Friday, 28 January 2011

The New Avengers #8 review

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are in a restaurant, on their first date. Given that they've been wed awhile, this is a little surprising, but hey, they're Avengers - busy people. The subject turns to whether Jess - who's spent the last several years as a private detective while trying to ignore her super-powers - is going to return to regular superheroing after being with the Avengers for awhile.

Luke reckons she's ready, and suggests Jess puts her old name, Jewel, in mothballs and calls herself Power Woman, to match his one-time Power Man monicker. Jess explains that while she's gotten over her former reluctance to be a costumed crimefighter, she's now worried that she'll get killed and leave their baby, Danielle, motherless.

Before the conversation can conclude, fellow Avenger Ms Marvel crashes to Earth in the street outside, on the end of an explosive projectile being ridden by Dr Doom. The three heroes take Doom out before the arrival of their team-mates, including the Thing, who uses his experience battling the lord of Latveria to properly defuse the situation.

Back at Avengers Mansion, Jess gives Luke her answer ... and then changes her mind.

This is a pretty good issue, with Dr Doom arriving at just the right point in the book. Enjoyable and necessary as the conversation between Jess and Luke is - it's excellent character work from Brian Michael Bendis - it's outworn its welcome after seven pages. One of these comes dangerously close to self-parody, being a page-sized panel of back and forth chat in 29 word balloons. But it looks very elegant swirling around the page, the bubbles like dialogue stepping stones, and leaves plenty of room for Daniel Acuña's art.

Ah yes, the art. It's delicious. Bendis's script plays well to Acuña's talents. I've long enjoyed his facility for subtle expressions in such titles as Freedom Fighters and the Flash, and now his rendering of bad, mad action is equally fine. Piledriver pounding and superb sound effects ensure the Doom fracas is very satisfying. And when the rest of the team arrives, it's with sharp delineation of individual body language - the Thing's weighty movements, Iron Fist's grace, Spider-Man's creepy agility ... it's all there. The ridiculously talented Acuña even colours.

Those sound effects are almost certainly the work of Acuña rather than letterer Joe Caramagna, but whatever the case, he deserves praise for his work here; if Caramagna were paid by the word, he'd have retired by now.

This issue also features another instalment of The Oral History of the Avengers. All I want to hear is that the price of this comic is dropping from $3.99 to $2.99 and that this 'extra' is going to a Marvel Handbook, where it belongs.

Topping off The New Avengers #8 is a cover by Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo. Their Jessica Jones isn't quite right - too LA-glossy - but it's a great image regardless.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Justice League: Generation Lost #18 review

It's Power Girl vs cover boy Captain Atom after Max Lord's mental whammy makes the Kryptonian see her old teammate as a kill-crazy Superman. The bout arranged by writer Judd Winick is reminiscent of Wonder Woman's battle with Superman in Greg Rucka's Sacrifice storyline; then, Superman saw Diana as the murderous Doomsday, but it was Max Lord who wound up dead. Here, not so much.

But there is hope when Fire, Ice, Booster Gold, Rocket Red and Skeets arrive to help Atom out and, thanks to the smarts of one member and the passion of another, help Power Girl see the truth. Before that we have one of the most satisfying hero-on-hero slugfests I can remember, with Power Girl on full fighting form while Atom holds back for fear of blowing up Tokyo. We've all been there ...

The rest of the heroes also impress, despite admitting that Power Girl - who is seeing them as other, more threatening JLA members - may be too much for them. It's rare to see heroes acknowledge the massive differences in juice in any line-up, even though every league should have rankings.

Elsewhere, Max continues to torture Blue Beetle for the secrets of his alien technology, insistent that he's not the bad guy. Yeah, right, look at how creepy he is (click to enlarge).

He's also overconfident, telling Beetle just that bit too much about how his psychic powers drain him. That moment's going to come back and bite him in the bottom.

We're offered a flashback to Power Girl and Captain Atom's time together with Justice League International, likely a bid to add poignancy to their spat. Winick's opening line for this scene - 'Years ago. And many lifetimes away' - is oh-so-true, given the DC Universe's regular reboots, while Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan capture the vibe of classic JLI artists Kevin Maguire and Bart Sears.

The duo's art is gorgeous throughout, as they find poetry in violence, and show us the same scenes from 'Maxed' and 'non-Maxed' perspectives. They don't stint on the emotion, though, demonstrating with their lines the heroes' sadness at having to fight - Power Girl's being all the stronger because she thinks her cross-dimensional cousin is calling her a failure. The Hi-Fi colourist makes the pages positively pop, while John J Hill adds character to the lettering assignment.

There's also a new look for the recently up-powered Ice (ie it was probably introduced issues ago and I never noticed), a lighter spin on her classic costume that works very well indeed.

