Friday, 29 April 2011

Action Comics #900 review

Nine-hundred issues. That's a milestone no US comic has ever reached and it's fitting that after some time away, Superman returns to claim his book back. I've enjoyed arch enemy Lex Luthor's time as placeholder - more than a lot of Superman runs - but all good things must come to an end. And as a bonus, Lex writer Paul Cornell is staying on the book.

It's a shame, though, that the conclusion of Cornell and Pete Woods' multi-part story is derailed (I'd go so far as to say 'sullied') here by having another storyline shoehorned in. For this isn't just the finale of The Black Ring, it's the continuation of the Reign of Doomsday serial. If you've been lucky enough to miss this, it involves Doomsday, the spiky bore who once kindasorta killed Superman, turning up in various books, bashing people with the S-emblem and kidnapping them. So it is that as we join him this issue he has, secreted away far off in space, Superboy, the Eradicator, Cyborg Superman, Supergirl and Steel. Their attempts to escape, while avoiding Doomsday, are interspersed with the regular story, and they're frankly not very interesting, so let's go where the action is.

That's with Lex Luthor, bumped up to godlike status and wondering what to do with his new power. The first order is, of course, to torment Superman, attempting to goad him into anger by claiming that he's not capable of real human emotion. Except that humanity isn't a question of physiology, it's a state of mind, a matter for the heart. And Superman is every bit as human as Lex. But where Superman's humanity manifests as goodness, Lex's forte is hatred. And it's the pettier side of this big emotion which proves his downfall, with a little help from the Lois Lane Robot built by Lex to challenge him. She does that, and no mistake.

The interplay between the hubristic Lex and quietly measured Superman is stellar, boding well for Cornell's continued tenancy, and their encounter is brought to cosmic life by Pete Woods, who excels at both emotion and energy. Woods is leaving the book and I wish him the best in future endeavours, he's served Lex well.

The Doomsday sequences are drawn by Jesus Merino, a penciller I like, it's just a shame he's having to draw a storyline that shows every sign of being editorially mandated, rather than one in which any writer or artist is particularly invested. Mind, I certainly expect things to improve next issue, as Cornell gets to focus on Doomsday as the main event, rather than a distraction.

I wonder if DC could strip out the Doomsday pages when they collect the back half of the Black Ring storyline, and let Cornell, Woods and Luthor have the good-looking, cohesive showcase they deserve. Merino would be in there too, having already produced work for this arc, as would this issue's talented 'memory lane sequence' guests - Gary Frank, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal and 'Bugger the story flow, I'm signing my work now for original art sales' Rags Morales. A shout-out, too, to colourists Brad Anderson and Blond, who bring a real vibrancy to the pages, and letterer Rob Leigh, who shows that not all comic book gods get pretty fonts. David Finch provides the cover, which is well done, but rather gloomy for a celebration of the Man of Steel.

So that's Lex Luthor's starring role in Action Comics over and, despite the final issue blip, it's been a better run than ever I expected - congrats to Cornell, Woods and all their collaborators. I hope this isn't the last we see of their Lex - even though they did ignore my nagging to give him back his eyebrows.

