Friday, 30 September 2011

The Savage Hawkman #1 review

Carter Hall has had enough of being Hawkman. He drives to a remote spot, blasts and burns his costume and buries it. But the alien Nth Metal contained within the outfit isn't done with him. Manifesting as a phoenix, it burns Carter. Next thing he knows he's waking in his apartment, naked. A visit from a colleague prevents him pondering the situation - he's wanted by his treasure hunter boss to translate inscriptions on his latest find, the wing of an apparently alien vessel.

That's not all Professor Hank Ziegler has found - there's some kind of mummy, from which a fluid sample has been extracted. Said sample transforms one of the scientists into a creature, and Carter goes in swinging, but each time he hits the monster, a new one sprouts from the body part. Still he fights, not caring that he no longer has the power of Hawkman.

Or so he thinks. His skin throbs and a new Hawkman costume pushes through, wings and all. Carter has enhanced strength once more, allowing him to give the chief alien - who introduces itself as Morphicius - a real fight. But as the issue ends, the monster gains the upper hand ...

Well, this DC New 52 title is better than expected. The blurbs had me thinking we'd see an all-new Carter Hall, but aside from the odd background tweak - rather than being a museum curator, he's an archaeological translator - it could be the same guy we've been reading about for years. Certainly, the beginning of this story makes sense in terms of the most recent DC continuity - Hawkman has had enough and the loss of his true love Shayera is the last straw.

Or not. Whatever the circumstances, Carter Hall has been the superhero Hawkman, and wants to retire the role. Shooting the costume? Distinctly odd, but perhaps it's an anthropological thing; he sees it as a necessary precursor to a symbolic burial.

The new Hawkman costume looks far better inside the comic than it does on the cover. I blame the claws, they're so prominent as to look silly. As it is, the first appearance of the suit looks great. Except for one thing.
Which Brainiac decided that the obligatory insertion of the New 52 Mystery Hooded Woman should come on an important splash? I'm fine with her as a titchy figure in the background, as with every other comic this month, but giving her this much prominence begs the question: what role does she have in Hawkman's story? To which the answer is, none, confusing readers who don't keep up with the comics internet.

Writer Tony S Daniel has given his first villain the worst name this side of 'Atrocitus', but Morphicius has presence and power and fits nicely into the world set up here. Carter sounds more of a tough guy than in the past, but that's 'savage' for you. The main thing is, he's still the hero, wanting to help people whatever the cost to himself. New supporting character Prof Ziegler is a walking plot generator, while his daughter, Emma, is pretty and smart, so looks set for the role of girlfriend and future Hawkgirl. I do hope Daniel swerves and either leaves her as a friend, or has Carter fall for his other colleague, Terrance (DC could call this book The Dan Savage Hawkman).

Philip Tan's artwork is strong and dramatic, with the standout moment being the early spread featuring the Nth Metal phoenix. And to my eyes there's an echo of the great Joe Kubert, Hawkman's founding artistic father in the Silver Age. Adding to the intense look of the pages are the colours of Sunny Gho, while letterer Travis Lanham does a good job of contrasting Carter's narration with dialogue in the word balloons.

DC pushed this debut as 'Conan with wings' but really, it looks set to be simply 'Hawkman'. After all, previous versions of the character have never been averse to bashing soft-shell criminals with a mace. On the basis of this first issue, whose only real lack is the fact that there's no chance to show our hero flying, I'll be back for more.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Justice League Dark #1 review

Super-heroine the Enchantress is broken. Gone mad, her gnarled form hurls hideous spells at the Justice League of America. Elsewhere, simulcra of her former host, June Moone, walk into the path of motorway traffic, dying horribly. Watching from afar, tarot reader Madame Xanadu tells alien madman Shade the Changing Man that only specialists can repair the Enchantress and the damage she's caused. Justice League member Zatanna seems to have come to a similar conclusion, contacting the British con-magician John Constantine. And June Moone Prime has gone looking for Deadman.

This is very much a first chapter, with little in the way of explanations but enough weird incidents to bring me back next time. While the idea of these magical misfits as even a semi-formal Justice League offshoot is ludicrous, I love the idea of them all in one comic - Madame Xanadu, Zatanna, Deadman. Enchantress and Constantine are favorites. And Shade has a pretty coat.

Featured Leaguers Superman, Cyborg and Wonder Woman are strangely rubbish in the face of the Enchantress' wayward spells. While Superman has traditionally been uncomfortable with enchantments, and this new Cyborg seems not to be pals with demi-demon Raven, Wonder Woman herself is a child of magic, one who regularly encounters gods and monsters - it's odd that she hasn't the slightest idea of how to approach the situation.

But I suppose that's how it must be - if the regular Leaguers can handle mystical threats, there's no need for this title. As it is, Zatanna, the League's magician-in-residence, is moving across to this book. In this issue she's not deployed in the first line of attack, which is a head-scratcher; it turns out Batman is worried that she's not currently 'stable' enough for the job. Not impressed, before you can say Kcaj Nosnibor, Zatanna binds him and wanders off to confront the Enchantress.

Pete Milligan's script is sharp and deliberate, slowly introducing us to most of the main cast. Madame Xanadu's opening lines are wonderful, and her narration just gets better from there, building the tension until we reach the comic's terrible final image.

It's an image superbly brought to life by illustrator Mikel Janin and colourist Ulises Arreola, and typical of the quality of their work throughout. Their Enchantress is a hideous creature, Madame Xanadu is mysterious, Shade mad, Constantine hapless, and so on. Their naturalistic take on the heroes makes the surreal moments of terror, such as the opening spread, stand out all the more.

That first spread also showcases the lettering skills of Rob Leigh, in the shape of some attractive title designs. The title of the issue, 'Imaginary Women', turns out not to apply solely to June Moone's doubles, making for a very sad scene centred on one longtime supporting character.

Ryan Sook's cover is, well, a Ryan Sook cover - imaginatively designed and gorgeously excecuted, the perfect capper for a promising debut.

Flash #1 review

Police scientists Barry Allen and Patty Spivot are on a date at a tech symposium when a masked gang bursts in and gasses the guests. Too fast to be affected, Barry changes into the Flash to battle the baddies. Most get away but he manages to grab one and throw him safely into a building as they plunge, having failed to reach the getaway helicopter.

Following an undignified landing, the Flash meets journalist Iris West, before rushing off to hand research scientist Darwin Elias the veeblefetzer the gang took - a portable genome re-coder (free delivery with Amazon Prime). Iris catches up with Barry and harries him to give her the story of why the crook Flash saved is now dead. Barry is more interested in the identity of the deceased - Manuel, a college friend of his with whom he'd lost touch.

Working on the case later that night, Barry is astonished when an intruder accosts him - it's an alive and well Manuel. He's being pursued, and he persuades Barry to follow him out of the window and into the park. Along the way Barry 'trips' and falls into a river, allowing him to become the Flash before catching up with Manuel, who's been run down by hordes of other men ... all of them Manuel.

This book stars a Barry Allen unlike any seen in DC Comics in decades. He's fun - smiling, laid-back, the happy hero I remember from my earliest days of reading comics. I'm still not happy DC is promoting Barry (the Flash I grew up with) at the expense of his successor, Wally West (the Flash who grew up with me). Or that his marriage to Iris West has been erased. But a likeable Barry takes away some of the sting, and I can't say I'll miss the time travelling, body-hopping baggage accrued over the years by Barry and Iris.

And it is nice to see Patty Spivot, one of my old favourite supporting characters, get a featured role here. She's no longer simply Barry's lab assistant, she's his equal, and well able to hold her own against Central City Police Department's male cops.

Iris suffers by comparison, as the most annoying reporter you ever did see - Central City is obviously a competitive news patch. I expect she'll settle down, given time.

Handling the writing duties for the first time, illustrator Francis Manapul and colourist Brian Buccellato impress with a nicely worked plot and zippy dialogue (I suspect they speak it out loud to one another). I've mentioned the likeable characters already; then there's a storyline laced with enjoyable mad science, and fresh uses of Flash's super-speed. Artistically, there are some simply splendid sequences, including a title spread that bursts with energy and dynamism; the fall sequence, in which composition and colour work together to highlight the action; and a page (apparently sponsored by iPad) giving us a bird's eye view of Barry working in his home lab.

The only off-note with the art is Barry's new costume, with its fussy panelling and unnecessary lightning motifs, but that's a design Manapul and Buccellato were handed. Let's hope that over time they sneakily tweak it back to sleekness.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the adventures of a Scarlet Speedster reborn.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Aquaman #1 review

It's a day in the life of Aquaman, as the hero stops a robbery, fails to have a peaceful lunch at a diner and tells wife Mera he has no wish to rule Atlantis. Meanwhile, down in the depths, something is stirring. Something with very sharp teeth. And a newfound appetite for human flesh ...