Just a few more issues of this limited series to go. I'm hoping for an announcement any day now that it will become ongoing. The heroes, and the creative team, deserves it.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Action Comics #897 review

Lex Luthor leers monstrously from David Finch and Peter Steigerwald's striking DC Icons cover, but it's the Joker who steals the show this issue. The story sees Lex track down a Black Lantern sphere to the Joker's cell in Arkham Asylum and try to prise out of him whatever he knows.

Which turns out to be quite a lot, and the Joker's willing to share once he's sure Lex is playing his game. And not only does the chalky chuckler have one of the glowing balls of energy, he has something even more sinister, something far too scary to reproduce here ...

As the fella who's been sick and tired of Joker stories for several years now, I'd like to commend Paul Cornell on presenting a truly fascinating Joker. One who embraces the chaos in his carnage, the metaphysics in his madness. And it's the Joker's relationship to the black spheres that makes this issue even more compelling than the justly lauded story featuring Neil Gaiman's Death (such a strange phrase) a couple of months back.

There are clues in this issue to the big picture, hints at who's been manipulating Lex in his quest for Black Lantern power, at who Lex's not-so-trusty sidekick Lois-Bot is working with.

It's just a shame I'm not sharp enough to work them out. I'd guess that the only person up to the task of playing Lex is Lex - a future version, an alternate reality version, who knows? - but I couldn't give you a join-the-dots reason as to why my gut yells that. I do know that when a story is this much fun I'm happy to be swept along, enjoying the revelations as they come; I've read enough Cornell to know they'll be worth the wait.

The dialogue this issue is outstanding, with insights into how Lex and the Joker view themselves and each other that make so much sense, it's not true. Without forcing the issue, Cornell shows us that these two men really are opposites - order vs chaos, admitted madness vs self-denial, bald vs hair - while having an awful lot in common. They're as perfect foils for one another as they are their nemeses (click to enlarge).

And how perfect they look as presented by artist Pete Woods, colourist Brad Anderson and letterer Rob Leigh, each villain conniving, each convinced they have the upper hand. The variety in the layouts, acting and angles prevents an issue basically confined to one room from ever being dull to look at. We eventually switch scenes for the arrival of another DC antagonist at the end of the book - if Cornell makes me like this guy, I'll be envying his talent even more than I already do.

Shazam #1 review

So here's Mary and Billy Batson, forlorn after the events of the past few years. When Freddy Freeman - the only member of the Marvel Family to still wield the old wizard's powers - comes to call, Mary's full of self-pity. Twin Billy is more sanguine, and shocked when Mary betrays Freddy to the demon Blaze, Shazam's prodigal daughter ...

Hmm, does Mary still have some of that wacky Black Mary in her, the girl who couldn't get enough of Darkseid? Apparently so, but before we see the consequences of her actions, we flash back a week to watch Blaze make Mary an offer she really should refuse.

Along the way we get a quick recap of things Shazam, including the existence of Osiris (Cousin Oliver Marvel), currently hanging with Deathstroke's all-new, all-rubbish Titans. It seems that Blaze is feeling a bit entitled, believing she should have the Shazam power set. But how much chance does she have of stealing the magical abilities from Freddy?

Zero - Blaze has always been a two-bit player and by the conclusion of this issue she's back in hell, and watching Osiris in Titans (which is more than I am). And Freddy swears to help Mary and Billy - who show that you don't need powers to be a hero - regain their former potency. 

After not being keen on last year's Blackest Night: The Power of Shazam one-off, I'm surprised that I enjoyed Eric Wallace's script so much. He shows respect for the characters, and by reviving Blaze, nods elegantly to Jerry Ordway's excellent Power of Shazam series. I'd love it had this issue somehow restored Billy, Mary and Freddy to their former roles as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr, but that'll likely take a 12-issue limited series, four annuals and the sacrifice of a nattily dressed talking tiger. But this is a definite step in the right direction, and an entertaining one at that. It's undeniable that Blaze has some excruciating lines, but hey, she's a demon - she learned our language from watching TV (and I suspect they only get Fox in Hell).

Maybe Cliff Richards will pencil the next Marvel Family adventure, as he does this one. I'd be happy with that as, a lank-haired Freddy aside, he draws the kids well. He doesn't actually get to illustrate Billy and Mary in their adult forms here, but I'm sure he'd do a good job. His fight scenes are top-notch too, and the destruction rained on poor Fawcett City is suitably unpleasant. Add in a DC Icons cover of Freddy as (the non-wizard, decidedly superheroic) Shazam and you get a package worth $2.99 of anybody's money. Now, has anyone seen where DC left the whimsy?

Wonder Woman #606 review

Ah, now this issue is going to be controversial ... or not. On the one hand, one of the most popular characters in the Wonder Woman mythos meets a sticky end. On the other, well, it's 'only' an alternate world story.