This is a big issue - 96 pages - meaning there's room for shorts by guest creatives we'd not normally see in these parts, gathered by editors Matt Idelson and Wil Moss. Time to load up the bullet points:
  • Life Support by telly writer Damon Lindelof sees a young boffin asked by Jor-El to assist him in helping baby Kal escape Krypton's coming destruction. It's a sharply written piece, there's a little poignancy, and artist Ryan Sook's Krypton is beautiful, but the point of this depressing tale is Lost on me.
  • Paul Dini, king of DC's animated cartoons, presents Autobiography, a conversation between Superman and an older peer about their place in the universe. A meditative three-pager, cutely drawn by RB Silva and Rob Lean, it's a little depressing.
  • The Incident, by Batman Begins screenwriter David S Goyer, covers well-trodden ground - it's the 'what can one Superman do?' bit again. The Man of Steel tries a little civil disobedience in Tehran. So far, so Grounded. But then Goyer pushes things further by having Superman renounce his US citizenship, something that really shouldn't occur in a bound-to-be-throwaway tale. It's a tad rude of Goyer to come into Superman's house, throw a rather important toy out of the pram and then leave, with no follow-up apparently due. Tut. I think we'd better consign this attention-seeker immediately to the land of Elseworlds, despite some fine artwork by Miguel Sepulveda. Comics gossip guy Rich Johnston is having all sorts of fun with this as I type, chatting to the US media about the story's perhaps controversial nature. I found it rather, well, depressing.
  • Only Human, by Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner and one Derek Hoffman, wastes the talents of superb penciller Matt Camp by tasking him with sketchy storyboards for a decidely average Metropolis romp. Had someone turned the script into an actual comic strip this would likely have been good fun, in a Seventies style. As it was, I found it, well, not depressing, just dull - a chore to wade through.
  • Oh, hurrah for Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who write and draw Friday Night in the 21st Century, a tale that tells us something about Clark, Lois, their relationship and their attitudes towards friends - all in four pages. It's good to see that at least one guest creative team realises there's room for joy in a book marking 900 issues of the original superhero comic. The spread showing the Legion of Super-Heroes partying on down chez Kent is my favourite illustration in the book ...
  • ... well, tying with Brian Stelfreeze's pin-up, The Evolution of the Man of Tomorrow, a stunning homage to the artists who came before.
The soon-to-be-forgotten renouncing moment from Goyer's short
Stelfreeze's tribute is a fine capper to a giant issue which, while not entirely successful, deserves major points for efforts. And for giving us 93 pages of story and art - that's the equivalent of almost three free comic books - for just $5.99 DC merits extra praise

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Wonder Woman #610 review

Diana wakes up in a hospital bed, meets Dr Etta Candy, Nurse Diana Prince, Dr Steve Trevor and Mrs Mavis Infodump.

Actually, it's Myra Clotho, but it might as well be Mrs Mavis Infodump, as she tells Diana in tremendous detail that the life she's living is indeed a pretence. Diana's greatest enemy has changed the world, her protector gods have retreated, but she - the embodiment of Fate in this non-reality - has woven a secret strand of Diana's life below the, er, official strand of life. So she's not Wonder Woman, she's Under Wonder Woman. And the true source of Diana's power is ... a chicken in a basket. Look, I'm not making this up (click to enlarge/giggle):

Stronger than Hercules, wiser than Athena, tastier than a Harvester pub lunch ... talk about something coming out of left field. It's not a magnificent eagle on Diana's chest, it's Foghorn Leghorn, I say, Foghorn Leghorn. Still, as everything points towards this 'era' being on the outs, I won't cry fowl; the dead bird will fly the nest soon enough.

This issue also has DC Universe burlesque act the Morrigan sisters mooching about being eeevil, but more and more it seems they're not important. the master - or rather, mistress - manipulator is the being who has changed reality, banishing the true Diana. Old Biffy Clyro - sorry, Myra Clotho - bangs on about the 'avatar/spirit of vengeance' for ages without bothering to name her. And Diana doesn't trouble the old biddy for this trivial knowledge before she - ooh, never saw that coming - drops dead. 

Honestly, scripter Phil Hester continues to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear of a storyline J Michael Straczynski bequeathed him - or at least, the Primark version of a silk purse - but it's getting harder and harder to care about any of it. This is the villain. No, these are the real villains. Ah, but have you met the real, real villain? Despite effective, lyrical imagery and good moments such as Diana demonstrating love for her enemies, showing the fighting prowess of classic Wonder Woman and restoring the memories of Artemis, I just want this to be over.

Meanwhile, it at least looks purdy. Eduardo Pansica essays some fine action scenes, stylishly inked by Wayne Faucher and Eber Ferreira. And in Myro Clotho they give us probably the most realistic old lady I've ever seen in a comic. Their NuSteve Trevor, debuting here and a likely holdover when we get to the book's next reality, is every bit the handsome young hero. An 'arrows and bracelets' scene is thrilling to see. And everything is gorgeously coloured by Pete Pantazis and nicely lettered by Travis Lanham. 

And the jigsaw motif cover, by illustrator Don Kramer and colourist Alex Sinclair, is excellently conceived and superbly executed.

But I can't help feeling that all these creative gifts could be put to better use elsewhere. Specifically, on a book featuring a classic Wonder Woman, rather than the Diana we have here - ever improving, but strangled by a storyline too convoluted even for a superhero soap. 

And there are still four issues to go ...

