Sunday, 31 October 2010

Justice League: Generation Lost #12 review

The hunt for Max Lord takes a back seat this issue as the threat to the League comes from one of their own. Trauma has dialled Ice several notches up on the power scale and she's lost her mind. Can Fire and Rocket Red stop her, or will they be transformed into the Justice Popsicles? 

While Bea and Gavril fight for their friend's, and their own, lives, writer Judd Winick gives us a parallel tale, the secret history of Ice. It seems that Tora Olafsdottir isn't actually an ice goddess born, she's from a Roma family with criminal ways. How her true background became hidden is the crux of an emotional tale which suggests there's a good reason for Ice's traditionally gentle manner.

With efficiency and style, Winick gives Ice a makeover in the looks and powers department; how far the change will extend to her personality remains to be seen, but 'The Cold Truth' is an entertaining tangent from the Max Lord storyline that's given this book its purpose. Fire does speculate that the psychic Lord is behind the scarier Ice, but the JLA's former organiser is strictly a backstage presence this issue, seen neither in the main storyline, nor the few pages devoted to Captain Atom, Blue Beetle and Booster Gold.

Fernando Dagnino is in the pencilling chair, providing suitably intense layouts for the action scenes. Ice's harsher look works, while the rest of the heroes pulsate with power. And the quieter flashbacks benefit from Dagnino's talent for imbuing characters with emotion. Inker Raul Fernando does himself credit, while colour house Hi-Fi and letterer Travis Lanham weave their own magic. A thoroughly enjoyable superhero comic is topped off by another attractive Cliff Chiang cover.

Two weeks to the next issue, featuring the tedious Magog, but with the form this comic regularly finds, I'm almost certain to enjoy even him.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Superman #704 review

The Grounded storyline having been grounded, here's a fill-in, in which instead of Superman walking through small towns and getting introspective, Lois Lane walks through a small town and gets introspective.

The small town in question is Rushmark, Indiana, which so far as I can tell, doesn't exist in the real world - is that even allowed in this storyline? Anyway, in this week's history of the DC Universe, Lois Lane went to college there, and wore spectacles. Now she's back and planning to collide with Clark as he traverses the town.

Before that, she runs into some Superman fans, and old boyfriend Brian. He takes her home for dinner, where she meets his gorgeous, accomplished wife, and cute, clever kids, and feels sad because no one recognises her professional accomplishments. To the world, she's just Superman's mouthpiece, his Girl Friday.

Much as I liked writer G Willow Wilson's nod to Lois's Golden Age days as a Rosalind Russell-style wisecracking newshen, er, no. Lois has long been depicted as the Daily Planet's most famous journalist - never mind being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, as we're told she was last year, Lois has won them. The idea that she's been overshadowed by Superman just doesn't convince. Lois has the life she dreamt of, plus.

What does ring true is the moment in which Lois worries about ageing where her husband doesn't, and the scene in which she frets that Clark doesn't really need her. Of course, she knows that she's his equal, and that he loves her to bits, but when your chap buggers off to walk around America, and doesn't ask you to come, moments of doubt are likely.

Issue's end sees a reunion between wife and husband, and it's sweet. While the Lois in this issue isn't the sparky gal I adore, I can believe that where she's at at the moment, emotionally and geographically, she'd be more vulnerable than in Metropolis, where her combination of talent and front means she rules.

I could, though, do without references to the Lane-Kents being unable to have kids. I hate that DC have said this out loud - I prefer to believe a superbaby will be along any day now.

The artwork by penciller Leandro Oliveira and inker Walden Wong is strongest in the opening and closing scenes, tailing off in terms of interest during the middle section at Brian's house. The script gives Brian all the personality of a tin soldier, and that's pretty much how he's drawn, but - and this is a big but - this issue is a filler, likely produced rather quicker than the norm. So well done to the artists for making it look as decent as it does, in fact, all the creatives for ensuring 'The Road Least Travelled' is a diverting read.

John Cassaday's cover illustration is my favourite of the Grounded storyline, as much for the lettering and David Baron's colours as for the composition and execution. I won't let the presence of Sad Superman get me down - I'm used to him by now.

Wonder Woman #604 review

The Burning Man fights Diana, his attempts at boring her to death with his long, tedious backstory having failed. A montage breaks out and Diana announces she'll gladly die in battle if she takes him, the Amazons' tormentor, with her.

Don't do it, cries the unexpected ghost of her mum, Queen Hippolyte. Do not darken your soul, never destroy hope ... 

... let me moida da bum.

And she does. The shade of Hippo stabs Burning Chap with a flaming spear, then Diana tries to catch a lift back to America and discovers she can fly. Huzzah, suddenly the sour-faced Amazon is all smiley.

Elsewhere, Fiery Fella's subordinates decide to grab a piece of the action, but instead grab only a doorknob.

I shouldn't be surprised by the return of Hippolyte, courtesy of writer J Michael Straczynski - she also popped up to chat to Diana last time she'd been roasted alive, a continuity or so ago. So last month Diana went to hell, and immediately came back; this month her mother visits from the other side. You wonder why anyone is worried about getting killed in this book, what with the revolving door of mortality.

I was intrigued when the flashback showed the Un-Burnt Man as a colonel, suggesting he was longtime Wonder-love Steve Trevor, but I hope that was me reaching. I find Wonder Woman hearing memories in her head annoying. And fight montages - this isn't TV. At this rate, next issue will end with a rendition of  'Halle-sodding-lujah'.

Don Kramer and Eduardo Pansica pencil, Jay Leisten inks and the artwork features the usual collection of scowls, swords, punches and blood. The best sequences are the villain's flashback, which opens with a good transition and builds in power, and the take-off, which actually captures a sense of wonder. 

In other news, our heroine continues to paint her legs blue and call them trousers.

The new Diana really is a rubbish character. Barely a character at all, truth be told - she's a snarly, petulant child who never thinks when she can attack. She learns nothing for herself, leaving Cinder Fella alive only because Ghost Mom tells her to. The 'all-new Wonder Woman' is a singularly unprepossessing recreation who doesn't deserve her own comic.

I've given it four months. Please may I have the real Wonder Woman back now?

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Teen Titans #88 review

I don't know how many times I've dropped this book, but here we go again - new creative team, new day. So hello to writer JT Krul, penciller Nicola Scott and inker Doug Hazlewood.

A few members have departed since last I read this book - nasty Bombshell, lovely Aquagirl - but the rest of the faces are familiar. There's Wonder Girl, Superboy, Impulse, Beast Boy, Raven and (God help us, is she actually popular?) Ravager. The setting is still San Francisco and the villain is one Doctor Caligan, who looks like Hot Stuff by way of the Imperial Wizard. Caligan is certainly a name to conjure with - he announces it in large, decorative font as if we're going to be filled with awe and fear. So far as I can gather, 'Caligan' is a heavy-soled military boot. Scary.

Mind, the kid he's about to experiment on here looks rather perturbed, as you'd be if your biology teacher persuaded you to let him shave your head and strap you to a table - young Barney is realising he's officially Too Stupid To Live. It's not like he didn't see a malformed, caged fella in Caligan's lab, having been picked up outside the local Lamb Market.

