Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Jimmy Olsen #1 review


Now this was worth waiting for. Nick Spencer's take on Jimmy Olsen debuted in Action Comics last year when the book was running a back-up strip. After four superb instalments as previously praised herealso here and here the Jimmy Olsen's Big Week serial was curtailed as price and page count fell. Well, here's the rest of the story along with the first four chapters - that's 68 pages of ginger-tinged brilliance for a bargain $5.99.

Dumped by girlfriend Chloe Sullivan for being glued to computer games, Daily Planet photographer Jimmy pulls himself together enough to deal with alien party animals likely to destroy the world, Lex Luthor's power-mad protege Sebastien Mallory and a Fifth Dimensional Bridezilla. He does this without the help of Superman, who's off walking the streets in his own book, and while wondering how to win back Chloe.

How can a kid with no super-powers accomplish so much? With brains, chutzpah and the odd super-friend. Years of crossing time and space with Superman, undergoing lunatic transformations and generally surviving life in the DC Universe have taught Jimmy to think like a winner - even when he's down, he has an out.

Spencer melds the madness of the Silver Age - Jimmy carried his own book for 163 issues, outselling many a superhero - with a modern sensibility to produce a comic like no other. There's Jimmy as Co-Superman, a techno-genie, Supergirl's secret hobby - every chapter has something to surprise and delight. Jimmy and friends are likeable, annoying, funny, smart, spunky ... down to the last alien princess, they're human. 

And they're splendidly realised by penciller RB Silva and inker Dym; every character has character to spare, while the layouts are imaginatively different without detracting from the storytelling. Additonal artwork comes from illustrator Amilcar Pinna and inker Rob Lean, while the talented duo of Dave McCaig and Rob Leigh colour and letter respectively. I'd love to have seen what Silva would have come up with for the cover - he really deserves the prestige spot - but I see why Amanda Conner got the gig, and she does the book proud.

Like Jimmy Olsen's pimped-up Flying Newsroom, this book is a wild ride. Don't miss it.

Cyclops #1 review


Ignore the brooding intensity of the guy on Roger Cruz's nifty cover, this isn't some dark exploration of Cyclops' character. It's a fun side story from the early days of Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in which our hero takes on, among others, Batroc the Leaper and the Circus of Crime. 

Scott Summers' personality does factor into the story, though. It begins as he drops into New York's Coffee-A-Go-Go after a day which saw his fellow X-Men suggest he stops being such a Tommy Tightarse. Scott can't see a problem: 'I just want them to know what I know: that in this life you have to come prepared for everything.'  By the end of the story, Scott's learned that there's more to life than quoting from The Art of War - you can improvise against the bad guys, and even have fun along the way.

Lee Black's script is a thing of jollity, revelling in the days when the X-Men didn't have to grapple with species extinction before breakfast. The opening, with Batroc and the Circus of Crime bursting into the coffee shop in a tricked-up Mini, forcing flirty waitress Zelda into the arms of the ever-uptight Scott, is a hoot. And the villains relaxing after pulling a job with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art is nuts, and why not? Adding to the levity are any number of throwaway lines, such as The Clown referring to Batroc as 'Mr the Leaper' and Cyclops speculating that the ultimate mastermind is 'Baron Von Antiques Roadshow'.

Dean Haspiel has enormous fun drawing the likes of Batroc's marvellous mini, and Cyke on a bike, while Jose Villarrubia gets to forego his usual subtle tones to fill the eye-popping panels with wild primaries. It all makes for a good-natured Cyclops romp of the type we could never have today. One-offs that aren't tightly tied to - some might venture 'mired in' - current continuity tend to get overlooked in the direct market; I'd suggest seeking out this joyously irrelevant bauble.


Amazing Spider-Man #657 review


The Human Torch is dead (I know, it's been weeks) and the Amazing Spider-Man commemorates Peter Parker's longstanding friendship with Johnny Storm by giving us three light-hearted untold tales centred on the pair. The memories are relayed by Ben Grimm, Sue Richards and Reed Richards as Peter drops by the Baxter Building to offer his condolences. 

There's the FF and Spidey having fun on a camping trip necessitated by a monster's demise; Sue, Johnny and Peter tackling - and I mean, tackling - the Frightful Four; and Reed, Johnny and Peter dealing with car trouble in space. It's sprightly, amusing fare from writer Dan Slott, typically clever and endearing, and drawn by three talented artists - Ty Templeton, Nunu Plati and Stefano Caselli. My favourite sees Sue Storm take a leaf out of Spider-Man's book, with, as they say, hilarious consequences. 

All three shorts are character pieces, showing how Spidey and the FF relax around one another, why Peter really can be considered a member of the family. This is even more evident in the framing sequence, drawn by the magnificent Marcos Martin, and it's here that Slott brings out the emotional big gun. It's not like I couldn't see exactly where we were heading, but the final page had the fanboy tears welling up; it's perfect.

From the first page, with a cute homage to the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #1, to the tearjerker finale, this is a splendid comic book. It not only demonstrates why Johnny and Peter would be friends, it shows us why Spidey would be welcomed into the Fantastic Four in the Human Torch's stead - he's a  prankster like Johnny, loves family like Sue, is a genius like Reed and an everyman like Ben. 

