the One More Day arc. So far as they know, Peter resuscitated May with Spider-CPR, and Dr Strange, Mr Fantastic and Iron Man combined magic and science to wipe out the knowledge of Spidey's real identity from the memory of everyone but Peter and MJ. Then MJ walked out on Peter because she feared that one day someone would again discover that he's Spidey, and her family would be targeted by criminals, as happened in the flashback segments of this storyline. Back in the present, where Peter and MJ have been swapping miserable memories, MJ reiterates that she loves him, but Seeya!

That's Mary Jane Watson, the strong, sassy, confident, smart, brave young woman who's known Peter was Spidey since they were teenagers. The Chris Claremontwoman before Chris Claremont was out of short pants. Has MJ, perhaps, had her character weakened by Mephisto? I get the impression that we're meant to think not - she's made a rational decision.

Would MJ truly abandon her life with Peter rather than stay and fight? I don't believe that for a minute. The strength of her love for Peter is what got the deal with Mephisto inked in the first place.

Likewise, I don't believe this story, ultimately, was necessary. While it's had some good moments, which I've discussed in previous reviews, it's finally just a scab that should have remained unpicked. We now know what  Peter and MJ 'know', while we know that that's not what there was to know, except now it is. Until someone decides it isn't. Yeah, I'm confused.

One Moment in Time has sidelined the excellent Spidey stories that have come in the wake of the awkward, unloved One More Day in order to remind us of how annoying the thing was in the first place. Readers, mostly, had moved on. Writer Joe Quesada really should have done the same - an ill-conceived, poorly handled story had facilitated many good ones, so why remind us of the bad times?

This issue is 43 pages of laboured conversations about the rights and wrongs of memory wiping, the wisdom or not of Peter and MJ being together. Dr Strange, Reed Richards and Tony Stark witter on about which, if any of them, should remember Peter's secret; Peter talks to MJ about what a new status quo might mean; MJ tells Peter that she's just not strong enough to be with him and he should get on with his life, find someone new (let their loved ones be snuffed out). This last comes after they've professed their undying love ... whatever happened to true love conquers all? Too much talking, not enough feeling, that'd the problem here. The story turns on MJ failing to follow her heart, which betrays decades' worth of appearances.

I think I'll make like a Marvel Universe person and forget these issues ever happened. If I hang on to them, it'll be because of the lovely artwork of Paulo Rivera, which has grace and a deceptive simplicity. His characters are spot-on, from ever-fretting Peter to brainbox Reed to a dark-eyed Strange. Yup, the pages look great, it's just a shame they're so depressing - the same goes for Rivera's clever cover, which subtly hints that Peter and MJ are losing themselves, being swallowed up by the world. Quesada pencils a wodge of pages too, showing he's rather good at modelling with shadows. And furniture, I love his furniture.

Backing up the lead tale is another fun two-page mini-strip by Stan Lee and Marcos Martin. I'm looking forward to re-reading them in a batch when the daft time travel story concludes. It's fun. I feel like having some fun right now. Can anyone spare a hug?

Outlanders: Infinity Breach review

I don't normally review science fiction books, but Outlanders: Infinity Breach is written by friend of the blog Rik Hoskin (I hope you saw the review of his rather neat story in the recent Superman 80pp Giantand there's certainly a crossover with superhero comics in terms of themes and sensibility. For one thing, Infinity Breach is full of larger-than-life characters - sultry spies, godlike geniuses, feral men with super-senses - plugged into an epic storyline. For another, there's a layer of metafiction that should chime with fans of Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and co. 

Infinity Breach is the latest in a series centred on a post-apocalyptic, 23rd-century Earth as three very different personalities, Kane, Brigid and Grant, struggle to survive as outcasts. This time they're trying to prevent an already embattled mankind being wiped out by a higher power in a storyline turning on the exploits of 20th-century science superman Abraham Flag, and alluring rival Demy Octavo. The book offers a knife with the power of the gods, a cosmic rift, soaring heroism and plunging evil ... pretty much everything that you could wish for in a mainstream SF romp.