Earlier in the issue, the Titans battle what must be Caligan's experiments, a gang of feral chaps who emerge from the sewers. The Titans, not having a resident genius, send a DNA sample to the JSA's Dr Mid-Nite who announces that 'It's definitely genetic manipulation' and adds, 'It's deliberate'. He's soooooo clever.

The beast men aren't very interesting so far, but perhaps Caligan will prove a worthwhile evil genius. Anything to delay another visit from the overused Deathstroke.

So, Rose Wilson, Ravager, is in Titans Tower, thinking about her mother, Lillian, and dad, Deathstroke. Damn.

I've never understood why a team like the Titans keeps a disturbed young woman with a huge great sword around. Leader Wonder Girl explains it this issue - she's an old hand who can be depended upon in a fight. This remark comes after Rose chops off the young hand of one of the transformed unfortunates. Sure, he bit Beast Boy, but still ... heroes, anyone?

Credit to Krul for immediately giving every member a little plotline: as well as an oddly bearable slasher Rose, there's Impulse seemingly about to 'invent' a Legion time bubble; Beast Boy pitying young heroes in love while devouring Jane Austen on TV; Superboy realising Wonder Girl is likely to kick him off the team because she can't bear seeing him in danger, the loony; and Raven having her 400th battle with her evil side. All righty, so the subplots aren't all winners - every time I return to the Titans Wonder Girl is being a moody mare - but at least the spotlight is being shared around.

And there's a lot more fun on the horizon with the arrival of the new Robin, Damian Wayne, brought by a strangely Dickish Dick Grayson to make some friends. Good luck with that.

There's nothing in the script that knocks my socks off, but Krul's previous work on Titans specials showed promise, and now he has the regular gig, perhaps he'll fly.

If not, it won't be for lack of decent art, as Scott and Hazlewood debut with their usual combination of grace and power. For the first time I believed the Titans were in San Francisco, thanks to the attention to scenery. And the team members look marvellous. It's especially good to see Wonder Girl approached not as sex kitten but as an almost demure teenager - remember, she was introduced by John Byrne as a bit of a tomboy. Mind, I don't like the grey jeans - too drab. Superboy is just adorable, with his slightly glazed jock expression (appropriate, given that Wonder Girl reminds me a little of Quinn from Glee). 

Plus, there's a great shot of a transparent Titans Tower showing us how Raven senses the Titans' emotions these days. I could do without the link to the rainbow world of Green Lanterns, but the 'fear', 'anger', 'will' stuff makes sense in terms of where DC is these days (though I still don't get how 'will' is an emotion).

Yes, Scott and Hazlewood suit this title down to the ground - unfortunately, the few pages of Batman and Robin virtually guarantee they'l be wafted away ere long to the streets of Gotham.

For now, though, they're Titans property, and a major factor in my deciding to follow this book for awhile. Scott, Hazlewood and Krul have the comic feeling fresh for the first time in awhile. So long as that tremendously entertaining little ratbag Damian doesn't dominate, we could be in for a more than decent run.

Supergirl Annual #2 review

Who wouldn't grab a chance to be somewhere else when things get overwhelming at home. And when you're a superheroine, the chances tend to be bigger. So it is that when her rocket trip back from the Bizarro World ends in the 31st Century, Supergirl decides to stay awhile. After several adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes she's made a member, but the holiday turns sour when two threats appear, one external, the other closer to home.

The more obvious threat is the demon goddess Satan Girl, who enslaves the world in four days and sets most of the Legion against Supergirl and Brainiac 5. The internal threat is to Supergirl's psyche, as she deals with the knowledge of how, according to history, she died.

This is a cracking issue, blending aspects of the Silver Age of Comics - Satan Girl, the Kara/Brainy romance - with modern sensibilities that make the story fresh even for those of us who thrilled to the classic Supergirl's Legion exploits. But this is today's Supergirl, who's no longer the confused, brattish Lolita who was hard to like; under recent creative team Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle we've seen her change. 

And here. as she claims some of the original's adventures as her own, it's obvious that Supergirl has come into her own. This isn't the new Supergirl, the current Supergirl, whatever - Kara Zor-El is Supergirl, a heroine worthy of her name. 

Just look at how she commands respect from the Legion, at how Brainy falls for her. Cheer her indomitable spirit as she finds herself the last fighter on an enslaved world. And pity her as she faces her fate.

Not that we're shown it. The veil is left in place as to how Legion history says she died. It may be the Crisis on Infinite Earths death of the first Supergirl that is commemorated, it may be some death from which she'll 'get better' - certainly, there's a comment near the end of the book, from Saturn Girl, which is pleasingly ambiguous.

What Kara sees isn't important - it's what she feels, and how she reacts. And because Gates has written Kara so well for the past couple of years, her responses ring true, ensuring this issue is more than some throwaway tale. What's more, it sets the scene for Supergirl stories to come, while also reinforcing some past ones (the wonders of time travel mean that while the Legion here is meeting Kara for the first time, she's already met older versions of them).

Even as it salutes the past, 'Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes' is full of surprises. As well as the nature of the army Supergirl raises against Satan Girl, I loved this panel, a wink to Saturn Girl's Seventies sartorial shame.

So the horribly inappropriate pink bikini Saturn Girl wore for years is all Kara's fault! (Don't ask me why Kara's calling Saturn Girl, 'Emm', mind - I always assumed 'Imra' was a take on the common Fifties name Irma ... maybe it's the Titanian accent?)

The other featured player, Brainiac 5, is nicely presented, with Gates remembering that Querl Dox of the Legion is not Vril Dox of the L.E.G.I.O.N. - too many writers willfully write the basically friendly 5 with the personality of the manipulative, standoffish 2. Here his concern for Kara is evident throughout, and it's a treat to see Kara begin to notice how much he has going for him. He's also bloomin' bright, of course, making him an asset even to scientific prodigy Kara.

Jamal Igle isn't drawing this month, but occasional fill-in artist Matt Camp shines as illustrator for most of the 46-page tale. His take on the early Legion is wonderful. Characters are clean-cut, but not boring, their bodies realistic rather than overly sexualised. The storytelling is crystal clear, and the joy on the characters' faces much of the time is infectious - the page showing Kara qualifying for Legion membership, for one, is a keeper.

Marco Rudy steps in for a batch of pages, and while his style is noticably different to Camp's - the layouts flip from straighforward to trippy - the change is entirely appropriate as the story moves into a dark future. Rudy apparently had a lot of fun with this story, as is very evident from the panel in which a dramatically foreshortened Kara winds up looking like a Powerpuff Girl.

Blond and Brad Anderson add vibrant tones throughout, while the ever-excellent Steve Wands comes up with a striking new font for witch queen Satan Girl, and remembers that sometime Colossal Boy gets a tad shouty.

And if the interior art weren't enough, there's a stunning cover by Amy Reeder - it's a fine layout, gorgeously brought to life by Richard Friend and Guy Major.