The only off-note is the revelation that Peter never attended Johnny's funeral; supposedly he just couldn't face it. I couldn't accept that assertion before reading the three stories here. Afterwards, even less so.

Still, Spidey and FF fans alike will find lots to enjoy in Torch Song (wot, no 'Trilogy'?). There's a sparkling story, eye-popping art, cathartic sadness and a beautifully conceived and executed cover by Martin. If this doesn't get a good showing on the end-of-year lists for Best Single Issue, I'll be amazed.


Wonder Woman #609 review


'Every era somehow finds a way to create you.' So says Dr Psycho to Diana in a spot of meta-commentary after showing her a series of lives which, he claims, she once lived. We see Diana as the blind leader of a city of outcasts, a pirate queen, an African princess; life after life until we reach one which begins with a clay statue on a moonlit beach ...

The common denominator in these lives is that Diana is ever the fighter for justice, leading the downtrodden against their oppressors. The fact that they don't chime with the current Diana, that no flame of recognition is sparked, makes it seem as if Dr Psycho - one of Wonder Woman's oldest enemies - is simply messing with her head. 

But Diana's effect on him has me believing his words. He's presenting himself to her as a suave fellow in a suit, not in his true form, and when Diana asks him who he is, he reveals himself as the man who was her enemy. Which begs the question as to why he's helping her now, showing her that she can be a Wonder Woman if she chooses, warning her against 'the immortal force aligned against you'. 

He has his reasons, and they make perfect, pathetic sense.

This is a fine issue, emphasising the spirit that makes Diana a Wonder Woman in any era, even as it hurtles towards a very intriguing ending that shows we're not quite there so far as the return of the true Wonder Woman is concerned. The cliffhanger comes after Diana has overcome a series of barriers to her reclaiming the life she was meant to have, in a meaningful action sequence that's a breath of fresh air after her role as passive listener in the first half of the issue.

Some might baulk at the bigger picture being painted for Diana by a villain, upset that he knows more than Diana who, with her connection to Truth, might be expected to sense that her 'reality' is a lie. But bringing in Dr Psycho makes for an interesting story, and who's to say that a man whose modus operandi has always been to distort the truth wouldn't be able to see through the lies of gods?

Phil Hester's script is well judged, with the encounter between Diana and Dr Psycho (here preferring his given forename, Edgar) quietly compelling. The last third of the issue sees Diana's internal narrative come into play, and her words are inspiring wthout being over the top.

Pencilling the issue - the whole issue, for once - is Don Kramer and it's good work. The previous versions of Diana are nicely depicted, but there's nothing as warming as seeing him draw some familiar faces who show up. Wayne Faucher and Sean Parsons ink effectively, with the sequence showing Diana's efforts to reach an island temple especially striking. And the cover, by Hester and Chris Beckett, is lovely. Misleading, but lovely.

The lettercolumn promises that everything will be wrapped up by #612, and as a non-fan of J Michael Straczynski's apparently junked masterplan for a new Diana, it's an issue that can't come soon enough for me. But so long as Hester is writing, the instalments before that should at least be entertaining.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Is it a bird, is it a plane ... no, it's a comic artist!

So there I was praising the artwork of Bernard Chang on Supergirl #62 when who should email to say hi from across the Atlantic than the man himself? He'd like to tell us what he's up to this week, so here goes!


SUPERGIRL artist Bernard Chang will be relocating his drawing table to the friendly confines of DJ's Universal Comics in Studio CIty, CA. From March 23-27, Chang will be working "in house" on actual pages from his upcoming issue of the teenage Krytonian superhero. This is a great opportunity to come see an actual comic book being created in person, as well as checking out one of the best local comic book shops in Los Angeles.

"Rarely do people ever see an actual page in progress," said Chang, "and Cat Jercan (owner) was gracious enough to let me set up shop in his store to share this process with fans. I use to live down the street from his former location and always thought it would be a cool idea to actually create a comic book in a comic book store."
For more information, call Cat @ 818-761-3465. DJ's Universal Comics is located at 11390 Ventura Blvd #9 (on the second level above Fat Jacks, at the intersection of Tujunga and Ventura), Studio City, CA 91604 or go online @ djscomics.com and facebook.com/djsuniversalcomics

And remember, please do not feed the artist.



Safe to say I'm one jealous blogger - I'd love to pop in and meet Bernard, maybe get a Supergirl or Wonder Woman trade signed. If anyone gets along, say hi for me.


Batman Incorporated #4 review

Now here's a surprise. Batman's adventure in Argentina continues, but over only a few pages. The bulk of this issue is a tale of two Batwomen – the current, Kate Kane, and the original, Kathy Kane.

I think this is the first time DC has told us that Kate isn't simply an update of Kathy. They're separate people, meaning Batwoman may henceforth be thought of as the new Batwoman. Greg Rucka and JH Williams' origin tale a couple of years back seemed to position Kate as the current DC Universe's first Batwoman, but Grant Morrison here tells us different. And whlle Kate has heard of Kathy Kane's Batwoman career, so far as we know, it hasn't influenced her.

