Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Justice League #1 review

Say hello to the New DC Universe. Tweaked costumes, younger heroes, different relationships .... it's bound to be a bumpy ride, but that's not so bad in the superhero genre. DC kicks off with its big guns book, hoping the traditional combination of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and the rest draws us in ...

Promotional images have shown more than a dozen characters. The cover depicts seven. Inside we meet four, only three of whom are yet heroes. Writer Geoff Johns is taking us back to the formation of this new JL (no 'of America' as yet), so it's understandable that the team isn't together. I would, though, like to at least check in with all the main players - most of this book is a not-quite team-up between Batman and Green Lantern as they track down an alien in Gotham City. Their efforts are hampered by an exceedingly well-equipped Gotham police force - massive guns, assault helicopters - but they fail to capture the heroes.

After planting a bomb and crying out to Darkseid, the insectoid creature opts for immolation, leaving its pursuers looking for clues. Green Lantern wonders if the creature is linked to known alien Superman, so off they pop to Metropolis. There, football hero Vic Stone is being offered college scholarships left, right and centre, but he's sad cos his dad is too busy to attend games. He's on hand as GL and Batman arrive, but doesn't meet them, though they do meet someone - Superman himself.

And that's that for the first issue. Batman, having become more rounded under Grant Morrison of late, is back to the snarly, growly fellow from the Christopher Nolan films. Green Lantern is so big-headed that he refers to himself in the third person. Quiet Man Vic is pretty much where he was in his New Teen Titans origin, 30 years ago. And Superman cuts an impressive figure, but in nine words manages to sound every bit as arrogant as Batman and GL.

I realise that DC wants new readers to feel they're getting in on the beginning of a whole new League, but my preference would have been to see the team in action today, with a flashback origin later on. I want to meet the mature League first - they don't have to be 'old', but I don't want bickering all over the place; this issue has GL shooting as much testosterone as he does Oan energy.

And what a lot he fires, wasting power on seriously complicated creations such as riot cops when a simple wall would do - gotta be cool for the kids, I guess. Which isn't to say they don't look good as depicted by penciller Jim Lee, inker Scott Williams and colourist Alex Sinclair. It's just that complex constructs were never Hal's thing, they were the USP of his successor, Kyle Rayner (then again, Barry Allen has nicked the Speed Force shtick from Wally West, allowing DC to claim he's redundant, so why shouldn't Hal also plunder the popular?).

Everyone looks impressive on the page, even with the unnecessary costume changes. Lee's Batman and GL may only stop scowling when they're being cocky, but they certainly look like powerful figures. And Superman, hideous new costume apart, looks great too, with heat vision slug trail and a fine head of hair just waiting for a kiss curl. Vic isn't a superhero yet, but there's a pleasing grace to him. And the creature from Apokolips has a suitably menacing design.

I really feel I should like this issue more; it's professional, has splashy action, attention-grabbing character dynamics and a bit of a mystery.

But it just feels so old-fashioned. I was going to use 'Nineties' as a pejorative, but that decade gave us Grant Morrison and Howard Porter's immensely inventive and sophisticated JLA. This reads like a bog-standard comic from the decade - very manly, but not especially engaging.

But it's only the first issue, for goodness' sake. As more characters are pulled in by Johns, characters who aren't all Type As, the dynamics should become less annoying. And who knows how Lee may surprise us if he's enthused.

Let's hope Lee doesn't look to his cover for inspiration, what with Hal and a humongous green gun that just screams 'tiny willy', a Superman with a head made from a spoon, a Flash with horns and a super-busty Wonder Woman too dim to notice when her costume's shrunk in the wash.

Justice League gets the new DC Universe off to a suitably splashy start. Not a wildly interesting one, but Johns and Lee have been at the comics game a long time, and produced enough good stories that I'll give this book a few issues to find its feet. The promise of Darkseid helps, with the villain having enough scary, formidable lackeys to challenge the tyro team. I just hope we finally see the fresh approach DC has promised.

Flashpoint #5 review

It's the end ... and the beginning. DC's summer event closes the door on one chapter of the DC Universe and begins a new one, as the Flash, Barry Allen, changes the timeline.

A lot of this issue is fighting of the kind we've gotten used to over the past few months. Amazons attack, Atlanteans assault, people perish ... For several pages we have dramatic exits and entrances, none more so than the belated arrival of Superman.

There is a twist, though, and it's a big one. While holding Barry in a neck-lock reminiscent of the one Barry once used to kill him (ah, comics), the Reverse Flash, Professor Zoom, forces the Flash to remember. Remember that it wasn't the villain who changed the regular DC Universe, but the hero. The Flashpoint event was presaged by a lightning bolt as Barry stood by his mother's grave; I had assumed that was the moment Zoom changed things with his Negative Speed Force. Turns out it was Barry's doing - in a proverbial split second he had returned to the day Zoom murdered Nora, Barry's mother, and caused an explosion of Speed Force that shattered reality.

'You changed time like an amateur,' taunts Zoom, and it's difficult to disagree.

The shift meant Thomas and Martha Wayne lived as Bruce died. It denied Kal-El a happy upbringing with the Kents. It led to the war between Atlantis and Themiscyra.

The reset wasn't all bad news, as it gave lesser-known heroes such as Cyborg, Godiva and Grifter a chance to step up, and brought in such new characters as Mrs Hyde, Element Woman, the Outsider and Britannia (I'm trying to forget the Canterbury Cricket).

But the big picture was that all-out warfare between two warrior peoples led to the deaths of millions, and that has to be fixed.

Which is what Barry tries to do here after a heart-to-heart with his mother, who proves that she too has the soul of a hero by accepting that if her son succeeds, she'll blink out of reality. Thomas Wayne, too, is happy to go so that his child might live, though his death is a violent one (no surprise in a storyline whose grisly death count has long since passed self-parodic levels). Still, he does get to kill the very annoying Zoom.

Barry runs back through the Speed Force, to the moment he changed things, and has an unexpected encounter. A cosmic figure - reminiscent of Kismet from the Nineties Superman books - appears before him and explains, if I'm reading this correctly, that there was one true reality that was sundered into three timelines, 'splintered to weaken your world for their impending arrival'. Which means that the new DCU timeline isn't, as expected, changed due to Barry's fuzzy memories, but because he's restoring the world that was meant to be.

It's another twist, and one whose implications will likely become apparent as soon as DC needs another big event, explaining who 'they' are whom the heroes must stand against.

Before that, we have the new world order, with 'on-screen' changes so far limited to the Flash's fussy new boots, with their silly lightning noodles. Barry wakes up at Central City Police Department, as he did in Flashpoint #1, but rather than rush headlong into a mad world, he visits the Batman and delivers a message bringing Bruce Wayne a rare moment of happiness. And Barry, likewise, is surprised and delighted as he finds that he has kept his alternate reality memories of his mother - but come his new book, will he realise that he's lost his marriage to Iris West? Doubtful in the extreme.

All in all, it's a pretty decent script from Geoff Johns. There's loads happening in this extra-sized issue, but few moments feel undersold. It sets the stage for DC's New 52 initiative and leaves a mystery to be mined later.

I said 'few moments' back there. I am irked that after all the time devoted to the Wonder Woman/Aquaman war in the Flashpoint event, we don't have a final scene between them as the world winds to an end.