Justice League: Generation Lost #24 review

'It all comes down to this!' is the name of the final issue of this year-long limited series, 'this' being the big blowout between the Justice League International, friend-turned-foe Maxwell Lord and OMAC Prime. It's sharply scripted by Judd Winick, who gives us such great lines as Max's 'People have to see the truth - even if it's wrapped up in a lie' and Rocket Red's less-eloquent, but effective, 'Scumbag'. He shows us that teen Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes will one day make a fine League leader, and how much faith Batman has in the once-derided team.

And the story is drawn up a storm by Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan, reunited with their old pal Wonder Woman - or rather, the new Wonder Woman whom few know (and fewer like). She doesn't exactly cover herself with glory here, being easily defeated by Omac Prime. Still, NuDiana looks pretty good, even in the strappy costume. Super-Adaptoid/Amazo homagist OMAC Prime, though, looks blooming silly as he begins growing Wonder Hair and copying her bodice. 

There are many good moments in this extra-sized story, comprising two extended fight scenes which eventually come together. It gives us Booster Gold and Max in hand-to-hand combat; Blue Beetle defeating OMAC Prime in the name of Ted Kord; Fire, Ice and Rocket Red in a desperate fight to save Wonder Woman. Power Girl arrives to help but wisely stays back when she learns OMAC Prime might duplicate her abilities and become even more dangerous. Even Batman is around, allegedly - he's useless, only showing up at the end.

Then there's Captain Atom, with the power of a god but the curse that when he really cuts loose, he blasts out of the present, to some unknown future with little chance of finding his way back. But here it's a fate he embraces, sacrificing his place in 2011 in order to bring down Max.

It's a shame, then, that his gift is rendered meaningless when Max, defeated, surrounded by the JLI, simply teleports away, leaving the heroes blank-faced.

First off, since he had a teleporter, why didn't he just vanish when Booster attacked?

Secondly ... he got away? The JLI had him in front of them, broken and bruised, and let him hit a button and escape? I heard Winick on iFanboy's Don't Miss podcast plugging this final issue, saying that this was one of those rare times in comics when a story has a planned ending. He insisted that while there would be the odd loose end opening up further stories, the Generation Lost arc got to have a proper conclusion.

The villain of the peace, responsible for the deaths of thousands, getting away is not a loose end. It's a travesty. The JLI has battled Max for 24 straight issues. They've had some small wins, but more often than not Max has won the day, left laughing as they wound up looking like dupes. But the heroes have shown immense spirit, regrouped, forged a new team. And this was their day to win.

But they lost. Max won the battles, and the war. Batman positing that the JLI forcing Max out of the shadows as a victory isn't convincing when he slips straight back in again. Yes, Captain Atom persuades Max to let the world remember him, but that doesn't seem to include the crimes he committed before Wonder Woman killed him a few years back. And the League has lost a good man.

And never mind the JLI, as a reader, I needed to see Max brought to justice. I don't care if he escapes from prison in three months and returns to bedevil the JLI, for now, I want him hauled before a court. Methinks Winick has fallen in love with his devil a little too much.

I've praised this series often in the past few months, and this was in no way a bad superhero comic. It did what it intended to do - set the Justice League International up for a new ongoing while entertaining us, twice a month. But, and you can call me an overentitled fanboy, it should have done something different at the end - it should have given Booster, Beatriz, Jaime and the rest the unequivocal win they deserved.

'It all comes down to this'? Indeed.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Doom Patrol #21 review

With just a couple of issues before the axe falls on this title, a spotlight on Robotman may sound like an unnecessary indulgence. But Cliff Steele is such an intriguing character that I'm happy to see his past and character illuminated. And what a character. On the surface, he seems like DC's Ben Grimm, a man turned monster, tough-talking, streetwise and the backbone of his team. Yet, as this story emphasises, it's taken him a lot longer than Marvel's Thing to come to terms with his fate. For whether fleshy or rocky, Ben could always be his own man, make his own decisions. Not Cliff.

If Robotman is always at the forefront of the action, that's because distraction denies pain, the pain of knowing you're just a set of brainwaves, ready to be dumped in the next robot body by whichever supposed genius wants to play God that day.