Forget all those Bruce Wayne one-offs, think twice before spending $20 on Clark Kent in a hoodie - this is likely the best value, most entertaining  special of the week.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

DC Universe: Legacies #6 review

There's not an awful lot I want to say about the first story this month - it's an equally fine continuation of (hover that cursor after these parentheses, too-subtle link ahoy!) last issue's look at the Crisis on Infinite Earths epic, seen from the perspective of man on the street Paul Lincoln. It takes events forward to the Legends crossover which saw the birth of the second Suicide Squad and formation of a new Justice League and ends with the reported crippling of Barbara Gordon from The Killing Joke. Paul gets promoted from cop to detective, his brother-in-law is crippled.

It's a lot more entertaining than your average story cobbled together from old comic books, with Len Wein's script getting stronger by the month. The two-page framing sequence is again illustrated by Scott Kolins and coloured by Mike Atiyeh and looks somewhat murkier than previously - perhaps a deliberate choice to reflect the darkening of the DC Universe. For the rest of 'Aftermath', last issue's penciller, George Perez, is back, but here he's on blacks, adding an attractive sheen to the excellent layouts of Jerry Ordway for the first half of the story. Scott Koblish, the inker on #5, picks up the baton and keeps the work looking solid and bright. Series colourist Allen Passalaqua continues to turn in superb work, always spotlighting the most relevant elements on the character-packed pages.

The cover continues last month's massive Crisis conflict and is another Perez/Passalaqua production; they do DC proud.

What really made me sit up and take notice this time was the back-up strip starring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Wein teams with longtime LSH artist and writer Keith Giffen to give us a thoroughly likeable take on the first meeting of 30th-century heroes and 20th-century inspiration. After a hard day in Pa Kent's fields, Clark just wants his supper, but who should pop up in a time bubble than Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy, emphasising his great destiny and inviting him to join their private superhero club?

Clark's thrilled to bits ... until another trio shows up, from further down the time stream. They're followed by multiple Legion sub-teams from various comics continuities, with the TV cartoon Brainiac 5 even putting in an appearance. The interaction between the competing members, and exasperation of Clark, makes for a tremendous little tale.
I can't recall whether I've ever read a Wein Legion script, but he captures the flavour of their various iterations here - cocky teenagers, professional heroes, war veterans ... 'Snapshot: Revision' is a well-titled tale, reminding us of the Legion of Legions DC has presented.

And it's all beautifully drawn by Giffen and fellow veteran Al Milgrom, one of those guys who couldn't turn in bad work if his life depended on it. Giffen has changed his approach several times during his various Legion stints, but he comes up with a style here that works for every teamlet. And I love the gangly Clark we're given - so what if it's not a version we've ever seen in the comics, this story isn't canon, it's a love letter to Legion fans. And I'm proud to be one.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Ragman: Suit of Souls #1 review

Ragman's been around since the Seventies but never developed a fanbase. Truth be told, Rory Reagan comes across as just another Gotham vigilante, wandering around the rooftops in flowing cape and beating up bad guys. He's become more of a mystical character down the years, but magic users don't attract the greatest audiences. And the name doesn't help. Ragman? Smelly. His nickname? The tatterdemalion of  justice.

God help him.

Well, here he is again, with a one-shot which respects his conflicting history as a character who was originally presented as Irish, then revealed to be Jewish. Why did Reagan's father, the previous Ragman in a line going back to 16th-century Prague, deny his heritage on moving to the US from Europe? Why was he seemingly ashamed? After a hard-fought war in Europe, why did he never don the suit of rags after reaching Gotham? These are the questions that motivate Ragman here. It's driving him mad, he must know. He must!

So he seeks out a rabbi who, of course, has no idea, but sensibly advises focusing on the good his father did. And eventually Ragman finds the answers he seeks, within his suit of lost souls. The end.

Writer Christos Gage gives us the history of Jewish oppression in Europe, touches on the careers of several Ragmen (one met Jonah Hex, it seems) and has Rory make peace with his demons. The script is crisp and clear, letting us know what made Ragman Sr tick. That's the stage nicely set for a series, in which we'll get to know our Ragman, Rory, better.

Except there is no series. This is a special. Next time a series does arrive, someone will have to tell the origin of Ragman again, perhaps giving the suit of souls a new wrinkle or two.

With respect, I think the wrong route was taken here. This is a one-shot, as in, you have one-shot to grab the reader's attention, make them cry out for more. That's unlikely to happen if we're not shown how cool the current Ragman is, and given an idea of how he might move forward. But this story is backward looking, leaving us at the end, pretty much where we came in, with daddy-fixated Rory Reagan feeling somewhat better, but still tied to his father's two lives, as pawnbroker and hero. He's the latest Ragman, not The Ragman. And soon I'll have forgotten all about him until the next time he turns up in a Shadowpact crowd scene.

Stephen Segovia's art is as accomplished as Gage's script, dripping with atmosphere. The historical and fictional locales and characters look splendid and were Ragman to get a series somewhere, I'd be very happy to see Segovia draw it. His renderings reminds me of those of the great Tom Mandrake. Colourist David Curiel and letterer Rob Leigh likewise do sterling work here, and Jesus Saiz provides an attractive cover. But the book as a whole never soars, and I put that down to lack of ambition.

Ragman: Suit of Souls is a decent reminder that the character exists, though I doubt it'll prove a lasting one.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

DC Halloween Special 2010 #1 review

Good on DC for keeping up the tradition of an all-new Hallowe'en (that's how you spell it, guys) special. It's the usual mixed bag, but worth a look if you're in the mood and can spare $4.99.

As he did last year, Gene Ha provides the cover illustration, but this works less well for me. The image centres on Solomon Grundy - a character not in the comic - and fails to give us a good look at any of the heroes. Well, other than the New Wonder Woman - she's not inside, either. Neither are fellow cover stars Raven, Beast Boy, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl or Ravager.

There are a couple of Teen Titans present and correct, though, in the book's best story. But let's start at the beginning.

After a stylish contents page by designer Steve Wands, writer/artist Billy Tucci provides a sequel to a Superman/Flash story he contributed last year. It's fine, a little too cutesy for me, truth be told - more kids dressing up and pretending to be heroes, as also featured in Tucci's pleasant short for the recent Superman/Batman #75. Batman shows up, alongside the least-fearsome Scarecrow ever. Hi-Fi uses mostly orange and grey, giving Tucci's naturalistic line a unique look.

The Cult of the Blood Red Moon show up in a Batman and Robin story (such variety, so far!), having also appeared in last year's special. They're defeated pretty easily by our heroes with precious little assistance from their nemesis, Andrew Bennett, I ... Vampire. There are some good moments in Joe Harris's script - I loved the vampires' reaction to Damian Wayne - but overall this is just another tale of rubbishy bloodsuckers, with a classic DC horror character sidelined. Batgirl artist Lee Garbett tweaks his accustomed style to spooky effect, while colourist Chris Beckett ladles on the creepy mood.

The only thing haunting the Flash/Frankenstein entry is John Wesley Shipp's foam rubber muscle suit. Never have I seen a lumpier Flash on the comics page than as drawn by Kenneth Loh. Iris Allen, in a skintight witch outfit, also frightens us with tapioca thighs. Loh's art is interesting, and he'd perhaps be great on the right strip - his Frankenstein is marvellous - but this isn't it. Alex Segura's script is an odd beast too, with Flash very uncomfortably placed in the horror milieu. And Iris's gallows humour at the end is pretty inappropriate given her supposed friendship with the deceased. As for Frankenstein, he's just kinda there for a misunderstanding fight, his character never properly introduced.