Which kind of boggles the mind – same name, same decision to emulate the Batman, but no direct influence. And as we join the new Batwoman (that'll take some getting used to), she's fighting a thug named Johnny Valentine at Kane's Kolossal Karnival, the amusement park owned by her predecessor.

That's our cue for flashbacks explaining how rich widow Kathy Kane came to be Batwoman, complete with her own sidekick, Batgirl, aka niece Betty Kane (Kate also has a crimefighting niece, Bette Kane). Morrison drops in incidents from Batwoman's Silver Age career, while expanding on what readers of those stories knew of Robin's opinion of her. And finally, we see the day Batwoman retired, and are offered a new, utterly bonkers reason as to why she might have suddenly ended her relationship with Batman.

New Batwoman spends her pages chasing Valentine around the carny, finally colliding directly with Kathy Kane's memory when she's attacked by a tacky Batwoman I impersonator. She's been led to Valentine, killer of three marines, by a neckchain linked to Batman's Argentinian investigation. Kathy's story also ties into current events, as we see her teach Batman the 'tango of death' which was demonstrated last issue.

And in Argentina, sinister mastermind Sombrero (feel free to snicker) persuades Batman to attack crimefighting colleague El Gaucho by claiming that the Argentinean hero was responsible for the death of … Kathy Kane.

Three stories, all linked by love, hate and South American passion. This is Morrison at his most wildly imaginative, yet accessible – last issue's beginning to Batman Inc's foray into Argentina disappeared up its own backside as surely as the Ouroboros serpent which, he tells us, eats its own tail. This is fluffier fare, densely plotted but compelling due to the characters, and mystery of the Batwomen.

And because of the visuals. This is Chris Burnham's first DC art to appear since last week's announcement that he's now exclusive to the company. On this showing, I'd call that a coup. He uses three different approaches to the mini-stories in this issue – the continuation of last month's tale retains a sense of regular artist Yanick Paquette, with an inkling of Morrison's frequent collaborator Frank Quitely in the claw-headed person of Sombrero's second, Scorpiana. The Kate Kane figurework is a dead-on homage to artistic creator JH Williams, with the rest of the sequence being, perhaps, pure Burnham, but looking to my eyes more like another hymn to Quitely. And the Kathy Kane story isn't so much calling back to the Silver Age of comics as the Golden Age of magazine illustration, with our heroine unfailingly glamorous even when teaming a mourning frock with wellyboots. Burnham's Robin is a terrific comedic recreation, with his understandable poutiness towards the intrusive Batwoman dialled up to the max. And Ace the Bathound is a slobbering joy.

Honestly, I've not seen enough of Burnham's work to be able to give the best summation of what he's doing here. What I do know is that he's required to evoke three different moods, and he does so brilliantly. If Burnham stays on this title I won't be thinking of Batman Incorporated as a writer's book for much longer.

Also worthy of more than a word of praise is colourist Nathan Fairbairn, whose work here perfectly complements Burnham's. He reflects the rich, glossy palette used in Kate Kane's Detective Comics appearances, the cool colouring of Batman Incorporated and the Benday dots used in the four-colour comics of the Silver Age. It's a remarkable display of talent and commitment.

Letterer Pat Brosseau also turns in fine work, though it's Burnham who renders the especially fine, pulpy 'The Kane Affair' title on the opening spread.

The cover's a keeper, too, with JH Williams continuing this book's international theme against a marvellously vertiginous teaming of Batwoman II (hah!) and Batman.

Whether you're following Batman Incorporated or not, take a look at this issue; I think it's going to be looked back on as an important debut.


Legion of Super-Heroes #11 review

Following on from this month's Legion of Super-Villains #1, Lightning Lass, Sun Boy, Phantom Girl, Wildfire, Ultra Boy, Tyroc and Colossal Boy help with the clean-up after Saturn Queen's destruction of the prison on Takron-Galtos. Along with such old 'friends' as Tyr, we meet two new would-be LSV members, Fume and Frost.

Elsewhere on the prison world. Shrinking Violet spits on the body of Micro Lad – murdered by a fellow criminal – shocking Chameleon Boy. Vi points out that she has good reason, given their history, while Cosmic Boy, recently relieved as offical Legion leader, relaxes and allows his natural man management skills to flow.

On Earth, interim leader Brainiac 5 confidently appraises Science Police chief Gigi Cusimano of Legion activity, though he shows more vulnerability once he's gone. The Legion's resident genius is especially perturbed that Dawnstar has gone off on a mission of her own, then Dream Girl arrives to further irritate him. And thrill me. For Nura Nal is carrying on her back (she's long been a whiz with the Legion's gravity rings) Star Boy, back from an extended sortie in the 21st century. That trip mangled his mind somewhat, and she demands Brainy sort him out. Brainy reasonably points out that right now isn't the best time, what with the LSV busy regrouping, but an unexpected arrival lightens his load. It's new Green Lantern Mon-El, who announces that he's figured out how to be in two places at once and is ready to take up his duties as Legion leader. So Brainy is free to try curing Star Boy of 'multiversal disorientation accelerated schizophrenia'.

