Sunday, 30 October 2011

All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold #11 review

In the DC New 52, Jonah Hex has decamped to Gotham City. In the Johnny DC line, he's there too (click on image to enlarge).
Don't expect saloon girls coming to sticky ends, though. This being an all-ages book the story centres on Ra's al-Ghul, a giant robot and an earthquake machine. It's the latter which sees Batman travel more than a century into the past, when the long-buried plan of 'the Demon's Head' threatens Gotham with massive earthquakes. Jonah has headed east to hunt down the killer of a friend. Bat and bounty hunter team up, with the former handling Ra's and the earthquake machine while the latter faces the steampunk robot.

As ever with this comic - kudos to editor Jim Chadwick - story and art are tons of fun. As well as the two stars, writer Sholly Fisch finds room for DC stalwarts Cave Carson and Geo-Force in a story that's linear, yet circular. And artist Dario Brizuela produces mouth-watering animation style art, full of fun moments both big (Gotham crumbling) and small (Batman's attempt at a disguise).

Adding to the artistic fun is Guy Major, who colours the Old West - sorry, East - as confidently as he tones the Gotham night, and letterer Dezi Sienty, whose work is as sharp as ever. The splendid cover is the work of Rick Burchett, Dan Davis and Gabe Elteab.

If you're enjoying All-Star Western and fancy a more straightforward, fun version of Jonah in Gotham, buy this comic. Or if you 'just' like clever, amusing superhero fare, same deal. I'm a month late with this one, but you should still be able to find it in shops.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Superman #2 review

Superman is getting slapped about by a monster that's invisible to his senses, but a comment from Lois Lane tells him how to get into the fight. Defeated, the creature dissolves, but not without muttering one word in an unearthly language - 'Rosebud'.

Oh all right, it was 'Krypton', and yes, pretty much the same thing happened last month when a fire demon came to Metropolis. Obviously, they're connected, but two generic, basically silent monsters in two issues makes for pretty dull fight scenes. This is Superman, he should be battling baddies who can exchange banter as well as blows. The silent enemy provided the perfect excuse for writer George Perez to give us another internal narrative; last month it was a cringeworthy 'news story' by Clark Kent, this time it's Superman's thoughts.

But it's Superman's thoughts in the past tense, distancing us once more. We eventually find that he's dictating the encounter into a machine at the Fortress of Solitude, but the knowledge doesn't make the narrative device any more palatable. Twice Superman might as well cry 'Oh, the humanity!' as he frets about civilian casualties ... too, too melodramatic.

Away from the fight, the issue isn't bad at all. There's a tense, illuminating confrontation with General Sam Lane played out in a holographic 'Star Map' used to monitor Earth in relation to alien invasion. We see that as worried as he is that Superman's presence attracts danger to Metropolis, he's equally afraid that his daughter is too close to the hero.

The conversation motivates a flashback, of Clark helping Lois move into her new office. Lois wants him to know that her dating (I'm putting a polite sheen on the situation) the Jonathan guy we met last issue doesn't mean she's not Clark's friend. She hopes that her being out of the field, having been promoted to TV news producer, won't result in print journalist Clark's standards falling; in her mind, every good reporter needs another who's almost as good/slightly better to keep them on their toes. The logic is skewed, but I like Lois's confidence, which doesn't quite stray over into arrogance.

Clark himself lacks spark, assuring Lois that he's fine, but displaying no get up and go. I don't care that Lois doesn't think of him as a potential suitor because, well, why would she? There's no chemistry between them.

The monster Superman can't defeat (until he can) is right out of a Seventies Superman comic. Not literally - well, not that I can recall off the bat, but I'd be surprised if a similar story hadn't been previously told - but the gimmick battle is the sort of thing legendary editor Julius Schwartz would have loved. The idea is smart, though Superman comes across as pretty stupid in not immediately finding a vat of paint to throw over the beastie, giving him an outline to hit. The dictation implies that he had this thought at the time, but let's be generous and assume Superman is narrating strictly in hindsight.