Niles Caulder was the first, the Doom Patrol's Chief, stealing racing driver Cliff's body from the cheerily named St Jude's Hospital after an explosion mangles it beyond repair and transplanting the brain into a hideous metal frame. (And would anyone bet against the manipulative Caulder having caused the blast in the first place, to secure an experimental subject?) Then there's Metal Men creator Will Magnus who, years after that, 'rescued' Robotman's brain following the Doom Patrol's demise at the hands of General Immortus. We readers had always assumed this was an entirely benevolent act, but here writer Keith Giffen reveals that Magnus was less concerned with preserving Cliff's mind than the link he represented to the DC Universe's first metal hero, the Golden Age Robotman.

Man, robot, science experiment, hero ... Cliff's been them all, but concentrating on the heroism has allowed him to avoid dealing emotionally with the fact that he's more machine than man. But this issue he's in unusually contemplative mode after Immortus returns and asks the Doom Patrol to help him recapture Oolong Island - the team's recent base of operations - from the sinister Mr Somebody. Our journey through Cliff's past takes in every version of the Doom Patrol, from the new team headed by the Chief's secret wife, Celsius, through the surreal years, the pesky kids, the somehow-imaginary version and the reborn team of today that includes originals Elasti-Woman and Negative Man, along with Bumblebee and Ambush Bug.

All the time we're getting more information, such as Cliff's shocking, yet understandable, role in the calling of the first team, and the depth of his friendship with recently re-emerged Sixties humour character Super-Hip. It's a typically bravura performance from Giffen, showing us that while he may look the robot, Cliff has never lost his humanity, and never will. And I'm delighted to see Cliff definitively tied to the first Robotman, as it always frustrated me that both characters were on the same DC Earth without anyone ever mentioning it. Sure, it makes Cliff a Legacy hero, but a superdoer this interesting will remain unique.

The issue is excellently pencilled by Matthew Clark and Ron Randall, inked by Art Thibert and coloured by Guy Major. There are appropriate splashes aplenty - one for each era - and standout single panels, such as the moment we see what Cliff looked like the first time he awoke after the crash. Clarke's cover is also a beauty, referencing DaVinci's Vitruvian Man - I especially like Cliff's tattoos. And while I'm naming names, kudos too to letterer Pat Brosseau, for the usual sterling efforts. 

All in all, this is a thoughtful, entertaining examination of what the Doom Patrol means to Cliff, setting the scene for the series' last issue in fine style, and setting Cliff up for wherever his hero's journey takes him next.

A wee bit of housekeeping

Well, due to the public holiday season kicking off in the UK this week, I'll be a wee bit late with reviews - Thursday, rather than Wednesday. Please bear with me! It could be worse next week, given that Friday 29 April is another (bah to the Royal Wedding - it's not as if Black Bolt is marrying Medusa), and Monday is yet another! If anyone has a private jet and wishes to fly in some comics ...

And on another note, apologies for two or three badly placed ads - I've just joined Amazon Associates, as I rather like recommending stuff - all ads are my choice, not that of a robot. Trouble is, it took me a few minutes to make the association between cursor placement and ad position, hence a few ads by covers rather than below posts. And I can't seem to move 'em. My apologies, it won't happen again. I may even make a few extra quid over the course of the year to a) buy more comics or b) Help orphans. Guess which. 

I hope that the ads don't annoy anyone! The human mind is a wonderful thing, it can soon learn not to see them. UK chums, the links are to Amazon US, but if you do click through it should give you the option of going to Amazon UK, because it knows where you are. I think this is a good thing. reckon I know just the ads to place here ...

Anyway, I hope everyone's well!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Power Girl #23 review

Power Girl and Superman are fighting magical dinosaurs, who they gonna call? Zatanna, stage magician and real-life enchantress. But as she's all tied up with power leech Siphon, she's bound to be silent. Her unavailablility tips the Kryptonian cousins off that she's in need of a hand herself, so dispatching the dinos, they're off to free Zee. Siphon's a natural with the backwards magic, though, and he unleashes a hilarious spell on the heroic trio - let's just say things get rocky for them. Then it's a sasquatch attack, hell on Earth, talk of magical bras, the world's biggest glue gun ....

Writer Judd WInick is having fun here, with a light hearted tale that packs in plenty of entertaining tussles and character beats. There's Power Girl and Superman convincing themselves of the true nature of the dinosaurs as they don't wish to kill living creatures, before their fakeness becomes very evident in Sami Basri's glorious splash. There's Siphon's reaction to Zee's just-perfect ringtone. And fight over, there's the resolution to Power Girl's secret identity crisis.