Of course, we don't know what elements of the Odyssey storyline will bleed back into the official DC continuity once J Michael Stracyzynski's hobbled run ends. So maybe Diana's loss here will prove permanent - I hope not, as this issue shows just how cool the Amazon general can be.

Scripter Phil Hester continues where we left off last issue, with the Huntsman - muscle for triple war goddess The Morrigan - about to gore Diana. Luckily, Philippus is on hand to save the injured Diana from the centaur. The tide of battle runs both ways until, finally, Philippus is killed, staked on the horns of the Huntsman.

Meanwhile, Diana's friend Brianne is attacked by another beast, a minotaur, who steals away with her son Harry. Diana has her hands full, as a rage fuels her renewed fight against the Huntsman, making for the best showing in battle the new Wonder Woman has had. And while her killing of the killer isn't what I like to see from this heroine, it's followed by a telling line, as one aspect of the watching war goddess tells another: 'She is in the full flower of her vengeance now, her hatred for her enemies smothering the innocence at her core.'

All credit to co-writer Phil Hester for making it clear that the bloodthirsty young woman we've seen since the first issues of this story, which began in #600, isn't how he sees the character. And further thanks for a gripping superhero comic in which Diana, while not yet the full Wonder Woman package, makes a good showing. Yes, she's fierce, understandably so. She's also loyal, passionate, compassionate and even, when necessary, commandingly royal.

The Elseworlds aspect of this storyline is pretty much laid bare as The Morrigan summons a trio of familiar faces from the realm of death, apparently the regular DC Universe, to act as their latest agents against the Amazons. Cheetah, Giganta and foe-turned-friend Artemis are filled with new memories as they're renewed physically and sent out to kill.

There's also more on those mysterious dolls of old continuity Dianas, being left around Brianne's building by a cloaked figure (Dr Psycho, the gossip says); The Morrigan being beastly to an ancient lackey; Amazons organising; and a trip to the temple for some Jason and the Argonauts-style skeleton smashing.

As last issue improved on those before it, this month's story is another cracker. Hester piles on the action and character without the issue seeming cluttered. He gives Philippus her moment in the spotlight prior to her death, spurring Diana on to beat the Huntsman and emphasising that in this reality, no one is safe. I'd not be surprised if even Diana were taken out by the end. And the Huntsman, who could have been a grunting throwaway, is given such entertaining lines that I hope he turns up again some time, some continuity.

Penciller Eduardo Pansica turns in page after attractive page, filling his panels with dramatic, dynamic figures. In one well-thought out shot he shows the terrifying size of the minotaur in comparison to Brianne and Harry, while the two battles against the Huntsman are simply enthralling. I'd be very happy were Pansica to get the regular pencilling assignment (God knows, someone should be given it). He's aided by four inkers, but the quality remains consistent, due in part to the commendable colours of Alex Sinclair.

The DC Icons cover is Sinclair working with artist Don Kramer, and it's lovely so long as you don't look at the legs.

I said don't look ...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Fantastic Four #587 review

The 587th issue of a comic should always be special, so here's Marvel's gala Death Issue of the Fantastic Four, complete with environment-be-damned plastic bag. The comic's on sale a day early and Associated Press has already spoilt the surprise for many, but as an actual regular reader, a chap who'd be buying the book anyway, how was it for me?

Well, get past the polybag, and the cover by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer and Javier Rodriguez is a stunner, showing the candidates for death facing various dangers - Sue in an undersea battle, Reed being blasted by a peeved Galactus, Ben beset by Negative Zone Insectoids and Johnny, er, trapped by the same Insectoids. Really, he should share Ben's pic, but look, look at the lovely quartered design!

Behind the cover, the three stories that have been running for the last few months conclude: Galactus destroys Nu-Earth, but not before Reed rescues its citizens in a way he never foresaw; Sue is named leader of the old Tribes of Atlantis and teaches Namor some respect; and the Future Foundation kids, Ben and Johnny venture into the Negative Zone and stave off an invasion. And one must stay behind.

But I'll get to that in a moment (who says this isn't the Martin Age of Deferred Pleasure?). Firstly, I'd like to commend writer Jonathan Hickman for the best Fantastic Four issue in years. Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben, children Franklin and Valeria, all are on top form, defiant in the face of danger, ready to face any odds and do whatever it takes to win. And if they can't win, by cracky, they'll go down fighting.

It's a shame that, just as the Negative Zone threatens to swallow the Earth, this issue has been overwhelmed by the Marvel hype machine. Of course it's terrific that Marvel is getting behind a creative team it believes in, telling the story they've been building towards for awhile. But how many readers are going to race through that story to get to the final pages, and learn which member won't be around after this issue? I certainly had to slow myself down, meaning I could enjoy the revelation about Leech's role at the Baxter Building, admire Valeria's take-charge attitude and gasp at the sudden importance of Nu-Earth's Natalie X. Namor's reaction to Sue's show of power is priceless, and it's marvellous to see how far Dragon Man has come since the earliest days of the FF.