The art by Andy Kubert, Sandra Hope and Jesse Delperdang serves the story well. The figures are spiky, energetic, full of all the sound and fury you could ask for in a crossover conclusion. My favourite scene, though, is the quiet moment between Barry and Nora, as mother and son hug for the last time.

The key spread, unfortunately, is a bit of a mess - awkward groupings of heroes surround Barry as he whizzes through the timestream; the bottom left image of the pre-Flashpoint DCU Justice League is particularly poor. My guess would be that the issue was a tad rushed, but if an artistic team is going to have to hand in pages quicker than they'd like, the money shot isn't the one to skimp on. 

In the main, though, I'd say the art is a success, matching the frantic pace of the script, helping to create a comic that leaves me excited to see what comes next. So goodbye, post-Crisis DC, it's been a blast - the new management says you were never meant to be. Don't worry, though, in a couple of decades the post-Flashpoint world will hear the same thing as another DC epoch arrives.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Teen Titans #100 review

It's the fight no one demanded, Superboy Prime vs the Teen Titans. Time and time again Prime has been defeated, placed in an 'ultimate prison', depowered, whatever ... but he keeps coming back. DC writers just love him, with this month's fan being JT Krul. He's allied Prime with a Legion of Doom comprising villainous Titans types and Conner Kent clones. Could there (cue Chandler Bing voice) be a more perfect excuse to bring back former Titans for a massive 100th-and-last slugfest?

And after Prime is defeated, and sent to his latest ultimate prison, there's room for the rounding-up of subplots: Ravager learns that Conner isn't interested in her as a potential girlfriend, he simply wants her to be his personal kill switch should he ever go bad (awwwww!). And Raven decides to follow through on her attraction to Beast Boy (hurrah!).

These codas are the best bit of the comic, with the fight scene, while full of enjoyable, action-packed encounters, not quite meeting my hopes. What I wanted to see was big moments for such little-seen Titans as Argent, Risk and Prysm, but while the likes of Damian Wayne and Blue Beetle come into play, Red Star is the only non-current member who really makes an impression.

Still, the pencils of Nicola Scott and inks of Doug Hazlewood, Jack Purcell and Greg Adams bring us some great-looking pages, beautifully coloured by Jason Wright. The small panels carry a greater impact than their size might suggest, while the splashes make the most of the extra space allowed. A page of Prime being pummelled repeatedly uses the Titans' fetishistic T to help convey the impression of repetition. And the final page, of the Teen Titans going their separate ways, is a winner, with the sunlight framing the figures in such a way that they echo the classic Titans statue at the beginning of the story.

And there's more. Page after page of pin-ups by (deep breath) Rob Liefeld, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Karl Kerschl, Tony S Daniel and Norm Rapmund, Amy Reeder, Brett Booth and Rob Hunter, Marcus To and Chris Burnham. There's something to enjoy in each of them, but if I could choose just one it'd be Burnham's shot of the Titans villains. And Reeders charmingly un-cheesecake shot of lady Titans.
And Garcia-Lopez' original team ... cliche alert - the pin-ups here are worth the price of admission, but as $4.99 also gets you a pretty good 30pp strip, I recommend this last issue before the New 52 revamp without hesitation.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Batman Incorporated #8 review

Twenty years ago DC Comics brought out Digital Justice, in which a computerised Batman takes on a Joker virus. Or so Wikipedia tells me - I never read the book. The Tron-like set-up, and the promise of computerised art, just put me off. I'm no fan of video games so stories centred on such realms aren't likely to grab me.

Well, here's Grant Morrison - behind a fabulous Chris Burnham cover - returning to that particular well, even naming a chapter for the earlier tale, as part of his Leviathan storyline. The crime organisation is behind a plot trapping Bruce Wayne and potential investors inside his new Internet 3.0. In technical terms, it's a virtual reality thingie.

If the billionaires' avatars are destroyed in the 'game' they pay the ultimate price. Which to this acquisitive lot isn't death, it's the loss of their fortunes. As luck and forward planning would have it, the game's designer, Oracle, is on hand to run the rescue. She cybernetically suits up as an IT Batgirl - B-I.T.girl? - and saves the day, aided by a similarly souped-up Batman simulation.

With all the talk of 'haptic interfaces' and 'mutation engines' I haven't the dongliest what's going on but writer Grant Morrison makes it sound convincing. And thanks to artists Scott Clark and Dave Beatty, the scenes of Barbara and Bruce as computer chip chiropteras look splendid, while the simulated selves of the nervous Nabobs are typically dead-looking avatars.

But I just don't care. Computerised rich people threatened by computerised criminals in a computerised world ... it's that extra remove from reality that stops me feeling anything. At one point a woman named Belle apparently turns into a dog (Sebastian?), but the point escapes me. Maybe if I bought into the Tron tropes, but I like Batman flesh and blood. My Batman is the most human of heroes, one rooted in the real world; has he learned nothing from the OMAC debacle?

I could try and make links between the mindscape here and Morrison's encounter with aliens, as detailed in his Supergods memoir, but I'm eager to move onto a comic that's perhaps a little less clever, but more human.

Justice Society of America #54 review

Jay Garrick, by a graveside, is joined by the villainous Per Degaton. They don't fight, they're here to mourn. We flash back to learn the story behind the coffin

Stupidly named god D'arken has leeched power from the JSA and is on the rampage. The full complement of members show up, but even with the added muscle and brains of the Challengers of the Unknown, nothing seems to stop him.

And Jesse Quick falls.

But she gets up again.

Then Wildcat falls.

But he gets up again.

And Obsidian ... oh, you get the picture? Yes, this is one of those 'who's died?' stories which has fun pulling the rug from under the reader. And readers who don't know there's a universal reboot coming that could bring anyone back to life might even be worried for their favourite hero. (Is there actually anyone out there who doesn't know about Flashpoint and the New 52?)

As it is, Alan Scott apparently dies defeating D'ork, but he'll be back. He's the original Green Lantern, more magical energy than man. He may look more human, but he's like Wildfire of the Legion of Super-Heroes - he'll reform in whichever sliver of the multiverse contains this continuity, without the clunky containment costume he's been sporting of late.

And in some New 52 version of the JSA - rumoured to be coming from James Robinson and Nicola Scott - Alan will be back. And hopefully he'll have plenty of the current JSA members beside him ... but not all. The likes of Red Beetle and I-can't-even-remember-their-names, introduced recently, then given nothing to do by writer Marc Guggenheim, can enjoy a one-way trip to comics limbo.

Readers of last week's Justice League of America #60 may be wondering how the non-pregnant Jesse Quick fits in with the heavily pregnant heroine we saw there. All we can assume is that JLA takes place later/Jesse had the baby/Jesse lost the baby - really, it's anything goes when the universe is changing. Remember how the original Supergirl picked up an extraterrestrial husband off-panel? Things just get wacky.

The appearance by Degaton comes to nothing, he's played as a harbinger of things to come, a passive figure who simply vanishes from the book, forgotten. It's a rare misstep from Guggenheim, whose JSA service has been exemplary.

Jerry Ordway pencils once more, giving the team a fine artistic send-off. As well as his superb draftsmanship, he pays attention to characters, ensuring that the beaten-down Jesse Quick looks suitably mussed up, and Jay Garrick races as he did in his Forties series. And just look at Mike Atiyeh's wonderfully coloured speed trail. There's also good work from letterer Rob Leigh.
Inkers Bob MacLeod and Sean Parsons likewise deserve a nod for their professional finishes.