Deadman and Wonder Woman, both far from present DC continuity, team up against Felix Faust and the Cheetah in a touching little tale by writer Vinton Heuck, artist Dean Zachary and colourist Guy Major. It's an efficient entry with an appropriately heavy air of darkness to it.

The Demon helps Superman drive out a fear parasite and almost manages consistently good scansion, courtesy of writer Brian Keene. Penciller Stephen Thompson and inker Jack Purcell turn in a very British-looking art job that suits the script, and the story closes on an appropriate note.

And then there's Klarion the Witch Boy. That crazy mixed-up kid just makes me grin. He makes people into statues in the wonderfully titled Medusa Non Grata, as he just bids to have a nice Hallowe'en. Miss Martian and Blue Beetle take on the little bugger and somehow everything turns out well for everyone. Brian Q Miller's script is a tiny treat while Trevor McCarthy's pencils are delightfully cheery - check out MM's ever-changing Trick or Treat outfit. Tony Avina's colours suit the illustrations down to the ground.
Who knew Faustian feline Teekl was a Lolcat?
Next year it would be interesting if DC tried a book-length tale teaming a few of DC's spooky and sunny heroes and villains. For now, it's good to have a more than decent anthology. Happy Hallowe'en, folks.

Legion of Super-heroes #6 review

This issue features two stories and a bonus page. The first half of the book sees the conclusion of the relaunched Legion's first storyline, with the team reluctantly accepting Earth-Man, and vice versa. He's still not happy with 'offworlders', but realises that trying to get along is the sanest solution. And yes, as I thought, Brainy was tinkering with Earth-Man's head to make him a more agreeable person. That's was.

The story is a day in the life-style epilogue, with various subplots moving forward and room for supporting characters to shine. Back for the first time in decades comes Marte Allen, big league politician and Colossal Boy's ma, who, when she's not using the team for rubbish non-emergencies, is inviting Gim and wife Yera - Chameleon Girl - to a Sabbath supper. Other bits of business include the return of the Lightning Lass/Shrinking Violet (ahem) friendship, Shadow Lass's position on sex with Earth-Man (behave!) and a fun tete-a-tete between longterm couple Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy.

It's absorbing stuff from writer Paul Levitz, but would have benefited from some of the characterisation occurring during a decent fight scene - the nearest we get are a few members chasing down some naughty tourists and others stopping a pesky spaceship. There's no real challenge to our veteran heroes. While I've loved the first half year of this comic, I'm ready for a truly compelling villain to step forward, someone who can give the entire team a headache.

Regular co-artist Francis Portela gets to do a whole, if short, strip and turns in typically pleasing pages. As ever, Phantom Girl has the most interesting facial expressions - I suspect she's the artist's favourite - though Shady also benefits from attention (I love the inky cape she has these days).
Click to enlarge, kids!

Pencilling the second strip is longtime Legion hand Phil Jimenez, lavishing attention on the new and old members of the Legion Academy. It's wonderful to see Comet Queen, the Valley Girl of the super-hero set, back, along with Power Boy, Visi-Lad, Crystal Kid, Nightwind, those fish thingies, the little grey chap... Of the new guys, visually my favourites are Gravity Lad, whose flesh-flashing costume is a pleasing throwback to the days of artist Mike Grell, and Variable Lad, a massively purple-headed (write your own smut), four-armed bald chap whose powers are, of course, variable. Chemical Kid should lose the unattractive tunic, while Dragonwing looks to have been eaten by a Pac-A-Mac adorned with fussy pink serpents.

Presumably Comet Queen has been held back at school, as she's the only established Academian to join instructor Duplicate Damsel and a visiting Cosmic Boy in a bid to take down a (not the) wildfire. Again, a proper villain would have been nice. Anyway, we see a little of what everyone can do, and it's enough to pique my interest for their coming larks in Adventure Comics.

Raining on the parade is the aforementioned Cos, who's in a right old strop, moaning on about the burdens of leadership. Hurrah, then, that he calls a leadership election by issue's end. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, who quit to look after their kids this issue, won't be eligible. Neither will Mon-El, who's hanging out with Polar Boy on Daxam.

Excuse me, do these people not have contracts? They come and go willy nilly, with nary a thought for the safety of the universe, or my desire to see them. I wouldn't be surprised if Cos himself buggers off after the election, being distracted by missing memories (that's what15 multiversal crises, several reboots and a stint as the Time Trapper do to a guy).

The most intriguing scene in this storyline sees Sensor Girl mooning over dead husband Karate Kid, hugging his bloody costume to herself. Loony. She's musing on having met another KK since his death, one from a parallel reality who also got himself killed. Surely another one couldn't show up?

Gosh, here's one now, outside Projectra's penis-palace and showing a titchy tree branch who's boss. He's clad in a seriously shapeless version of the original Val Armorr's costume and models the sappiest expression you ever did see. I've taken an immediate dislike to the floppy-haired girlie man. Someone kill him, quick.

Levitz provides another sterling script here, showing his knack for making every character worth watching, while Jimenez, teamed with inker Scott Koblish, produces fine, varied layouts and interesting looking players (even when they're floppy-haired girlie men).

The issue is rounded out with a one-page strip plugging the online election, starring the Legion's very own politician, Matter-Eater Lad. This book's other regular artists, penciller Yildiray Cinar and inker Wayne Faucher, draw a perfect Tenzil Kem - let's have him back as a regular, huh?

Cinar, Faucher and colour house Hi-Fi also provide the cover, and it's not a keeper. There's Earth-Man from the rear and a Shadow Lass who's unrecognisable due to her head being deliberately cropped and a red overlay masking her distinctive blue skin. The non-identification of Shady is, of course, deliberate, inviting us to wonder who's in bed with the Legion's resident xenophobe. An intriguing wee mystery, if Earth-Man's playmate hadn't been revealed last issue. Dear oh dear.

Still, these are exciting times for the Legion, with lots of plots bubbling, a creative team that's gelling and a buzz around the election - have you voted yet? Let's hope new readers check out  a book that's ready for a return to the big leagues

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Adventure Comics #519 review

Now that's a standout cover from Scott Clark and David Beaty. I can't recall the last time that the power of Brainiac 5 was foregrounded on a Legion book. And I love the smaller figures of Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Superboy, as the Legion of Super-Farmers. Brainy is obviously clearing some land with his fantastic force field ... turns out there's more going on than I knew.

The Zaryan storyline continues this issue with Chameleon Boy, Shrinking Violet and Invisible Kid taking over the Legion's campaign to bring in space criminal Zaryan. Saturn Girl has previously been heavily involved, but it seems Brainy has grabbed her for a trip into the past.

I like that Paul Levitz presents the early Legion as an organised bunch, with Vi referring to Zaryan as 'Saturn Girl's case', especially given that Imra planned on a police career. Vi gets to be amusing here, something I can't remember happening in the po-faced, yet fantastic, original Adventure Comics strip. Invisible Kid's powers prove useful for hiding, but little else; still, he has his days in the sun later. Cham proves the most useful player, transforming into combat-useful monsters at every turn. And Zarjan escapes to fight another day, but we've seen another significant moment in the Legion's history - the birth of the Espionage Squad.