That facilitates my favourite scene of the issue, as Brainy and Dream Girl discuss the former's feelings for the team. It's dead-on character work from writer Paul Levitz.

Levitz also gives a good showing to Timber Wolf, in Kyoto looking for new solar villain Sun Killer. There he finds old solar villain Sun Emperor, mighty peeved that the new guy wants his LSV spot, and willing to take it out on Timber Wolf. Pure plasma vs flesh and blood? You might think Timber Wolf hasn't a chance, but Levitz uses the fight to show his Legionnaire chops.

I counted 16 members in this issue, and bar the sleeping Star Boy, they all get something to do – no one juggles characters like Levitz. He doesn't skimp on the villain characterisation either, with even probable throwaways Fume and Frost showing potential. I also love the way he uses the 31st-century setting to not only show us exotic worlds, but to predict how Earth might develop.

Bringing the script to life is guest penciller Daniel HDR and regular inker Wayne Faucher, who inject their characters with vitality and charm. The big match between Timber Wolf and Sun Emperor is particularly pleasing, having real intensity; I wasn't at all convinced Timber Wolf would make it out alive. As it is, the incident is akin to the worst haircut ever.

Lending fire to the flames is the Hi-Fi colourist, likely Brian Miller. As well as the usual solid work, extra effort seems to have gone into giving texture to the Legionnnaires' skins; it's appreciated. John J Hill letters with his usual detail for individual character signatures.

Hi-Fi and Faucher also work on the rather spiffy cover, pencilled by Legion regular Yildiray Cinar. The issue closes with a lettercolumn including the results of the recent reader poll for Legion leader. Turns out that almost 20,000 unique readers voted, with my man Tyroc getting just over 500 – hardly a screaming success, but there's always next time. The horror is that the awful Earth-Man came third. If anyone reading this voted for him, I'd love to hear your reasons.


Supergirl #62 review

Supergirl teams up with Blue Beetle, Robin and Miss Martian to foil the plans of the mysterious Alex. They fail.

Still, it's only part three, next issue's continuation will likely see the Maid of Might take down Alex … or whoever he really is. There are further hints as to his nature this time, but I can't call it. And I'm happy to take a wait-and-see attitude, given how enjoyable this instalment of Good-looking Corpse is. Having discovered that Alex's super-henchmen are linked to Kryptonian Sunstone, Kara Zor-El tests her suspicions at a shady outpost of the Cadmus Project. What she finds there – a citizen of New Krypton on a vivisection table – rattles her, and leads to her downfall at issue's end. Prior to that, though, it's a pleasure to see Kara running the show, moving three of the DC Universe's most interesting and capable young heroes around like a seasoned general.

There's a terrific sequence in which Jaime (Blue Beetle) Reyes and Damian (Robin) Wayne exchange opinions of the symbols heroes wear, with both firmly in character (guess which one describes the other as 'irritatingly Proletarian'?). Miss Martian doesn't get much to say, but she serves a particular plot purpose and will doubtless be her sunny self next issue.

It's been announced by DC Comics that after coming to the rescue of this storyline when original writer Nick Spencer stepped away, James Peaty won't be continuing. Promising Marvel find Kelly Sue DeConnick is on board for three issues from #65. Good luck to her, but after that I really hope Peaty returns, should he want the regular gig, as he's done some excellent work. His Supergirl is recognisably a continuation of previous writer Sterling Gates's likeable young heroine, and growing beyond that.

Bernard Chang's artwork is luscious. His Robin, Blue Beetle and Miss Martian are dead on. Most importantly, his Kara is a pocket spitfire, with smarts, determination, serenity … whatever the occasion demands, Chang conjures it up. So of course, he's gone after this arc, as the very capable ChrisCross takes over art duties.

Completing the artistic ensemble are letterer John J Hill, a boon to any book, and colourist Blond, who actually attempts to give Jaime Reyes a Hispanic skin tone. And he renders great dust clouds.

The cover is the work of illustrator Mahmud Asrar and colourist Guy Major, and it's a classic comic book composition, classily executed.

It's heartening to see that despite the loss of Gates and artist partner Jamal Igle, Supergirl retains the quality. Now how about we retain a creative team? This one would do nicely.


Justice League: Generation Lost #22 review

In which Blue Beetle is alive and kicking, Batman and Power Girl arrive for the final battle and Max Lord puts his endgame into action.

As predicted here – well, pretty much everywhere – Jaime Reyes survived Max Lord's bullet to the head thanks to his extraterrestrial armour. Reunited with a hysterically happy Justice League, he's able to share information picked up from Lord's computer systems; everything Max has done has had only one goal in mind – the murder of Wonder Woman. The League vows to prevent this, the only wrinkle being that some members don't actually remember Wonder Woman, thanks to some as-yet-unexplained jiggery pokery in Diana's own book.

This leads to a wonderful moment when Rocket Red dons a mangled, holographic version of Wonder Woman's costume, based on the way she's described by his associates. He looks rather hot, actually.

Elsewhere Max, with the help of longtime League enemy Professor Ivo, is enacting his plan, which involves activating a new wave of Omac cyborgs to hunt down and kill Diana. And they arrive just as the League has tracked her down in New York City, tying in tightly with the current wave of Amazon assassinations there (and giving us an answer as to whether events in the Wonder Woman book happened years ago, or are happening in the relative 'now' – I won't be surprised should Diana's own title give us an entirely different spin).