Overall, though, this issue feels a bit flat. D'arken never shows any personality, and the JSA simply pile on until someone gets lucky. While the team's determination to rebuild at the end is a note of hope, I'd prefer a moment of true triumph.

Happily, there's a wonderfully grandiose cover from Darwyn Cooke, I love it when logos go big.

So that's it for another DC book. Justice Society of America has been a decent series, but I'm ready for a change of tone. With luck, DC will announce the successor title soon.

Wonder Woman #614 review

It's been the longest storyline in Wonder Woman history, and possibly the worst. Despite bright spots from writer Phil Hester, J Michael Straczynski's Odyssey has been a mess, trying to 'fix' the character not by focusing on what originally made her popular back in the Forties - a mix of  fantasy and reality, a dose of humour, nutty villains, a smattering of bondage - but by moving her further away from what she should be, making Diana a Xena without the wit.

Well, here's the final fling for the JMS run, as Diana faces the goddess Nemesis, driven mad by the burden of souls crying out for justice. It's a decent tussle, with Nemesis shifting form to prove a bigger threat to Diana. But having finally become whole last month, Diana's capable and confident, happy to be facing a familiar variety of menace rather than a confusing new reality. Nemesis forces Diana to kill her, and we're reminded that this isn't the Wonder Woman we met at the start of the Odyssey - this one regrets taking any life, even one that threatens everything she knows. The burden of Nemesis is mystically thrust onto Diana, changing her form, filling her with a lust for vengeance.

But having spent so long regaining the person she was, Diana chooses to shake off the spell. She's Diana, the one true Wonder Woman, and she is rewarded ... she's suddenly back on Paradise Island, her home. Sisters Philippus and Artemis are alive once more, as is her mother, Hippolyte. Diana is overwhelmed with love, and chooses to stay on Paradise Island awhile, despite a message from Batman that there's a Gorilla Grodd-shaped threat to be faced.

Why doesn't Wonder Woman leave to help? Because she knows that whatever the problem, it won't last. Change is coming. 'That glimpse into another possible world, it's made me aware that existence is fragile, always trembling under unseen pressures ... always ready to give way to a new reality. That's how I know it's about to happen again. I feel it.'

And yet, Diana isn't worried. She knows that whatever happens she'll remain her mother's daughter. An Amazon. Wonder Woman.

Whew, talk about 'it's always darkest ...' Hester has completed Straczynski's grim story, with a few flourishes of his own, and brought Diana back to the proverbial Happy Place. For the first time in an age she's at peace, with her sisters, by her mother's side. She's enjoying the downtime, before things shift and she has a new set of challenges to face.

A bit too meta-textual? Maybe, but it makes sense. The Wonder Woman of the Silver Age gave way, via the Crisis on Infinite Earths, to the George Perez version, who lived through such reality-blips as Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis. As a mystical creation, it's possible that she would become attuned to the signs. And as Wonder Woman, the most centred of superheroes, she would know that while she can't stop the changes, she certainly can deal with them. Bring it on.

The issue's opening battle, while important in the sense that it's Diana vs the power behind her recent trials, really isn't the thing this issue. It's what it represents - the end of the affair. Straczynski's infatuation with Wonder Woman proved brief, and damaging, but Nemesis defeated, Diana asserts herself and finds her way home. It's going to be shortlived, but for a few pages, Diana attains a kind of ecstasy.

And how I love the Diana/Hippolyte relationship here. There's none of the antagonism that too often defines their interaction, just love and understanding. Hippolyte teases her daughter about her latest uniform ('Themiscyran themes, but in a form the mortals would find appealing') and refers to Batman as 'your Bat-friend'. We also get to see Hippolyte overseeing the daily affairs of the Amazons, something I can't recall seeing in decades, and it's wonderful to see - not a mad queen, but a wise ruler.

Massive thanks to Phil Hester for closing out this run on a note of optimism. Credit, too, to pencillers Don Kramer and Lee Garbett for appealing scenes of war and peace alike, nicely inked by Drew Geraci, Robin Riggs and Trevor Scott. The scenes of Nemesis inflating - Kramer and Geraci, I think - just about put me off my lunch, but the pastoral joys of PI meant my sarnie got swallowed.

I'm not keen on Josh Middleton's cover - Diana's face looks very thin as she stands 50ft tall, but I expect many readers will like it.

So that's the end of a difficult year, and Wonder Woman Volume 3. Things can only get better.

Can't they?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Daredevil #2 review

Daredevil is back from temporary exile and Captain America wants him to answer for the Shadowland incident, in which DD set himself up as a ninja overlord. Daredevil was possessed by a rare devil at the time, and would rather forget the whole thing. After a fight, Cap agrees to give his old mucker DD the benefit of the doubt, but the Avenger will be back to check that DD's not trying to devour the planet, or anything.

Picking up on the legal case from last issue, Daredevil finds one of the lawyers who have refused to take on shopkeeper Ahmed Jobrani's brutality suit against the NYPD. It turns out that usually fearless litigator Gene Loren has received threats against his boyfriend. And they're not garden variety threats, but whispers inside his head ...

Investigating further, DD ventures into the junkyard behind Jobrami's premises which he's said he'll buy if he wins damages. And who should be in there but a clutch of avatars of Klaw, Murderous Master of Sound, preparing for a last-page cliffhanger.

And in the issue's most unexpected event, DD's law partner Foggy Nelson and new Assistant DA Kirstin McDuffie are revealed to be more than mere associates. Good on Foggy, he's had terrible luck with women. And good on Kirstin for recognising a nice guy when she sees one - let's just hope randy old Matt Murdock doesn't try to bring down his own gavel.

I like that while Matt has no trouble recognising Cap by the rhythm of his heart ('It beats like a Sousa march'), later he doesn't realise that he's come across a Klaw plot. He does twig that he's facing creatures of sound, though ... not that difficult for a man with enhanced senses. And yet, very difficult for a man with enhanced senses, as the noise causes Daredevil to pass out.

The scene with Gene Loren is smart; Daredevil doesn't let colleague Loren and his unnamed chap (who surely goes by Rey Puma) see him, now that most of New York City believes that DD and Matt Murdock are one and the same. And I appreciate that Waid doesn't have DD pass comment on Loren's sexuality, so he's gay, no big deal.

Waid's narration and dialogue are as good as any in comics, and better than most. He's worked out his characters' voices and can convey them to the reader with ease.

Paulo Rivera's pencils are a joy to look at, elegant and energetic. Inked by Joe Rivera, his people are alive. You can see the swashbuckler in Daredevil, the determination in Cap, the humour in Kirstin, the tension in Gene. The detail Rivera puts into Cap's costume is commendable, while his New York has a rare realism and depth. And I love that in one panel Rivera's DD seems to be homaging Miller, the next Gene Colan, and there's no inconsistency (click to enlarge).
The colours of Javier Rodriguez are cheery, unlike those of most Marvel books, and well suited to Waid's Man Without Angst. And Joe Caramagner's letters are flawless, so far as I can see.

Paulo Rivera's cover, while coloured too darkly, is a winner, reflecting the interior gimmick of DD and Cap swapping weapons mid-battle. A typically engaging idea for this engaging book.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Justice League of America #60 review

Oh, James Robinson is a bugger. As the current members of the JLA discuss taking their leave of the team, he sprinkles the pages with splashy scenes of adventures he's not had time to show us in full. Glorious, fun-filled fictions.