I like this first issue a lot. For one thing, it points out that as a hero able to survive in the deepest pits of the ocean, Aquaman is no milksop on land - his skin is tough enough to take bullets, his strength great enough to toss trucks around and his legs powerful enough to leap tall buildings at, well, not quite a single bound, but no more than a couple. Safe to say, the police of Boston are impressed, and the criminals cowed.

Job done. Aquaman is, as they say, a 'badass'. He's stopped some bad guys and earned his lunch, fish and chips at the diner his dad used to take him to. And that's when the book takes a misstep, though not a fatal one. Writer Geoff Johns is so keen to demonstrate that Aquaman deserves his place in the big leagues, alongside the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, that he overeggs the pudding. He has a thoroughly annoying blogger (no, not me) interrupt Arthur Curry's lunch to put it to him that, actually, he's rather lame. That's after the guy's pal has forced him to explain that he doesn't talk to fishes, he pushes them telepathically to do his will.

Suffice to say, Aquaman puts the blogger right, but the scene is altogether too meta. It's Johns answering the lazy comedians who maintain that 'talking to fishes is lame'. We've already seen that Aquaman is impressive, now's the time to let the rest of Aquaman 101 emerge along with the rest of the story.

The scene doesn't wreck the book, I enjoy seeing Aquaman among ordinary people, but it feels thoroughly unnecessary. Showing is good, as in the earlier scene, telling, rather less so. Plus, why would Aquaman be considered a joke in the DC Universe? Is 'talks to fishes' any dafter-sounding than 'dresses like a giant bat' or 'has a magical glowing ring'? At this stage in Aquaman's career he's been a hero for years - the general public would not consider him a laughing stock, they'd see him as someone who regularly saves their skins.

Aquaman's scene with Mera, at their lighthouse home, is much better, demonstrating - with the aid of Ivan Reis' superb pencils and Joe Prado's luscious inks - the love between Mr and Mrs Curry. And the arrival of the toothy hybrids seen on the cover is chilling - Reis and Prado really know how to make a scene work.

And they surely know how to draw a formidable Aquaman. He's a big, confident guy with as much presence as any of his fellow Justice Leaguers. And as coloured by Rod Reis, he shimmers like a god. The talented Reis employs a wide variety of tones to set off the artwork. I especially like his naturalistic daytime colours, and the background used to show Aquaman's mood darkening.
As Aquaman #1s go - and it feels as if I've read dozens - this is up there with the best of them, setting the scene for interior and exterior conflicts that look likely to be compelling. Just don't try so hard, OK Geoff?

Teen Titans #1 review

The newly minted Kid Flash makes a proper pig's ear of helping firefighters extinguish a blaze. Watching from afar, Red Robin isn't impressed but he has more immediate concerns - super-teens the world over are being kidnapped by a shadowy group. Offered a job with said bad guys, he tells the man from N.O.W.H.E.R.E where he can stick it, leaping out the window of his penthouse as he blows it up. Later he stops mysterious powered teen Wonder Girl being abducted and she returns the favour by pummelling a gun-toting chopper. Back at N.O.W.H.E.R.E. headquarters a decision is made to sic the metahuman clone Superboy on Red Robin and any allies.

This is a breezy read courtesy of writer Scott Lobdell, with a nicely structured throughline and good introductions to the reworked Red Robin (Tim Drake), Kid Flash (maybe Bart Allen, maybe not) and Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark). While the first of these seems the same character from the previous continuity, the others are different - Wonder Girl is the teen rebel, happy to steal for reasons as yet unknown, and Kid Flash is the ass, full of knowledge but too impulsive to properly use it. Sparky Cassie is already more likeable than in her last incarnation as the Little Miss Moody of the superhero set. Kid Flash is annoyingly cocky, but I expect he'll change - it's likely we'll see Tim helping both newcomers become decent heroes down the line; I'm more keen to see what they'll teach the Teen Wonder.

Lobdell gives his heroes individual voices, provides plenty of action and adds some good gags. He's linking this book to Superboy's, but hopefully readers will be able to read one without being forced to buy the other.

I'm a tad perturbed to see Tim exploding a top floor flat willy nilly, but let's assume he's enough of a planner to have contained the blast so it neither kills his attackers, nor injures innocents nearby.

Penciller Brett Booth and inker Norm Rapmund do a commendable job of giving the three stars personality, and tell the story well, but the most interesting aspect of the art this time is the new looks. The Kid Flash outfit is basically horrific, but it appears cobbled together, which is good as a home-made costume is likely to change quickly. Oh yes, there he is on the cover, looking, er ...

... moving on, Cassie's hooded starfield pantsuit isn't bad, but the boob tube looks as if it's going to roll down at any minute. I do love her crackly red lasso, though.

And Tim?

Poor, poor Tim. He's had some great outfits as Robin and Red Robin, but suddenly he's junior Black Condor, with metallic wings where his cape should be. I'd like them gone, so he has to rely on acrobatics to get around and avoid bullets, like any good Bat-character.

There's barely a sign of the brand new members-to-be this time - one or two show up on Tim's wall of weird, along with such characters as Miss Martian and Changeling - but Teen Titans #1 nevertheless feels like a full course. The new guys will be here soon enough and given Lobdell's track record as creator of the excellent Generation X at Marvel, I'm sure they'll be worth waiting for.

Superman #1 review

It's a new era for journalism in Metropolis. The Daily Planet has been bought by Galaxy Communications and subsumed into Morgan Edge's media empire, the renamed Planet Global Network, which encompasses print, TV and digital divisions. This means new roles for Planet staffers and the razing of the old building to make room for the new Daily Planet complex, bigger and, hopefully, even better.

Clark Kent has his doubts. Edge's existing newspaper, the Globe, has been embroiled in wiretapping scandals and its previous owner, Glen Glenmorgan, was a criminal, apprehended by Superman in Action Comics #1. But Lois Lane believes Edge is clean, and she's going to do her bit to protect journalism standards in Metropolis by accepting his offer to be executive producer of the nightly news and a VP of the digital division. Clark is not accepting her old job as TV news anchor - he's sticking with print.

He keeps away from the swanky shindig announcing the changes publicly, preferring to patrol as Superman. And so it is that he's on hand when a fire creature appears in Metropolis, one that proves quite the challenge until he finds the perfect weapon to use against it - the old Daily Planet globe.

Sly George Perez, beginning Superman's new run at a moment of change for Metropolis that echoes what DC itself is going through with the New 52 initiative. Like DC, the Planet is in a period of flux, doing what it has to in order to survive and as with DC, that means getting into bed with a former enemy, digital. So far, though, DC hasn't had any dramas to match the new Daily Planet's first day, as a fire demon - one muttering the word 'Krypton' - appears.

Superman's struggle with the creature is the perfect inciting incident to show how the different sides of PBN can work together. There's Jimmy gathering pictures, Perry White and Ron Troupe getting the newspaper reports on the street and Lois coordinating the TV and digital divisions.

And Clark? He's the side of Superman composing a report as he tries one thing after another to avoid casualties and property destruction. It's a different way to approach the narrative, and it doesn't quite work. For one thing, Clark seems to be no great shakes as a writer, filling his report with the kind of overworked, tautological prose (...a Tower of Babel of indecipherability') any journalism lecturer would knock out of him on his first day at college. For another, the device distances us from the moment. The panels in which Superman engages in banter with some small-time crooks have an appealing immediacy, and more of this would make for a better story.

Out of the horrendous new costume (dig those boot grips and that crazy collar!), Clark comes across as a gloomy Gus over the changing media landscape, and seems an especially sad sack in the much-previewed final scene, in which he learns that Lois has a chap. Lois, meanwhile, has integrity and guts, as much the woman of today as she was on her 1938 introduction; Clark seems stuck in the past - so much for the Man of Tomorrow.

DC gives us extra pages for our money here, 25 rather than the $2.99 format's usual 20, but Perez packs so much into them that it reads like a 40pp strip. He handles the reintroduction of old characters, and debut of new ones, superbly, and the way he coordinates the Planet's news operation is sharp. Perez honours the past with such winks as the Swan Towers building, Action News and of course, 'this is a job for Superman'.

Subplots include the question of where Superman has been for awhile prior to this issue and the origin of the giant horn also seen in Stormwatch #1. Hopefully the more backward real-life commentators won't get in a tizzy over Superman's single use of 'My God', or Lois' going to bed with a guy ... who knows what Clark was saying, or Lois was doing, off-panel in 1938 ... It's not that I see a need for DC to be quite so open about Lois' love life, but this is 2011, and Clark and Lois were intimate back in the Seventies. Only, then they called it 'boeuf bourguignon '.