It's another top-notch issue from the pen of Judd Winick, as he gears up for #24's extra-sized conclusion. I'm glad that Wonder Woman enters the fray here as Max's ultimate hate figure – so she should be, given that she snapped his neck a literal lifetime ago. It's just a shame today's continuity-challenged Diana won't actually remember this. I'm itching to see how Winick resolves the situation.

Apart from Rocket Red's dress-up, my favourite scene this issue is the League's reaction to the return of Jaime Reyes – uncontrolled joy. Usually when a hero comes back from the dead it's a matter of a quick pat on the back and off to the next super-skirmish. This treatment felt real. And it's very well depicted by penciller Joe Bennett … I don't think I've ever seen the Justice League in giddy mode.

Inked by Jack Jadson and Ruy Jose, Bennett does a fine job throughout, especially in the scenes that show Max hooked up to Ivo's machines, which fair throb with power. It's all splendidly coloured by Hi-Fi, and lettered by Steve Wands.

Wands may also be responsible for the cracking mini-logo gifted Diana on this issue's cover. I hope the Wonder Woman office picks up on it, and uses it. Dustin Nguyen's striking image, with Batman using the Golden Lasso to dangle Wonder Woman painfully, is a 360-degree misrepresentation of the issue's contents. And a heck of a grabber.



Wednesday, 23 March 2011

FF #1 review

'All death leads to rebirth. We must begin anew.' So says a rogue AIM boffin at the beginning of this book, and so says writer Jonathan Hickman to Fantastic Four fans. Having been refreshing the book that began the Marvel Universe, Hickman starts again with a new title. No one expects it to be more than a publicity and sales generating placeholder until the regular comic returns in time for its 600th issue, so I'm happy to sit back and enjoy the ride until then.

So, the Human Torch is presumed dead and Sue Richards has found herself Regent of Old Atlantis. Ben is blaming himself for Johnny's demise in the Negative Zone and Reed is focusing on 'solving everything' with the help of a coterie of super-intelligent kiddies he's named the Future Foundation, giving this book its title.

New stuff here includes Spider-Man joining the team at the request of a posthumous, holographic Torch, the revelation that Reed's time-travelling dad has moved into the Baxter Building, and Sue putting everyone in new uniforms.

The new, super-faffy looks are motivated by her gloomy state ('Feels like a black and white world right now, doesn't it?'). Rather than try and move forward after the loss of her brother, the Invisible Woman is wallowing, and spreading the misery around by making everyone dress down. It's not the best example for son Franklin, devastated by the loss of 'Uncle Johnny'.

Franklin's sorrow makes for one of the best moments in the issue, as he stops Spidey from sitting down for a meal in Johnny's usual seat. That's followed by my other favourite point, the super-rational, species-varied FF kids saying grace - a brilliantly amusing sequence.

Frank's irritating sister Valeria's big scene sees her bringing an unexpected member into the club (we're talking last page surprise, so I'll leave that one alone for now - let's just say that regular readers of the Fantastic Four won't be aghast, and Reed's agreement is unbelievable). There's a pleasing irony in that scene as Reed lectures Valeria that she doesn't have carte blanche to do whatever she likes - it's Mr Fantastic Black Kettle.

The action sees the new Fantastic Four called out to some scientific facility called P.A.V.L.O.V., where those aforementioned AIM types break the Wizard out. He lets Reed know that he's coming for Bentley 23, his boy clone and Future Foundation member, which worries Reed for a moment, but this is apparently forgotten by the time Nathaniel serves up his roast dinner.

While I can see that Peter Parker would be thrilled to bits to see the Baxter Building as it transforms into a Futurists' playground, I can't imagine him joining up without leaving the Avengers. Many times, he's seen that spreading himself too thinly leads to disaster. Plus, while in his day job he researches scientific advances, I can't see him acquiescing to Reed's 'let's force the future' attitude. Happily, someone does raise their voice against his tossed-off idea to terraform the Moon, probably by suppertime.

On a similar note, when Sue mentions that she's assumed 'full control' of Old Atlantis, it's as if she's forgotten she already has a life, with responsibilities and people who depend on her - I'm not saying a mother is all Sue should be, but certainly her kids need her. Even Reed shows more interest in his children here than Sue does. Let's assume it's a deliberate plot point, and see where it goes.

There's enough good stuff here to bring me back next month, but I do hope the mournful mood is put to one side. Sure, Johnny is gone, and the people in the book feel it, but I don't want every issue informed by sadness. I get it, the Human Torch was a vital, underappreciated member. I always got it.

Hickman does a fine job in capturing the voices of his main cast, when you factor in that even Spidey would be a little quieter than usual. What I really want to see is something emerge as the main threat, rather than the team's attention all over the place as has been the case of late - splitting their forces is what got Johnny killed. If next issue concentrates on the Wizard's bid for Bentley, with a subplot or two, fine. If the book drifts, I'll likely drift too.

