Friday, 25 February 2011

Their Greatest Adventure - Save the Doom Patrol!

Since 1963 the World's Strangest Heroes have been beating the odds. Brought together by the mysterious Chief, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl and Robotman were the Doom Patrol. The heroes created by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani not only risked their lives for the world, they've given them, voluntarily dying at the end of their original run to save a fishing hamlet.

This being comics, the trio eventually returned, but the spirit of sacrifice has always been there, through multiple runs and as many cancellations. 'Hard-luck heroes' is a phrase that could've been coined for the Doom Patrol - they've never seen the glory of the JLA, JSA or New Teen Titans, but they've kept plugging away in their various incarnations. 

The most acclaimed, and possibly most creatively successful, saw Grant Morrison and Richard Case dial the weirdness up to 11, but every run has had something to offer, whether we're talking fascinating characters (a transvestite street, a fractious, friction-free kid, a girl with 64 personalities and as many powers, a living black hole with a love of lederhosen), memorable villains (Monsieur Mallah and the Brain, The Brotherhood of Dada, the Aristocrats) or talented creatives (everyone mentioned so far, John Arcudi, John Byrne, Paul Kupperberg, Tan Eng Haut, Erik Larsen, Steve Lightle). Not all Doom Patrol fans have loved every period but every period has had its fans.

The latest run, primarily by Keith Giffen, Matthew Clark and Ron Randall, has somehow seemed to please fans of every generation. The problem is, it hasn't been seen by enough readers who aren't already fans. DC Comics has been brilliant in backing the book despite its low circulation, and it's not really surprising that cancellation has been announced with #22 in May. C'est la vie, wot? Knowing the Patrol, they'll be back in a few years - there's always a new bunch of creatives itching to try their take on the team.

But a petition has been set up by Petar, the Chief of dedicated Patrol blog Doompedia. It's a plea to save the Doom Patrol, win it a few more issues. The call to action points out that after years of false starts, the current series is a hugely enjoyable romp, melding the best aspects of previous incarnations. And I agree, I've praised the book many times, both here and on Doompedia. My most recent looks at the comic focused on #17 and #18, with the debut of new foes for the team. If you want to know why I love this series, click here and there.

Perhaps you've tried the book and didn't like it, which is fair enough. No series is for everyone. But if you haven't, please sample the Doom Patrol - Giffen always gives enough in the way of recaps and introductions to make arrival at Oolong Island easy. I'm sure plenty of back issues are going cheap - and if you like what you see, let DC know by buying the next new issue, #20. And signing the petition. Maybe even send a short email to the DC letters pages.

I'm delighted that DC gave this run a decent length of time to find an audience, but no book can find a firm fanbase without constant promotion. More guest shots like the recent crossover with Secret Six would help. Better still would be a short promo strip in the back of all DC books for one month, as has happened lately for the likes of the Flashpoint event and War of the Green Lanterns - both guaranteed crowd-pleasers already. That seems to be a shame, and a waste of time - it's the smaller books that need help. I know Giffen, Clark and co could knock up a clever, entertaining introductory short over a weekend were DC to ask them. 

House ads would help too. Creators could talk up the book at conventions. Maybe we could have a 99c issue ... I'm sure that if a lot more people tried the book, enough would stick around to keep it alive. 

Interest from the customer base would give DC reason to keep the faith just a little longer and save the series - if Spider-Girl fans can do it, why not Doom Patrol devotees? 

I'd say to DC, 'why wait a couple of years to relaunch the team, when you can keep this Doom Patrol going?' Join me?

Links: Save the Doom Patrol
           DC Comics letters page

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Justice League: Generation Lost #20 review

Jaime Reyes, the Blue Beetle, was shot through the head at the end of last issue. But that's not important right now.

Because this issue steps away from current events to provide a one-stop-shopping insight into the mind of the man who shot Beetle, Maxwell Lord. We learn that his father was a pharmaceuticals executive and would-be whistleblower. One day he was found dead. Suicide, they said ...

Sounds familiar? Yes, it's exactly what Max did with regards to the last Beetle, Ted Kord. He justifies such actions because his mother convinced him that 'when you're fighting powerful people, good people are always going to get hurt'. And the powerful people Max is plotting against are the superheroes he once revered, used to do good in the world. For his mother died when Coast City was destroyed by alien warmonger Mongul, and Max blames the heroes. He now believes that while they do good, the regular people must be protected from them. And he's perfectly willing to use his own super-power - mental manipulation - to ensure the super-powered don't cause too much trouble.