George Perez is a great storyteller. The book is well-structured plot-wise and visually, and while I disagree with some characterrisation choices, he knows what's he's doing. The main thing he needs to make this book work is an editor to lighten up some of the dialogue: 'How ironic, then, that despite all of General Lane's apprehensions, this time it was his daughter Lois who saved me' - that's not dialogue, that's treacle. And Lois' final phone call to Clark is too soapy by half. So over to you, editor Wil Moss.
There are no problems with the art. Perez the writer gives Perez the draughtsman more room to breathe than last month, allowing illustrator Jesus Merino to show just how great he is with pencils and inks. Merino is the only artist so far to make the new Superman costume look good, while he conveys the moments of drama big and small with finesse. He sells the fight scenes, captures Lois' classic combination of brains and beauty, and makes Sam Lane something more than the overbearing father. Clark doesn't look bad at all, despite the 1930s specs and workwear inappropriate for a representative of the Great Metropolitan Newspaper - or doesn't he meet the public? And Jimmy Olsen, with his Justin Bieber makeover...
... he still looks a proper twat. Come on DC, Jimmy's been a proud, freckled ginger for 70 years. Making him look like the pop cherub du jour obliterates the personality we know. Unless sales stats reveal a sudden influx of tasteless teenage girls buying this comic, change him back, eh?

And give Perry White a few pies.

Flash co-writer Brian Buccellato shows that he's still enthused by the day job with an exemplary colouring turn, and Carlos M Mangual's lettering is sharp. Buccellato also colours the Perez cover, which is marvellously busy without being over-cluttered. Well, apart from the super-fussy boots. (DC decides it's going to be tough with artists who don't hit deadlines, then redesigns costumes so they take three times as long to draw - good thinking!)

It's been announced that Perez is leaving this comic after six issues to do other projects. You can just bet that by then all the little problems will have gone away and this book will be firing on all cylinders. It's the law.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Teen Titans #2 review

Having escaped from the N.O.W.H.E.R.E. goons, Red Robin and Wonder Girl encounter a new hunted teenager, the insectoid nicknamed Skitter. Elsewhere, Kid Flash escapes his N.O.W.H.E.R.E. holding cell and meets his next-door neighbour, a young woman named Solstice. And she's burning to say hello.

And at N.O.W.H.E.R.E. headquarters, newly born clone Superboy is readying for an attack on Wonder Girl. If the organisation can't persuade a super-teen to join them, they're quite prepared to erase them.

Things jog along nicely in this continuation of the story begun last month. Tim and Cassandra seem to bond some, before Little Miss 'Don't call me Wonder Girl' lets Red Robin know that she's really not a joiner. What she is, is a solo act, a thief - her Hollywood house is filled with stolen archaeological artefacts, explaining the 'war bracelets' she wears.

Kid Flash, we finally learn, is indeed Bart Allen rather than Wally West, and it's only his first day in the hero biz. But he's improving, after the little matter of causing a fire to rage out of control and getting himself captured.

New character Skitter - real name, Celine - is too icky for words, and a rubbish conversationalist, I say send her to N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and keep her non-powered twin Claudia around. But not until we learn who gave her the superhero jumpsuit.

There's a nice moment in Scott Lobdell's zippy script in which Tim bemoans the lurid jeans worn by Kids Today, but he seems totally fine with Cassie's ridiculously skimpy boob tube. She claims her decolletage is real but I suspect it was stolen too, from Power Girl - Cassie truly puts the 'tit' in 'Titans'. I really hope artist Brett Boobs - sorry, Booth, tones them down (though they do seem to be keeping Cassie from drowning on that cover).

Breasts aside, Booth and inker Norm Rapmund are doing a decent job here; their art style suits Lobdell's energetic narrative. Booth has some fun with the understated Hallowe'en setting ... 'Fatgirl' alone is worth the price of admission. This issue's new supervillains - teleporting brothers who share a body (or something) - aren't. I likewise wasn't pleased to see Red Robin happily slashing one of these guys with his razor-tipped cape. Not cool.
Oh, and I wish DC had decided beforehand whether or not Teen Titans groups have previously existed. Last week DC was publicly saying no, here Tim makes it clear that Titans have clashed with villains plenty of times (click on image to enlarge). The uncertainty is distracting.

Still, overall this is intriguing and entertaining enough to earn my two quid. It may not be my Teen Titans - they died along with Lilith - but it's a group with potential. And we haven't even met all the members yet, with Solstice due a proper introduction next month, and Blockade arriving on the scene. I look forward to it.

Wolverine and the X-Men #1 review

In the spirit of the recent Daredevil relaunch, here's a Marvel title that puts fun first while honouring its characters and tradition. And tradition is at the heart of this book, as Wolverine rebuilds Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and christens it the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning.

At Logan's side are Kitty Pryde as headmistress, Beast as Vice Principal, Iceman handling accountancy, Husk in charge of literature ... they may not have a teaching certificate among them but the students certainly won't be bored.