Making slowing down even more of a pleasure is the beautiful artwork of penciller Steve Epting, inkers Rick Magyar & Mike Perkins, and colourist Paul Mounts. The layouts, the expressions, the imagery -  this is a book that deserves to be on its high-class paper, a comic to be looked at again and again. Epting and the rest of the team really capture the sadness of the final pages as a member faces their fate. And Hickman's dialogue is just perfect ...

... as the Human Torch is extinguished.

Johnny breathes his last, saving the Earth, and a lot more besides, from the hordes of Annihilus.

And yes, of course he'll be back. There are plenty of ways he could survive his last stand long enough to be rescued by the rest of the FF. It's not as if the book even states explicitly that he's dead. But for now, I'm happy to accept that Johnny has gone to a hero's reward in an issue that truly deserves the FF's old slugline, the World's Greatest Comics Magazine.

Digital Visions #4 review

Digital Visions is a new anthology from Visionary Comics spotlighting up and coming talent. This is my first issue, so let's see if I can just jump past the 'sexy' cover by Mike Bunt and right into the stories ...

  • Leading off the book is Cabra Cini, Voodoo Junkie Hitwoman. Not much explanation needed here, the clue's in the title, but if we need any more there's a helpful recap on the contents page. Basically, hooker Cabra Cini killed her pimp boyfriend with voodoo magic and has a new addiction, one she's using for good. Here she battles a gauntlet of nether nasties to pass through a dimension in order to reach a lost soul. Writer Sam Johnson is careful to spell out just how his angry heroine works her ritual magic (I've never seen Dr Strange use a tampon in his spells!) to enter the Infinity dimension, but once she's there it's kick-assery, magical weapons and trash talk all the way. It's good, visceral fun, meatily illustrated (and lettered) by Bruno Letizia and moodily coloured by Rodrigo Diaz. 
  • Gangland Avalon isn't your usual Goodfellas piece, as it's set in a world where guns are less important than charms. The story, which opens with a cute gag, sees a tense powwow between two crime families take a predictable, but surprising, turn ... The characters are introduced by writer A David Lewis in a leisurely, yet attention-grabbing manner, and the story makes me want to see more of the feud between the Moores and the Cavalieres. The art by Michael Angelo Lee and Chuck Bordell is pleasingly detailed, and sharply coloured by Gonzalo Duarte, while Jacob Bascle's lettering is rather gorgeous. The only thing I didn't like was the naming of three characters as Lois, Perry and Luther (sic). Distracting, that
  • Deity just isn't my cup of tea at all. It's a spin on the old story of a young girl discovering a mystical birthright, but where some versions (DC's Amethyst, say) have charm, this left me cold. The cranky lead character, Jamie, speaks a language I can only describe as Basketball ('Why are you trying to step to me?). Her whiny beau has apparently swallowed a gangsta rap record ('Tonight's gonna be dope'). And an annoying Exposition Demon gives us his master's life story in tortuous detail. The contents page describes this tale as 'picking up where the first Deity series left off' when it seems to be recapping the whole thing. I'm all for making a strip reader-friendly, but a massive infodump is simply offputting. Hopefully writers Karl Altstaetter and Robert Naplon will stop trying so hard, relax into their story and just have fun telling us something new - plonk the barest details of the back story in a splash page legend, maybe. The art, by Altstaetter with inker Victor Olazaba, assistant Michael O'Hare, and colourists Brian Buccellato & Derek Bellman, is eye-catchingly intense. It reminds me of J Scott Campbell without the tartiness. I'd be interested to hear what more 'urban' readers reckon to Deity - fantastical elements apart, does the dialogue ring true?
Do do that voodoo that she do so well
All in all, Digital Visions is an interesting experiment containing some promising work, and as you can download it for free, I certainly recommend a read. The contributors deserve credit for trying to make the instalments accessible, and hopefully they'll get better at this with time, and a steady editorial hand. For now, give it a try.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

An explosion of Pedro the cat!

Here's Steve, my chum, reviewing this week's comic covers in a short bit of YouTubeness. It's ever so serious. I try to keep quiet, though it's only proper that he plugs this blog often.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Avengers Academy #8 review

Months ago, Tigra was badly assaulted by the Hood and the incident taped. As the film leaks onto the internet, the Avengers Academy students see Tigra's ordeal and are surprised when she reveals that while the Hood was subsequently locked up, she didn't use the claws of the cat to tear him limb from limb.