He is, as you can see, more than a little twisted. But in a way that makes sense. Author Judd Winick adds some new stuff here, such as the story of Max's parents, but he weaves it into what we know of Max. How he was truly a philanthropist, but one who thought the best way to bring a new Justice League together was to hire terrorists and supervillains to provide a credible threat. You can see how this basically good, but misguided, man might one day become as bad as the villains he wanted to protect the world from. I doubt anyone will weep for the man Max is now, but they may  feel sympathy for the boy he was.

It's not all flashback this issue, as Max escapes the JLA after shooting Beetle, and the team fights to find a spark of life in the young hero. But it's mainly Max, and I'm good with that - I'm no longer confused as to how the charming manipulator behind the JLI became the murderer of Ted Kord. I only hope he pays for his crimes.

As Winick writes, so Joe Bennett draws - superbly. The penciller captures the sorrow and anger of Max's mother well, and brings out his growing madness. The action scenes of the JLI in the past and today pop, while there's a clever pulling back of the 'camera' on the final page. It's all nicely inked by Jack Jadson & Ruy Jose and lettered by Travis Lanham. And the colourist from Hi-Fi starts by using that old standby sepia for the flashbacks, gradually adding brighter tones as Max's story reaches the present day - smart, that.

Dustin Nguyen is in movie poster mode with this striking cover, one of the best this series has had - and it's had a lot of superb covers. 

Power Girl #21 review

How things change. When Judd Winick came on as writer I said I didn't want this book to continually tie into his other comic, Justice League: Generation Lost. But as the months have passed, the books have become more and more intertwined.

And I love it. While odd scenes are repeated from title to title, it's always to ensure understanding for readers not following both. For the most part, Power Girl's role in Maxwell Lord's scheme, and determination to take him down, has been her own thing. And that's how it is this time. While the other Justice League International members are trying to save the latest Blue Beetle's life in Generation Lost, Karen is out to convince the Dick Grayson Batman that the previous Beetle was murdered. Proving this would go some way towards convincing Dick that the devil exists, and his name is Max.

The cover may clue you in as to how she intends to persuade Dick that Ted Kord did not commit suicide. The notion of carrying out an autopsy on an old friend is grisly, but as it turns out, Power Girl isn't the only person who thinks it's necessary. 

And in the land of Meanwhile, Power Girl's employees bid to ensure the financially hobbled Starrware doesn't fall into the hands of a business rival. These scenes are less gripping than the superheroic section, but I learned a little about corporate law. Which is nice.

Winick's script is as smooth and confident as ever, while Sami Basri's artwork seems to be getting better. Both men are well served by letterer John J Hill and colourist Jessica Kholline. The colourist for Basri's moody cover is Sunny Gho, and it's only while scanning it in that I've noticed there's more than one image in there - very smart!

Justice League: Generation Lost may be wrapping soon - though I have high hopes it'll be followed by an ongoing - but with the quality this high, Power Girl's book looks set to roll on for awhile yet.

Amazing Spider-Man #655 review

If you've read my review of this week's Fantastic Four #588 you'll know I'm not a great fan of silent 'comic' stories. So when I opened Amazing Spider-Man, featuring the funeral of Marla Jameson, and noted the lack of dialogue and narrative, I wasn't too hopeful. There's no denying that the art is gorgeous, Marcos Martin produces elegant, interesting pages, and the little moments writer Dan Slott had ordered up were just right - Peter leaving his costume at home, Robbie Robertson being supported by his former wife, J Jonah Jameson standing before Marla's coffin.

But surrounding these vignettes, panel after panel of grieving men and women. I've been to enough funerals that I don't want to be staring at them when I'm looking to be entertained. I get the 'there are no words' bit, but twice in one week?

And then ...

... the funeral is over, Peter is asleep, and a dream comes. Uncle Ben welcomes Peter into an afterlife populated with everyone he's ever known who has passed over: his parents, school pal Sally Avril, Jean DeWolff, the Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, villains by the dozen. And they're all very keen to talk to him. 

Except the one he'd really like to talk to him, sweet, lost Gwen Stacey. She's always one step ahead, until she appears with the Green Goblin, broken neck cocked, for a re-enactment of her tragic death. 

And that's not the end of the hallucination, but I urge you to take a look at this issue for yourself. Not simply for Slott's seminal script, but for the art.

Oh, the art. Yes, Martin is great at the start of the issue. In the dream sequence, though, his illustrations are - and this is a word I try to avoid - awesome. He's known for being able to channel a Steve Ditko vibe, he's revered for imaginative layouts, and both aspects of Martin's approach are present here, not least in a simply brilliant spread. What's new are echoes of 20th-century imagery that has entered our consciousness. Disturbing imagery - a spiralling panel layout that evokes Hitchcock's work with Saul Bass; faceless parents reminiscent of Salvador Dali; a cityscape by way of Escher; Kraven and co as encroaching zombies. 