Where the story falls down is in the depiction of the battle scenes - the fire demon, as pencilled by Perez, inked by Jesus Merino and coloured by Brian Buccellato - is meant to be vaguely humanoid, but it's in fact a raggy orange blob.
I don't know what went wrong in the art; occasionally you can make out a face a little like the old villain Brimstone, but for the most part the visual is too nebulous to engage.

Other than that, the art team deserves credit for just fitting so much on the page, and getting the story told. I'm a big fan of both Perez and Merino and while so far, they're not gelling brilliantly - I like a sleeker finish on Perez - I'm sure these two old pros will find a happy balance. Giving Clark Kent decent glasses would be a good start - he's back in those big round things John Byrne favoured in the Eighties, specs that would get him laughed out of any newspaper office. And Perry White as a silver fox is just jarring.

All in all, this is an enjoyably packed first issue. There are a few rough edges, but no one could accuse this comic of not being an accessible first chapter.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1 review

Caught between life and death, Boston Brand enters the bodies of people in times of crisis, helping them find the right path. At the same time the former circus aerialist, selfish and arrogant in his lifetime, is finding his own way - to redemption

That's the set-up for this five-part mini-series within a series, by the team of writer Paul Jenkins and artist Bernard Chang. Created at the end of the Sixties, Deadman has long been a fan favourite rather than a star and it looks as if DC recognises that his appeal is likely to remain niche (unless the mooted TV show turns up and takes off). It doesn't mean he can't star in the occasional decent short run.

And it looks as if we're going to get just that in this showcase title, as Jenkins, Chang and their collaborators get the series off to a very satisfying start.

Jenkins' script accomplishes a lot in 20 pages, showing us Deadman helping a stunt rider with a death wish, recapping his origin, presenting some of the other people he's helped, introducing us to the maimed soldier who's next on his list and a fortune teller freaked out by actual psychic phenomena, and springing a fine cliffhanger. Deadman's voice seems unchanged by the DC New 52 revamp, he's the streetwise guy with a side helping of melancholy. There's no moaning about his plight, he just gets on with helping others. Happily, there's no reference to the Brightest Day guff of the last year, though there's a hint that Barbara Gordon may show up soon ... I may be reading too much into a single line of dialogue, mind.

The origin is pretty much as it's always been, with Boston murdered over the centre ring by a mystery gunman. Rather than move on, his spirit appears before eastern goddess Rama Kushna, who tasks him with helping 'the weak and the sad, the hopeless and the fearful'. Once he's done enough good, he'll find enlightenment. The only real difference is in Rama's explanation of ascendance, and the visual representation of Deadman's path to it; it's not a massive alteration, and I like it.

The script is dense, but not over-wordy. Jenkins is approaching the story as a character study, giving Deadman depth without overwhelming the art

And thank goodness for that, as Chang's art is not to be missed. For one thing, he draws a great Deadman, his classic look barely changed (guess what has been tweaked? Yup, the collar, but it's not too scary). So far Chang's only required to show us the brooding, intense Deadman, but having seen his DC work on the likes of Supergirl and Wonder Woman, I don't doubt he'll capture the more wry side of Boston should the chance come.

Chang's also very good when it comes to drawing the ordinary guy, the man and woman in the street (including, on page 14, himself). And that's important in a series more likely to co-star Joe Schmo than a super-villain. Rama Kushna gets a new look, making her more like an Indian goddess than previously. She looks suitably wise and ethereal.

Blond, always fine, ups his game here, turning in an exemplary colouring job. Whether we're in Limbo, Afghanistan or Gotham, he adds the extra touch to Chang's pages, evoking the necessary mood. And Dave Sharpe does a similarly excellent job with the lettering, varying fonts and colours to good effect. Completing the core creative team is Ryan Sook, with a powerful cover image.

If you like your superheroes spectral, give this first issue a try. With quality creators, one of DC's most underrated characters and a story that could go anywhere, it's worth a punt.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 review

One batch of Legionnaires infiltrates a United Planets world keeping an eye on the empire of the evil Dominators, while the rest mourn recent losses. The first group includes new members Dragonwing and Chemical Kid, whose enthusiasm gets the better of them when it turns out the military observers are working with the alien scientists. The second, among them other newbies Glorith, Comet Queen and Harmonia, wrestle with the problem of how to break into the timestream and find out what's happened to the Legion Lost.

That's the short version. Skip ahead if you don't want chapter and verse ...

Morale is low among the 31st century's greatest super team. Earth-Man died to bring down the Legion of Super-Villains. Several members are missing on a mission to the 21st century. Problems with the timestream stifle investigation by the surviving members. And Colossal Boy, having lost wife Chameleon Girl, has quit the team to join Starfleet.

Normally, an intake of new, younger members would perk things up, but Dragonwing, Chemical Kid and Glorith are mourning their friend Variable Lad, another victim of the LSV conflict. Still, the former two have been assigned a mission with more senior members and are determined to do their bit. A military watchworld, Panoptes, tasked with keeping an eye on alien conquerors the Dominators from a safe distance, has stopped contacting the United Planets. Dragonwing and Chemical Kid sneak onto the planet and pretend to be shipwrecked sweethearts, while a disguised Chameleon Boy, Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy infiltrate the military base.

At Legion HQ on Earth, Brainiac isn't impressed that a memorial statue is being erected to honour Earth-Man, given that until his final Legion days he was a nasty piece of work, but Mon-El points out that he came through in the end. The rest of the active Legion is then gathered for an update meeting, and the sadness is evident, with only another new member, Comet Queen, managing a cheery note. Cosmic Boy reckons the Academy members have been pulled into the team too quickly; Star Boy looks to be confined to a chair after recent exertions; Mon-El is missing his Green Lantern ring; Brainy wants Mon to step down as leader in favour of him; and Dream Girl notes that 'the Flashpoint effect has definitely closed off time travel to the past ... we can't look for help from Superman anymore'.

Back on Panoptes, Dragonwing isn't holding back as she plays Chemical Kid's girlfriend, and he seems less than thrilled. 'Luckily,' the military shows up and takes the pair into custody. Which is exactly what the senior Legionnaires said to let happen. Dragonwing and Chemical Kid, though, are rather wilful ...

At Legion HQ, another former Academy student, Glorith, is in the Time Lab with Dream Girl, Star Boy and another new member, the rather older Harmonia Li. The trainee witch is distressed at the death of Variable Lad, and not feeling at all well. Harmonia cools her down with a blast of wind, but it doesn't improve her mood - she wishes there were a way to change the past. Star Boy counsels that tampering never works, sometimes you have to accept 'that there's a destiny written for us all'. Girlfriend Dreamy disagrees, suggesting she wouldn't have been given the gift of prophecy if all events were fixed.

Meanwhile, the military men on Panoptes are following orders from more senior officers to modify a comms tower so it can send signals to the Dominators. Dragonwing and Chemical Kid attack the traitorous soldiers and the senior members drop their disguises to join in. Phantom Girl and Chameleon Boy get stuck into the fray while Ultra Boy moves to take down the tower. But someone takes the Legion powerhouse out first.

A busy first issue, this, but writer Paul Levitz introduces characters and places quickly and economically with his patented infobytes. It's always nice if basics and background details can be incorporated into the story, but with all the characters in this book it could easily turn into the Legion of Expository Dialogue. Instead, we're quickly into the story, with enough of the Legion flavour for newcomers enticed by the DC New 52 initiative to decide whether or not to stick around.

Existing readers may be intrigued by the Legion's new method of planetary touchdown, the introduction of 'stealth suits' and the new-look Espionage Squad. There's an interesting wrinkle to one of Cham's changes, the revelation of Harmonia Li's powers and hints that Glorith will go down a dangerous path.

It's great that Levitz doesn't go for predictable tension between the older and younger members. The vets are supportive of the newcomers, and the freshers - while adding a bit of spice - are trying to be good Legionnaires. I especially like the tenderness of the scene in which Star Boy, Dreamy and Harmonia Li bid to comfort Glorith

And Brainy's comments on martyrdom serve as a necessary coda to Earth-Man's shortlived Legion career.

My only negative criticism of the script is the same one I had last time the Legion had a number one issue - the lack of a big, splashy threat. Hopefully someone formidable in powers and presence will be along soon.

Francis Portela has drawn a fair few Legion stories over the last couple of years, and never disappointed with his clean, well-composed illustrations. I think this is the first time he's inked himself on the strip and everything continues to look very good. A few of the costumes have been tweaked to bad effect - Mon-El has yet another version of his classic look and as is always the case, it's no improvement - but that's happening in every DC comic right now. A gratuitous Dream Girl torso aside, I relished every panel.