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Brainy have reached a rainy Smallville. Brainy apologises for snatching Imra from the Zaryan manhunt, but 'it's imperative that we spend the next 14.4 hours in Superboy's time'. Don't ask me why he couldn't have waited until Imra had wound up her current business, then hit the past - such was the Silver Age. There's likely some explanation involving relative distances and characters' personal journeys. I dunno, I just enjoyed seeing Saturn Girl get drenched.

The rainstorm turns out to be the edge of a twister, demanding the intervention of Superboy. After experiencing natural weather - the 31st Century has climate control techniques - the Legion dons ancient clothing to help the Smallville community raise a barn, the team meets the Kents and ... this is sounding a bit like a list, isn't it? Which it should, as this story sees Levitz again use the list-ticking set-up pioneered by Geoff Johns when Connor Kent was the Superboy in this title. A few months back the list was young Clark Kent's, this time it's Brainy's, and the final item on it is the rather impressive 'Save the world'.

Which he does, with the help of his team-mates, when one of his city-stealing ancestor's probes arrived on Earth, as the records said it would. Brainy knew that if it sent the message to Brainiac that Earth had cities worth stealing, he'd arrive years before Kal-El was ready to take him on. Brainy wished to ensure records of the probe's disappearance proved to be accurate.

After royally messing with Superboy's head the first time they met, it's good to see that here the Legion are the ones at a disadvantage, as their soft 31st-century ways make them look proper ninnies in front of Lana Lang. The story ends on a blissfully happy note, which makes a refreshing change these days.

This is my favourite instalment of the retro Legion strip so far, with the balance between filling in the blanks of the original tales and all-new material shifted happily in favour of the latter. Levitz has turned in a fine script here, full of incident and character, fitting in with later Legion tales but not dependent on them for its success.

Ignore the cover credits, Kevin Sharpe and Marlo Alquiza aren't around this issue. The artists are Eduardo Pansica and Eber Ferreira and they do a wonderful job, producing lively layouts and characters filled with personality. The action sequences fair blaze off the page. If DC hasn't yet assigned an artistic team to the upcoming Legion Academy strip, I hope they consider this pair. They might also nab Blond, whose colours are the icing on the cake. I especially like the way Invisible Kid is depicted when using his power ... it's more interesting than ye olde dotted lines around a white figure. And what the heck, throw in Sal Cipriano too, he's a dandy letterer.

The Atom back-up strip is also better than usual this time, as we learn more about mysterious Uncle David and writer Jeff Lemire provides corking descriptions as to what trans-dimensional travel feels like and how good men can turn bad. After several months of set-up, it finally feels as if the story is going somewhere. Mahmud Asrar's pencils, inked by dependable John Dell, carry things along in a jolly manner and colourist Pete Pantazis stylishly differentiates between the story's settings.

The page count is being lowered soon, along with the price, but for now, Adventure Comics is an entertainment bargain at $3.99.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home Batgirl #1 review

There are four Road Home one-shots this week, and four more over the next fortnight, and DC is doing its damndest to force us to buy them all, if this comic is anything to go by. For after a pretty standard-seeming Steph vs Mystery Villain scenario, the issue ends with a dollop of snoopy Vicki Vale subplot carried over from, I think, Red Robin, and some Bruce Wayne business obviously begun somewhere else.

Don't ask me where. One of this week's other three Road Homes? This week's Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, which I've not got to yet? Bruce Wayne's Garage Sale, which I expect exists? There are no helpful notes or page one recaps to tell us - you're on your own, kids. So I've no idea why Bruce Wayne is back, clad in a suit of many powers and leading Batgirl - Stephanie Brown - on a wild bat-chase. I'm just disappointed that five minutes into his latest life and he's already testing one of the young heroes who has done just fine protecting Gotham in his absence.

Thank goodness for Alfred, telling Bruce that 'you didn't need to test the young Miss Brown's mettle'. It's a shame Bruce's god complex doesn't allow him to hear what Alfred is saying; instead he implies that Steph needed his blessing to be Batgirl.

Then we have Bruce suggesting that Steph and crimefighting partner Wendy 'Proxy' Harris bear watching, as they're both the daughters of criminals. Thank you Bruce Wayne, love puppet of Talia Al-Ghul.

Finally, we have the revelation that he had Cassandra Cain step down and hand the Batgirl identity over to Steph. Mr Manipulation strikes again and let me tell you, it fair gets on my tits. I was hoping for a new era in which Bruce drops the 'My Gotham, My Rules' kick, but it looks as if he's returned from the comics-dead with twisted ego intact.

Well done to regular Batgirl writer Bryan Q Miller for negotiating his way around this editorially mandated storyline, having already spent a year proving to Steph, and the readers, that she's earned the Batgirl mantle. Hey, anyone for a storyline in which the Batman Family members put Bruce in the ring with Batmite and Bathound to prove that having been away for ages, he still has bat chops? Let them judge him for a change.

While this issue doesn't have all the usual Batgirl goodness, with no room for Steph-centred subplots, our girl's personality is intact, shining through as she tells Bruce some home truths. And Barbara Gordon, aka Oracle, is on good form as she stonewalls Vicki Vale and clones her smartphone.

The art by Pere Perez is crisply attractive, following the lead of regular penciller Lee Garbett, and the cover by Shane Davis is pretty, showing us the red letter day day Steph won the Batman Family's Standing On One Leg contest.

Overall, though, I'd prefer the most bog standard issue of Batgirl over this 'event' comic, with its grafted-on Bruce Wayne business and reader-unfriendly approach.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Justice League: Generation Lost #11 review

The members of Justice League International have split into two teams to check out Checkmate cells reactivated by the murderous Maxwell Lord. The group comprising Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Skeets has a quiet issue, discovering a cache of new OMAC androids, but Ice, Fire and Rocket Red? It's fair to say they're busy.

Busy fending off two separate attacks by the Metal Men, reprogrammed by Lord flunky Professor Ivo (the evil genius JLA enemy who's neither IQ nor TO Morrow - I always forget which is which). The first attack sees DC's lovable robots in familiar formations, and the JLI doesn't do badly, Then the Metal Men, their Responsometer minds fooled by a shared CS Lewis-style fantasy, regroup - literally. They become a giant-sized Metal Man, an apparently unstoppable alloy whose one instinct is to pound their foes.

It's good fun. Two issues a month means no moans from me when most of a story is devoted to fight scenes. And when the battles are as well-presented as these - hats off to writer Judd Winick and artists Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan - there wouldn't be any complaints anyway. Alongside the physical conflicts we get plenty of sweet character interaction, with Ice proving her team's MVP. The issue closes with one member going through a big change, likely a positive one, contrasting with the continuing loss of humanity experienced by Captain Atom.

The Metal Men, while not themselves, receive a great showcase for their abilities here. It'll be nice if before this series ends, Tin, Lead, Platinum, Gold, Iron, Mercury and missing-from-this-issue Copper team up with the JLI by way of 'apology' for their inadvertent actions here.

Winick's script remains sharp, while Lopresti and Ryan show why they were such a good fit on Wonder Woman, drawing everything from malleable robots to the scariest centaurs you ever did see. And Cliff Chiang's cover is another winner, the softness of his approach contrasting nicely with the metallic menace attacking the JLI.