Despite having followed his Marvel work, I'm not sure I've seen pure Marcos Martin yet, so adept is he at re-purposing references from his artistic forebears - a huge talent in itself. All I really know is that he never fails to deliver striking, refreshing artwork, he brings something new to the page each time and I'm relishing every panel of his Spider-Man assignment (click to enlarge the Parkers).

Aiding the dream mood is colourist Muntsa Vicente, abandoning the naturalistic palette of the funeral for a DayGlo world whose vibrancy adds to the already fascinating art, draws us in further. And as the vision progresses, the colours darken, become more sinister, as the Goblin appears with Gwen. Then the mood changes again. And again.

It's a rollercoaster ride, but one I didn't want to get off, even when one of Marvel's least-popular characters appears. Slott and company take Peter's dream to a horrific extreme, but rather than awaken a quaking mess, he's a man with new resolve. I didn't like seeing Marla die, but her passing is proving a tipping point towards the future.

From the starkly beautiful cover, to an ending filled with forboding, this is one of the best Spider-Man books I've ever read. Don't miss it.

Fantastic Four #588 review

It's the final issue of the Fantastic Four and there's not a great deal to say. You'd think there would be, as this issue covers the month following the loss of the Human Torch in the Negative Zone. But writer Jonathan Hickman goes the gimmick route, presenting a silent story.

Want to hear how Susan Storm Richards reacts to the death of her brother, Johnny? Wondering what Reed could possibly say about his brother-in-law's demise? Interested in how Ben Grimm might see the loss of his best friend?

Forget it. While a couple of words written on a blackboard do elicit a chill, there's no speech until the final panel. We get the gist of how people are feeling: we see Sue fend off Reed's attempts to comfort her with a force field; we watch Reed approach the situation in typical fashion, via scientific investigation; and it's obvious Ben is filled with rage at his helplessness.

But dang it, this is a comic book. I want words to go with the pictures. Nick Dragotta, on pencils and inks and lending a marvellous Jack Kirby/Joe Sinnott look to the characters, does a superb job of carrying the dramatic weight of 'A Month of Mourning'. He draws page after page of quietly powerful moments, and amps up the mood when action is called for.

As well as  the moments I've mentioned, Dragotta draws the return from the Negative Zone, with the Avengers arriving at the Baxter Building just too late. A Mini-Me Annihilus presenting Reed with 'evidence' of Johnny's death. A wake which reminds me of Reed and Sue's wedding by its splash gathering of heroes. A new leader for Latveria. Dr Doom keeping a respectful distance at Johnny's funeral. Spidey arriving to see Franklin. The resolve of the Future Foundation. Reed facing the utter failure of his Solve Everything programme. A final page appearance that has me yawning, 'Him again?' Lots of good stuff going on, there's no denying that.

But the art, coloured with more muted, softer tones than usual by the excellent Paul Mounts, can carry only so much meaning. There's one scene in which, puzzlingly, Don Blake and Bruce Banner try to present Ben with a smaller version of a memorial statue to Johnny. For some reason, Ben gets angry and we have a fight between the Thing, Thor and the Hulk. Maybe he's lashing out at two of the only people who can physically take it, but it would be good to be sure of these things - I'm guessing at this after closing the comic.

This is an important issue of the Fantastic Four, I want to know precisely what's going on in their world, not have to infer things from the art. Assume I'm a complete idiot - show and tell.

There's a second story in this issue, a short expanding on the Spidey-Franklin page from the lead. Spidey knows a thing or two about losing an uncle, but doesn't put it as crassly as that; he listens to Franklin, shares his experience, swaps secrets, offers advice ... and it's wonderful. Mark Brook's illustrations are impressively expressive, capturing Franklin's emotions, as well as those of Spider-Man - and given that he keeps his mask down for the most part, that's quite a feat. And Hickman, having turned the volume up, works with Brooks brilliantly.

I'd love Hickman to have brought this approach to the lead strip, applying it to the title characters of the book.

The issue closes with an advertorial on the coming FF title, which replaces Fantastic Four until it returns, likely in a year. Spidey signs up and everyone gets terrible costumes. It'll likely be a decent read, but may we have The World's Greatest Comic Magazine back soon please? Words and all.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Legion of Super-Heroes #10 review

I can't resist a 'smashed logo' cover and this is a spiffy spin on the concept from Yildiray Cinar, Wayne Faucher and Hi-Fi. There's a real sense of power, of the momentum of the giant lizard as it lunges at Chameleon Boy.

You won't recognise the lizard, but if you've been paying attention to this book you'll likely have guessed it's one of the Durlans who have been making so much trouble of late. It is, in fact, the Durlan Troublemaker-in-Chief, signalling the end of the storyline. And it wraps on several high notes, as writer Paul Levitz packs the pages to bursting with incident and character.