With the occasional chapter set in the 1930s, Hoskin - writing under Gold Eagle Books house pen name James Axler - goes all-out with the pulp pastiche, leading to such impressively purple prose as: 'Octavo's skin was tanned to a wonderful bronze shade from hours spent reclining on the beautiful, golden beaches of the Mediterranean, and she had carefully painted her lips a luscious, rich color known as falu red'. There's plenty of the traditional incessant repetition of character traits, too. For example, on consecutive pages we're reminded that we're reading about 'the glamorous Italian secret agent' and 'the beautiful, dark-haired Italian agent'. 

It can be a little wearing for the 21st-century reader, but approach these sections in the spirit in which they're intended, and you'll likely find the homage a hoot.  I loved such gems as 'the powerful form of the mighty man of adventure' and 'appointment with mystery'.

Back/forward in the present day of the series, the adjective count goes down as the legacy of Flag's adventure seeps into the lives of the three central characters. Can they prevent terrifying angelic beings from judging Man impure and eradicating us?

As good-natured potboilers go, this book entertains nicely; what's more, it shows a pleasing ambition that should ensure that if you enjoy this, you'll want to check out the series back catalogue. And with online ordering and handy bookshops, you won't even need to travel in time.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Freedom Fighters #1 review

They've had a couple of limited runs and now the Freedom Fighters are let loose in an ongoing series. This first outing is a busy wee thing, with three separate threats sorted before we even get to what looks like being the first featured storyline.

The mini-adventures provide a fine showcase for the players' characters and abilities. In Arizona, Black Condor and Firebrand show up some of those super-powered neo-Nazis seemingly churned out by a factory somewhere in the DC universe. With the Aryan Brigade attacking a Native American casino there's reason to recap Condor's Navajo background, while Firebrand's narration lets us get inside his head while seeing his fighting style.

Out in space, meanwhile, the Human Bomb proves he's a pretty humane homme when he refuses to kill extraterrestrials whose home is a threat to Earth.

And in West Virginia, Phantom Lady and the Ray take on a super-intelligent bacteria from another dimension - glorying in the name Plasmodia - who's doing thoroughly unpleasant things to the local populace. Phantom Lady shows her knack for creative solutions, while the Ray has a blast. Then Spirit of America Uncle Sam shows up to demonstrate his particular talent - super lectures.

The team are together for the second half of the book, in which writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti make history fun as they present an arcane conspiracy the Freedom Fighters must stop. The set-up is one of the most complete I've seen in superhero comics - rather than a quick 'there's a Civil War-era weapon of mass destruction, go get', the writers go into such detail that the players and threat convince (look up one Jacob V Holston on Google and, like me, you'll laugh at the possible derivation of that name). It's impressive, interesting, providing a solid foundation for the antics to come. It also lets us know which Freedom Fighter is the conspiracy nerd.

Briefing over, the team are in the field, looking for a mystic artefact and, of course, they get more than they bargained for. Cue cool cliffhanger.

This is a spiffy debut, with more going on than in a year's worth of some books. The unique selling point - heroes not tied to any one US city, stories taking in politics and history - is immediately foregrounded. The large cast is kept distinct and plugged into the big story, and I only want to know more.

Travis Moore looks to be having a ball with the pencils, relishing the chance to move from the deserts of the United States to uncharted space, also taking in a typical small town and the White House. While he's saddled with having to pencil some particularly unattractive costumes - I'm looking at you, Firebrand, Black Condor, Human Bomb and the retooled Ray - he keeps things looking good with plenty of dynamic poses and enticing angles. Adding to the pages' power are inker Trevor Scott and colourist Rob Schwager, while Travis Lanham does a grand job on the lettering.