Javier Mena's colours are mostly attractive, darker than recent work on the Legion strip by Hi-Fi, but as with the new costumes, there's likely a DC directive involved. I do, though, hope he lightens up on the facial modelling; some of the toning makes characters look bruised

Pat Brosseau's lettering is excellent throughout - plain, italic, red ... it's all good. As is the cover by Karl Kerschl, Ultra Boy's Blue Steel look and Cham's scary eyes apart

All in all, it's a fine start to yet another Legion of Super-Heroes series - I do hope this one sticks around for a long while.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Catwoman #1 review

Catwoman flees her apartment when bruisers come calling, looking for something she stole from them. The flat destroyed, Selina seeks help from Lola, her fence and intel source, who sets her up with a gig at a Russian mafia party. There Selina spots a man from her past, someone who killed a woman in front of her. She surprises him in the mens' room, distracts him with the offer of sex, and mutilates him. Maybe kills him. Later, at her high-class squat, Batman comes calling to check on her welfare. Which means have sex.

Well there you go. If Catwoman #1 is setting the tone, the series is going to be sex and violence a go-go. Writer Judd Winick does a good job of introducing the new Selina, we quickly get a handle on what her priorities are in life ('They won't find anything except bras, books, wine and cat food'). His Selina talks tough, but the vulnerability at the edges - for example, not admitting to Lola that she won't stay with her because she doesn't wish to endanger her - is apparent.

The softer side is captured very well by artist Guillem March, particularly in a portrait of Selina watching her apartment burn. And his Catwoman in motion is a joy to see. I'm not keen on the massive emphasis given to her chest (Gotham City is famed for its dirigibles) but I don't doubt that the proportions are in Winick's art directions - heaven knows, there are enough narrative references to bras. The opening panel is a focus on Selina's breasts. And the title isn't even pretending the book's not hoping to attract fans of good girl art: '... and most of the costumes stay on'.

It's all a bit adolescent, but teenage boys deserve comics too. I'm sure the sight of Catwoman and Batman having costumed nookie for three pages will fuel plenty of fantasies, and maybe spark a few subscriptions. Me, I like the Bat/Cat relationship played a little more subtly, and I don't like the presentation of Batman as a man too broken to admit that he wants sex - here, he comes across as more victim than partner.

Plus, a couple of the pages could have been devoted to those adorable kitties Selina terrifies with her lifestyle (click to enlarge).
Selina undercover was a tad jarring, with the tones of her wig and pasty make-up reminding me of Batwoman Kate Kane (this might be the moment, though, to mention that colourist Tomeu Morey does a sterling job throughout). The party scene was also interesting for the inclusion of a Joker-themed gangster ... it seems that the chap I was wondering about in Static #1 wasn't the Crown Prince of Crime, but one of a number of criminal fashion victims across the DCU (the Mysterious Hooded Woman is also present, but she's a bit boring, truth be told).

So, everything old is new again in the New 52. Catwoman doesn't know Batman's secret identity. She doesn't have a child. Or cash reserves. Or the ability to plan her own jobs. Or much in the way of morals.

Before this month, Catwoman was a thief, but she was also a heroine of sorts. Certainly she didn't harm innocents, as she does in this issue when she chloroforms a bartender to take over her role for the night. And  the speed with which she loses control, savaging the gangster, is disturbing.

This woman, I don't know her. And that's fair enough. Catwoman is at an earlier stage in her life, she hasn't yet learned that playing solely on the dark side of the road doesn't make for a happy cat. Yes, risk makes for an interesting life, as she tells us - as we're shown - here. But helping people while taking risks, not lowering yourself to the level of other criminals, is better.

And when Selina learns that lesson, I'll be back. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 review

And this would be the New 52 comic I was most expecting to hate. A title starring the ever-annoying Jason Todd and the patron saint of rubbish choices, Roy Harper - in a baseball cap! Gotta hate it. Well, unless the presence of the always enjoyable Starfire lifts it.

I rather liked it. And I feel a tiny bit bad about that.

The story has Jason rescue old pal Roy from jail in Qurac, where he wound up after packing in the life of a hero to be a soldier of (mis)fortune. Jason arrives in a fat suit, disguised as a man of the cloth. Kory arrives in a few strips of purple metal. Weeks later, back on Jason's home turf, Gotha ... St Martinique?

Hang on, what's a member of the Batman Family in bad standing doing hanging out in a happy place?

Having fun. Lots of it. And much of that with Koriand'r, but she's as happy to get Roy into bed as Jason. Not that Jason notices, as he's put on to a mystery by another old friend, Essence, albino oracle, and is soon in the Himalayas, getting into trouble all on his lonesome.

So what's to feel guilty about? Starfire, for one thing - certainly she's been a bit of a sex kitten (literally, with her people being descended from cats) since her first appearance, tonguing Dick Grayson to learn English. And she's never been shy of showing some flesh. But pretty much every panel of Kory in this issue includes a wiggle of the hips, shake of the tits or arch of the back. She can't remember Dick, or any other New Teen Titans, because, says Jason, 'Tamaraneans don't see humans as much more than sights and smells. And they have a terribly short attention span about all things Earth.'

Ohhhh dear. I know the DC relaunch is a chance to tweak characters and situations, but this is basically a lobotomy. Kory has fans for a reason. Yes. she's relaxed with her sexuality, but she's never been a slapper - the girl just loves to be in love. As well as being open with her feelings, she's whip smart, a born warrior, loyal to her friends ... can she even have friends now? Using a made-up-ten-seconds-ago species-specific trait as an excuse to have the female star sleep with both of the males, well, it's a bit wet dream, isn't it?

I suppose the cover is our first clue - the boys have bodies, Kory is a head, breasts and a couple of stunted arms.

Worse, though, is that her fresh perspective on Earthlings looks to have made her happy to turns tanks to slag with men inside them. The old Kory killed, yes, but not when there are other options; this version is oblivious to the murders she's committing. I'm all for alien perspectives, but heroic ones are preferred.

It's a shame the treatment of Kory is so annoying, as there's plenty to like in this comic book - the recreation of Jason as adventurer rather than Black Sheep of the Robin line; the implications of Jason and Roy's friendship (traditionally Dick Grayson was his best friend, has that changed?); adventuresome larks around the world; a visually arresting new supporting character in Essence; a mystery man in Chicago with an even more enigmatic shadow; genuinely funny lines and some enjoyable groaners.

And Starfire's contortions apart, Kenneth Rocafort's artwork is perfect for the comic, full of facial expressions that speak volumes, well-pitched battles and mad dashes. He varies panel design to control pace, jollying the story along nicely, and adds fun bits of business such as tropical panel borders. Blond seems to have spent days perfecting Kory's skin tones, but has still found time to produce cracking colourwork throughout - never mind the comely Kory, I could spend all day just staring at his twinkling Caribbean.

I'll certainly give this book a few issues, to see how things settle down - Kory having bedded the supremely dim Roy, and the more interesting Jason, there'll likely be a bit of tension, but hopefully everyone will move on and concentrate on derring-do. Who knows, Kory and Roy may even grow a brain between them. If nothing else, I'll hang around long enough for the following statement to be explained. (click to enlarge image as you marvel at Kory's flexibility/deformity).

Birds of Prey #1 review

Who'd be a reporter in Gotham? Fed tips about a 'covert ops team run by a bunch of super-criminal hotties', you're expecting to get a good story, but before you can publish, someone tries to kill you. Then you're saved by said hotties, but they insist you leave town. Then ... ahh, but that would be telling.

The Birds of Prey number but two this issue, as Black Canary and Starling are still trying to put a team together. One potential recruit is the swordswoman Katana, recommended by Canary's friend Barbara Gordon, the reborn Batgirl. At least Canary, aka Dinah Lance, seems to consider her a pal; Barbara is decidedly frosty, unhappy that Dinah hasn't yet cleared up the small matter of being wanted by police. Could it be that Barbara used to run a team known as the Birds of Prey, and now that she's pursuing other avenues she doesn't want Dinah to sully it with a bad rep?

We're not told, but that's one interpretation of their meeting. I expect we'll find out in time. This issue is more concerned with introducing us to the new character, Starling. She talks tough, has tattoos, drives a vintage car, worries that she's damned to hell and isn't liked by Barbara ... that's not too shabby a collection of characteristics for a first issue. I don't know yet what's so unique about her that she gets to be Dinah's new best friend, but I'm intrigued enough to stick around and find out.

Dinah, most of us know already. And anyone who doesn't will see that she's a mistress of the martial arts, possessor of a sonic scream and a supremely confident fighter - easily enough to enjoy her struggle against the camouflaged gunmen out to kill Gotham hack Charlie. We don't learn yet who's been playing him, but that's another reason to come back after this debut ... the question of who'll make Canary and Starling's team is less of a grabber, for obvious reasons.

Duane Swierczynski's script reads well with only a couple of off-moments, one for each of our stars. First, there's Dinah carrying a knife. She doesn't use it on anyone, but I don't want my heroes carrying blades (yes, I realise Katana has a ruddy great sword - I've never liked her).