From Ultra Boy and Wildfire's opening discussion of their girlfriends, to Brainiac 5's hasty dismissal of a prophecy, via new Espionage Squad member Chameleon Girl's career woes, this is pure pleasure. Add in outer space action and Earthbound antics and you have a classic tale of the Legion. Subplots include Mon-El's reluctance to accept the leadership role, Brainy's embracing of his status as acting leader and Dawnstar's refusal to consider convalescing.

The plot is something to admire, and the dialogue is equally good. There are plenty of lines to relish here, one being Cham's '...keep your antennae wobbling', another, this exchange between Cosmic Boy and Brainy.

Hiding in Plain Sight is drawn by Yildiray Cinar, whose work gets better every issue - and it was gorgeous to start with. The nobility of the Legionnaires, their determination in the face of tough odds ... Cinar nails it. And I doubt you'll find a better dinosaur tussle in comics than the one presented here. What's more, Dawnstar boosters should be very happy with her, likely temporary, new look.

Talking of new looks, Cinar could make me very happy by changing Ultra Boy's Gary Frank-designed costume, a spin on Jo-Nah's classic duds that makes him look like an inebriated court jester. Far better is Chameleon Girl's look, with its cute Capri pants and slippers. Give her some pearls and bobby pins and Yera Allon will be the 31st century's Doris Day.

Costume apart, Ultra Boy's stopping of a potentially dangerous spacecraft is one of the visual highlights of this issue, along with a wonderful downshot of Brainy and Cosmic Boy in Legion HQ, and any panel featuring Phantom Girl. Inker Wayne Faucher ensures the pencils print with a pleasing slickness, while Hi-Fi offers us a blaze of colour, lending each scene the required mood. John J Hill letters with the neatness you'd expect of one of the comic industry's steady Eddies. 

Tightly written, beautifully illustrated, Legion of Super-Heroes #10 is a treat for fans of colourful, sci-fi superheroics.

Wonder Woman #607 review

Talk about most improved comic. Wonder Woman this month continues the Morrigan's campaign to turn - or kill - Diana, with the threat of the minotaur unleashed. It details the assault of Artemis, Giganta and Cheetah on the Amazons' supposed safehouse. And it has Diana teach her sisters the true meaning of being an Amazon.

Along the way there are surprises I won't spoil, but I will say how happy I am to see a full-on demonstration of Diana's compassion. There's also the revelation of the magic lasso's abilities, a fabulous moment for the stone lions and further hints to Diana that the world she knows may not be the world she was born to.

The action rarely stops in Phil Hester's script (based on a storyline by J Michael Straczynski) beginning with a battle against animated skeletons and ending with a furious flight from a fearsome feline. But there's room for Diana's developing character, both in her interaction with her sisters, the boy Harry and the misguided Minotaur, and in a narration that's poetic without being over the top. The Odyssey storyline is moving along at a fine rattle now, with each instalment a satisfying read.

Thanks to editors Brian Cunningham and Sean Ryan for restoring specific credits, letting us know which pages were pencilled by Don Kramer and which by Eduardo Pansica. I'd prefer a single inker to pull things together - in this case, Andy Owens, Eber Ferreira and Sean Parsons pitch in, all to good effect - but the colours of Alex Sinclair do help. It's a typically intelligent display from Sinclair, who never forgets to indicate light sources. It sounds like a little thing, but directed tones really do add to a scene - take the enticing cover above, drawn by Kramer, as an example. Travis Lanham letters, having special fun with the stone lions' speech. 

Congratulations to the Wonder Woman office for turning this comic around and making it a book I look forward to once more. I never saw that coming. That's not to say I ain't itching to get back to regular continuity, and seeing what Hester can do there, but at least I'm not depressed anymore!

Justice League of America #54 review

New JLA artist Brett Booth immediately shows us what he can do with a grimly powerful cover. Inside he gamely illustrates writer James Robinson's latest whirlwind tour of the DC Universe, producing some memorable images. Chief among them is the dark god Syththunu, an HR Giger Alien by way of HP Lovecraft, though the French villain Bete-Noire is also rendered as an intimidating force. Other characters who show up this issue include the Shade, the Shadow Thief, Nightshade ... notice a theme? Yes, it's characters who wield darkness, all being corrupted by Eclipso, newly reunited with longtime host Bruce Gordon.

Apart from a splash and a single panel including two of the members, the JLA don't appear this issue. We're with Gordon and Eclipso all the way, as the dark god enacts his latest plan against mankind. And I didn't miss the heroes one bit, so engrossing is Robinson's latest storyline. 