I'm normally a big fan of Dave Johnson's covers, but this one doesn't do it for me, even though I like the idea of the Freedom Fighters giving us their version of a Batman/gargoyle cover. Somehow the characters feel too distant, their presence muted.

All in all, though, this is a sterling first issue. If you've not tried it, free up some cash and do so.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #2 review

How do you solve a problem like Magneto? That's the question in the second issue of this mini-series starring the Young Avengers. Having learnt twin members Wiccan and Speed - his kinda, sorta grandsons - are planning to find their mystic mother, the Scarlet Witch, the Mutant Master of Magnetism wants in. After all, he feels partly responsible for the breakdown which saw her depower most of the Earth's mutants, leading to the death of some and ruination of others. Or so he says.
Sixteen Going On Seventeen That's pretty much what Wiccan tells Spider-Man he is when the Avengers show up and point out that teaming up with Magneto isn't the grooviest of ideas. Spidey notes that having been a teen hero himself, he knows when someone is in over his head. But Wiccan is still a teen hero, so he ignores the grown-up and soon the Young Avengers are heading to Transia with Magneto. Wiccan is confident he can use Magneto as Magneto likely wants to use him. Because while he's currently an X-Man, Magneto has reversed polarity on the hero/murdering terrorist scumbag scale enough times to make his claims to have chosen the nobler path for ever, somewhat dubious.
My Favourite Things Allan Heinberg has worked hard here to ensure his story beats arise from characterisation - this isn't a book in which characters could swap roles and dialogue, everyone has a part to play. So there are too many wonderful situations and exchanges to mention, from the angst-free relationship of Wiccan and Hulkling to the introductions of the twins to Magneto and 'Uncle Pete'. Yup, Quicksilver shows up to throw his own super-speed spanner in the works. Still, there's one moment that, if you're wavering on whether to buy this book, may just sell it to you. Deep in the Mittel-European land of Transia - ancestral homeland of the Scarlet Witch - Wiccan conjures up a disguise so the Young Avengers and Magneto can blend in ... (click to enlarge)
The big question is, would the Vision be an asset to the Abbey?
Climb Ev'ry Mountain Search high and low, and that's what our heroes are willing to do in order to find Wanda. But Magneto has a better idea, and it makes for a poignant scene and a great excuse for necessary exposition.
Edelweiss Er ... um ... it's a white flower found in the Alps and the group is looking for a Scarlet Witch around Mount Wundagore. No? Well, it's a pretty lovely thing, and that's what the artwork of penciller Jim Cheung and inker Mark Morales is too. You'd be hard-pressed to find crisper superheroic storytelling than we have here - every moment is perfectly sold. There's action, emotion and a great example of how to present two teams on one spread without randomly inserting figures - all the spatial relationships make sense. Cheung even remembers to go high so that Stature (I still say call her Big Girl) doesn't have to be squatting to get 'screen' time. Justin Ponsor colours for night-time in the first part of the book, springtime in the latter, and the contrast serves the story well. And while there are more words here than in many a Marvel Comic, Cory Petit keeps everything looking nice and clear.
Do-re-snikt! Look, there's Wolverine hogging the (admittedly magnificent) cover and covering up the subtitle. Still, if it shifts some copies and means more YA stories later, it's fine by me.
So long. Farewell But come back in two months because now we know who's holding Wanda (and likely a Lonely Goatherd) prisoner, the sparks are surely going to fly. Let's just say it's someone with an ego to match those of Magneto and Quicksilver. And there can only be one victor.
This review is dedicated, with thanks, to my chum Joe Fludd, from whom I nicked the first line ... join him at The Quantum Blog for intelligent and entertaining musings on comics. Then come back here for more of the same old tosh.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Legion of Super-Heroes #4 review

When a feature has been running as long as has the Legion of Super-Heroes, it's unlikely readers are going to agree on  a single high point. Yet there seems to be widespread agreement that the Great Darkness Saga - in which Darkseid was reborn in the 30th century - is it.