Steve Epting's illustrations are excellent, as inked by himself and Rick Magyar, and coloured by Paul Mounts. There's nothing awe-inspiring to draw, as there surely should be in a showcase Fantastic Four book, but the world of the FF is good-looking and vibrant. It's just a shame about those costumes, which really are an eyesore.

Hickman's interest in graphic design manifests with a wasted title spread at the front of the book, and a guide to the cast at the back which would be more useful were we given visual details rather than silhouettes. It's just about possible to work out which Moloid is which from relative heights as seen in the story, but a straighforward pin-up would be more appreciated. For $3.99, we should be getting as much story as possible, not stuff that should be trade paperback filler.

And that's that for FF #1 - initial thoughts, obviously ...

Monday, 21 March 2011

Avengers: The Children's Crusade - Young Avengers #1 review


Avengers: The Children's Crusade is a frustrating book - high quality, infrequent publication. And the nine-issue bimonthly series skips March for a side-story explaining why Iron Lad turned up at the end of the last issue. So rather than Latveria, the latest slice of Young Avengers we're offered begins in the far future, on the planet Moord. Surrounded by the corpses of an entire race, the Badoon, Iron Lad is fighting Kang the Conqueror, the man he's destined to become. The paradox, at least according to Kang, is that every time Iron Lad travels through time to act against Kang, he brings himself a step closer to becoming Kang. 

My head doesn't hurt, but it's shaking. The whole Kang thing has become far too complicated. Kang began his villainy as Rama-Tut and his future-er self is Immortus and at one point he pretended to be the Scarlet Centurion and his real name is Nathaniel Richards (but that's not the same time-travelling Nathaniel Richards who's the father of Mr Fantastic) and his teenage self was Iron Lad, who gifted his brain patterns to the young version of the Vision. He's probably also me. And you.

Anyway, Iron Lad is just about to see off Kang, when who should show up but the Young Avengers. The adult Young Avengers. And they claim Kang as a member. They explain to an understandably nonplussed Iron Lad that during the events of the Children's Crusade, when they were at war with the senior Avengers, they escaped into the timestream with the aid of Kang. They've spent years, by their reckoning, travelling throughout time and space, fighting the good fight. Given that they admit helping Kang destroy the Badoon - admittedly, a bad lot - Iron Lad isn't convinced.

He reminds them of how they came to be named the Young Avengers, shortly after he emerged in the 21st century and recruited Wiccan, Hulkling and Patriot for his war on Kang. It's not a story we've heard previously, as Young Avengers creator Allan Heinberg comes up with a pain-free continuity implant to fill a dozen or so pages. 

It's Saturday night and the nascent team battles Spider-Man villain Electro and don't do too well. But they do rescue imperilled citizens and soon the Daily Bugle is calling them the Young Avengers. The end. Well, with some nice characterisation, a lesson for Iron Lad and a cameo by the pre-Hawkeye Kate Bishop. But it reads as filler - very nicely drawn filler, thanks to the presence of penciller Alan Davis and inker Mark Farmer, but filler nonetheless.

Flashback over, Kang tells Iron Lad a lie that has him rushing to the past and, after he's gone, there's a final twist which had me scratching my head. The framing sequence, with its peek at a possible future for the Young Avengers - complete with babies on the way for Speed and Hawkeye, and a family for Patriot - is intriguing, but so sketched in as to be of minor interest.

This being Heinberg, that's not to say the future team won't factor in down the line, but the 'go into the past to put things right which once went wrong' set-up pretty much guarantees we'll never see them again. And while this special does feed back into January's Children's Crusade #4, I'd have been OK with Iron Lad simply popping up because he saw he was needed. Or better still, not showing up at all - for me, the character's convolutions make him a troubling presence.

But then again, Davis and Farmer are on top form as they execute Heinberg's perky script. The layouts are imaginative without getting in the way of the storytelling, the players are attractive and powerful, and there's a sensational training session spread that works on two levels - you can read the conversation across the pages, while following the individual skirmishes with Sinister Six holograms from top to bottom. And the future character designs, especially Ted as Captain Marvel and Cassie as Stinger, are first-rate. The colours by Javier Rodriguez pop, especially during the Electro scenes, and Cory Petit has fun with the lettering (FOOM). So this one-shot is enjoyable enough.

Is 'enjoyable enough', enough? It should be, but I'm itching to get back to the main event. I can't see any Young Avengers fan skipping this book, but Im pretty sure I know what most would rather be reading. 

Friday, 18 March 2011

Power Girl #22 review

Power Girl and Superman take on a dinosaur invasion of Manhattan. Karen Starr takes back her assets. And Superman takes his life in his hands by pointing out that her more personal assets could prove problematic.

Let's take that last first. Yes, Superman, that well-raised smalltown boy, obliquely brings up the subject of Peege's proud chest. It's prompted by her telling him that she's planning to become a public personage in her other identity of Karen Starr, a friendly corporate figurehead to help sell Starrware products.

So Peege's kinda sorta cousin has a fair point when he says that if she's going to be appearing on TV, posters and at events she should ensure her public ID looks less like Power Girl - at the moment they're identical bar wardrobe and Karen's natty updo. Sadly, we don't hear his suggestions (knowing him, it's a pair of rubbish glasses and greasy hair), as that's when the prehistoric predators show up in Judd Winick's sassy script.