Then there's the line given to Starling - aka Ev Crawford - in a diner (click on image to enlarge):
Trying too hard, dear. Mind, if that line is a summation of Starling's attitude to life, we're not going to get on. Happily, she's more likeable in the action scenes, coming on like Lady Blackhawk with her yee-ha attitude to danger. I look forward to finding out what her special skills are, besides looking good.

Because she looks very good. I'm not keen on her fighting crime in a corset, but I love the Bobby Soxer femme fatale vibe artist Jesus Saiz conjures up. And his Dinah is a crime-fighting firecracker, with great moves and better hair. The rest of the book looks tremendous too, full of spot-on storytelling and marvellous money shots. And he pulls off a couple of excellent scene transitions required by the script. Saiz's biggest strength, though, is his skill in drawing faces that simply brim with emotion - keeping Saiz will go a long way to making this book a success.

Hanging on to his creative partners would help, too - Nei Ruffino has quickly become one of DC's top colourists, with sharp choices, well laid down - just look at how nicely she tones the camo killers. And Carlos M Mangual's letters are unobtrusive, but always attractive. I don't know if he's responsible for the new take on Canary's narrative boxes, but I laughed and laughed.
As DC's predominantly female team, the Birds of Prey have long had the eyes of fandom on them. While it's too early to say how well Swierczynski and Saiz will pull off the all-important character dynamics of the full team - cover co-stars Katana (ugh) and Poison Ivy should show up next month - they're off to a good start.

Supergirl #1 review

Meet Supergirl. She's got the unpredictable behavior of a teenager, the same powers as Superman – and none of his affection for the people of Earth. So don't piss her off!

That's the solicitation from DC Comics that's had me worried for the last couple of months. We had the moody, unpredictable Kara a few years back, and it's only over the last couple of years that a Supergirl worthy of the name - caring, thoughtful, measured yet never boring - has been restored. And then only after sales on her book tanked, as readers tired of the bad-tempered, easily led Lolita she was. The experiment having failed once, is 'loose cannon' really the way to go now that Supergirl is being reintroduced to longtime fans and, with luck, introduced to new readers?

As it turns out, the solicitation doesn't represent the story here.

I know, pick yourself up off of the floor ...

For while the Supergirl in this comic does come out fighting, it's because she's attacked first. And when she hurts people, it's because she doesn't understand the powers she's beginning to manifest.

The issue begins with Kara crashing to earth amidst a chunk of Krypton. In a nice touch, she hits Kansas, but doesn't land, instead carrying on all the way through the planet and emerging in Siberia. There's she's met by 'intercept teams' from the US (it seems there are agreements in place that the US gets to make first contact with aliens ... or else!) and attacked with some kind of mega-tasers. So of course she  lashes out.

As Kara fights back, confused by the local languages, her internal narrative reveals her to be a bright, family-minded young woman, with no memory of how she's wound up so far from Krypton. Bit by bit she discovers her heightened senses, until the extreme input incapacitates her, eliciting a super-scream. And maybe that's what attracts the attention of a certain strange visitor on the final page.

This was OK. Writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson introduce us to our lead character, dotting in some background while laying down some mystery. They show her powers clicking in, while underlining the US military's 'shoot-first' attitude to superhumans, as seen in other DC New 52 books this month. While Supergirl #1 is a speedy read, it's an enjoyable one, and Kara's reasonable nature has me relieved. My favourite moment is a homage to a Superman story of long ago, in which his out-of-control super-hearing had him picking up words from aross the DC Universe, illustrated by balloons pasted in from that month's comics. And I assume that's what's happening this issue (I'll get back to you when I've read more of the books).

But my Lord, that costume ...

Last time DC introduced Supergirl I remember moaning about her turning up naked. Childish titillation, said I. Put her in some clothing, already.

Be careful what you wish for.

Just look at this thing (don't click on image to enlarge, it'll only look worse).
Fussy seams. Thigh boots that bare the knees. A tiny red panty shield that, by default, displays more thigh than a chicken on steroids.

It's ridiculous from every angle, and makes no design or defence sense. In the story, Kara indicates that the outfit is intended for her graduation, with her mother's approval. Strange school, stranger mother.

I've heard the arguments that it's the character that's important, not the packaging, but every time I see this monstrosity I assume Kara is insane. The costume is so hideous that it's tough to concentrate on the story. Even the talented Mahmud Asrar, inked by the superb Dan Green, can't rescue it. It needs to go, quickly.

Outfit apart, their Kara looks good - intelligent, pretty, athletic and not buxom. They convey that she wants to engage with the world, but is constrained by circumstances, and her growing frustration and desperation is there to see.

Asrar's design for the US warsuits is less successful: very Eighties, with shoulders so large that the wearers' heads look to be in their chests. They don't look remotely manoeuvreable. Nevertheless, the action scenes work, because much of the time Kara is simply bashing the things. The colours of Dave McCaig, and letters of John J Hill, add to the intensity of the visual experience.

So that's the latest debut of 'the Supergirl from Krypton' - decent, but not amazing. So far, I'm still wishing we had the most recent iteration of Kara Zor-El to the fore, but it's early days. The real test will come when we move past the origin and see how DC plans for Kara to interact with the new universe. Preferably in a nice twin set.

Wonder Woman #1 review

Gods walk the Earth. In Singapore, one creates oracles in a bid to discern his father's moves and moods. In Virginia, another slaughters horses to produce murderous centaurs. Nearby, a third defends the mortal target of the transformed beasts.

And in London, Diana sleeps. But not for long, as a mystical object transports Zola, the centaurs' prey, to her side, pulling Diana into the chess game being played by the Olympians. Soon Wonder Woman is facing the wrath of the centaurs, and meeting an old friend.

I could give you chapter and verse but this is one of those books in which the devil is in the detail, and I suspect most people reading this will be buying. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang carefully ladle out the information and you're going to have fun discovering who's who, and what's what, for yourself. So in lieu of massive spoilers, let's look at the tone, and the bigger picture.

Azzarello said this was going to be a horror book, and certainly a strong stomach will be needed for a few of the panels here. If you can't abide animal cruelty, the opening pages won't be for you, as the horses are slaughtered on panel. What happens next is similarly grisly, but makes sense for the story, and we were warned.

The real horror, though, arises from the feeling that all the creatures of earth are the gods' playthings, to be transformed, or murdered, as their whims dictate.

When Diana appears in the story, there's an instant injection of brightness. Not in a Pollyanna way, more in the sense that while she's wary, and fierce, it's obvious this is a good woman, a strong woman - a wonder woman. She's going to protect mortals from gods, starting with Zola, whom we learn has had a rather classic encounter with one of their number.

The dialogue is terse, and smart. It makes the characters feel enigmatic, without their seeming irritating. The dramatic scenes pile up, and we see something of what Diana can do. The fight choreography from Chiang is some of the best I've seen in a while, with no doubt about how we get from panel A to panel B, while his reinterpretation of the gods is stunning. And so far as regular folk go, Zola looks to be the spitfire Diana deserves to have at her side.

And Wonder Woman herself? I don't think 'beautiful as Aphrodite' would be overstating.

The story closes with a scene echoing something that happened in last week's Demon Knights, but Chiang's control of time makes it even creepier, while Matthew Wilson's beautiful colours are as effective here as they are throughout. First-class lettering, too, from Jared K Fletcher.

I'm not delighted with the new costume - silver rather than gold, too many double-ws, a tiny emblem - but I can live with it, and it'll likely become more like the iconic look as time goes on.

Gore apart, this is a fine debut, and I can't wait to see where the story goes from here. The book has a feel all of its own among DC's New 52 books, and I love that there's no sense that we'll be bothering with tedious 'Who is Wonder Woman?' issues. She's Diana, princess of the Amazons, defender of mortals, and she's right here.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Grifter #1 review

They call him Grifter
Just a guy, a drifter
Better hide, shapeshifter

OK, I've written the theme song so as soon as TV options this for a weekly drama, I'm quids in. For I can easily see this comic making the leap from page to screen, sold as The Fugitive meets The Invaders.

Or if you're a comics fan, Rom: Spaceknight meets a man with awful sideburns. 

This New 52 debut flashes backwards and forwards to show us what conman Cole Cash is doing on a plane, stabbing fellow passengers. It turns out he was abducted and experimented on by aliens. Now they're out to stop him revealing all to the world. But he can hear their thoughts. And he's not gonna take it. Nope, he's gonna put a red handkerchief over his face and, er ... I don't know exactly. Shoot a lot, if this issue's spiffy cover by penciller Cafu and inker Bit is anything to go by.