I say 'latest' but there are elements here that were set up months ago; I think it's safe to say that Robinson is on form now, telling the type of longform story that made Starman such a success. Having his favourite, the Shade, on hand helps, of course, but Robinson's also world-building, as he did in Starman. He's not only bringing a classic character back to greatness, in the shape of Eclipso, he's including such obscurities as Mexican heroine Acratas from the Planet DC event and someone I've never heard of, Daniel-Crow-Brings-Darkness, a male Raven from Canada.

With a couple of bonus story pages, this $2.99 item also has room for a history lesson, Eclipso 101, and a cameo by Dr Midnite, who could be in trouble. Robinson's script is first rate, while Booth injects a refreshing energy into the series. His characters, inked by the extremely able Norm Rapmund, just ooze strength and malevolence - I can't wait to see what he does with the good guys. Adding to the visual feast are the colours of Andrew Dalhouse, whose Diablo Island scenes are especially strong, and letterer Rob Leigh, whose work is ever outstanding.

Eclipso Rising: Part One, Shadow Warriors is a new beginning for the JLA - if you're a lapsed reader, I'd advise giving the book another try. With a revivified writer, a new art teams that gels brilliantly and one of DC's best baddies, you'll likely be glad you did. 

Supergirl #61 review

Supergirl's in trouble, facing four of her deadliest enemies, and yet she beats the Parasite, Silver Banshee, Kryptonite Man and Metallo with ease. Watching from a distance is the mysterious, malevolent and all-round minging Alex, the inventor whose smartphone app, Flyover, meant he could send the villains against her. He reports back to his even more mysterious - at least we can see Alex - father that Supergirl is no easy mark. He then sends Clayface and Mr Freeze to attack Robin in Gotham City.

Our heroine, meanwhile, meets Lois Lane, who asks her to be ready to fight a super-powered clone she suspects exists, tells her to stop comparing herself to her cousin and gives her a smartphone so Supergirl can check out Flyover. Soon, in her guise of Linda Lang, Supergirl has learned that Robin is in trouble. Cue a team-up with the ever-ungrateful Damian Wayne to take down the Bat-guys. This time Supergirl notices that the resistance was useless and, after Robin trips over one of their fallen foes, the answer is in front of them - not true super-villains, but adaptable androids. 

Well, in so many words ... I'm surmising, but that's how I read this issue's final scene. My favourite moment is Linda's coffee shop encounter with a superhero fan waitress, purely for the fun of having Kara in her rarely seen secret identity and - this is deep comics criticism here - the prettiness of the pink decor. Artist Bernard Chang has even found real paintings for the wall. I hope the Metropolis Creamery becomes Supergirl's local as she should have some locations specific to her and the place looks like somewhere a college girl might hang out. 

There's also a smart moment when Supergirl has fun seeing off unwanted company, and the return of a Silver Age staple, the Flying Newsroom. Peaty gives us a clue as to the identity of Alex (Lex Luthor as his father is far too obvious) when a student he kissed says he left her lips tasting of chalk. Hmm. And indeed, hmm. Who in the DC Universe would taste of chalk? Swamp monster Solomon Grundy, maybe. The Joker, with his chalky white skin. A Bizarro ...

... aha, Alex is a Bizarro version of the Joker, wearing make-up to cover the cracks and pasty skin - go on, try colouring Alex's face in Joker tones. His madness has become a strange, illogical logic, while leaving the Clown Prince of Crime's genius intact. And 'father' is Luthor, who's been known to have a Bizarro-creating machine. Er, obvious really.

I'm sure you have a better theory, please feel free to share! Kudos to new writer James Peaty for drawing me in to this mystery, and for an all-round terrific script.

I love Bernard Chang's Supergirl - not overly-endowed, intelligent eyes, elegant in action. He's excellent at capturing the sites - and indeed, sights - of Mertropolis, not just the cute cafes, but the densely packed high-rises, the stairwells and architectural details. He does a good Gotham too, a city which, amusingly, colourist Blond - always good - represents as being in a far-off timezone. I suppose it's never sunny in Gotham. Chang's action scenes, too, work hard to engage the reader. This is a good-looking book.

And you could have judged that by its cover. Amy Reeder gives us a dual scene, split by the logo, with wonderfully Adam West sound effects. It's an image made further appealing by the eye-catching colours of Guy Major.

With a new creative team at the helm, this is a great time to try Supergirl's book - it's accessible and entertaining.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Flash #9 review

There's a new speedster in town, but this one doesn't run, he rides a motorcycle. A decidedly futuristic, demonic-looking motorcycle that shatters the peace of the Central City evening. You might think this would bring Barry Allen running, but we don't catch up with him until next morning - the previous night he was fighting Gorilla Grodd. Sent to check out an unexplained death, Barry finds a man in his nineties in a suit resembling one the late Ralph Dibny - Elongated Man - once wore.