This last surprised me, as Karen Starr suddenly becomes a red-wigged, bespectacled boardroom babe. I was sure Peege would take Superman's advice to make Karen more different from her superheroic self, but via a change of hairstyle and character acting, not this full-on disguise. Still, surprises are good, and I can't see the new look taking.

At one point Zatanna begins narrating the story, which had me checking the cover to see whose book it was - perhaps this two-parter was originally going to be a crossover between this book and Zee's own. Not to worry, as this is a wonderfully fun storyline, a perfect diversion that won't cause any headaches after the fact. Winick's dialogue is top of the range, easily as amusing - without being silly - as anything from the book's brilliant first year, when Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti were writing.

And Basri's artwork is just excellent, and I'm amazed he's not yet been pulled away by a bigger book or publisher (oops, mustn't give them ideas). He not only gives us his usual proud, pretty Power Girl, but a strong, steadfast Superman and a zippy, zoftig Zatanna. The pages are superbly coloured by Jessica Kholinne and lettered by John J Hill. The dazzling cover is down to Basri with Sunny Gho - it's a shame there was no room for Superman, but then, he did make last month's front.

I've said it before, I'll likely say it again - for a great mix of drama and humour, few comics can beat Power Girl.

Avengers Academy #12 review

Continuing from last issue's Korvac mini-saga, Avengers Academy #12 sees the students become the masters. Carina, daughter of Cosmic Bigwig The Collector, places their consciousnesses in the bodies of elder counterparts from future realities. The swap should bring enough control over their abilities to allow them to defeat her estranged husband, who wants to rule humanity. He means well.

Despite Carina's confidence, defeating a virtual god doesn't come easy, and one member dies.

For a little while ... 

After the proverbial pulse-pounding power play, the Academians succeed where the adult Avengers failed, sending Korvac packing. It's then that the issue gets really interesting, as two members get a new status quo, two get a raw deal by comparison and the other two stay very much true to form.

Writer Christos Gage uses his cosmic conflict to focus right in on the students' psyches, showing us where they're at and where they might one day be. Their reactions to sudden physical maturity are varied and authentic, as are their responses to what follows. He also shows instructor Hank Pym dealing with the knowledge that he's further away from returning his beloved Wasp to life than he thought. And yes, that's dealing - not falling apart!

The artwork by Tom Raney and Scott Hanna is, for the most part, rather good. My favourite sequence features a new way to demonstrate Finesse using her powers, and the whole is splendidly coloured by Jeromy Cox - space nudist Korvac fair throbs with eclectic energies (click to engorge).

Cox also contributes to the cover, colouring Mike McKone's shot of the Avengers Academy Alumni to be. The ravenous Raptor looks particularly fine.

So this issue, the kids defeat a deity. Next month brings something even scarier - the school prom. Be my date?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tiny Titans #39 review

'I like pink very much, Lois' states the cover of this issue, proving that someone at DC remembers a line from the Superman movies beyond 'Kneel before Zod'.

I like this issue very much. A washday accident at Wayne Manor - Supergirl puts a batch of S-capes in with the Batman Family's more dour laundry - unleashes a plethora of pink pants. The likes of Batgirl and Supergirl are thrilled, Robin and Superman less so.

Who knew that so many great gags could centre on the girliest of colours, but this issue of Tiny Titans gave me the most smiles of any comic in ages. Take baby Damian and 'Miss Cassandra', for example (click to enlarge):

There's also a riff on the Smallville blur, Robin being taken to the most terrifying spot on Earth and Superman looking like a lumberjack (and he's OK). As for that famous line from Superman: The Movie, it does come into the book, but I'll let you find out just how for yourself.

It's safe to say that if you put your cash down for this issue, you won't regret it. Creative geniuses Art Baltazar and Franco have perfected the art of kid-based superhero satire in one of the most consistent comics around.

Legion of Super-Heroes #12 review

It's the Legion of Super-Heroes vs the Legion of Super-Villains in an action-packed instalment. Given that LSV leader – well, tyrant, actually – Saturn Queen has only recently begun gathering her troops I was expecting a longer preamble prior to any meaningful confrontation, but here we have the new LSV surprised by the 31st century's super-teens. As for who comes out on top, there are bumps and bruises on both sides after a series of killer confrontations.