For one thing, everyone expects the new school to get blown up a lot by enemies. With the facility being designed by Beast as an architectural blend of Westchester Gothic and Shi'ar Modern, though, there'll likely be excellent defences. The biggest threat to the students may be the school itself - the building is threaded with Danger Room tech, as Hellion and Glob are less than thrilled to find on a trip to the bathroom.

But if they're having a bad day, Logan and Kitty are having a worse one, as they show a pair of rightly dubious school inspectors around in a bid to gain accreditation. If it's not rampaging inter-dimensional gremlins it's an attack by an earthquake creature ...

Then there are the students: as well as Idie insisting that she and the other kids are monsters, and the sociopathic Quentin Quire, there are newcomers such as little boy Brood, Broo and Shi'ar prince Kid Gladiator.

This is a ridiculously entertaining first issue, with the only negative being the arrival of Kade Kilgore, new Black King of the Hellfire Club, arriving to throw down the gauntlet. The 12-year-old snot tells Wolverine he's going to destroy his dream while waging war on mutantkind - and Logan puts up with it. I get that he's on his best behaviour due to the presence of the inspectors, but it's a shame we don't see him planning to sic psychic Rachel Summers (specialisms: Brain Spelunking, Outer Space Survival Skills, Downloading Foreign Languages and Psychic Self-Defence) on him. I get the distinct impression that Kade and his Hellfire Creche (© Me) are going to be a constant thorn in Logan's side. Which is bonkers ... there's no way a bunch of non-powered kids could out-think a team of experienced super-heroes - Kitty Pryde and Beast alone are meant to be certified geniuses. 

We'll see - given the level of imagination writer Jason Aaron shows in this debut issue, he'll likely surprise us by having Kade eaten by Toad next issue. Aaron really is on top form here, giving us a gag a minute - even Professor Xavier shows a nice line in sarcasm - without letting us forget that the new school means everything to Wolverine. He's training the next generation of gifted youngsters in survival skills, while honouring the woman he loved, Jean Grey. The mix of characters is first class, guaranteeing I'll be back for future issues.
The artwork - pencils and colours - of Chris Bachalo helps too (click to enlarge images). While I wish he'd keep everyone a little more on model (Kitty Pryde looks like a boneless version of Psylocke; Kade, about 18 years old rather than the stumpy kid he was last month; Iceman like, I have no idea, but it's not Bobby Drake), Bachalo is one of comics' great stylists and this book is lucky to have him. Every panel is fascinating to look at, filled with delightfully expressive characters; it's just wonderful cartooning. Backing Bachalo are inkers Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey, and letterer Rob Steen.
As well as the 28pp story, this $3.99 book offers a couple of sweet, funny features - that's the way to do it, Marvel! Production editor Irene Y Lee designs a smile-inducing set of mini-men outlining the school faculty and student body, then shows us the list of classes offered, some of which I mentioned above. It's terrific work from one of the rarely sung heroes of the Marvel office. The second feature also shows us the school logo, designed by Manny Mederos, complete with the motto: 'The best there is at what we do'

Just perfect. And typical of the best X-Men launch in many a year.

Legion: Secret Origin #1

The future starts here.

Like Batman and Green Lantern, the Legion of Super-Heroes is a series barely changed by DC's Flashpoint event. With the New 52 experiment bringing new readers to comics, it makes sense, then, to go back and address the origins of the 31st-century team.

As a longtime fan, though, having seen the origin retold and retweaked again and again, the prospect didn't thrill me.

Well, there's a lesson to be learned here, as writer Paul Levitz and artists Chris Batista and Marc Deering bring a freshness to the team's beginnings. Sure, we see Imra Ardeen, Garth Ranzz and Rokk Krinn rescue billionaire industrialist RJ Brande from would-be assassins yet again, but it's entirely right that we should. I want the Legion to find new readers.

Happily, the scene is pithily presented, and viewed from a new angle - rather than being on a star cruiser with the future Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad and Cosmic Boy, we're seeing it through the eyes of United Planets Security Directorate member Anisa who, like all natives of the planet Naltor, has precognitive abilities. She foresees that 'what happens to RJ Brande today will determine the fate of many worlds'.