Tigra explains that, it's a cliche but it's true, this just ain't what heroes do. The Hood is now powerless, rotting in prison. Striker, Veil and Hazmat are unconvinced, believing Tigra let herself down by pleading while in the Hood's power - she was pleading for her mother's life - and that someone should send a message to the villain community. Learning that the man in prison isn't actually the Hood, they track him down, ignoring the protests of classmates Mettle and Raptor. Sixth student Finesse, whose ability to read, remember and emulate actions is as huge as her inability to empathise, is indifferent. Soon, the teen trio are delivering a painful message to the Hood, and taping the incident for posterity. He's tortured on camera, and forced to issue a (meaningless) apology.

Back at Infinite Avengers Mansion, Giant Man makes the assembled students watch Tigra on a TV talk show, announcing that she's still dealing with her feelings, but the assault is prompting the Avengers to establish a foundation to counsel other trauma survivors. Striker and co aren't impressed, and reveal what they've done by showing the tape they've uploaded to the net. Tigra isn't impressed, and kicks them out of Avengers Academy.

Whew. Christos Gage really shows his chops here as a former Law & Order writer, dramatising the arguments around a moral issue by pinning them to established characters. Striker, Finesse and the rest may have been around only a few months, but spotlight issues and mid-action interaction have provided useful snapshots of their personalities. And the attitudes taken by them here are spot on. 

The fact that Striker, Veil and Hazmat actually expected Giant Man and Tigra to condone their actions is a nice reminder that these aren't mini-adults, they're adolescents, unable to appreciate the consequences of all their decisions.

The way Tigra embraces the students' viewing of the assault tape as a teaching opportunity speaks volumes for her maturity. Yes, she loses it at the end of the book, but I'm not surprised. It's one thing for these kids to be snarky, another for them to set out to use their powers to hurt an ordinary human. You could argue that the Hood doesn't deserve mercy, but as heroes, they should give it - even if the name of the team is the Avengers.

Mike McKone's pencils are a treat, always focussing the eye where it needs to go, while presenting plenty of interesting incidental information. His people are fascinating, his fight scenes compelling. And inker Rebecca Buchman has a lovely liquid line that I want to see more of. Visually, the only change I'd have requested were I editing this issue would be to make Tigra more obviously furry - apart from her tail in panel one, she may as well be a painted lady, not a feline fury. The rest of the art team, colourist Jeromy Cox and letterer Joe Caramagna, maintain the high standards. 

The recap page has been tweaked as of this issue, with a superbly witty roll call of students and instructors. Add in everyone's civilian name and it'll be as perfect as the rest of this series.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Iron Man #500 review

Blimey, it's ages since I've read an issue of Iron Man. We were buds once - check out my profile pic at the side of the page for proof. Touching. But I fell out of love with Tony Stark around the time of Marvel's Civil War event, and while I understand that his conniving, murdering ways have been waved away, I haven't felt like revisiting his comic.

But I can't resist an anniversary issue. Time to give the old soak another chance.

So here's Iron Man #500, a commendably chunky $4.99 issue of all-new story and art. Said story is set in two time periods. In the present, Tony Stark enlists Peter Parker's assistance after remembering that in between bouts of alcoholism and megalomania he created a doomsday weapon even worse than his several hundred other doomsday weapons. And decades in the future we see his son and granddaughter reenacting a Terminator movie as part of a band of doughty freedom fighters battling against said weapon's descendants. Oppressing one and all is the well-wrinkly Mandarin, whose long life is due to his personal power pack, Tony Stark.

Can Tony today do something to help Tony in the future, without having much idea of what the future will be?

Writer Matt Fraction uses the Spider-Man book's current emphasis on Peter Parker, genius, to motivate his guest spot. And once here, Peter reminds us that with great power etc, and comes up with a supposedly amazing idea that Tony would have to be asleep not to think up for himself. As Spidey, he teams up with Iron Man to fight a bunch of reprobates who have built a prototype of Tony's ultimate weapon thingie. Their worship of a particularly harmless old Marvel villain makes for some amusing moments. 

In 2052, son Howard (after Tony's dad) and granddaughter Ginny (after Pepper Potts) run around Sections (of New York?) which include something called Nodal Points. I dunno. It's a dystopian future - isn't it always? - with battlefields and big nasty robots based on Iron Man tech. People fight, some are killed, some survive, hopefully in a brighter future.

The battle sequences are standard future war frolics. I had more fun with the quieter Mandarin/Tony moments, relishing the inevitability of slave Tony's fightback against his oldest foe. I didn't enjoy having to see the ancient Mandarin with his harem ladies. Eek.

To be honest, I'd have preferred it had the whole book been set in the present, taking another angle on Tony's deadly device. The future sequences felt so familiar that I couldn't get excited - it's Sentinels vs Mutants by any other name, but without the interesting power sets and characters we care about. While the story ends on a note of hope, the overall feel of the book is a little gloomy for my anniversary tastes.