My favourite moments include Lightning Lass vs Lightning Lord – it's always fun when the sizzling siblings face off – and Phantom Girl showing Atta what's what. This second sortie sees writer Paul Levitz play with ghost imagery, which seems entirely appropriate when dealing with someone who calls herself Phantom Girl, but it's been surprisingly little done; I like it.

I also like Mon-El, at the shattered Rock of Eternity with Sperm Lantern Dyogene, stressing that he – the new Green Lantern – really isn't the last hope against some still undescribed enemy … there's the entire Legion.

Then there's a tremendous scene of Brainiac 5 performing multiversal surgery on Starboy, still a jabbering wreck after various time travails. As images of different DC Star Boys dance above Thom Kallor's head, we see how much faith Brainy has in Dream Girl. He leaves her to monitor the rest of the operation while he leads a team to his homeworld of Colu, where Saturn Queen and her cronies are attempting to learn the whereabouts of the mysterious 'world of the wise' she hopes to raze. In battle with rogue Coluan Questor, we see that Brainy is quite the tough nut when he wishes to be.

Brainy does deserve a demerit, though, for not bothering to find out the nature of the information time expert Harmonia Li offered him last issue regarding her cuplability with regard to recent disasters. Who knows what useful intelligence she might have provided?

And someone on the creative team loses a point for dropping the ball with regards to Ultra Boy's defeat of LSV wannabe Stegus, a super-dinosaur – one minute he's standing by Lightning Lord, about to bail on the fight, the next he's over Ultra Boy's shoulder, having been defeated. I know Jo Nah is fast, but we might have been shown something.

Still, this is a very rewarding issue. Levitz plots like the veteran he is and scripts like a talented tyro, while penciller Yildiray Cinar produces wonderfully zingy layouts and bombastic moments. The pair are especially proficient at depicting the evil of Saturn Queen – Levitz writes her as a callous cow, Cinar presents the evil in her eyes, the cold confidence in her body language. And they show that Lightning Lord, charged with supervising  the LSV's answer to the Legion's traditional membership trials, is anything but a spineless lackey.

Levitz and Cinar also have someone dump Earth-Man on his overconfident arse. Hurrah!
Inking Cinar this time is Jonathan Glapion, who adds a scrappy finish to the fight scenes that makes them just that little bit more intense (click to enlarge). The quieter moments run more smoothly. If I may give our artists a note, it's to remember that Mon-El's hair is distinctive, jet black and very straight - here, he looks like Superboy in a green union suit.

Said green, along with other lovely hues, is provided by regular colourists HiFi, while John J Hill supplies the fine lettering. And that stonker of a cover is the work of Cinar with, the interior credits say, Glapion; but as it's actually signed by Cinar and 'Faucher', I'll plump for Wayne Faucher, the books oft-inker. Hi-Fi colours, separating two distinct planes of activity with ease.

That's a year's worth of the new Legion of Super-Heroes comic we've had now. It's good to be back in the 31st century. 

Supergirl #63 review

Wow, the nurses in Metropolis really are crabby. Lois Lane inquires how Cadmus whistleblower Catherine, a patient at Metropolis' St Idelson's hospital, is doing, and gets a mouthful of attitude. Mind, when she checks in with Catherine and learns more on the dark goings-on at the genetics research facility, she gets something far worse than a condescending 'angel'...

Elsewhere, Supergirl picks herself up after evil fella Alex's unexpected power rampage last issue and sets about her fightback, ignoring his student lackeys. Writer James Peaty foregrounds the scientist side of Kara, as she comes up with a theory and tests it before, finally, learning the true nature of Alex. Turns out I was wrong with my guesses, but there is a semi-punning clue in his name. I'm saying nowt!

This arc's guest stars, Blue Beetle, Miss Martian and Robin, are prisoners throughout, with little to do. There is, though, a nice bit of characterisation for Damian as his deepest fears are revealed in an intense splash by Bernard Chang, vibrantly coloured by Blond. The lettering, as usual, is by the very capable Travis Lanham.

With one more issue of Good-Looking Corpse to go, I'm not clear as to where the title fits in. I wonder if the explanation lies in original arc writer Nick Spencer's notes. Not to worry, I've enjoyed the tale told by Peaty, who deserves a lot of credit for taking the storytelling baton and running with it in his own direction. He's shown us a Supergirl who's a natural leader, and learning the responsibilities that come with that role. And Chang's art has been exemplary, a fine mix of strong character work and storytelling dynamism, typified by a spread showing Supergirl recalling how she was rendered unconscious.