The Construct takes over every robot on Earth, pitting the JLA against the Metal Men, Red Tornado family, over a dozen GI robots and a lot more (click on image to enlarge - and that's only half the spread).
There's the Saturn-Thanagar war, as the JLA stands by J'emm, Son of Saturn, against the invading Hawkmen.

And the Battle for Gemworld, with Starman besting Dark Opal in a swordfight.

And these barely told tales are all beautifully presented by penciller Daniel Sampere, inker Wayne Faucher and colourist Andrew Dalhouse. The pages burst with characters and incident, the flashes of action begging for extrapolation.

As with last week's Batgirl #24, whether or not the stories were really all planned out doesn't matter; what's interesting is the potential we see (if we never truly meet Robo-Octo-Ape the world will be a sadder place). Robinson's JLA has grown in stature. More than a collection of promoted sidekicks, legacy heroes and second stringers, they really are (some of) the World's Greatest Super-Heroes. And this issue we see the kind of cosmos-shaking direction in which Robinson may have taken them, accompanied by mouthwatering artwork. You know, we just may be missing a classic JLA run by a classic creative team.

But there's more to this issue than teases. We're also allowed to eavesdrop on the final meeting of this incarnation of the JLA, as each member decides to move on. Some reasons are convincing: Jesse Quick is pregnant; Congorilla aims to find a successor to the fallen Freedom Beast; Starman needs to recover from injury; Supergirl plans to choose between college and exploring space.

Others serve the story's need to end a chapter more than they do the characters: recently reborn Jade wants to spend more time as photographer Jennie-Lynn Hayden; the Dick Grayson Batman decides that as everyone else is going, he may as well make it a clean sweep; and - stop me if you've heard this before - Donna Troy is off to find herself.

With Donna herself saying 'the first thing I need to do is work out who Donna Troy is nowadays', I'm pretty sure this is Robinson 'aving a larf. Nevertheless, it's painful to contemplate the multiple-origined Donna Troy going off to find herself yet again, even though the coming New 52 kinda-sorta-reboot means we're not going to have to suffer the sight. Indeedy, DC has announced no plans to include Donna in upcoming books, something Robinson graciously sets up here: 'I want the world to forget Donna Troy ever existed. I'm certainly going to do my best to disappear.' So if we don't see Donna for a few years, we can assume she's visiting Jack Knight, patron saint of self-effacing super-heroes.

Robinson also cheekily pre-engages with the post-Flashpoint world via Congorilla's commentary on the idea that Batwing is the only hero Africa needs. And he proves the point by rolling off a whole bunch of names of heroes unknown to his JLA pals - the Shanty Saint, Ghost Fury, Princess Knife, Science Whiz, Gullivar Sotinwa - causing them to blush with shame.

Then there's Dick's comment that despite his success as Batman, 'he'll want me back as Nightwing soon'. Robinson is letting us know that DC could easily make the changes it wants in character status quos without shifting the universal axis or whatever.

I also like Supergirl's telling Dick that he was the big brother she needed (they're both too polite to mention that Superman, who traditionally fills that role, has spent the year being rubbish); the fact that there's no JLA No More gloom ... everyone rightly assumes there'll be a new wave of heroes to take up the baton, hence the story's title, 'Adjourned'; Jesse Quick finally finding her niche as a speedster, and no one sharing her sense of humour; Donna's playful parting comment to Jesse: 'Let us know when you drop.'

Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, such as Jade's explanation of where she's at: ' I've been reborn, and that I'm not just in some weird dream, which I admit was kind of how I regarded it up until now as a way of dealing with my brother and me not able to be near each other and all the other subtle changes.' I know she's Californian, but she doesn't have to sound like Little Miss Therapy. Editor?

On the whole, though, this is a sterling issue. Robinson and partners, in a very entertaining manner, accomplish a lot - explaining why the curtain is coming down so soon after the JLA's massive victory against Eclipso, setting the characters up for their next seen or unseen status quo, and making us pine for a series curtailed.

Will I miss this incarnation of the Justice League of America? I already am.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Superboy #11 review

Now that's a clever cover for a final issue ... Karl Kerschl repeats Rafael Albuquerque's image from #1, but pulls back the 'camera' to show that Superboy isn't alone in Smallville, as he was when he reluctantly moved there. He's made friends, Lori Luthor and Simon Valentine, alongside the ever-dependable Krypto.

Inside, there's also Psionic Lad, would-be assassin turned pal. Together they help the Phantom Stranger see off black magician Tannarak and his Hollow Men, reuniting the people of Smallville with their souls. That's not bad for 20 pages.

Not that it's easy - Lori and Simon must fight off the Parasite inside the barn while Hollow Men, primitive clones, try to get in from the outside. Superboy can't begin to free Phantom Stranger from a mystic trap until he and Krypto beat off their own batch of Hollow Men. And Psionic Lad is unconscious.

But good overcomes all, and while the immortal Tannarak escapes to spell-cast another day, the Phantom Stranger is in hot pursuit; he'll have him any epoch now. The book ends with an echo of the first issue's opening narration, but rather than yearning for a 'normal' life, Superboy is embracing the extraordinary one he's found - he's a super-powered clone whose best mates are a genius frog wrangler, the slightly psychic niece of his evil half-father and a future boy with massive ESP gifts. Oh, and that dog from Krypton.

While the way Superboy helps Phantom Stranger escape is rather convenient, it's probably fair enough for a super-ghost. And the quibble is made up for by a fighting mad Dog of Steel, the call-out to the Dark Circle of the 31st century and the knowledge that Pete Ross teaches JSA history at Smallville High.

The signs aren't good, but I hope the new Superboy title finds room for the supporting cast writer Jeff Lemire has built up over the past year. They're an interesting bunch and have barely begun to interact with Conner Kent and one another. Plus, Psionic Lad has yet to face up to his murderous handlers, who aren't likely to give up on their plot to kill the Teen of Steel. Superboy doesn't know the reality of his mission into the past. And it's obvious Simon distrusts him.

If we never see Conner's new friends again (it's a pretty safe bet Krypto will be around), at least we've had an engrossing 11-issue story. A full collection would be longer than the average trade, but DC really should print the whole thing in one fat volume so that the bookends are in, you know, a single book.

Also gathered would be the attractive artwork Pier Gallo has provided for the majority of this run. He's been growing, experimenting with layouts and finishes, while keeping the characters consistent. I'll miss seeing his careful, detailed work on this strip, but hope to see him somewhere in the new DC Universe.

I'll also miss the sunshine colours of Jamie Grant and Dom Regan - seldom has comic book Kansas looked so inviting, rampaging husk people and all. And Travis Lanham provides a thoroughly professional lettering job and spooky title font.

Eleven issues. It's not long, but it's long enough for me to feel the loss of this comic. Let's hope that Superboy's new direction, in its own way, proves as enjoyable.

Tiny Titans #43 review

Two things are stopping the Tiny Titans becoming the Justice League. First, they're tiny. Not much they can do about that. The second matter, though - the lack of 'cool costumes' - can be sorted. Simply borrow one from the grown-ups.