It takes a brave writer, therefore, to revisit the scenario, as comparisons with the Paul Levitz/Keith Giffen arc are inevitable. Happily, Paul Levitz is again writing the Legion, and he's not in the least intimidated by himself. So it is that this issue sees disciples of the dread lord of Apokolips bidding to bring their master back from the ether. The totems they hope will summon the New God are Graym and Garridan, twin sons of Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl and once the object of Darkseid's evil attentions.

Of course, Garth and Imra Ranzz aren't going to stand by while their kids are sacrificed and, aided by Lightning Lass (aka Auntie Ayla), they mount a desperate rescue. Highlights of this include the latter making like a defibrillator and Saturn Girl showing just how scary her mental powers make her. Lightning Lad, if anything, will be remembered for showing off his own powerful mind (click on image to enlarge/giggle).
I guess Garth's a tad confused after that time his sister impersonated him to make his colleagues think he'd come back from the dead, only to be betrayed by her lack of an Adam's apple ...

Anyway, the rescue mission is a wonderful spotlight for the abilities and relationships of these longtime Legionnaires. The newest member also gets a showcase, as he has every month since this latest series began. Yup, it's Kirk Niedrigh again, still teasing his many fans as to whether he'll settle down as a Legionnaire, or continue to be an Earth-Man behaving badly. Levitz is certainly making this previously vile character more palatable, but the sooner his vacillations are over, and he's either properly in or out, the better. Out would suit me, so I never have to look at his stupid mutton chops and Desperate Dan chin again. 

Having turned down the chance to be a Green Lantern, Niedrigh further refuses demands from his xenophobic sponsors to 'eliminate' the refugees on Earth from the recently destroyed world of Titan. He flies off to do things his way, and looks set to embroil a Legionnaire in his murky plans - mind, said member, Shadow Lass, is no naif, she'll likely twist him around her little finger.

As for the Green Lantern sub-plot, it's reduced to Blue Sperm Man Dyogene and 21st-century holdout Sodam Yat witterring on about the future of the Corps. Give me a second while I see if I could care less ...

... nope. 

The dour Daxamite has started referring to himself as 'Sodam Yat the Miserable' and I so agree. He should look up DC's existing poster child for superheroic depression, Pariah, and go play among the cosmic traffic. After all, this is meant to be the Legion's book, not another pesky Green Lantern spin-off.

The Titan business gives us the issue's third story strand, as the seers of a (suddenly non-platinum blonde) Dream Girl's home planet, Naltor, agree to take in some of the refugees, in the hope that the displaced Time Institute will come too. Back on Earth, the Legionnaires - primarily Sensor Girl and Cosmic Boy - bid to learn what plots are being made against the survivors, to no avail.

Another event happens this issue which had me grinning broadly - the Legionnaires call an election for a new leader, something which always makes for fun times. If reader votes are being solicited, I'm forming the Anyone But Earth-Man Party.

With Levitz at the top of his storytelling game, and dynamite art from Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela and Wayne Faucher, this is another excellent entry in the Legion Chronicles. If the artistic split is the same as in the last few issues, Faucher is inking Cinar, while Portela inks his own pencils. Whatever, the pages, coloured by Hi_fi and lettered by Sal Cipriano, all look good. And the cover by Cinar, Faucher and Hi-Fi is a keeper.

Glancing at the pages again, it seems as if, moreso than usual, sequences have been split across the book rather than playing out at length - scenes changes in mid-flow and pick up exactly where we left off - but it doesn't hurt the comprehension. I could be wrong, though ... perhaps it's simply Levitz experimenting with pace.  

While the Legion looks to be moving out of its parallel Adventure Comics slot, which is reinterpreting the team's earliest years, so long as this book is around to tell all-new adventures, I couldn't be happier. 

Well, maybe a little (hint: can Earth-Man).