Meanwhile, wife Iris is in the park with nephew Wally West, his other half Linda, their kids Jai and Irey, grandson Bart and friends Jay and Joan Garrick - that's three Flashes and loved ones. They were expecting Barry to join them for a picnic, but he's using the new case as an excuse not to show his face. He's been feeling awkward around family of late.

Tests reveal that the corpse is the Elongated ... Kid, sixteen-year-old Ethan Kramer, perhaps aged by a reaction to stretching serum Gingold. Barry calls his old lab partner Patty Spivot, the best blood analyst he knows, now based in Wally's old Midwest home of Blue Valley after tiring of big city crime. But she's not answering the phone. 

Barry's still pondering the mystery of the Elongated corpse when a sudden power outage heralds the arrival of the man he'll come to know as Hot Pursuit. And he's very familiar. 

This is an issue to treasure. There's an intriguing mystery linked to Ralph Dibny, one of Barry's oldest friends. A cameo by Wally, Barry's successor but barely seen since his return from death. The first inkling of events that will instigate the Flashpoint crossover. And best of all, the promise of Patty Spivot!

A few pages, rather than a single gorgeous, teasing panel, of Barry battling Grodd would have been nice - the super-gorilla's been all over the DC Universe over the last few years, facing everyone but his greatest foe. Still, there's so much else going on that I shan't be be crabbitt. Especially when we're specifically told that the reason Barry is miserable is the death of his mother, something he knows is due to time being changed by Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash. As Flashpoint is all about altered realities there's reason to hope its aftermath will restore his timeline, motivating him to cheer up and giving Iris her husband back.

Geoff Johns' script hits all the right notes, setting up events for the next few issues and the massive crossover to follow, developing Barry's cop colleagues and - finally - reintroducing his fellow speedsters to the book. And the lack of Rogues is refreshing.

The artwork by Francis Manapul is a treat: the reader is at Barry's side as he examines the corpse of Elongated Kid, while the colours of Brian Buccellatto add to the crime scene's eerie aspect. There's a lovely carefree air to the park sequence, with the mood turning sombre as Iris tries to get her husband to open up about why he's distancing himself from her. And the meeting of Barry and Hot Pursuit revs up the momentum and guarantees I'll be back next issue. Despite the latter's tragic name.

The DC icons cover by Manapul and Buccellatto is attractive, if not exactly novel, but when the remit is 'iconic Flash pose' what else are artists to do?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Power Man and Iron Fist #1 review

I missed the debut of the new Power Man in Marvel's recent Shadowland event, but he must have gone down well with readers, as here he is co-starring in a five-issue limited series. Belying the 'all-new, all-different' strapline tagged to the classic logo, Iron Fist remains Iron Fist. That's fine by me as I've always loved Danny Rand, who shared the Power Man and Iron Fist series with Luke Cage for 75 issues before being inconveniently killed.

Part of my love for the character stems from his look: the striking lime and yellow suit he wore, with slashed shirt showing that killer dragon tattoo, plus high collar and yellow slippers. Of late he's donned a grey and yellow version that hides his chest, eschews the characterful collar and swaps the slippers for boots. He looks like he's sponsored by Poundstretcher. 
From this ...
... to this. Pitiful!
But look at the cover corner box, and the intro page ... green. Please Lord, let Marvel be bringing the classic suit back. Just because an Avengers storyline changes Danny's look doesn't mean he has to stick with it in his own book.

Speaking of which, this is rather good. The aforementioned intro page tells me that Power Man is Victor Alvarez, 'a tough, smart aleck city kid' who can absorb chi - life force - and channel it as super-strength. My eyes tell me that Victor also has a rubbish costume, a very generic Noughties look involving padded panels, goggles and knee pads. Oh, and a chain-link belt as silly as anything Luke Cage ever wore - more tribute act than class act. It's a shame Janet Van Dyne is still filed under 'Dead' ... if ever there was an emergency requiring the talents of the Avengers' resident fashionista, this is is.

Never mind, Fred Van Lente's story is a spicy read, punchily drawn by Wellinton Alves and skilfully inked by Nelson Pereira. Danny has taken Victor on as his apprentice, to teach him how to use his powers. Victor, being a teenager, thinks he knows best. The pair's friendly clashes as they protect a street parade, then investigate a mystery involving an old friend of Danny's, are a joy. There are also some intriguing new villains, the Venice menace of Commedia Dell'Morte, the hilariously named Don of the Dead (a killer who's taken dialect lessons from Speedy Gonzales) and the mysterious Noir.