Amy Reeder's cutely dramatic cover - inked by Richard Friend and coloured by Guy Major - is the topper to an issue which maintains the high standard of this comic's last few years.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Uncanny X-Men #535 review

It's just another day on the island of Utopia. Colossus and Kitty and Namor are fighting a giant robo-shrimp. Magneto is arguing with Dr Nemesis. And Cyclops is 'prioritising'. The number one priority soon becomes clear as Agent Abigail Brand of space defence agency S.W.O.R.D. asks the X-Men, ever so nicely, to save the world.

The crisis is partly of their own making, as it centres on a massive assault ship heading for Earth from Breakworld, whose warlord they once annoyed. So off into space the mutants go, for a few issues' vacation from the increasingly tiresome war on oppression.

This is the best X-Men issue I've read in years. I'm used to the gorgeous art of Terry and Rachel Dodson, whose expressive characters and design flair remind me of the Paul Smith period. And I know Keiron Gillen can write a mean comic script. But I wasn't prepared for just how good the Dodsons and Gillen would be together - there's a classic feel to their X-Men, but a freshness too.

The book opens with a nicely done recap, before we join Kitty and Peter for a picnic, a sweet and funny scene that becomes even better once Namor (power: super-pompousness) appears. There's some spot-on banter between the three of them, but respect and concern too - the Sub-Mariner cares that Kitty is stuck in phase mode (click image to enlarge). 

The scene with Dr Nemesis of the X-Club illustrates just how much the mutants have to deal with at the moment, while also hinting that Magneto aims to solve the mystery of Kitty's condition. And the subsequent visit with Cyclops shows that the X-Men's leader is too distracted to pick up on this.

That apart, Scott Summers is in fine fettle, ensuring Agent Brand knows that she having asked the X-Men for help, he's in charge of the mission - he's simply firm, rather than the ass we've gotten used to over the last several years.

Ah yes, Abigail Brand. Never liked her in Astonishing, she was too much the gobby Claremontwoman, so I avoided the S.W.O.R.D. ongoing. Which was written by Gillen. Which I now wish I'd bought, because as presented by him she's a hard-nosed delight - obnoxious, sarcastic but bright enough to know when she should step back. And I love her prisoner/advisor Unit, who seems a cross between C3P0 and Hannibal Lecter.

And every excellently written scene becomes that much better thanks to the Dodsons' facility for selling the moments that build to the bigger drama.

Gillen said in an iFanboy Don't Miss interview this week that he's aiming to find the emotion in stories, that if a writer doesn't make us care about the X-Men, they've failed.  

He's succeeded.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Justice League: Generation Lost #23 review

Aside from the undeniably icky notion of Max Lord's bleeding nose spelling out the continents, I'm not keen on Dustin Nguyen's cover this time - Max looks tremendous, but the heroes are a little too sketchy for me. Full marks for trying something different, though.

Inside, the series continues as it has for months now, with a strongly plotted superhero adventure. Most of the League tries to protect Wonder Woman from a battery of Omacs, while Booster Gold takes the fight to Max. It's great to see the Checkmate grandmaster on the back foot for once, surprised by Booster's full-frontal attack. Which isn't to say he doesn't pick himself up, ready for the fight back.

That's something we'll see next issue, in the grand finale of writer Judd Winick's superb series. This issue we get the worst Omac of all, a massive cyborg who can use the League's own powers against them, in the manner of old JLA enemy Amazo. Actually, given that this Omac Prime was tooled by Amazo's creator, Professor Ivo, we should probably call him Omac Prime, AmazOmac. Ivo has been presented as Lord's stooge of late, but there are hints here that he's playing Max ... let's not forget that Ivo is an A-class bad guy, one of the few JLA foes to kill a Leaguer (I'd dance a jig were his victim, Vibe, to show up next issue and clean his scaly clock).

Penciller Fernando Dagnino and inker Raul Fernandez supply this series with its best artwork yet - it's big and it's clever, full of motion and emotion (click on image to enlarge). And as coloured by Hi-Fi, it's pop rocking eye candy. The letterer is good too - and very modest ... there's no credit! I blame the letterer.