A lot of effort's been put into this issue. The stripwork is shared among a bevy of artists and colourists: Salvador Larroca & Frank D'Armata; Kano; Nathan Fox & Javier Rodriguez; Carmine Di Giandomenico & Matthew Wilson. My little moan is that Larroca's Peter Parker is unrecognisable at times. Happily, his Spidey is fantastic, and his Iron Man looks as fine as any Iron Man could in the modern, super-fussy suit (talk about a fool metal jacket). The rest of the artistic gang pull out all the stops to make the future sequences powerfully memorable. I'm particularly impressed by some terrific tones here.

I don't like the cover at all, design or image. I've only just clicked that Tony's meant to be flying, smashing through the big stone #500 in Larroca's visual, having assumed all day that he was crawling away from a particularly frightening big number. Then there are those flashing blue eyes that don't work with his colour scheme. And what's with that timid excuse for a logo at the bottom?

This issue also features a short prologue to, well, it says Iron Man 2.0, but I think it's War Machine. Anyway, I started reading it but I've never managed to work up any interest in Spare Iron Man, so moved on to the lettercol. Said mailbag has Sock It To Shell-Head at the top, which makes me happy. There's also one of those daffy cover galleries only Ant-Man could visit.

I'll probably try Iron Man again soon. Fraction's Stark seems to be trying to be a better man, so let's see what's up with him on a more ordinary day. If Mrs Arbogast is still around, I'm sold.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Young Justice #0 review

JLA communicator cards on the table, I've not seen the new Young Justice TV show, bar the odd clip. It's not hit the UK yet. But I was a fan of the original series by Peter David and Todd Nauck. I was disappointed when the quirky little comic was cancelled so the main characters could be sucked into a new Teen Titans book which proved far blander than its predecessor.

So I thought I'd take a look at this first issue (though it's one of those maddeningly billed zero comics). It opens with Robin, Superboy, Kid Flash and Aqualad learning from JLA members that in three days Batman will decide if they can hang out together as a junior superhero team. Not the full JLA - Batman. Why just him, I have no idea. I suppose he's the king.

Robin is Dick rather than Tim, Kid Flash is Wally rather than Bart-as-Impulse and I have no idea who Aqualad is. I think, from the colouring, that he may be black, meaning he could be the new hero Jackson Hyde, currently in Brightest Day, though their hairdos are very different. 

Anyway, that's not important right now, as Aqualad is barely seen this issue, which focuses on Wally and the newborn clone Superboy, not yet named Conner Kent, as they pass the three long days of waiting. Happily, they get something to do when the super-strong Terror Twins cause trouble in a Central City shopping mall. This pair are new to me, but Agatha Christie fans will smile at their forenames - Tommy and Tuppence.

The skinhead siblings' thieving activities motivate an engaging little fight, after which the Flash shows up, with a strangely silent Superman, to tell the boys off for, hmm, saving the day. He adds that they should go home and get some sleep because 'Batman's made his decision'. Please break off from reading, and salute. Or do the Batusi.

Thank you. The issue ends with the news that the boys can have their gang, under the supervision of Black Canary and Red Tornado, and with the addition of a fifth member. I'm guessing that's cover girl Artemis (who's she? An Arrowette/Wonder Girl hybrid?), with Miss Martian showing up later.

I'll find out soon enough. Meanwhile, this is a decent all-ages book, efficient rather than earth-shattering. Kevin Hopps and Greg Weisman's script is pleasant, with the best moments going to Superboy. I do like the Terror Twins, I expect they'll be showing up on TV as the YJ comic is to take place between scenes of the TV show. Good luck with that.

Mike Norton's characters are bang-on animated model but he doesn't fall into the adaptation trap of presenting storyboards - this is first-class cartooning, full of panels that burst with dynamic action and sharp 'acting'. The rich colours of Alex Sinclair add the TV feel, and Travis Lanham's letters get the dialogue across. 

(Oh, and on the basis of their presentation of super-speed action, Norton and Sinclair should be given a speedster strip, stat.)

Young Justice #0 bodes well for the ongoing book. Maybe one day I'll even see the cartoon ...

Legion of Super-Heroes #9 review

The focus this month is on the mysteries of Durla, Chameleon Boy's homeworld, as the Legion continues its bid to track down the shape-changing assassins targeting the United Council. Cham and Brainiac 5 are there, trying to learn what its leaders know about the conspiracy, while Timber Wolf and Tyroc guard UP representatives on Earth. Colossal Boy, meanwhile, is pointing out to Science Police officer Gigi Cusimano that the injured tracker Dawnstar needs to recuperate, not be out looking for the missing, presumed alive, Chief Zendak.