That grabs the attention of her two colleagues, Zarl Jax from the super-scientific world of Colu, and cynical old Earthman Myecroft. They've been watching as the galaxy hits turning points: the United Planets is launching an experimental cruiser, a wormhole has opened near the planet Anotrom, that world has just been massacred by persons unknown, a strange energy-absorbing device has led the previously distant Coluans to lend out their best thinker Querl Dox, 'the Brainiac child' ... something big is happening and Myecroft doesn't like it one bit.

He especially doesn't like it when Brande brings his three saviours together as a force for good, along with Luornu Durgo from the planet Cargg, whose ability to split into three sees her take the name Triplicate Girl. And on Anotrom, Dox - who has the honorific Brainiac 5 - is spooked by an intangible young woman, Tinya Wazzo of Bgtzl. The future Phantom Girl says she has a warning for the UP.

So there you have it, four Legionnaires in place with two more set to join via a pacy story giving us a closer look at the 31st century without burying us in political background. We're initially told the UP has existed for more than 300 years with many of its worlds seeded by Earthlings, and that's all that's necessary - any other information needed is elegantly dropped into Levitz's breezy script. The only superheroic action is that first coming together of the Legion founders in a wonderfully economic panel from Batista (how I love Cosmic Boy's magnetic SPROING sound effect), but there's plenty going on. The intrigue centred on Myecroft and Brande, for instance - the former willing to kill Brande if expedient, the latter happy to buy off politicians, apparently for the greater good. Then there's the mystery of Phantom Girl's mission, the secret of the energy device, the question of Brande's motives ... There's easily enough fuel here to power this six-issue mini-series, and we've still only really met two Legionnaires - apart from a single line, the three traditional founders and Triplicate Girl are silent, distanced by the narrative. (After this issue I'm wondering if we should consider all six superheroes here founders, as they're coming together at pretty much the same moment.)

Veteran readers may wonder if the massacred world Anotrom is the planet we know as Trom, home to Legion member Element Lad - Trom was wiped out by the space pirate Roxxas, so he could be set for an appearance.

This is Levitz's best Legion work in years, there's a real energy and drive to it; a sense that he knows exactly where he's going, and he's having a ball taking us there.

And in Batista he has the perfect artistic partner - the pencils are clean and modern, the storytelling unimpeachable. The original costumes - designed in the 1950s and 1960s - are updated, with Batista taking his lead from more recent iterations of the characters. I wasn't too sure about them from advance sketches, but in the context of the story, they work - the only one I don't like is worn by Saturn Girl, whose tights have become a tad fussy ... but that's current DC costuming policies for you ('More lines, daahling!').

It's a minor moan; I'm delighted to see the woefully underrated Batista on a prominent project, and he's well inked by Mark Deering. They're especially good at military uniforms, and not just on the red-bereted squaddies - take a look at the clothes worn by Admiral Allon (father of future Legionnaire Colossal Boy), there are actual layers there, a feeling of bulky cloth. Major credit, too, for actually bothering to draw expressive lines on faces rather than depend on the colourist to model them.

Speaking of the colourist, Wes Hartman does superb work, making the 31st century an enticing prospect, while Dezi Sienty's lettering is as clean as you could wish. The cover is provided by Tom Feister, and it's a winner.

Whether you're a longtime fan, or a newer reader intimidated by the Legion's supposedly impenetrable continuity, give this comic a shot - it's a terrific new start for the team. 

Monday, 24 October 2011

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 review

On the watchworld Panoptes, the Legion Espionage Squad has been surprised by a Daxamite. Armed with all the powers of a Kryptonian, the newcomer Res-Vir incapacitates Chemical Kid, Ultra Boy, Dragonwing and Chameleon Boy, and forces Phantom Girl to flee, and hide.

On Earth, Brainiac 5 is assessing new Legionnaire Glorith's mystic shield and barely blinks as it blows up a time bubble - explosions are an everyday occurrence in his lab. It's up to Dream Girl to put out the subsequent fire while Brainy theorises that Glorith may provide a means to travel back to the 21st century. If they can't figure out a way around 'the vibratory changes in the timestream immediately after Flashpoint', seven Legionnaires could remain lost to them.

Res-Vir, meanwhile, explains to the captured Espionage Squad members that he aims to free Daxam from 'United Planets oppression'. As Res-Vir leaves to search for Phantom Girl, the Legionnaires wonder how he's apparently gained access to the anti-lead poisoning serum Brainy makes for the Legion's Daxamite leader, Mon-El.