And what fine dinos they are, as illustrated by Sami Basri and coloured by Jessica Kholinne. They're scary, but not to our heroes, who dive in and bash away, until some unexpected scratches clue Superman in as to their true nature. There follows an amusing moment as he tests his theory, leaving Power Girl to gawp. His discovery leads us to the final page, in which a superhero guest is revealed as the unwilling pawn of the mastermind behind the day's nuttiness. A superhero who's been gagged ...

Yes, it's Zatanna - she's gotten herself captured again and despite her Vaudeville background, still not managed to learn enough ventriloquism to master the simple phrase 'Gag ffo!' No doubt she'll get to show her stuff next issue.

This issue also gives us another look at Karen Starr's corporate rival Ophelia Day (whose rant lets letterer John J Hill really strut his stuff) and introduces rather cool federal agent Marcus Teman. Both show promise and should become regulars.

Continuity-wise, this issue is interesting in being set post-Justice League: Generation Lost. Nothing's really given away, though it hints at a happy ending - Karen's all smiles. Also, it blows away the notion that Superman can't appear in any current stories while 'Grounded' is running in his own book, as he's superheroing like a good 'un here, with not a whiff of angst.

What there is, is a convincing portrayal of the relationship between Power Girl and Superman as superheroic colleagues, and newish relatives feeling their way around one another. It's typical of Winick's sure touch on this book. And Basri captures all the subtleties of character, while also having fun with the big monster meet.

For nine months Power Girl was heavily tied into Generation Lost. This is where Winick, Basri and company fly free. And there's no sign that they're running low on ideas and energy in this issue, a splendid place to jump on if you're late to the Power Girl party.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Knight and Squire #6 review


Time to stop play, just for today, Jarvis is saying goodbye ... goodbye ...

Would Jarvis Poker the British Joker survive the unexpected and unwanted visit by his role model? That was the question that concerned me as I approached the final issue of this six-part series. For creators Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton have made the old bugger, riddled with cancer, quite the appealing soul. Surely with all the magic in England, he'd make it out of the book alive.

Well, I'm not spoiling that story point. Either you're reading the comic, or you're jolly well going to order this summer's trade. I will say that the lads don't disappoint. And neither do our stars, Knight and Squire, as they gather Britain's finest heroes and villains in a valiant bid to bring down terror tourist the Joker. Having kidnapped Jarvis in a bid to teach him to be not simply a whimsical 'cover version' of a US villain, but a killer clown, the Joker enlists help. Help to murder as many Limey heroes as possible, in amusingly apposite ways (click on image to enlarge).


The first hero killed was the Shrike, and it turns out he wasn't offed simply because he happened to be around when the Joker showed up in London. The Harlequin of Hate wanted the supremely intuitive Squire distracted, and slaying her new boyfriend seemed the way to go. But Beryl's made of stronger stuff, and with Knight - who offers some touchingly sensitive words - she sets about taking the Joker down.

Just how they do this, you may guess if you've been reading the series; I don't call that predictable, I call it playing fair - it's cricket. And with Cornell at the bat you're never going to guess the entertaining details. Let's just say that the Joker will be leaving Blighty forthwith.

Actually, that's the one thing I didn't like this issue. The fact that the British heroes and villains play nicely, sending the Joker back to Arkham rather than straight to Hell. These chaps are on a battlefield the Joker created, and fair play would allow him to fall on said ground. With perhaps a little push from Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West, Leatherchap or Dr Retina.

But, the Bat-office requires that the Joker must always bounce back to Gotham City and be available for more consequence-free mayhem. At least the Colonial Prince of Crime leaves knowing he's been humiliated by his British betters.

And I leave this series hoping for a sequel. Surely no one could deny me more of Cornell's sublimely plotted, pun-packed stories, full of froth yet dark around the edges? Or Jimmy Broxton's whimsically realistic United Kingdom, replete with ordinary, and extraordinary, people whose stories are etched onto their faces, and streets heaving with sight gags. Of a chance to spend more time with Cyril and Beryl, Hank the Butler and Mrs Hutchinson, the massed ranks of the British super-community. 

How about I invite all members of DC staff to the Royal Wedding? I can do that, all Brits know the Queen ...

While I'm waiting, I can re-read these six issues, which masterfully combined the DC Universe with that of the British comics I grew up reading, and the culture that shaped me. It's been Batman meets Bunty on the set of Are You Being Served. The story's called For Six, but Cornell, Broxton and company scored a century.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Xombi #1 review


David Kim gets a second shot at comics success with this issue, which appears under the imprint of DC Comics rather than offshoot Milestone. Whatever helps, I suppose. Certainly one of the reasons I didn't bother much with the Milestone titles in the Nineties was that I was busy with the DC and Marvel lines, and a lad only had so much time.

On the basis of this issue, I missed out. Big time. It was only a couple of years back that I finally came across Xombi, teamed with the Spectre in an issue of The Brave and the Bold. I  was a little frustrated by the lack of background information, but definitely wanted to see more.