Gigi's acceptance of this leads to my favourite scene this issue, as telepathic Legionnaire Tellus enters Dawnstar's head and taps into her still-working power to conclude that Zendak is likely dead (he is, killed by the Durlan who impersonated him). Penciller Yildiray Cinar, inker Wayne Faucher and colourist H-Fi tweak their approach to give the panels a painted finish that looks excellent. I'd love to see a whole issue in this style, at the very least a few covers (click to enlarge).

The regular art style serves the rest of the book nicely, with the scenes on Durla being the standouts. Cinar and co really capture the all-out eeriness of Cham's people and the hero's rage when he tires of their condescending treatment. And I can't wait to see more of their cute-yet-cutting Gates - the Legion's teleporter shows up to aid Timber Wolf and Tyroc, but isn't around nearly long enough.

Because writer Paul Levitz's Gates is huge fun, with his proletarian ways. Actually, Levitz writes every Legionnaire well this time; I especially like the continued expansion of sonic boom boy Tyroc's usefuless, and Brainiac 5's stumbling attempts at detective work.

The action this issue stems from the type of Durlan attacks we've see a fair bit of lately and while the orange dragons have become a shade passe, the events surrounding them are compelling. We're getting closer to the truth behind the Durlan conspiracy, though I'm disappointed that the person at whom the finger is pointing is, I think, a shiny new character whom we really should have heard of previously. *

Look kids, it's another DC Icons cover! I wish someone had decided to use Bouncing Boy as the spherical backdrop for the Legion's falling star symbol. How I'd laugh. Still, the illo by Cinar, Faucher and Hi-Fi is as eye-catching as this entertaining comic deserves.

Please see Comments below - my memory has holes; I blame the Crisis! Mea culpa.

Supergirl #60 review

Supergirl has four ne'er-do-wells to fight this month, and a new enemy pulling the strings who could prove more dangerous than any of them. For Parasite, Silver Banshee, Kryptonite Man and Metallo teleport in courtesy of a new phone app, Flyover, developed by a Harvard guy so far known only as Alex.

The name's appropriate in that his thinking is similar to that of Ozymandius from Watchmen - he wants Earth invaded by extraterrestrials so that the survivors can benefit from the technological advancements that would surely follow. But Supergirl, while an alien, is decidedly friendly, so she's got to be dealt with, along with her young crimefighting colleagues.

Lois Lane, meanwhile, meets a Project Cadmus whistleblower and finds out something very worrying, while the Daily Planet struggles to find a story more interesting than a female gorilla at the zoo who likes to adopt stray cats (could there be a more interesting story?).

This was to be the first issue of writer Nick Spencer's run. For whatever reason, the run isn't happening, but his story survives, scripted by new regular author James Peaty. And the boys do themselves proud.

I don't know which of the writers decided on the structure, but it works wonderfully well. At the start we're given relaxed back and forth scenes setting out the story, but as we near the end and see how the two main threads interact, the cross-cutting gets quicker, frenetic. Exciting.

Peaty's script is a treat, with a very likeable Kara - witty and confident in her narration and dialogue, while the rest of the characters all show personality. The overarcing storyline of an assault on the teens of the DC Universe has my attention and I'm optimistic that Peaty - who wrote one of the better stories in the first few, troubled, years of this comic - has the chops to pull it off. As for Nick Spencer, cheers for the set-up, sir, hope you have a crack at the book proper one day.

Also making his debut as a regular this issue is Bernard Chang, who has illustrated Kara a few times previously. While his earlier art jobs have been more than fine, gaining the regular gig seems to have freed Chang's muse - his layouts are just stunning, with a splash of Kara over Metropolis simply gorgeous. The minor characters have also had attention lavished on them, meaning no one is identikit. Blond's colours are outstanding too, with Metropolis painted in urban hues, but never dull ones. And letterer Travis Lanhan continues to do great work, with his credits deserving a special mention for integrating so well with the cityscape.

The DC Icons cover, despite the icky pink-is-for-girls S-shield, looks very nice, with Amy Reeder's Kara having stopped mid-flight to greet us. The only thing I dislike about Reeder's Supergirl are the big Manga eyeballs, but that's a small thing. Richard Friend inks, Guy Major colours, and I smile.

This is an excellent beginning to the next stage of Kara's comic career, and a lovely fifth birthday present for readers.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

What's in a name?

A brief question. Does anyone have strong feelings as to how we should refer to comic creators in reviews? I tend to go full-out with names on the first mention, then switch to surnames. 

Or rather, Martin Gray tends to go full out with names on the first mention, then Gray sticks to surnames.

It's habit - that's how I approach the subject when I'm in occasional reviewing mode for work. But often I've been enjoying the contributions of the people I'm writing about for years. Calling Geoff Johns, say, Johns might read as a tad impolite, or a remnant of private school (not that I went, you understand ...).