So Superboy pops off to the Fortress of Solitude where the Phantom Zone villains mistake him for someone with a vital mission. Aqualad rejects Aquaman's costume for a surprising reason and winds up looking suitably seaworthy, but supremely silly. Robin tries to nab a cape from Bat Cow, grazing on the Wayne Manor lawn, and disturbs the Batgirls' breakfast.

It's the best issue for gags in awhile, and I'm not giving any of 'em away. Well, apart from this one.
Art Baltazar and Franco's script is bright and snappy, and the former's artwork is sheer delight. What's more, his colours are especially attractive - I do miss bright comic books. The one thing I didn't like was Jor-El's 'Jeez' exclamation, but that's the Good Catholic Boy in me. Perhaps US tots are used to the word!

Either way, I'd recommend this to superhero fans of all ages as a cute palate cleanser.

X-Men Schism #3

The new Hellfire Club attacks the Museum of Mutant History's opening ceremony and defeats the sub-team of X-Men in attendance. The only mutant to avoid a faceful of metal 'kitty' is fire and ice-thrower Idie. Young and inexperienced, she's told by an online Wolverine to get out, sharpish. Cyclops, on the other hand, pumps her for information and advises her to 'do what you feel you have to'. Which is rather contemptible, in Logan's eyes. Scott would say he's giving her a chance to do what's right the same way he did when he was Idie's age.

I was convinced Idie would die, her loss sparking the X-Men's split into one faction under Scott, and one under Logan. But while the incident will no doubt be a factor in the affair, Idie lives to see another day.

Which is fine by me. I like her powers, I like her look, and heaven knows, the X-Men need some new blood on this issue's showing. For the vastly experienced heroes - Colossus, Magneto, Iceman, Emma Frost and Namor - are taken down by a bunch of kids. Smart, vicious, well-equipped kids, but the new Hellfire Club are kids nonetheless. And it's not as if the Hellfire Club - actually, let's call 'em the Hellfire Creche - has the advantage of the good guys being reluctant to hit them ... they're all fine with the prospect.

But if I'm to continue with this otherwise well-thought-out story, I'm going to have to just accept. And I do want to continue, as the philosophical row brewing between Logan and Scott is played out via compelling action and character sequences. Plus, writer Jason Aaron comes up with terrific incidental moments such as this. Idie's incredulity is entirely understandable, given the X-Men she knows (click on image to enlarge).
Daniel Acuña's attractive art is less stiff than I've seen from him, and effective at getting the story across. The end confrontation between Scott and Logan, set against a background of flame and leading to a fine cliffhanger, is very nice indeed. I like that Acuña draws the Hellfire Creche masks just a teensy bit too large on the kids, emphasising that they're likely not as ready for the big leagues as they think, while making them appear awfully creepy (to me - I'm neither a Mutant Master of Magnetism nor an Avenging Son of Atlantis).

I think Acuña slipped Brian Bendis into a panel ... but I could be wrong.

Acuña's cover is a keeper, I love the way the light strikes the heroes. And never has Iceman looked so much like he's just popped out of the freezer cabinet. It's fine work on one of the X-Men's better event comics.

Flashpoint: The Outsider #3 review

That's a superb cover from Kevin Nowlan, with echoes of Brian Bolland's style in the figure of Blackout. It doesn't reflect the interior - Blackout's not even in the book - but, hey kids, comics!

The final issue of this Flashpoint mini-series sees Michael Desai, the Outsider, take on the one who sent assassins against him - J'onn J'onzz. This isn't the hero we know, it's a very different Martian Manhunter, one made vicious by first, Desai, then the Russians. The latter wanted their own Project: Superman so Desai, having gained control of J'onzz after Dr Erdel brought him to Earth, sold him on. Now it's time for the two super-powers to engage in final battle.

And that's just what it is, as one dies horribly (well, this is the World of Flashpoint). Once again writer James Robinson produces a dark Elseworlds tale powered by his portrayal of the Outsider, underworld fixer writ large. In three issues he's created a compelling bad guy, one empathetic enough to use his enemies' emotions against them. And if they have other weaknesses, so much the better. Showing us his story over several decades makes the fact that he sems able to defeat anybody more believable, while his love of tailoring is an amusing quirk (presumably Desai's penchant for white suits is due to last issue's formative Disco years).

There's effective artwork from Javi Fernandez once again. The forms he has shapeshifter J'onn take are as imaginatively frightening as the story demands, and he gives Desai enough charisma that it's conceivable people would follow him even without threats. Fernandez is gifted thoughtful colour work by Tanya and Richard Horie, while dependable Dave Sharpe provides the lettering (click to enlarge image).
It's a shame that even the gentle J'onn J'onzz is corrupted by this twisted world, but I suppose that's the (Flash)point. This issue ties into the event's greater story in that J'onn is allied with either the Amazons or Atlanteans. We don't find out whom, but my guess is the latter - J'onn's been closer to Aquaman than Wonder Woman in the regular DC Universe, and as no fan of fire he'd likely love an underwater world.

I expect the Outsider to appear in DC's New 52 books, as he should. He's one of the most interesting villains we've seen in quite a while - a thinker, like Lex Luthor, but a believable brawler too .... I'm interested to see where he could go post-Flashpoint.

Supergirl #67 review

Professor Anthony Ivo, criminal scientist. He's been causing headaches - and much, much worse - for DC's heroes since the Silver Age. Here he sees out Supergirl's current title in random mad genius mode, not the scariest of threats but enough to give Supergirl a few problems. The surprise is that he's actually trying to do something good for the world. The non-surprise is that he hasn't considered how to achieve the same thing without being evil.

Kara beats Ivo and his mechanical monkeys with the help of her brainy chums in the Silk Pajama Society, while Lois Lane discovers Ivo's motives with the help of journalism student Ngoze Onwualu. I initially wondered why the veteran hack couldn't learn this information for herself, then realised that of course Lois could - but writer Kelly Sue DeConnick knows that a conversation is a more interesting way to present information than positioning us over Lois' shoulder as she hunts through a computer. Lois still comes across as the wise, witty woman we know her to be. It's a shame we probably won't see Ngoze again.

This being the final issue, more focus on Supergirl would have been nice, but I doubt DeConnick knew she was writing our heroine's last hurrah when she began the story. By the close, though, she's in the picture enough to add some enjoyably unobtrusive meta-commentary on life as the comic book character Supergirl. She also ties up the question of whether Linda Lang will attend Stanhope College (which longtime readers will be glad to see has its library named for Silver Age artist Jim Mooney), and gives her something approaching a love interest. It all makes for a bittersweet ending to a book that had finally found its feet.

ChrisCross' students are wonderfully alive, rampaging through the pages with glee, while Lois and Ngoze's conversation is animated, without expressions being quite as manic as in the first instalment of this three-parter. Supergirl, as the star of the book, looks wonderful throughout - intelligent, caring, frustrated, pretty, sad ... The action panels with inker Marc Deering are spiffy, too, just look at this (click on image to enlarge)
So that's it for the current Supergirl, gone after just seven years. She started off as enigmatic alien teenager, became a troubled brat and transformed into a smart, compassionate young woman worthy of the S-shield. I shall miss her.

DC Retroactive 1990s Wonder Woman #1 review

Wonder Woman does pal Etta Candy a favour by babysitting girls' club The Blossoms. Asked what they do all day, it's 'we don't get mussed up' and 'we stay outta our folks' hair'. Of course, Diana's not having that. Starting small, she teaches the girls about exercise, tracking and self-belief, transforming them from a pack of bored under-achievers into young Amazons. They moan, but little by little they begin to enjoy seeing just what they can do when they try.