Joy Meachum is the Most Valuable Supporting Character, doing double duty as Danny's executive assistant and girlfriend. She's also sharp as a whip. I've not seen her since the Seventies, she's a lot more fun these days. Victor's dialogue is also excellent for the most part, though his street talk while fighting grates somewhat. I suppose it's Ch-ch-ch-chi talkin' ...

The Luke and Danny, Street vs Shangri-La dynamic was terrific in its day, but Danny's been in New York long enough to have gained street smarts. So instead we're offered the certainty of the young versus the wisdom that comes with experience. And it works - the new Power Man and Iron Fist have chemistry.

If only they also had decent tailors.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Knight and Squire #5 review

Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, is dying. Realising that he's more of a joke than a Joker, Poker embarks on one last spectacular crime spree. One last spectacularly inept crime spree, that makes him a bigger joke than ever. Deducing that the Rose & Crown Prince of Crime's jig is nearly up, Knight and Squire gift him one final fling, a chance to make his mark without harming anyone. Then the wildest of wild cards shows up ... 

The theme this issue is kindness, as writer Paul Cornell nears the final innings of For Six. Britain's own dynamic duo are happy to look like fools in order to make a dying man's final days just that bit happier. And Jarvis Poker knows his friendly foes are indulging him, but he loves them for it. The cockles of my heart were thoroughly warmed by this gentle tale that suddenly bites the reader, like a wicket through the foot. There are jokes on almost every page, along with splendid character moments, clever bits of satire, commentary on comics and other aspects of culture, even a note-perfect cameo by telly fella and funnies fan Jonathan Ross.  

It's all brought to wonderful life by penciller Jimmy Broxton, who captures the poignancy of Poker with sensitivity, and the nuttiness of his schemes with a wink. He shows his versatility with a two-page homage to UK weekly strips of years past that fits perfectly into the main story. And Guy Major's colours are a treat, especially in the Britovision Song Contest scene.

Proceedings are heralded by another top cover courtesy of Yanick Paquette, Michel Lacomb and Nathan Fairbairn. Plus, there's a text page explaining who all the new characters were in #1 and including a hoot of a homage to UK adventure character the Steel Claw.

Knight and Squire's tale wraps up next issue. If you've not been following it, order the trade paperback now. It's what Jarvis Poker would want.

Justice League: Generation Lost #19 review

Dustin Nguyen channels legendary movie graphic designer Saul Bass for this stark cover, which is certainly going to shift a few units. Another Blue Beetle dead at the hands of Max Lord? Say it ain't so.

This issue's opening flashback takes us back to Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes talking to pals Paco and Brenda about his alien suit, the result of a scarab he found while out with Paco one day. A very clever transition takes us to the present, with Beetle being tormented by Max as he tries to learn the suit's secrets. Jaime's fightback is impressive, with Max and lackey Professor Ivo soon on the run. He even manages to summon his Justice League colleagues, who arrive just as Max points a gun at his head ...

... oh, you want still more spoilers? Well, yeah, Max shoots, the cover's not lying, Jaime looks dead. But come on, he's wearing an alien super-suit that specialises in rebooting when it's broken down. More importantly, the suit's wearing him via the scarab. Our boy will be just fine.

Before that, though, we've been reminded that Jaime is the best new hero DC has given us in years. He's courageous, he has heart - he'll never stop when there's a bad guy on the loose.

The rest of the team also get a good showing, as they attack the fantastic new Checkmate base that rises from the sea of Japan. It's taken a few issues, but this JLA is once again one of the toughest, most formidable fighting units on Earth. God help Max Lord next issue.

Writer Judd Winick maintains his current high standard, amping up the tension to unbearable levels, while penciller Fernando Dagnino and inker Raul Fernandez squeeze every inch of drama out of the script. There are some wonderful panels here and, more importantly, consistently good storytelling. Rounding off the core creative team are letterer Steve Wands and colour house Hi-Fi. Brian Cunningham and Rex Ogle edit but they're far too busy to read this review; they're prepping an ongoing JLA title with Winick at the helm. Aren't they?

Adventure Comics #523 review

It's the first day at Legion Academy for Glorith, apprentice to former Legion of Super-Heroes member the Black Witch. Dispatched from the Sorcerer's World to Earth, she's being called, says the Witch, by her 'dark destiny'. There's nothing like sending a girl off with a kindly word!

Poor Glorith is either a bit dim or spectacularly ill-briefed, as she seems to have no real idea of what the Legion is or what the Academy is about. Her confusion makes her a splendid point of view character for this debut story of the Legion's training section, which has been around since the 1960s but rarely taken centre stage. Rarer still are the times a student has gone on to the Legion proper, a point not lost on Power Boy but, optimist that he is, he reminds classmate Lamprey - like him, due to graduate soon - that there are other ways to serve. 