Almost halfway through and this entertaining series shows no signs of flagging. I vote DC 'forgets' to end it, and surprises us all with a #27 in six months or so.

Superman #703 review

Ah, that's better. After a month's delay, Superman #703 arrives and I finally enjoy an installment of the Grounded storyline.

Superman gives a stalker a taste of his own intimidating medicine in a page putting our hero in touch with his Golden Age self. Batman shows up and asks Superman what the heck he's up to with 'all this walking nonsense'. And remnants of New Krypton have a powerful effect on Earth folk.

So why the month's delay? Without wishing to overstate the power of fan opinion, I wouldn't be at all surprised if writer J Michael Straczynski didn't see reactions to the first couple of Grounded tales, and ask DC to allow time for some retooling. For this issue, without getting too heavy handed about it, deftly addresses some of the questions readers have raised, such as, why has the year-long New Krypton storyline that preceded current events been ignored? Isn't someone as powerful as Superman wasting his time trying to get in touch with the average Joe? Aren't small towns endangered by Superman's highly public presence? And, er, is he having a breakdown, or what?

The way this last question is raised reads like a direct reaction to (pair of links coming up, hover your cursor alert!) THIS POST at Colin's always thoughtful Too Busy Thinking About My Comics blog. Mind Colin, ever generous, does speculate that revealing Superman as being deeply affected by the loss of New Krypton has been Straczynski's plan all along. If Straczynski isn't now channelling Colin's blog, then Colin was bang on, and both guys are loads smarter than me.

(Actually, I knew that already...)

Whatever the case - and to be fair, it's likely that what we get this issue is the script as Straczynski wrote it, months ago - this story finally seems to be going somewhere. The rocks are more than just a motivation for the issue's requisite action sequence, they represent a problem to be solved, while Batman has Superman thinking about his behaviour in a conversation that looks set to be ongoing. Little by little, a concept is becoming a story. What's more, while there are still moments when Superman comes across as a pedantic bugger to the regular folk he says he wants to get in touch with, such as his response to a cop's briefing about New Krypton debris, Straczynski is getting more comfortable with Superman's voice.

The art team of Eddy Barrows and JJ Mayer shines once more, with Superman and Batman looking suitably larger than life against City of the Month Cincinnati. There's a rattling battle scene, and a good variety of ordinary chaps and chapesses. The only quibble I have is Batman's cape, which gathers like a set of Granny's net curtains. Colourist Rod Reis makes the pages glow with wonderfully lit scenes, while letterer John J Hill is quietly indispensable.

John Cassaday's cover is simple, yet effective, as a summation of the notion of Superman's walk, though I'd prefer something specific to this issue over a picture yelling 'MEMEME!' to whoever decides what goes on the front of the trade collection.

This was to be the make or break issue for me, but a decent issue guarantees I'll be back for more. I'm still looking forward to next month's fill-in spotlighting Lois Lane, mind!

Knight and Squire #1 review

The Knight and Squire are the British Batman and Robin. And a lot more besides. The only obvious ways in which they're copies of the Dynamic Duo are their dedication to justice, and mentor/sidekick arrangement. Some of their opponents - such as Jarvis Poker, the British Joker - are 'cover versions' of US originals. Other than that, they're very much their own heroes, in their own world with its own vibe.

And that vibe is British popular culture - everything from ancient tales to Benny Hill, via some very rude Cockney rhyming slang, Penny Dreadfuls and TV astronomers. The overriding sensibility of this first issue is the British sense of humour, as we're introduced to the heroes and villains who throng at the Time In a Bottle public house once a month. On the one hand, the likes of The Milkman and Coalface take their activities seriously; on the other, well, they realise it's all a bit ridiculous, so welcome the monthly truce between good, evil and evil-ish.

The truce is disturbed in part one of Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton's six-part For Six (see what they did there?), a story which shows that a set-up issue can be every bit as entertaining as your average pay-off chapter, and a lot more fun than many. Cornell's script sketches the characters with economy; we're given enough to enjoy the story but left wanting to know more about the likes of Blind Fury, thanks in part to Broxton's striking character designs. 

By the end of the issue we've a grounding in the Britain inhabited by Knight and Squire, and are ready to see where the mini-series takes us next. If every issue is as entertaining as this Carry on ... Capes story, I could easily stand a few more tales set down the pub. But Cornell isn't a writer to have just the one trick up his sleeve, so I'm expecting great things. Since Grant Morrison gave us the current versions - the Knight and Squire concept dates back to the 1950s - we've seen a little more of Squire, Beryl, a likeable acrobat and communications expert, than her senior associate. I'm looking forward to finding out what makes her partner, Knight - aka Cyril, the poor sod - tick.

Cornell's good-natured script is matched by Jimmy Broxton's immensely endearing illustrations. There are an awful lot of characters in this story, but the pages, while packed, never seem overcrowded. One sees writer and artist stylishly homage the original Time Machine film, as we see the same spot in the pub at various points down the years. War of the Worlds is also evoked, as 'so-called Martians' sign a significant treaty. Pretty much every page brings to mind some joyous aspect of British pop culture alongside, for fairness' sake, such embarrassments as TV's Black & White Minstrels.

There's an amusing bonus page by Cornell and Broxton explaining a few of the British-isms and happily ignoring such in-story terms as 'a J Arthur', which had me tittering inanely on page one. If you're not a British type, don't be put off this book - remember how much entertainment we UK kids have had from diving into your Colonial comic book offerings. This book, complete with lovely Yanick Paquette and Michel Lacombe cover and a terrific logo - deserves to be a transatlantic hit.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Superman: The Last Family of Krypton #3 review

The alternative history of the Superman Family concludes here with resolutions to the core conflicts: Jor-El's science vs Lara's spirituality; the gap in understanding between Kal-El and Jor-El; the struggles of semi-super siblings Bru-El and Valora to make their way in the world; the fates of Lex Luthor and artificial intelligence B.

And if I'm making this issue sound like an exercise, I'm misrepresenting. This is no diagram masquerading as a tale, it's a love letter to Superman by writer Cary Bates. Having not scripted the character for decades, he's come back to comics and put together one of the most satisfying stories I've ever read.

The Elseworlds tag bestows certain freedoms on a writer - knowing there'll never be an issue #4, Bates can do whatever he wishes - but when every avenue is there before you, which ones do you go down? Which paths add up to the most satisfying destination for characters, and readers?

Well, the place we wind up here feels pretty perfect to me. The extended El family comes alive, with believable attitudes and relationships - from Valora's desire to be 'normal' to Jor-El's benevolent God complex, it's all rang wonderfully true for three issues. This time there's amusing business involving hair gel, clever contrasts between the way Kal-El and his father use their intelligence and typical pot-stirring by gossip goddess Cat Grant. Where certain classic Superman plot beats are visited, it's never in predictable ways.