And here's more, courtesy of original writer John Rozum, who penned that B&B issue, and new artist Frazer Irving. They grabbed me with page one and proceeded to fascinate with more interesting ideas in 20pp than some series manage in a year.

That opening has an Alan Moore Swamp Thing vibe, as we're directed towards surreal happenings around the world, signs and portents ... and not a tipsy cow among them. Oh no, this book is a lot more original than that, with my favourite omen being a spot of bloody bother at a museum in Oslo.

Noting the oddness is David's associate Julian Parker, who's in Sao Paolo on personal business. Talking coins in his pocket tell him it's all linked to a prisoner back in Dakota City, where David lives. As Julian calls to ask his friend to check on the inmate, he's contemplating the weirdness that's come his way since an accident left him a nanomachine-filled, technologically advanced, likely immortal. New weirdness is just the distraction he needs.

He finds it as he joins some other local heroes - seer sister Nun of the Above, the incredible shrinking Nun the Less and faithful teen Catholic Girl, along with priest Father Maxwell. They're there because the prison is overseen by the Church of Rome. Literally, as it's a series of tiny houses into which the captives are shrunk. There, things don't go well for the group and the book begins to feel like an issue of Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, with random nuttiness that somehow just fits.

I suppose I should stop making comparisons, and give full credit to Rozum for his originality. He's definitely funnier than either Moore or Morrison, presenting some well-placed gags, alongside a central protagonist with a refreshingly twinkly character (click to enlarge image).

Rozum's script is superb. He introduces his players, sets up and progresses his situation and finishes with a chiller of a cliffhanger. And he's perfectly partnered with Irving, on full-colour artwork. The latter takes full advantage of opportunities for dramatic composition in the prison scene, but the domestic moments are just as imaginative. The vignettes of David and pal Chet mooching around the house are excellent, with layouts reflecting one another, Chet popping up in a single panel more than once as an indicator of time passing, and more. Colours are applied for mood rather than a naturalist effect, giving this comic a flavour like nothing else DC is publishing.

Whether you're an existing Xombi fan, or a newcomer like me, I can't recommend this comic highly enough - it's a thrilling, absorbing experience that deserves to be a massive hit.


Adventure Comics #524 review


Superman isn't the only character grounded this week. Over in the 31st century, the new students at Legion Academy have some privileges revoked by instructor Duplicate Girl after a spot of tomfoolery last month. But Chemical Kid isn't having it - credit card problems indicate that something's not right with his father, so he grabs a few pals, 'borrows' an old Legion cruiser and sets off for his homeworld of Phlon.

It turns out that he's correct - his father is at the mercy of Black Mace, an old foe of the Legion. Chemical Kid, Comet Queen, Gravity Kid, Glorith and Dragonwing gamely take on the experienced, older villain and aren't doing too badly until another member of the Taurus Gang, Mystelor, ambushes them.

At least I think it's Mystelor - I'm assuming she's had a makeover courtesy of ever-imaginative artist Phil Jimenez, who also does a bit of world building with his take on the organic communties of Phlon. The action scenes are big and dynamic, as Jimenez displays his gift for composition. Elsewhere, he gets to draw longtime Academy members Crystal Kid, Power Boy, Nightwind, Lamprey and the unloved little grey chap getting the least-inspiring recruitment speech ever from Cosmic Boy. It boils down to 'You might not make Legionnaire, but even if you do, it's rubbish'. 

It's an amusing moment from writer Paul Levitz, but it sets up tensions for the future nicely - will any of the senior class make the big leagues, and if they don't, what'll they do? Join the Substitute Heroes? The Science Police? Go solo, or - gasp - turn to villainy (to be fair, Cosmic Boy doesn't present this last as an option). Given that, as Duplicate Girl says here, she and husband Bouncing Boy joined without any training, it'd be a bummer were students who've trained in the use of powers, fighting techniques and law enforcement for years to be denied membership. But times have changed.

The question won't matter to the kids on Phlon if they don't survive their trip; certainly, they look a tad outclassed, bar top of the class Gravity Kid, whose knowledge of Black Mace almost turns the tide. I do like this guy, he's smart, committed and has a great Seventies throwback costume - if only his facial hair didn't make it look like something nasty had been smeared on him. A little texture, please!

Revelations this issue include Variable Lad's relationship to a certain grumpy Legion medic, and the origin of Chemical Kid, who, we see, is more than the spoilt brat in annoying specs he's seemed so far. And as regards the more established characters, I'm loving the Duplicate Girl/Bouncing Boy team more every month - she the drill sergeant, he the still, calm centre; the yin and yang of the Academy. 

A couple of issues in and this is already a favourite series. Levitz and Jimenez display a heartening synergy as they update the 31st century for 21st-century readers. Fellow creative team members Andy Lanning (inks), Hi-Fi (colours) and Steve Wands (letters) add their own brand of excellence, making for a confident, comfortable read that excites in the moment while promising a lot more for the future (click to enlarge random, but rather nifty, image).
Jimenez and Hi-Fi provide a striking cover. I love that purple background, the little scenes ... the only thing stopping it being a total winner is that ugly - nay, terrifying - Bouncing Boy. As a nervous Chandler Bing once chanted, 'Big head, big head'.