That's not an attitude I expect is shared by Chemical Kid, a spoilt brat who likely thinks the Legion will be lucky to have him

Comet Queen is simply thrilled to be part of the Legion, however junior, even if she is having to repeat her previous classes due to an incident we're promised will be explored soon.

Variable Lad manifests different abilities each time out, and we don't get much clue as to his personality, but he has a lovely smile. For a devil-horned purple grub. 

Dragonwing looks like a DayGlo Goth, but seems decidedly cheery, taking Glorith under her wing. Mind, she plays the big sister by dragging naive Glorith on the 31st century's equivalent of a shoplifting expedition alongside Chemical Kid. Fair enough, the latter does pay for the booze after the event via his unnamed father's credits, but they do break and enter into an off-limits shop. So far as Dragonwing and Chemical Kid are concerned, normal rules don't apply to them.

The final member of the freshman year is Gravity Kid, whose barmy facial topiary and revealing costume hint that he's the rumoured gay Academy member. Too obvious, say I - look at how much Chemical Kid loves clothes shopping (hey, at least it's a different stereotype!). Whatever, Gravity Kid seems a nice guy. And yes, I did spot the scene in which a shirtless Power Boy is chatting to a shirtless Gravity Kid, but after hours clothes don't seem terribly popular at Legion Academy, with Lamprey also near naked.

The action takes place after Duplicate Girl - formerly Triplicate Girl and Duo Damsel - decides to teach these reckless kids a lesson - well, she is principal along with husband Bouncing Boy. She enlists teacher Night Girl to take on the hungover students and their more sober, but still sleepy, classmates in an early morning game of 'grab the ball from the incredibly experienced superheroine'. One of them does manage it, but not until we've seen examples of the whole class using their abilities, if not their brains.

Paul Levitz writes and Phil Jimenez pencils, though the demarcation isn't that precise, with, we've been told, a fair amount of co-plotting going on. It makes sense to maximise the collaboration, as Jimenez has written a good few decent comic books, and some superb ones. Mainly, though, he draws. Beautifully. The characters are distinctive, with their own ways of holding themselves, of moving. You only need look at the twinkle in Gravity Kid's eyes, for example, to see that while he's basically sensible - look at how proudly he points to his Legion Flight Ring - he has a mischievous side. Comet Queen is ditzily delightful, puzzled Glorith demands to be cuddled, and so on.

His treatment of the older characters is equally smart, with Duplicate Girl's determination not to let these kids make too many mistakes obvious in her posture. Bouncing Boy's relaxed attitude is backed up by a confidence absent in his early years with the Legion. And Night Girl - whoa, she's sex on a stick, in the tightest leather costume you ever did see. I'm thrilled to see that Night Girl, one of the original Legion of Substitute-Heroes, has a home here. Now if that beehive could be just a tad bigger - a foot would do - and the daft jangly earrings were to return ...

Pleasingly, Jimenez is taking care not to fall back on just one body shape. Where Night Girl is va-va-voom, Duplicate Girl is athletic, Glorith slender and Black Witch majestically terrifying. 

The backgrounds, too, are top-notch, as we get our first real-look at the Metropolis suburb of Montauk. I don't think I've seen a Legion mall trip since Superboy was first brought to the 30th century and visited the Nine Planets Ice Cream Shop, and it's all rather intriguing. The architecture and environment is that created by Keith Giffen and his artistic colleagues in the early Eighties, but it stands up today. 

And it's all inked by regular Jimenez collaborator Andy Lanning, who always brings out the best in pencillers. The Hi-Fi colourist does an amazing job with so many characters and settings, but a reminder - Night Girl and Bouncing Boy's hair is black, not mid-brown. There's little to say about the work of Steve Wands; it's always first-rate and therefore usually overlooked. But we'd be lost without his lettering.

As for team veteran Paul Levitz, he pulls off a tremendous balancing act, introducing around a dozen characters and even managing to get some stories going. Which kids will make it into the Legion? What happened to bring Comet Queen back to school? And what is Glorith's destiny? 

Longtime readers will recall Glorith as one of the Legion's deadliest, most interesting enemies, a time witch from the planet Baaldur. Strictly speaking, the current version of the Legion never met that Glorith, they only knew the Time Trapper's henchwoman who wound up devolved to protoplasm. Still, the name is drenched with foreboding, and while previous Gloriths were platinum blondes and the new girl is altogether darker, she's wearing Glorith Purple, and her headscarf evokes blonde hair. Scary.

Or not. Perhaps 'Glorith' is the 31st-century equivalent of Britney. I'd be fine with that. I think I'm fine with whatever Levitz does - he's a sure hand, a steady hand, but he does sleight of hand too. One way or another, he'll surprise us. On the basis of this first issue, I hope Legion Academy is around to surprise us for awhile.