And the conclusion, while not without its sadnesses, had me grinning broadly. This may not be Superman canon (this week, anyway) but it's a perfect piece of the Superman Legend, a story that deserves to be remembered alongside such classic Imaginary Tales as the Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Bates' creative partners also deserve huge praise, for bringing his story to pulsating life. Felipe Massafera provides his best cover yet, succinctly portraying the characters' emotions. Inside, Renato Arlem's imagining of the El family is masterful, with everyone looking related while not identikit. Science and the natural world are equally important in this story, and Arlem - aided by the gorgeously appropriate colours of Allen Passalaqua and the vital lettering of Pat Brosseau - depicts them with style.

I especially enjoyed their take on the Guardians of the Universe, who show up to add their usual hypocritical two-pennorth as regards Jor-El's earth-saving ambitions. Though, as it turns out, they have more of a demonstrable point here than in a similar scene in the well-remembered Seventies story penned by Bates' colleague, Elliot S Maggin, Must There Be a Superman? (Superman 1st series, #247).

What that is, I hope you'll discover for yourself, either now, or when DC collects these three issues into an elegant trade paperback. I'd love to see the collections department make an exception to their usual rule and rush this out in time for the Holidays - it would make the perfect Christmas gift for Superman fans.

I suspect I'll be re-reading the story before then, though - simply put, Cary Bates and co, in an Elseworlds tale, have given us the truest Superman in years.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

R.E.B.E.L.S. #21 review

First there was Green Lantern. Then Green Lantern Corps. Followed by Emerald Warriors. And now the GL franchise hits four books, with the addition of R.E.B.E.L.S.

It's not a Green Lantern book? You could have fooled me, with this issue being mainly a battle between two Lanterns and recently returned L.E.G.I.O.N. operative Lobo. It's narrated by one of the Corps, Okaaran GL Altin Admos, who has a lot of 'splainin' to do to the Guardians of the Universe. Altin even gets an origin here, while we still know sod all about members of L.E.G.I.O.N. who debuted nearly two years ago. Next issue's blurb promises/threatens a focus on the other Lantern of Sector 2828, Gorius Karkum ...

As for actual  L.E.G.I.O.N. characters, Vril Dox and son Lyrl are around, having hogged the spotlight for the last several issues. But the rest? Captain Comet, Starfire, Adam Strange and the other members I can no longer name? They show up for a group shot but don't get to contribute to the action, or say a word between them.

It's annoying - bad enough this book turned into the Dox family fortunes, without notorious page hogger Lobo returning. Now the book is seemingly an adjunct to the GL titles. The R.E.B.E.L.S. name even becomes a proper acronym here, defined in relation to the Green Lantern Corps. OK, so Lobo's 'Regular Everyday Bastiches Endin' Lantern Supremacy' isn't likely to be officially adopted, but in 21 issues it's the first attempt at explaining the name.

There were some things I liked. Tony Bedard writes one or two nice moments, such as the Okaaran GL's good manners in battle and Dox's manipulation of the media. While not wishing to see it played out at length, I liked Dox's 'who died and made you galactic gods?' attitude towards the Corps. The actual fight choreography is good, bar the fact that GL Gorius may as well not be there. Claude St Aubin and Scott Hanna make a wonderful penciller and inker team, while Rich and Tanya Horie's colours are excellent. Travis Lanham? Top letterer. And Francis Portela and Javier Mena supply a lovely cover - for a GL book.

I've read the L.E.G.I.O.N. series in all its incarnations, and am loath to drop it, but it has, in effect, dropped me. The Legion of Super-Heroes and/or villains for the present day concept has all but gone, as DC apparently bids to cash in on current Green Lantern success. The next several issues are going to see Dox's so-called peacekeepers in all-out war against the Lanterns, and I couldn't be less interested. I can see myself skipping them and checking in again if this book remembers what it's supposed to be about.

Avengers Academy #5 review

Goodness, isn't that the best cover with a hero surrounded by lightning and a quote from Ain't It Cool News ever?

Apart from this week's Hawkeye & Mockingbird #5.

Anyway, coincidences in editor Bill Rosemann's offices aside, what is there to say about the comic? Plenty, as writer Christos Gage continues to write the best young heroes title around. The focus this month is, as Mike McKone's striking cover makes clear, Stryker, the young fellow with electricity-hurling tendencies. We follow him over the course of a week at Infinite Avengers Mansion, as he trains, relaxes and helps take down one of Hank Pym's oldest enemies.

We're also shown the background that makes him the complex young man he is today - rubbish money-grabbing mother, abusive manager, that sort of thing. It all makes for a convincing sketch of someone who could become a hero or a villain. He certainly tips in one particular direction this time, but it's early days.

Stryker's fellow students and teachers are also around, all helping give Avengers Academy the flavour which makes it stand out from the franchise crowd. As ever, there are plenty of little moments revealing extra layers of personality, while at least one new subplot - involving my old favourite she-bot, Jocasta - is laid down.

Regular artist Mike McKone is absent this issue, but inker Andrew Hennessy remains, teamed with penciller Jorge Molina. It's puzzling, when they teamed up for Avengers: The Initiative #34, I was cock-a-hoop; the art looked great all round. Here there are some very odd bits of facial business - malformed noses, dodgily frozen open mouths, Steve Rogers' unfeasibly odd head ... let's assume some sort of deadline crunch, as is often the reason for fill-ins. Plus, this is so much McKone's book visually that I wonder if Molina wasn't trying too hard to capture his vibe.

The layouts are actually pretty decent, with some clever angles and dynamic action moments. Hopefully Molina will get to come back next time a fill-in is needed and show just how fine he is - God knows, I have my own off days.

And some minor art quibbles aren't going to stop me recommending this as the twistiest, turniest comic this side of vintage Suicide Squad. If you've still not tried Avengers Academy, jump on board with this issue - I think you'll enjoy an unexpected ride.

Hawkeye and Mockingbird #5 review

"Can we go back to fighting scientists in Spanish castles? Or even Kang? I'll take on Kang again."

So says Hawkeye, and so say I. For five issues now, he and Mockingbird have been tangling with Crossfire and the Phantom Rider. And while I've had plenty of good things to say about this storyline so far, Ghosts has gone on too long. A battle with Kang? Yessiree, one of the Avengers' greatest villains, that's worth half a year's worth of books, but a bog standard marksman and a possessed museum curator? Not so much.

You might say that the length of the story has allowed room for us to see the extent of Mockingbird's espionage operation, and to follow her changing relationship with ex-husband Hawkeye. It's provided space for a bit of background on Mockingbird's family, and a chance for Hawkeye's Avengers pals to appear.

Yes it has, but all of these bits of business could have been woven into stories featuring other main conflicts: Crossfire and the Phantom Rider just aren't interesting, or formidable, enough to focus on for five months.

This issue, finally, there's some closure to their challenge to Hawkeye and Mockingbird. The story seems to end on a sad note, as Hawkeye splits from Mockingbird's spy group, the World Counterterrorism Agency and, more interestingly, Mockingbird herself.

It makes perfect sense, given the characters and situations writer Jim McCann has artfully laid down - Mockingbird, aka Bobbi Morse, has a good heart, but a tendency to be a hard-faced bitch when it comes to tackling a situation; Hawkeye, Clint Barton, doesn't like the way he's becoming more brutal, the longer he spends in her world.

To be true to his characters, McCann had to write this scene. Almost certainly, we'll see the pair reach a compromise over time, as they really do love each other, and watching it will be fun. I'm ready for that, give me a new story and set the ball rolling.