But I don't actually know Geoff Johns, or 99 per cent of the folk I write about, so just calling him Geoff feels a tad presumptuous. One of my blogging chums, Colin of Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, always uses Mr and so on, which sounds fine given the dignity of Colin's lovely blog, but I'm far from convinced I could pull it off.

I'm not lying awake at nigh worrying about this, but I do wonder occasionally, does flinging surnames around imply a certain snittiness that's not meant? Any views welcome!

Sunday, 16 January 2011


The She-Hulks start off the New Year by “sounding off” at each other in a heated exchange over how Amelia was able to discover Lyra's secret identity. The Red Ghost, Ivan Kragoff, makes up for his anti-climatic takedown last issue by interrupting the squabble, sabotaging the flight controls of the Gamma Jet so his apes will die with him instead of being taken from him again. After a brief struggle and a last-minute save by the Hulk, Jen and Lyra arrive safely at Gamma Base to add Kragoff to their growing collection of former Intelligencia members.

The bond that is developing between the She-Hulks becomes evident when Jen stands up for Lyra and dissuades cousin Bruce out of any thought of keeping his distant daughter and Amelia detained at Gamma Base. Lyra and Amelia, meanwhile, air their grievances, with the latter vowing to keep Lyra’s secret if she attends the upcoming school dance. Readers have to wait until the next issue to see if Amelia’s extension of the olive branch is a genuine expression of friendship or part of some teenage subterfuge. Jen joins Lyra in her new quest for a party dress and offers an important piece of advice that will make every She-Hulk fan smile (click to enlarge):
With the shopping finished, Jen and Lyra are off to Switzerland to apprehend the remaining members of the Intelligencia, Klaw and Mad Thinker. After dispatching a squad of red-coloured Awesome Androids, the She-Hulks prevents the Mad Thinker from transferring Klaw’s powers into Byte, his powerful new android. Unfortunately their intervention triggers an explosion from Klaw that unleashes an avalanche on the now-devastated laboratory. The story ends on a cliffhanger as Jen and Lyra run for their lives towards the last issue of the series.

She-Hulks #3 is another solid issue by writer Harrison Wilcox and artist Ryan Stegman that delivers greater depth and dimension in the relationships Jen shares with Lyra and with Bruce. While the one between Jen and Lyra is a position of growing understanding, Jen’s argument with Bruce and subsequent use of his credit card to go on a shopping spree show that everything is not in perfect harmony between them. 

The one thing I did not like in this issue was the three words on the lower right hand corner on the final panel that stated “To Be Concluded…”

Eugene Liptak is a librarian and author who wishes that certain celebrities followed She-Hulk’s fashion advice..

Friday, 14 January 2011

Batman and Robin #19 review

Batman and Robin #19 comes with a stirring cover by upcoming penciller Patrick Gleason, working with Mark Irwin. Anyone else hear the opening bars of the Adam West TV show?

The heart of this issue is a conversation between Una Nemo - the woman with the large hole in her head who calls herself The Absence - and the Dynamite Duo. Having overcome the overconfident pair, she has them bound in back-to back-chairs with trepanning drills whirring towards them. She wants to know whether either Batman or Robin will deliberately shuffle in their seat, edge their partner towards a likely death more quickly in order to delay their own demise by a second or two. And what can she learn about the soul of Bruce Wayne from the way two of his Batman Inc associates face death?

The situation is gripping, the exchanges equally so. As the drills inch towards Batman and Robin, we inch towards an understanding of what makes the Absence tick, what she wants.

By the close of the issue the Absence hasn't drilled a hole in their heads, she's done the opposite. She's put something in there - her point of view. Now they're looking at Bruce Wayne partly as she does: Una's making them face up to how, without meaning to, he's damaged all three of them.

It's a daring note to end the issue on, and one for which writer Paul Cornell deserves enormous credit. He's taken a fill-in assignment and provided not just efficient thrills and a colourful new villain, he's delivered a story that matters. He's changed the way two of Bruce's boys see him, and it's a perspective that could lead to fascinating stories, should the regular Batman creative teams be smart enough to follow up on them.

Or maybe Cornell himself can give us a sequel, either with or without the charismatic Una. I like that she presents herself as mad, but really isn't. If there were any doubt, this snippet of dialogue implies that she's actually the only sane person in Gotham (click to enlarge).

With 'The Sum of her Parts' Cornell has proven himself more than adept at handling the heroes of Gotham and their world, and I hope that one day he'll begin an indefinite run on a Batman Family title.

Artistic partners Scott McDaniel and Rob Hunter use shadows and angles to get the most drama out of the trepanning segment, and tell the rest of the story equally well. Their artwork for Alfred, Dick and Damian in the final scene sells the point of the story perfectly.

If you passed on the last three issues of Batman and Robin because, yes, technically they're fill-ins, please reconsider. This is one of the most enjoyably thought-provoking stories in years.