The intangible Phantom Girl is taking advantage of the Daxamites' inability to see through lead to hide in the floor below her colleagues. She hates the enclosed space but manages to send a distress signal to Legion headquarters on Earth. Mon-El blasts into space in response, while teammates visiting Shanghalla, the last resting place for heroes - Shadow Lass is weeping at the grave of her lover, Earth-Man - prepare to follow. These include Element Lad, whose matter transmutation abilities give him a good chance of taking down a Daxamite, and Polar Boy. Comet Queen is also present, and she reacts badly when the latter shows he's sweet on her.

On Panoptes, Res-Vir addresses a unit of Daxamites; he's not the only one now able to function on planets with lead present. They plan to make enough serum to 'unleash the most powerful world in the galaxy', with the aid of unnamed collaborators. In their minds, they're heroes.

Phantom Girl is taking advantage of Res-Vir's absence to ascertain that her colleagues, especially partner Ultra Boy, are OK. But Res-Vir hears her and attacks, just as Mon-El arrives. The two fight and we see their differing viewpoints - to Mon-El, Daxam's isolation is a good thing as it protects his people from being poisoned, but to Res-Vir it's deliberate oppression. As they fight, Phantom Girl frees Ultra Boy, who rushes to help Mon-El. It's looking bad for Res-Vir, until they glance upwards - and see a massive fleet of hostile spacecraft ...

Not a bad issue at all, this. New antagonist Res-Vir fills his role well enough, though he's unprepossessing - a villain name, an interesting costume, they'd help. As it is, the only visual signature he has is a tattoo on his head which may symbolise his political struggle. A little interest is leant by his name - the Legion fought a villainous child named Ol-Vir during the Great Darkness Saga, a struggle alluded to this issue.

One big question I have is: what are the Legion referring to when they cite 'the Flashpoint event'? I bought the crossover, but how is the finale's universal reset viewed by Brainiac 5 and co? If theories as to the identity of the Mysterious Hooded Woman of the New 52 are correct, at least one Legionnaire is/will be deeply involved.

Phantom Girl disappoints me - one of the longest-serving Legionnaires and all she can do in the face of Res-Vir is hide and send out a distress signal. Then she lets herself go solid while mooning over Ultra Boy in his power-dampening pod, opening herself up to an attack. And to think she got my vote as Legion leader!

I like Polar Boy's gauche approach to Comet Queen, and her over-the-top reaction; it's good to have unpredictable character traits, and skittish is certainly a new one.

In another romantic beat, there's Shadow Lass sobbing over Earth-Man, holding up a team of Legionnaires who are needed elsewhere. This woman was Planetary Champion of her homeworld, she really should be able to compartmentalise more effectively. Or better still, realise Earth-Man wasn't worth many tears.

Credit to writer Paul Levitz, though - there's plenty going on here, and I'm not missing the lost Legionnaires yet. The new recruits help, of course, as does the fact that we get to see Timber Wolf and co in Legion Lost. I'm pleased to see the problem of Daxam raised: why doesn't the United Planet mass produce the serum Mon-El has been using for years? It seems entirely reasonable they're scared at the prospect of an entire world population with the power of Mon-El - especially after that time they were mindjacked by Darkseid and sent rampaging across the galaxy - but their reasoning needs to be transparent.

Francis Portela pencils and inks, providing pleasing layouts throughout. The fight between Mon-El and Res-Vir is a standout, drawn so effectively that Levitz doesn't need to add dialogue. And his facial expressions are great, as evidenced by the Polar Boy/Comet Queen 'romantic interlude' (click on image to enlarge, colouring and lettering by Javier Mena and Pat Brosseau).
Nineties Legion artists Chris Sprouse and Karl Story drop by to supply the cover, and while the scene chosen isn't the issue's most exciting, I like the minimalist aproach to Res-Vir's features. Mon-El, though, looks like he's floating when he should appear to be zooming towards his opponent.

So, a solid issue all round; it'd be nice to see the Wow Factor soon, though.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 review

'The time bubble wasn't designed to handle this kind of strain!'

Now there's a Star Trekky line if ever I heard one, but this being a crossover, it's spoken by a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Brainiac 5 has been steering team-mates Chameleon Boy, Shadow Lass, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad back home after a run-in with Darkseid, but a storm in the timestream is cracking the vehicle. The only option is a forced landing.

Elsewhere and when, Captain Kirk and crew are beaming down to San Francisco, where Kirk is giving the commencement speech at Starfleet Academy. Earth in the 23rd century, though, isn't what it used to be - instead of the college, Kirk, Uhura, Spock, McCoy, Sulu and Chekov pitch up in a shipyard for space battleships ... and soon they're being shot at by uniformed heavies on flying platforms.