But remember that phrase, 'seems to end'? Ghosts ain't over ... the lettercol tells us that next month we'll flash back to a few hours before the end of this issue, to see how Clint and Bobbi came to their decision.

Just don't. I like soap more than most, but I don't need an issue of angsty conversations. I get it, the ending was the best part of this issue. Now let's move on please.

The main part of this book was more fighting between the heroes and villains, with the addition of another Phantom Rider, this one on the side of the angels and afflicted with verbal diarrhoea. There are lots of little dramatic moments, reversals and triumphs, but not enough of the sparky characterisation I've come to expect from this book.

Artwise, penciller David and inker Alvaro Lopez continue to do a nice job - it's not flashy, but they maintain a good standard and have managed five issues in a row, something of a miracle in these times. I said once that I thought they had a tendency to undersell the big scenes, but here they do a fine job of giving us two of Hawkeye's least finest moments.

The cover illustration by Paul Renaud has a pleasing intensity to it, but in terms of production, I'm for a bit of variety in the area of logo colours - it's been the same purple and lavender combo since issue 1.

All in all, Hawkeye & Mockingbird has worn out its welcome just a wee bit. I'm interested in the characters, I'm intrigued by the set-up, the creative team is good, but if a story is going to be more than two or three issues long, there really needs to be more challenges. I realise that for Clint and Bobbi, the adventure has lasted just two days, but to quote the archer once more: 'Longest. Two. Nights. Ever."

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Action Comics #893 review

If anyone had told me years ago that Superman's Action Comics would one day be a split title shared by Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen, I'd have laughed.

But it's happened, and I do laugh. But not at the notion, at the results. For the two strips in this issue are among the funniest DC offerings in memory, while still delivering drama.

The Luthor strip has the biggest dollop of drama; here the humour is often black, as everyone's favourite bald super scientist matches wits with everyone's favourite super-gorilla. Yes, it's Flash rogue Grodd, and he's brought, let's say, a rather unusual weapon. I can't remember the last time he introduced himself as Super-Gorilla Grodd, as he does here - with a name like that it's a wonder he doesn't show up in the Superman books more often.

Grodd has force of mind powers and super-strength to back up his massive intellect. Lex just has his brilliant mind. Operative word, 'just'. Because Luthor's had time for forward planning prior to his sortie to Uganda in search of Black Lantern energy, stacking the odds in his favour.

Writer Paul Cornell gives us a remarkable Grodd. This is no beastly buffoon with ideas about his station, it's a terrifyingly cruel carnivore with a knack for getting into opponents' heads (in more ways than one, it transpires). I enjoyed the presentation of the Flash's simian nemesis so much that I may just start a campaign for a Cornell-written Grodd to take over the Flash's book.

Cold and cunning as Grodd is here, he's at least matched by Luthor, who can be hilarious one moment, chilling the next. It's difficult to say who's more inhumane, Grodd or a Luthor who shows more affection for his Lois Lane android than his loyal (God knows why) employees.

Still, there's a moment this issue which points towards the robotic reporter eventually turning on her 21st-century Pygmalion. And that may be for the best, as the idea of Lex having a Lois-shaped mechanical sex toy is somewhat stomach churning ... I like the idea of finding new sides to Luthor, but this is a tad too kinky (OK, it's not as weird as the Silver Age Supergirl's thing for a horse, but still ...).

The ending is a cracker - even though DC's publicity machine had pointed towards that final page, it's nevertheless a joy when we get there. Action Comics #894 is going to be memorable.

And if Sean Chen and Wayne Faucher are back for a second month as guest artists, I'll not complain. They do a splendid job of stepping into Pete Woods' shoes this time, with roomy renderings of the jungle and spiffy character work. (I'm especially glad they never got the memo about Luthor having mislaid his eyebrows.) And the final page guest star looks as enchanting as she ever has, which will please her legion of fans.

David Finch's cover is a decent image, too, though it's a shame Grodd's tool isn't apparent due to the necessary logo placement

Jimmy Olsen's first chapter in Action Comics is a delight from start to finish. Writer Nick Spencer plugs it right into the meanderings of the ginger journo's pal in Superman. We remain in Metropolis with a Jimmy who has, to some extent, lost his mojo. After all the years of seeing himself mostly as Superman's pal, he's in a pathetic place at the start of Jimmy Olsen's Big Week. He's sitting around in his shorts playing video games, with too much front to admit he might be upset at being dumped by girlfriend Chloe Sullivan.

And soon he's on the town, having been dragged out by chums Kev and Rory, where he bumps into his nemesis, rising Lexcorp star Sebastien Mallory, with Chloe on his arm. Not that she's so shallow as to date someone else ten minutes after breaking up with Jim - the reporter is spending a week with him for a profile. Well, there's nothing to yank our boy Jim from a funk like a challenge, and he's soon throwing down a gauntlet to Sebastien: 'My week is gonna be way bigger than yours.'

Given the size of the threat to Metropolis on the final page, Jimmy's going to have his work cut out. And I can't wait to see what happens.

In just ten pages, Spencer and artist RB Silva hit a home run. First off, they give us a spot-on Jimmy - cocky but not arrogant, ingenious but underachieving - that shows why he's remained among the most famous supporting characters in comics. When properly characterised, he's unique, adding value to any story he appears in.

Then they introduce Chloe from the Smallville TV show into the comics universe with ease. So what if we've never heard of her previously, Jimmy's had so little panel time over the last few years that he's had plenty of opportunities for the odd fling. Here Chloe reminds me of his Silver Age girlfriend, Lucy Lane, whose role was to be ever pissed-off, ever dumping Jimmy. I'm sure Chloe will gain a few more facets as we get to know her, though.

The set-up of Jimmy's initial serial looks set to make for some fun comics - considering just how huge Day One's challenge is, you wonder how much bigger can things get?

And the dialogue and narration is wonderfully sharp, with Jimmy, for example, describing Lexcorp as 'a company best known for failed villainy and premature hair loss'. The gags shine a spotlight on his character, demonstrating his wit and worldview. Mind, there's one word that's obviously too hip for me, despite my having watched lots of films starring John, Joan and Ann Cusack - what's 'cusacking'? Context indicates 'being a downer' but I need to know why.

Silva's artwork - inked by Dym and coloured by Dave McCaig - sells the script from panel one right through to the final splash, with Jimmy and his pals and gals never looking less than engaging. His Chloe design evokes actress Alison Mack without, I assume, requiring DC to pay a licensing fee for her facial likeness ... which means she looks a lot like Lucy Lane!

Cute touches include a magic lamp-shaped sound effect as Jimmy outwits a genie, and the classic device of little rays around Jim's head to indicate surprise or alarm. I also like that in the DCU, the Superman logo isn't the Superman logo, if a video game is any indication. The pages are breezily designed, a perfect match for Spencer's script. My only quibble is the lack of freckles on Jimmy - aside from the red-hair and bow tie, they're his most iconic feature, yet they barely appear. Without them, Jimmy looks naked.

And there you have it - Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, a Lois Lane android, Gorilla Grodd, Chloe Sullivan, stories full of twists, turns and marvellous character moments, art that dances before the eyes ...

... Superman who?