Sounds like fodder for a short story, but the 26 pages pass oh-too-quickly in the hands of writer Bill Messner-Loebs. He reminds us how great his Nineties run was, making this the most enjoyable, amusing Wonder Woman story for years. Diana is clever and inspirational as she improvises an Amazon boot camp. And she shows her sense of humour when she tries - but not too hard - to get into the world of The Blossoms (click image to enlarge).
There's drama, but no super-villain or monsters here. It's about people like us, and Diana quietly carrying out her mission to make the world a better place, not out of a sense of superiority, but out of love. Any writers who believe that the existing Wonder Woman isn't 'human' enough should start with Loebs' work.

Lee Moder also reprises his Nineties gig, producing some gorgeous artwork with inker Dan Green. His Diana is strong, smart and wry, while his kids look like cartoon-real girls and boys - vital for a story such as this. He convinces us that the Blossoms really are changing over the weeks, from couch potatoes to can-do balls of fire. And he caps it all with a simply lovely cover, nicely coloured by Wes Hartman.

The interior colours are great too. Yes, I just wrote that a DC Retro book has pleasing tones - Chris Beckett gives us the brightness appropriate to this tale, going gloomy only when the scene demands it.

Letterer Dezi Sienty completes the excellent core creative team assembled by editors Chynna Clugston Flores and Kwanza Johnson - credit to every one of them.

I suppose it's too much to ask that this bunch be tapped to take over the New 52 Wonder Woman book once the starting team of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang leave? I'm not wishing them gone, but it'll happen, and Loebs, Moder and co really have a handle on who Wonder Woman is meant to be. I'm sure they could add in the occasional bloody sword if that's what DC really wants ...

The reprint is from 1992's Wonder Woman #66, by Loebs and Paris Cullins. It's the start of a saga that saw Diana dumped in an alien prison, and one of the best stories post-Crisis Wonder Woman had. I don't think it's been collected - if anyone knows different, please put me right - but it really should be.

And that's it for this comic, easily the best of DC's Retroactive entries for Wonder Woman, and just what I need after a difficult year for the character.

Legion of Super-Heroes #16 review

And so ends another chapter in Legion history, as the Legion of Super-Heroes mops up the last members of the Legion of Super-Villains and the sacrifice of one hero destroys the blue being behind recent calamities.

One long-running mystery that's resolved is the identity of the little blue god. The evidence pointed towards Krona, ancient foe of the Green Lantern Corps who dared witness the Big Bang. 

Almost. He describes himself as '...evil loosed on the Universe by Krona's crime, long ago, and reborn when Titan fell and mortals gazed upon the unknowable'. He doesn't claim a name, but that's 'unknowable' for you. He's a dark god wishing to bring about the close on this particular 'yuga', which in Hindu cosmology is a period of creation.

But the Legion aren't having it, and one member realises what has to be done. Earth-Man has Mon-El use his Green Lantern energy to link the Legion, allowing him to tap into everyone's power at once. This proves enough to shatter the blue being, but Earth-Man dies in the process. His lover, Shadow Lass, flies off with his body to weep over it and, presumably, leave the Legion for a time. Mon-El, having fulfilled the mission entrusted him by Spirit of Oa Dyogene, gives back the power ring and affirms that his place is with the Legion. Dyogene, even as he resolves to rebuild the interplanetary police force, graciously admits that the Legion are the 'proud successors to the Corps'.

And there you have it. Writer Paul Levitz clears the decks of plotlines he inherited - Earth-Man and the Green Lanterns - in time to begin the Legion's New 52 book next month. There's no xenophobe unconvincingly slotted onto the team, and Mon-El gets to be Mon-El again. Shadow Lass will be missed, but I can't see her staying away for long - she's just too interesting a character. And Harmonia Li announces that she'd like to stick around as a member, meaning we'll find out what her actual powers are eventually.

Before the big finish, we see a few of the Legionnaires cut loose, with Colossal Boy engaging in an amusing bout of bowling and Phantom Girl showing off her melee moves. And Dream Girl, Star Boy and Harmonia Li let Earth-Man know that he's done enough as a Legionnaire for them to call him a friend. While I'm no Earth-Man fan, he has been visibly changing; the Legion has seen enough sparks of goodness to trust him to do what's right. It's typical of Levitz to make Earth-Man believably Legion material just as we're waving goodbye to him ... oh well, perhaps Shadow Lass can toss him into a 31st-century Lazarus Pit and revive him.

Last Green Lantern Sodam Yat hogs a page - it's clear he's sending out his will and power to boost Earth-Man's resolve and ability. As we don't see either specifically reach him, and Earth-Man already has his own inner strength and the power of the Legion, this scene feels like a waste of a page. Still, perhaps Yat has some fans who want to see his subplot resolved.

The issue is drawn by Daniel HDR, meaning there are some great expressions to complement the story - such as Shady's sadness - and plenty of excellent figurework. HDR knows how to give a story visual momentum while still studding it with standout panels. The spread of Earth-Man being charged up by the Legion, with reaction shots dotted around his central figure, is a winner, along with the climactic moment which follows. And the blue being's eye blasts are wonderfully, unashamedly 'comic book'. 
Marc Deering's inks are sharp and glossy, while the colourist at Hi-Fi shows their skill in facial modelling, and generally make the pages bright and thrilling. John J Hill's lettering is deliciously neat, too - the words are always important, never intrusive. The cover by Yildiray Cinar, Jonathan Glapion and Hi-Fi shows how to make simple gorgeous - and has the Legion flight ring ever looked so convincingly metallic?

So that's Volume Six of the Legion done - It's not been perfect, with this story and the Durlans tale stretched out too long, but it's always been compelling; this run has truly felt like the Legion of Super-Heroes I grew up with, polished for the 21st/31st century. Volume Seven debuts after an internal gap of a few months for the Legion, but just the usual four weeks for the reader. I can't wait.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #10 review

Granted, I was eating an especially spicy cassoulet as I read this issue of DC's all-ages team-up title, but I was choked up by the end.

It's the story of an ordinary Joe who, unable to find a job, falls into the role of professional henchman. First it's the Toyman, but the World's Finest team of Superman and Batman puts paid to that. Grabbing his wife and son, Joe flees to Star City and a job with the Clock King. Resident hero Green Arrow, aided by Batman, ensures it's short lived. Feeling the need to get further away, Joe signs up with Atlantis' own Ocean Master and, well, you can guess the rest. It's 'outrageous'.

The story ends on a happy note, a surprising one that coincided with the effect of those supper-time spices. 'Help Wanted' is a typically sharp done-in-one by Sholly Fisch, a salutary tale, economically and entertainingly told. It's drawn with pizzazz by penciller Rich Burchett and inker Dan Davis, who effectively convey Joe's lack of enthusiasm for flamboyant goon costumes and the more evil aspects of villainous life. The only off-note is Batman's awkward head on the nicely designed cover.

The henchman's tale is one that's been told in comics a few times, but it bears re-examination, especially when a creative team has a new angle - and that's what we have here.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

DC Retroactive 1980s Justice League of America #1 review

It's the 1980s and Felix Faust attacks the new Justice League of America in their HQ, using the despair felt by the people of Detroit to power his demons. Can the heroes overcome their inferiority complex long enough to save the children to whom they've been giving a tour?