So far, Cole's not someone I'm rooting for. A thief, violence seems to be his first reaction when the going gets rough. I'm behind his army officer brother, assigned to capture him. Also in the picture is an embittered girlfriend/partner-in-crime/possible policewoman, pouting away.

Nathan Edmondson's script reads well enough, but substitutes the 'wow' factor for the 'ugh' factor, with its regular bursts of violence allied to a storyline that is, for superhero comics, pretty mundane. Cafu and Gorder's artwork is appealingly clean, but Cash looks rather skanky with his unappealing facial foliage, like a blond Wolverine.

As ever, though, I have to remember that not every comic is aimed at me. Grifter #1 may have done exactly what it set out to do, and very well at that. Fans of the more street-level comics - folk who want DC to bring back Wild Dog, say - may love this. For me, though, this is one and done.

Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE #1 review

Monsters have taken over a small town. Frankenstein, Agent of super-spy organisation SHADE, is sent in to find any survivors and put down the beasts, along with his new team, the Creature Commandos.

Now this is a fabulous book from DC's New 52 initiative. The hero is a broken-hearted monster who quotes poetry. His wife is Modesty Blaise with green skin and four arms. His tough-talking boss has decided he'd quite like to be a titchy schoolgirl. His back-up team comprises a werewolf, a vampire, a creature from a lagoon of indeterminate colour and a medically minded mummy. His science advisor is Ray Palmer, master of shrinking technology.

There's the mystery of why the monsters' first human victim isn't surprised to see them. The moral dilemma of creating servants that live less than a day. A chamber of secrets.

Jeff Lemire's script rattles along at a fair old whack, spitting out mad science and weird plot points by the page. He economically sketches his characters, lacing them with the promise of depths to be discovered in due course. There's a secret HQ linked to his Atom strip in Adventure Comics, and slightly tweaked versions of characters from his recent Flashpoint Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown mini, but everything feels fresh, and right.

Lemire gives Alberto Ponticelli the strangest things to draw - massive monsters, floating cities, tragic 'humanids' - and he comes up trumps every time. Frank, with his neck bolts and mini Mohawk, looks ludicrous, but magnificent; Father Time a la St Trinian's is hilarious; the beast horde is horrifying. This book contains one of the best battle spreads of the year, a joyously packed scene of mayhem. There's a rough quality to the finishes that suits the story, while the vibrant colours of Jose Villarrubia and varied letters of Patrick Brosseau only add to the wonderful look of this book. JG Jones and Hi-Fi top the issue off with a movie poster-style cover illustration that's just a little cheeky.

There's a minor link to Batman continuity, but that apart, this comic plays well in its own corner of the New 52 Universe. It's one I hope to visit monthly for a long time.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Legion Lost #1 review

The Legion of Super-Heroes are among the DC characters least affected by the New 52 shake-up ... at least in one sense. For while the continuity continues unchanged from last month, there is a big status quo alteration as a third of the membership is cast out of the 31st century Legion comic and into this new book.

A terrorist named Alastor has commandeered a time bubble and headed for the 21st century, intending to release a killer pathogen. An emergency delayed the Legion in following him, and the lag meant the 'Flashpoint Breakwall' - longtime readers will immediately think Iron Curtain of Time - gave their bubble a battering, causing a bad crash landing in Minnesota. Worse, by the time this issue begins, he's released the formula into the air.

He's also on a murderous rampage in a nearby town, but before they can catch up with him the Legion finds that they have other problems - their protective transuits are failing to filter out pollutants, harming tracker Dawnstar in particular (but, oddly, not Timber Wolf, with his similarly super-senses). That's not all - their flight rings are on the fritz.

Alastor, a human transformed into a horned hulk, is brought down not by the pursuing Timber Wolf, who follows his nose, but by a cute little girl's plea to help find her sister among the carnage he's created. It seems he's turned against the human race because of something that happened to his little sister, and the shock of a desperate tot brings on a collapse, and reversion to human form.

Timber Wolf does find him, and the Legion aims their jerry-rigged bubble back at the 31st century. The going is slow, but they seem to be getting somewhere until it becomes apparent Alastor himself has been infected, causing him to begin transforming into a monster once more. The shape-changing Chameleon Girl attempts to restrain Alastor, while Gates prepares to teleport him into space, but he blows up. Tellus manages to protect most members with a telekinetic shield, but Chameleon Girl and Gates are lost. Tellus can't feel them with his mind, Timber Wolf says 'their ... organic residue ... is falling with the rain'.

With two members gone, futuristic technology not worth a damn, a time bubble now totally wrecked and no guarantee Alastor is dead as opposed to teleported away somewhere by Gates, the Legion is in dire straits.

Theoretically, anyway. The Legion has plenty of super-powered friends. Technology can be fixed or substituted. Alastor can be tracked. 

Gates and Chameleon Girl, dead? I can't see writer Fabian Nicieza killing off two Legionnaires in his debut script, especially when one is the very popular Gates. More likely they've been shuffled off the board because teleportation is so darned useful, and a first issue must have shocks.

The biggest shock for me this issue is that I'm just not feeling this book. It's full of favourite Legionnaires, there's a threat to the 21st century that may impact on the 31st, story and art by two excellent creators, but, well, ho and, indeed, hum. It's not a bad comic - Nicieza keeps personalities consistent with what's gone before, and elegantly introduces members' names and abilities into the story. There's action aplenty with good use of powers. Occasionally muddy finishing apart, Pete Woods' art is big and bold and tells the story well. I suspect he's still getting used to working on a team book, as some panels are overcrowded (one so much so that word balloons ends up placed on an important plot point - click on image to enlarge).
But both creators are trying very hard, and I really appreciate that.

I think my reaction is coloured by the supposed deaths. We've reached the point now at which a comic book without killings is unusual - it's only a month since the last Legion fatality. The deaths here are so perfunctory that it's difficult to take them seriously, yet I resent them because they remove Chameleon Girl from what was set to be her first starring role, and Gates, whose tetchy prole personality adds spice to any story.

Then there's the use of the little girl to throw Alastor - not the scariest of names - off his game; too, too corny. And the old problem of Tyroc somehow flying via sonic scream while managing to have a conversation.

On the pro side, I did like a new use for Tyroc's powers, and his leadership role - he's been around even longer than Chameleon Girl without a consistent spotlight. And Tellus is to the fore too, something that always makes me happy. The fiery features given Wildfire by Woods works well, while his Timber Wolf is outstanding. And both do good work with Chameleon Girl (cue theatrical sigh).

Part of the problem may also be that I'm a Legion lifer: I've seen a Legion Lost series previously and that was such a fascinating, intense tale that any book using the same title has a big mountain to climb. And I've read about a Legion team stranded in the present day, and so far as I'm concerned, other than cameos, the Legion in our time is pointless. Plus, a Legion comic with the same small team every issue doesn't feel like the Legion. 

Newer readers whom the New 52 initiative aims to bring in, though, won't have these experiences and prejudices, so their reactions will be different ... and I'll be thrilled to bits if this book helps a new generation of readers come to the Legion.

Because, again, as a Legion lifer, I'll be here whatever. And it's very likely that as the months pass Nicieza and Woods' book will only get better, as they become comfortable with the series. 

Long Live the Legion! Especially Chameleon Girl and Gates.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Demon Knights #1 review

I've seen tons of riffs on the Fall of Camelot, I guess we all have. But Demon Knights begins with a fresh look at the moment that the dead Arthur is wafted away to Paradise, as one of the book's soon-to-be-stars breaks out of her assigned role with style, and maybe just a smattering of Spamalot.

It sets the tone for the book, a cracking yarn set in days of old, when knights were bold and dragons walked the land ... dragons, demons, wizards, enchantresses, exotic traders, mysterious horsewomen, shining knights, Amazing Amazons - this one, True Believer, hath it all.

Not forgetting an immortal caveman, whom I was half-expecting to show up in another DC New 52 book this week (he may still, I haven't read it yet).

Trying to summarise the plot of this one is setting myself up to fail. It's not so much difficult to follow, as very busy. Let's just say it takes place in England, in two time periods and features a cast of characters who actually do deserve that overused word, 'motley'. The star of the book is the Demon Etrigan, who's hooked up with Madame Xanadu in his other guise of Jason O' Th' Blood. They take a break in an inn in a hamlet besieged by agents of a well-known DC wizard and his comely consort, but the various travellers who also happen to be there aren't going to let their quiet pint be interrupted without a fight ...

Paul Cornell's script is a hoot, not so much a matter of comic japes as letting the humour in the everyday emerge. And when the everyday is more than a millennium ago, in the DCU, we're in for a treat. Just hearing Madame Xanadu witter on like a character from Carry on Camelot (was there ever a Carry on Camelot? Why ever not?) merits a broad smile, and it's great to see Jason Blood in the days before he became a wet blanket.