If you've not been reading, the hardcover collecting the first 12 issues is out now. It's JLA action at its best.

Birds of Prey #11 review



Leaky bowels ... this one has it all.

As a good Catholic girl, the Huntress is attracted to bad boys. And one in particular, Catman, who shows up just as she's chasing down a gang who have captured a hostage with medical problems. Will he help Huntress, or take the side of the villains? After all, he is a member in bad standing of the Secret Six, the DC Universe's favourite band of mercenaries.

It's been a while since the sparks between Helena Bertinelli and Tom Blake have been addressed, but author Gail Simone makes up for that this issue. In spades. The race against time through Gotham allows for perfectly paced characterisation and by the end of the issue we're in no doubt as to where each stands on the matter of a possible relationship. It's not often we see such chemistry between two characters, but the pull Catman and Huntress feel towards one another is palpable. 

He's a bad guy and she's on the side of the angels. She tells herself that she's in a grey area, more like a villain than a hero, but she's fooling no one. Yes, they're very alike, but it's a matter of him being more on her side of the line than he admits, not of her being anything less than a grade-A hero. 

Plus, they're both a little warped: she's packing Catholic angst, he's full of self-loathing. If they'd just go a little easier on themselves they'd have a real chance.

While this is the Catman and Huntress show, Oracle and Black Canary have a lovely scene as they fear and cheer the idea of a relationship (no prizes for guessing who takes which position). I also like that Dinah's still making Green Arrow's super-hot chili - there's hope for those two yet.

Artist for this issue is Pere Perez, who's been doing sterling work filling in across the DC line over the last couple of years. And here he is again, helping a book hit a deadline with dynamic, attractive art and still no word of a regular gig. It just ain't right. His Huntress and Catman are suitably dark creatures of the night. Babs Gordon, in her Bat-pyjamas, is an altogether cuter propositition. 

Nei Ruffino brings her colours to the table, and leaves the table looking grand; the script doesn't require flashy effects, but every page is a treat. And Carlos M Mangual, a letterer I've not come across previously, keeps things reading nicely. 

An extra joy is the cover by Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau. Just look it at. Now that's one hot snog. Then look at it more closely - that's great character work. And I love the romantic treatment given the logo. 

Without hangers-on Hawk and Dove, and Lady Blackhawk likely babysitting/corrupting Misfit, there's room for a brilliant, tightly focused Birds of Prey tale of the old school. I hope it's a sign of things to come.

The Flash #10 review

The Flash and Kid Flash meet Hot Pursuit, who claims to be the Barry Allen of one of the 52 worlds. Unable to access the Speed Force directly, he steals speed via his super-cycle to zoom around his world, protecting it from temporal attacks. He tells Barry that 'the single greatest time anomaly to threaten reality is coming'. And because Flash's Earth is the keystone of the 52 worlds in the Multiverse, if it falls, his own - and the other 50 - will follow.

What he wants of Barry - apart from a massive slug of speed - is surprising, paving the way for a conversation with Bart that's been a long time coming.  And on a similar note, this issue features the return of Barry's old lab partner, Patty Spivot. I've always liked that gal - hey, she was the first female Flash! The rest of the story could have been rubbish and I'd still have closed this issue, smiling ...

... but it was far from rubbish. The Road to Flashpoint Part 2 is my favourite issue of the current run. We have the Flashpoint story beginning, good character work and more on the mysterious killer who's stealing time. Writer Geoff Johns restores the impatient quality that saw Bart initially take the superhero name Impulse, and moves the subplot of Barry's distancing himself from family members forward. The only thing I don't like about this story is the name Hot Pursuit, which is seriously naff; I guess, after seven decades of super-speedsters, all the good names have been taken. Here come Hot Pursuit, on his Cosmic Motorcycle. Oh dearie me.

This issue also features the best art yet from the already impressive team of illustrator Francis Manapul and colourist Brian Buccellato. The figures are sharp, the pages crackle with heat and light energy, and there's a brilliant use of colour to convey emotion in a key beat.

Manapul and Buccellato's cover is eye-catching, if a little after the fact. We found out who Hot Pursuit (snicker) was last issue. Then again, this book takes so long to appear - I see that #9 came out in early February - that readers may have forgotten. Hopefully, once the Flashpoint event proper begins, this comic will synch up with the rest of the DC line and appear regularly. A boy can dream.