Of course they can. Vibe, Gypsy, Vixen and Steel may be new kids, but alongside Aquaman, J'onn Jonzz, Elongated Man and Zatanna, they are indeed the world's greatest super-heroes. Zee's mystical knowledge and Gypsy's cheek finally end the crisis, but everyone pitches in to protect the children.

It's a shame not everyone gets a big moment, though - yes, hip-hop hero Vibe unleashes his shock waves but he's downed after a panel or so. And Vixen lacks a big spotlight scene.

Still, it's fun to see the team again, even though I don't recall the collective inferiority complex being as full-on as it is here. It's as if the squad has bought into the derision dumped on this 'Justice League Detroit' by non-readers of the series and do indeed see themselves as second class. The approach is surprising, given that in the original run writer Gerry Conway was emphasising what a powerhouse the oft-jeered Aquaman truly is. And when you have Zatanna and Martian Manhunter on hand, you're hardly lacking in strength. Then there's Elongated Man, not the mightiest hero, but one of the smartest. Among the younger members, Steel had the potential to be Captain America; Gypsy had interesting stealth abilities to be explored; Vibe could create mini-quakes; and Vixen tapped into the power of gods.

Really, this bunch were as powerful as many a JLA line-up. And in technical genius and ladies' man Dale Gunn they had a far more useful 'mascot' than Snapper Carr, while Sue Dibny was often on hand to add class and bring snacks.

So I'd have preferred a straightforward adventure showcasing the Detroit League's relationships and capabilities without the starting point of them having to prove their worth to readers today. Still, Conway's deft narration does make the point that this is the League - twice, in a nice rhythmic bit of narration.
I'm deducting points for the script's wink towards the abomination that was Identity Crisis (click on image to enlarge), but restoring them for engaging with the problems of Detroit. The commentary on Reagan's America is a little late, but at least it's there. And Conway's Felix Faust is a more fearsome mage than usual, a charismatic menace.

As I'm in a good mood, I'll excuse the ick-making inclusion of a kid in there apparently based on upcoming JLA writer Geoff Johns. He it is who inspires the team to go on in the face of despair blah-de-blah.
In the Eighties Ron Randall was drawing Roy Thomas's seriously underrated Arak, Son of Thunder series, but I've no complaints about him being here. His work is excellent, well-composed and full of life. Pencilling and inking, he gives real weight to his figures, and his storytelling is first class.

I do have complaints about the colour work of Carlos Badilla and Tony Avina, which is awfully gloomy. A bit of dour is fine for the vault scene, but even in daylight the red-headed Elongated Man, for example, becomes a brunette. While the colours of Gene D'Angelo in this issue's reprint do hurt the eyes - I think that was when the new Flexigraphic printing process made even black 'pop' - there is a happy medium to be found. I've been giving the morbid tones on some of these DC Retroactive books the benefit of the doubt, but enough is enough - didn't someone send a memo out that as well as reading like old books, they need to look like them?

The back-up itself, from JLA #239, is interesting seen alongside the new story, as it begins with Aquaman and the new League insisting to Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash that they're the JLA now. Other than that, it's a Vixen spotlight, a little soapy, but decent stuff from Conway and artists Chuck Patton and Mike Machlan.

Colouring aside, this is another enjoyable DC Retroactive entry, one which may make the Detroit League a few new fans. Hey, a man can dream.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Fear Itself #5 review

Grrahhh ...

Wwullhhf ...



Yup, it's another sparkling issue of Fear Itself, the comic that is to snappy dialogue what Rob Liefeld is to ankles.

The examples above are pearls from the lips of the Mighty Thor as he battles a Ben Grimm transformed by long-lost Asgardian bad egg The Serpent. But it's not just the Son of Odin who's at it - in Asgard, Tony Stark interrupts a chat with Odin himself to emit a Rrahhh!! as he drops his alcopop. Neither party comments on the gutteral snarl, it's just another moment in a game of superhero Tourettes.

I remember Matt Fraction when he wasn't afraid of dialogue, but given some of the actual English lines we get in here, I see the attraction of the unintelligible. Thor's gems, for example, include him telling a transformed Hulk: 'You were always a giant pain in the ass' and 'To be continued ... Banner.' Still, Thor's only appeared in a few thousand Marvel comics, how could any terribly well-paid writer be expected to know how he speaks? Just write any old nonsense in Asgardian font and the kids won't notice.

Maybe I'm going on a bit (makes a change ...) but all the grunting from the heroes and ancient god hieroglyphics from the villains is seriously distracting. It's hard not to think this is simply Fraction's way of getting around the fact that we're seeing the same thing again and again across the Fear Itself crossover, and there's nothing much to be said.

Lucky old Captain America does get some dialogue, allowing us to infer that he's more upset about the Serpent knackering his shield than he is about the death of Bucky. And when he's not making odd noises, Stark's encounter with Odin is a cracker, as he explains that he doesn't want a miracle from the All-Father. What he desires is access to the Asgardian forge to make weapons capable of matching the Serpent's hammers. More surprise moments like this would be excellent, and fewer rubbish beats such as Spider-Man persuading Cap that they're going to lose and may as well pack up and go home. Is Spidey infected with Asgardian Fear, or poor plotting?

There is another enjoyably sensible scene as Franklin Richards uses his massive powers to transform his Uncle Benjamin from What back to Thing. Presumably the Future Foundation's most powerful member will have to be taken off the board next issue, otherwise we'll be wondering why he doesn't simply zap the Serpent and his snakelets to high heaven.

The artwork by Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger continues to be the best reason to stick with this frustrating event series. Whatever Fraction asks them to draw, they draw beautifully. The Hulk/Thor bout is literally smashing, while Odin looks suitably godly standing above Stark. And it's all superbly coloured by Laura Martin and her assistants, and lettered by Chris Eliopoulos (though I fear he misspelled GGRRRAAAAHHH!).

Two more issues to go. It'll feel like more.

Batgirl #24 review

Last month Stephanie Brown learned that her super-villain dad, the Cluemaster, was behind the riot at Gotham's Blackgate Prison. As we rejoin her, she's not frightened, because her father's not actually a scary guy and she knows that whatever else, he loves her.

Then he does something scary.

Somehow Arthur Brown has got his hands on the alien Black Mercy plant, a piece of fauna powerful enough to latch onto even a Kryptonian psyche. It induces such seductive fantasies in its victim that they surrender, happy never to escape its clutches. Rather than attempt to let it latch onto Batgirl, Cluemaster blows its spores at his daughter, putting her into the sleep state. Batgirl's down, but she's not out, and as she slumps floorwards, she manages to take her father out with a well-aimed glue Batarang.

We rejoin Steph as she wakes up in hospital, her mask left intact to protect her identity from strangers. It turns out that she was strong enough to fight off the Black Mercy influence - presumably lesser due to it not being bonded to her. At Steph's side is her nurse mother, her presence motivating a scene that's been a long time coming.

Later, mentor Barbara Gordon asks Steph what she saw while asleep and while the younger woman deflects the question, we readers see what she went through - an encounter with the Queen of Fables, her female super-friends (the Queen Titans?) at her side; an energetic adventure with Damian, Babs and herself as Red, Green and Blue Lanterns; a time travel trip to meet the Blackhawks alongside her two predecessors as Batgirl; a graduation day spat with the Royal Flush Gang. 