Among the new characters, Al Jabr the (assuming here) Moor trader and Exoristos the (and here) Amazon instantly intrigue, while the Horsewoman has a heck of an entrance. And while several of the other players in Demon Knights have links to previous DC continuities, knowing that is a bonus - this story stands on its own just fine.

Contrasting with the humour is a chilling scene showing that innocents aren't guaranteed a safe passage in this book. The sorcerer is a real stinker (though a comment from Mrs Sorcerer hints that he sees himself as anything but). Actually, there's another wizard around, Merlin, and while he's generally on the side of Good, his pragmatism makes him a spirit to be wary of.

The pencils of Diogenes Neves are suitably fantastic. Inked by Oclair Albert, his people are full of life; whether they're common brawlers, majestic warriors, mystics or monsters, they power across the pages. And, importantly, while they come from many lands and backgrounds, they complement one another visually. The finishing touch is added by Marcelo Maiolo, who contrasts earthy and dreamlike tones to fine effect, foregrounding the action while making things in the distance enticingly mysterious.

Lettering the book, Jared K Fletcher uses a variety of fonts to emphasis the otherworldiness of cast members, without ever getting too fussy; it's an intelligent piece of work.

Covering Demon Knights is a striking image from Tony Daniel and Tomeu Morey - it's a shame it's just Etrigan rather than the full team, but he's the best-known character in this issue, heck, his name's in the title. We'll see the rest of the gang soon.

Demon Knights was a big surprise when DC announced the New 52 titles, but its characters, settting and approach brings something different to the line. Entertaining in a big way, it deserves to be a massive hit.

Green Lantern #1 review

It's been awhile since I dropped the Green Lantern titles, bored rigid by the Crayola Corps, but I'm always hoping for a new jumping-on point. And here it is. Sinestro as GL isn't an enticing prospect, admittedly - waste of a perfectly good villain - but if it means getting to see Hal Jordan putting time in on Earth, I'll take it.

This issue opens with Sinestro charging the ring that has 'chosen' him and being charged by the Guardians of the Universe with keeping the peace in his home space sector. Sinestro wants nothing of it, but the Guardians, rather than declaring the ring insane and melting it down for scrap, interpret it as meaning Sinestro deserves a shot at redemption.

Beetle-browed blue buffoons.

Except for Ganthet, ever the voice of reason. The Guardians, rather than embracing the voice of polite dissent as they're embracing a mass murderer (yes, Sinestro abused his Green Lantern status, but he 'believed it was for the good of his world'), gang-blast him. Whether they're lobotomising him or literally changing his mind, we'll see soon enough. What can't come soon enough is the crushing of this bunch of little dictators ... it's almost as if writer Geoff Johns thinks the only way to make us root for Sinestro is to make the Guardians differently objectionable.

On Earth, Hal is learning that being away for months on end isn't the way to keep a tenancy, showing that he doesn't need a magic ring to play the hero and annoying Carol Ferris with his adolescent insensitivity. I find it all endearing, a reminder of why I liked Hal in the decades before he began getting lost in the crowd/never-ending storylines; he's a hero, but a very human one.

Carol, too, is eminently likable, a woman ruled by her passions. I've no idea what her current status is as a Star Sapphire, Pink Parasol or whatever, but if anyone's going to get me to try the new Emerald Warriors book, it's her. (Nothing on God's Earth will persuade me to plump down hard-earned money for Vomity Lanterns, and the new Green Lantern Corps comic looks like a lot of silly slashing.)

Johns' script is pretty deft, unshackled from a massive space epic. There's action as Hal gets into a brawl and Sinestro kills one of his old Sinestro Corps pals - hurrah for redemption! - but plenty of room for character moments. Hal gets the best line, as Carol buggers off from their dinner date in a right old huff (click on image to enlarge).
See what he did there?

The issue ends on an intriguing note, one which guarantees I'll be back next issue, and probably every issue after that so long as the storylines don't get too Byzantine.

Odd panels in which Hal looks like a wax model apart (hey, it may be a subplot, all that time in space has wrecked Hal's skin), the pencils of Doug Mahnke and inks of Christian Alamy and Tom Nguyen make for good-looking stripwork. At times there's a pleasingly Gil Kane feel to the finishes - I like that Hal's artistic father may still be influencing him.

And I lke their Sinestro - world weary, sarcastic, contemptuous, he knows he's surrounded by idiots. It doesn't make him a good guy, but it adds to the interest.

Colouring the book is the exceedingly talented David Baron, who does a great job of contrasting Earth with outer space. And he remembers that Hal's smalls must be green. The final artist on the interior is Sal Cipriano, who provides the sharp lettering.

Sadly, my cover is pristine, without the green ring that's causing DC to recall issues, and likely sending the book's 'value' shooting up. Still, at least it means I can enjoy the compelling image of a smouldering Sinestro as intended. Good work from Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis.

While Hal Jordan's continuity hasn't been changed by the New 52/Flashpoint shuffle, it's given the Green Lantern solo series a real shot in the arm. I'm not delighted Sinestro is the title character, but it won't last, and I look forward to seeing where the book goes after that. 

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Suicide Squad #1 review

The new Suicide Squad are in trouble. Captured by unknown assailants, they're being tortured. The deal is simple - give up the secrets of the Squad, or die slowly and painfully. A scorching blade. Pincers to the face. Salt in a wound. Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Savant, King Shark, Black Spider, Voltaic and El Diablo... one of them reaches their limit. The rest face a big surprise.

This new take on a DC classic begins with torture and ends with the promise of mass murder. We flash back to see how a few of the characters won their latest stint in Belle Reve prison, then it's back to the nastiness.

(Oh, there goes an arm.)

Deadshot seems to be basically the same guy we're familiar with from the Suicide Squad's golden days and, more recently, Secret Six; he's lost the 'tache, but seems to still have a little girl. Harley Quinn is nastier than I remember. Savant is in no way the same guy we saw in Birds of Prey. King Shark seems to be the Secret Sixer, but with a new head and - God help us - a thong. Black Spider looks bulkier than the Bat-villain I'm familiar with. And Voltiac and El Diablo are new to me.

And that's how they'll likely remain, as I don't fancy any more issues of this. The existing, tweaked characters seem that much nastier, and it's not just the villains - there's a well-known Squad face here who's unrecognisable. Well, unless you only know her from TV and film ...

It's not that I don't appreciate the final twist, but when the supposed good guys are more monstrous than the bad, I'm out. And while I'm intrigued by the mission set up at the end of this issue, and Adam Glass's writing is technically rather good, as with his Flashpoint Legion of Doom mini series, this comic isn't for me. Glass seems to take far too much joy in mutilating and killing characters; I get that this is the Suicide Squad, but deaths should be the exception, not the rule.

The art by pencillers Federico Dalloccio and Ransom Getty, and inker Scott Hanna, while not for the squeamish, is excellent. Standout scenes include the opening spread showing the down and out Squad from above; and the members heading for a mission, their personalities revealed by their physical attitudes (click on image to enlarge).
And Val Staples' colouring is outstanding throughout, as he adds tones to signal flashbacks, emphasise drama, pick up light sources and generally make good art look great.

Ryan Benjamin's cover is impressive, but I'd rather see Harley Quinn than Harley Quim. The other guys may as well not be there

I'm disappointed by this book. I'd love to support a Suicide Squad series and hopefully I'll be able to before long, as everyone involved has the craft to make a great comic without resorting to over-the-top nastiness. All that's needed is a little editorial change of mind.

Anyone know a cheap torturer?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Mister Terrific #1 review

Mr Terrific may have been tweaked in DC's New 52 Universe but one thing's for sure - Michael Holt just can't shut up about how clever he is. He saves Londoners from a small-time super-villain and it's, 'some people call me the third smartest man in the world". He reminds himself in his narration that 'they say I'm the third smartest man in the world'. He even hangs out with a kid who brags about an IQ of 192, and sleeps with fellow scientific genius Karen Starr.

It's awfully wearing.  We get it, Mike - you're a smart guy in a smart world and only a couple of people are smarter than you.

I suppose I should have expected this, it's Mr Terrific's first solo book and he needs to establish his creds - third smartest man, number one braggart. Hopefully, he'll relax a bit in future issues. Maybe buy a really big sports car.

More worrying than the ego - the clue is in the name - is this issue's preoccupation with race. Mr Terrific tells those selfsame Londoners: "Actually, a simple 'thanks Black Guy for saving us from a homicidal lunatic wearing weaponized body armour will do'," as if a non-White face in the UK is a novelty.

I could let that go as a cultural misunderstanding on the part of writer Eric Wallace, but later in the issue there's this exchange (click on image to enlarge).
Are there really so few avenues to interpersonal conflict that we have to do Black v White, concurrent with two smart women arguing over a man, in the first issue?