Poignantly, we see an older Steph, raising the child she gave away while still the Spoiler.

Then we see her again as a grown woman, in a Steph-style Nightwing outfit, accompanied by yet another Batgirl, perhaps her young chum Nell all-gwown-up. She's confident and proud, the person she's grown to be throughout the two years of this book. The issue ends with Steph shedding a tear, realising that after all the crap she's been through, she's reached a place of peace. She's not a grim Gotham avenger, she's the city's happiest hero. She's Batgirl.

This is a wonderful issue. I was expecting 20 pages of Steph battling Cluemaster, but what we get instead is a look at the Batgirl adventures that might have been, both in the near and far future. In an interview at Comic Book Resources this week writer Bryan Q Miller talks about the end of Batgirl, and mentions that he had barely any notice of the title's closure (my words). So it's likely such things as the Queen of Fables, Lanterns and Blackhawk storylines were things Miller had kicking around in his head.

And while I'm sorry I'll never see them acted out, Miller's consistent characterisation of Steph, and the gorgeous snapshot splash pages by illustrator Pere Perez provide some idea of what we'll be missing - stories that break the Bat-mould by acknowledging that 'drama' allows for comedic moments ... a little bit of light can only enhance the Gotham shade. Tales starring a woman who fills many roles within the Batman family - little sister to Babs, big sister to Damian, lost love to Tim - while remaining her own person. 

This issue's finale is titled 'Unsinkable' and while Steph never survived the Titanic, like her namesake Molly Brown, she has overcome the odds again and again to emerge as one of DC's most powerful personalities. In that CBR piece, Miller mentions that he has a DC project or two on the way, and while he can't give anything away yet, I wouldn't be at all surprised should one of them feature Stephanie Brown in a new heroic role. Maybe we've seen her new look already, in this very issue. I could stand that, especially if the terrifically talented Perez and colourist Guy Major - heck, the whole creative team - were on board too. Because Miller and co have defined Stephanie Brown, and while she's no longer going to be Batgirl, DC are smart enough to know a player when they see one. Let's see where she turns up over the next few months. 

Before then we have two years' worth of excellent super-hero comics to look back on, an eye-catching reminder of which is Dustin Nguyen's madly cute cover. You'll notice that while everyone else is in full view, one person is silhouetted, the Batman ... and Batgirl is escaping his shadow. 

Booster Gold #47 review

Well, it'd have been appropriate had Booster Gold ended at issue #52, but Flashpoint demands this is the last issue. Flashpoint also demands that Booster can't save the day, but by gum, he makes a good effort.

First off, it's one more battle against Doomsday, a fight Booster's set to lose until new lady love Alex intervenes, seeing the monster off in pretty final style. Then the pair fly over to the United Kingdom, find Flash Barry Allen and Booster instigates his plan to erase the World of Flashpoint and return the DC Universe to the way it was. There's good reason to hope as Booster reaches his extra-dimensional home Vanishing Point, where Time Master Rip Hunter has the specialist knowledge and equipment to help.

But then ...

Well, let's just say that we're going to have to read Flashpoint #5 to see the DCU change again, and it ain't going to return to the way Booster remembers it.

This isn't a bad final issue. Booster shows his smarts and courage, he makes a wonderfully romantic decision and he's all set to be Hero of the Beach. That he doesn't pull it off isn't due to any failings on his part, simply the nature of crossover events. And the reason Booster falls at the final hurdle is set up earlier in the issue and makes perfect sense. I'm more disappointed that the end of this series means we'll likely never see Booster learn that Rip is his son. Metal pal Skeets is still in a state of disrepair. Sister Michelle and adopted daughter Rani are likely off on a long trip to Limbo. And Red Beetle and the Time Stealers' plans will remain unknown.

Unless (he writes, grabbing onto a sliver of hope), author Dan Jurgens moves the plotlines over to the new Justice League International title, which is set to star Booster. Here, Jurgens does a creditable job, infusing a nice dollop of emotion into the typically action-packed finale and providing a bittersweet coda - a long-running mystery is solved, but it's sad. Sentimental chap that Jurgens is, he returns to pencilling duties for the final three pages, inked, as ever, by the excellent Norm Rapmund. The bigger chunk of the story's 20 pages is pencilled by veteran Rick Leonardi and inked by Don Ho. It looks rushed in parts, and probably was given the apparent last-minute nature of many of these final post-Flashpoint DC books, but Leonardi's skill is evident.

So farewell Booster, it's been a great run. See you, some time.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Adventure Comics #529 review

With tutors Night Girl, Bouncing Boy and Duplicate Girl taken out by Cosmic King, it's up to the Legion Academy students to defend Legion of Super-Heroes HQ. And while they do a fine job, a sacrifice is the price they pay for victory.

It's satisfying to see the trainee heroes finally cut loose after months of mostly minor escapades. Cosmic King is a known killer, but not one student flinches in the face of his matter transmutation powers: Comet Queen takes a nasty hit, but forces herself back into the air; Dragonwing blasts him full force with her firebreath; Variable Lad takes the form of a humongous silver serpent and rushes the villain; Gravity Kid and Glorith hold firm in the face of a razor storm; Chemical Kid prevents radiation overwhelming his classmates.

And one teenager dies.

It's a heroic moment, showing true Legion spirit, and I don't doubt the surviving classmates will be inspired to continue their efforts to join the Legion. All except one, who chooses a different path, a choice that shows that the 31st century is as progressive as it should be, from our point of view.

I've gone coy, haven't I? Thing is, it's so rare for a comic to kill off a character without warning - no Previews blurb, no 'One Member Must Die' cover starburst - that if anyone reading this intends to buy the book, it'd be nice for them to share the surprise. Ditto as regards which trainee chooses love over Legion.

I hope that smitten student changes their mind, and turns up in the new Legion series with their other half when the LSH puts the call out for reinforcements post-Flashpoint, as I enjoy both characters. Certainly, the powerful final page should have regular readers itching to see what the L'il Legion does next.

Before that, I'd like to thank Paul Levitz for his final Adventure Comics script, as the book disappears to make way for Legion Lost. He delivers a pacy narrative putting the pupils at the forefront of the action. Don't get me wrong, I love the Academy faculty, but as a longtime reader I know the depth of character shared by Lydda, Chuck and Luornu - I'm ready for the young 'uns to step up.

Penciller Geraldo Borges and inker Marlo Alquiza turn in their best artwork yet, and they've always been great. There's big drama in the compositions, big emotion on the faces. Watching Cosmic King gradually transition from overconfidence to fear is a joy, while the depictions of powers are delightfully grandiose. The cover credits imply that inker Rob Hunter was also involved with this issue - if so, well done sir! (Click to enlarge image.)
And Hi-Fi gives us some cracking colourwork, bringing the adventure to brilliant life, while letterer John J Hill ensues the script is good to read.

The cover by Francis Portela and Javier Mena is attractive, though it looks as if they're assuming Cosmic King has the same powers as Cosmic Boy. It's an easy mistake to make, Lord knows why he never changed his name to Element Emperor or something more logical...

So goodbye Adventure Comics starring the Legion Academy, you've been the little comic that could deliver intriguing new characters and fresh takes on classic concepts. You'll be missed.