(And Karen - who may or may not be Power Girl, it looks like we're about to find out next issue - is so dissembling here; sure, she and Michael may be just friends, but they sure seem to be 'friends with benefits'.)

The mystery to be solved by Mr Terrific has people snapping and speaking their minds, as their IQs go off the scale. That's right up his street, or rather, tesseract - he has a secret headquarters in 'the Ninth Dimension, another excuse to pat himself on the back. Honestly.

Wallace's script is overly expository, even for a debut issue, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and try a few more. He does get points for flashing back to Holt's motivation for becoming Mr Terrific, with an interesting change from the origin as seen in the Nineties Spectre series.

Gianlucca Gugliotta's artwork, inked by DC stalwart Wayne Faucher, tells the story well enough, with good layouts and no skimping on backgrounds. Mind, I'd have expected a Ninth Dimension HQ to look a little more interesting than what we see here. And some of the heads are rather oddly shaped; Michael, on the important final splash, suffers from an especially awkward upshot. The tweaked costume doesn't look bad, but Mr Terrific looks so much better with the 'Fair Play' leather jacket (and if he's meant to have a secret ID, that 'Fair Play' tattoo demotes him to way below 'third smartest man'). Karen Starr, meanwhile, dons a party dress with a cut-out circle. Funny that.

JG Jones's cover is a beaut, I hope he's a regular around these parts.

So, not my favourite of the latest batch of first issues, but not awful either. I'll give the world's third smartest man until his third outing. If I give up on him, then he'll be smarting.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1

In the original Spider-Man origin, Peter Parker's Uncle Ben was killed by a burglar.

In the new Spider-Man origin, Miles Morales' Uncle Aaron is the burglar.

Nice guy, though. He's young Miles' favourite, the understanding guy he can visit when parental expectations get a bit much. And that's what Miles is doing when a genetically engineered arachnid crawls out of Aaron's bag - the spider snuck in when he visited Norman Osborn's lab to steal  something or other - and bites him. By the end of the issue, Miles is going through changes.

Given the media hoo-hah over Miles' Hispanic/Black heritages (doesn't that just make him, you know, American, same as Peter Parker?), this book is set to attract new readers to comics. Let's just hope the newcomers aren't after 'action in the Mighty Marvel manner' cos they won't find it here. Miles doesn't don that natty Spidey suit shown on the cover, there are no super-villains in the background. There's not even a cat in a tree, waiting to be rescued.

Nope, as with the first Ultimate Spider-Man series, writer Brian Michael Bendis is taking the slow road, letting us get to know his protagonist before the Call to Adventure comes. And for what it is, this comic isn't bad - decent 'young adult' fiction, with the promise of action eventually. And it'll likely read very well as a trade paperback.

As a first issue, though, it's hardly a grabber. The comic is sedately paced from beginning to end, perfect bedtime reading. A threat from Osborn to a scientist flunky is as exciting as it gets. I learned about New York's private school system - you get in by winning a game of bingo or something; met Miles' over-excited Mom and unimpressed Dad; and saw Secret Burglar Uncle Aaron work a big Spidey-style mask.

Miles seems a nice kid, not especially exciting but it's only his first issue, and Peter didn't get exciting 'til he got spidered. Bendis shows that despite his young age (he looks about ten, but I guess he's meant to be a bit older than that) Miles already has a hero's sense of fair play. His family are people I'm happy to spend time with (though I can't see Uncle Aaron being around long). And I like that Miles looks to be getting powers based on different spider-characteristics to Peter.

Bendis' dialogue is fine, and I applaud his use of the Arachne myth as a creepy way into the story. I enjoyed Sara Pichelli's wonderful figurework and storytelling (and marvelled at her fondness for Letratone). I liked Justin Ponser's colours and Cory Petit's lettering (but still hate the use of lower case for the Ultimate books). Kaare Andrews provides a striking cover.

But I just don't find this debut compelling. It's a nice spin on the Spider-Man idea, but lacks any exceptional moments - an original image, a sparkling piece of dialogue, a fascinating villain. I hope kids buy this, and like it, because they're the people this book needs, not those of us who have been reading long enough to be, not so much jaded, but a little more demanding.

The price point won't help, mind. I hate paying $3.99 for 21 pages of story and a stupid plastic bag - if DC can hold the line at $2.99, there's no reason Marvel can't. They're taking the piss.

So, if anyone follows this book over the months, and it turns out to have something new to say, let me know. I won't buy the back issues, but it can certainly go on my Amazon Greed List.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Swamp Thing #1 review

Alec Holland is back from the dead, but he's not the man he was. Saddled with memories of the plant elemental built on his essence after his corpse rotted in a Louisiana swamp, he just wants to forget - it's confusing when you have feelings for 'some woman with white hair' whom you've never met. So he's taken a break from researching a bio-restorative formula and opted for anonymity on a building site.

But he can't escape the past. Not only is the Green - the plant world - constantly reaching out to him, the heroic community is too, in the person of Superman. The Man of Steel shows up and asks Alec if he knows what's been causing creatures to drop dead en masse around the world. That's the presenting issue, anyway; really, the caring Superman wants to know how Alec is dealing emotionally with rebirth, having gone through something similar himself.

Elsewhere, mastodon bones stir, and heads are turned ...

Swamp Thing appears in but a single panel this issue, and I barely noticed. Alec is the star, the man without whom there wouldn't have been a muck monster, but a man we hardly know. His narration, and conversations with a colleague and Superman, show him to be a nice guy, an idealist, a genius with plants and  sharp enough to know that sometimes you have to take time for yourself.

By the end of this issue, that time appears to be up, as he can no longer escape his monstrous legacy.

Scott Snyder's script is absorbing, both in the eerie events presented and the characters experiencing them. He makes Alec compelling, while also giving a good showing to Superman, whom we're meeting properly in the new DC Universe for the first time here. In Justice League #1 he's a cocky sod, here he's the humble son of the soil raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent - highly appropriate for a Swamp Thing cameo. I know which presentation I prefer.

Snyder either knows a lot about flora, or he's done his homework, as Alec has the knowledge of a botanist, but wears it lightly. The plant facts presented aren't included to impress, they're serving the story, helping us see how Alec understands the world.

Bringing Snyder's script to life is Yanick Paquette, who immediately stakes a claim to be a first-rank Swamp Thing artist. Yes, there are echoes of the great Steve Bissette and John Totleben (the latter seems to have opened a motel, in one of several Easter eggs), and even the lush illustrative style of the underrated Tom Yeates, but the figurework, the way people move, the storytelling choices - they're pure Paquette.

Letterer John J Hill certainly seems to be homaging longtime Swamp Thing letterer John Costanza. He doesn't have to, as he's a superb craftsman in his own right, so perhaps he's feeling nostalgic. And colourist Nathan Fairbairn may be channelling the great Tatjana Wood, but it's just as likely that he simply shares her storytelling sensibilities - none of the creative team here has to emulate anyone to make good comics, but if they want to bring a classic Swampy style to their original stories, good luck to them.

All in all, this is a terrific first issue, bringing horror to the New DC Universe.

There's certainly one monstrosity in here that's going to be keeping me awake tonight ...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Detective Comics #1 review

Wow. The last time I read a Batman story by Tony S Daniel I was underwhelmed. After Detective Comics #1, I'm thoroughly whelmed. I may just throw a parade.

But first, there's a review to be done.

This is the first solo outing of the present day Batman in the New DC Universe, but we're given a  familiar way in - Batman is on the trail of the Joker, bidding to stop his latest murderous rampage. There's a great little sortie between the two, then an even better, bigger one. Punctuating these are conversations with butler Alfred and Police Commissioner Gordon, and the book ends with a truly chilling scene.

Apart from a few corny bits of narration perhaps intended to pull in the Christian Bale fans ('I am the Night/Gotham/Batman'), Daniel's script is exemplary. Fights are well choreographed and complemented by nifty dialogue, while conversations reveal character, situation and advance the plot. He even addresses the nonsense of gun-toting, helicopter-riding cops chasing a hero who works closely with Gordon, five whole years after Justice League #1, with its similar scene. And a subway train vignette shows that Daniel has a real knack for the timed reveal.

What's more, Daniel's art - already impressive - seems to have gotten even better. It's still recognisably Daniel, with his powerful Batman, sharp sense of movement and lush cityscapes, but he looks to have taken on board some Frank Miller influences. The mix works marvellously, making individual pages the proverbial visual feast, and the whole thing a satisfying first instalment in Batman's latest era.

Credit, too, to Daniel's partners, inker Ryan Winn, colourist Tomeu Morey and letterer Jared K Fletcher for their solidly stylish contributions.

A delightful - in  a grisly way - surprise, I'm chalking this up as one of the New DC's biggest successes.

Now, anybody want to come to a parade?