Nearby, the Legion are having a bad time of it too. In a past which history buff Cosmic Boy doesn't recognise, they're attacked by Earthlings enraged by the appearance of the Durlan Chameleon Boy.

What the Legion don't know, because they weren't privy to the first few pages of this story, is that Earth and the shapeshifters of Durla are at odds. Twisted versions of old DC characters Tommy Tomorrow and Space Ranger are laying waste to Durla for its refusal to bow to the Imperial Planets - a universal body apparently far removed from the Legion's United Planets, or Star Trek's Federation.

The first chapter of this six-issue mini-series ends with the respective away teams realising they're in the wrong universe (duh!). They've not yet met, but when they do it's going to be great if this instalment is anything to go by. For writer Chris Roberson knows his Star Trek, and he knows his Legion - the voices of both sets of characters are spot on. Several seasons of live action TV make it easier to 'hear' the Enterprise crew, but there's likewise not a single off moment with the Legionnaires.

Working with longtime Legion artists Jeffrey and Philip Moy, Roberson finds room for nice character moments - the married Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad display affection; Kirk, who never met a moment he couldn't speechify, claims to be rubbish at oratory; Scotty's fine with staying behind so long as he gets a bottle of Scotch ... and in a nice moment of meta-humour/me reading too much into things, Sulu is practically salivating at the prospect of returning to San Francisco.

Surprisingly, the Moys' Star Trek scenes are better than their Legion pages - they seem more comfortable with Kirk and co than characters they worked with for years (well, a version of, anyway, but let's not get sidetracked by Legion continuity). It'll be interesting to see how the art - nicely coloured by Romulo Fajardo Jr and lettered by Robbie Robbins - settles down when the two heroic crews combine.

The cover comes from Phil Jimenez, another Legion old hand, and again, while the superheroes look good, the Enterprise crew look even better. Maybe comic artists who grew up with Star Trek gain the ability to draw the characters well. Or more likely, it's easier to do a likeness of a real person than a fictional one - the Legionnaires have differed massively in appearance down the years, whereas the Enterprise crew have been consistent.

Ach, I'm boldly going on and on. All you need to know is that both Legion and Star Trek fans are likely going to enjoy this comic. And if you missed it, well, day and date digital means you can beam the issue up right now!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Supergirl #2 review

Superman arrives in Siberia to talk to the recently arrived young woman wearing his family crest. She wants to know who this guy is wearing her family crest. And why does he claim to be cousin Kal, the baby she cuddled just three days ago.

Unimpressed by his spoken Kryptonian, Kara Zor-El hits out. Again and again and again. Every time Superman entreaties that she calms down and just talk, she thumps him once more. She's confused after being attacked by super-soldiers last issue, by the newcomer's abilities and claims, and by the onset of her own powers - x-ray vision and flight join the already arrived super-strength and heat vision.

And while the cousins from Krypton battle, the soldiers steal something from Kara's rocketship, before slinking off to their mysterious boss.

Then, when it seems Kara is never going to stop lashing out, something shocks her out of her berserker fugue, and the incident speaks well to her true character.

Like last issue, this is all action, but it's more enjoyable because Kara has someone to interact with. By the end of the chapter she's learned of the destruction of Krypton and why she has powers, knowledge that demands a reaction from her more complex than 'Kara SMASH!' Writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson manage to keep Kara sympathetic even while she's bashing her beleaguered cousin, with a flashback at the start of the story showing us the Kara that was - a young woman with hopes and dreams, and a very real love for her cousin. She's found herself on a different path, but I've no doubt she's going to channel her positive energy in a  new way, while forging a strong relationship with cousin Kal.

Superman still looks like a stranger - weird costume, no kiss-curl - but he acts like the hero I know, opting for non-violence first, only striking back when attacked. Penciller Mahmud Asrar and inker Dan Green do their best, but seem as befuddled by the new look as I am. As for Kara's costume, it's Kryptonian for 'ugly'.

Facially, though, Kara's an angel. Asrar owns this new version of Supergirl, with her sharp hair and big blue eyes. And when he can position Kara so we don't see the costume details, we get a Supergirl who's a direct descendant of her Silver Age self.
Better than the first issue, Supergirl #2 positions its lead character as one to watch. I think we have a heroine here.

Uncanny X-Men #544 review

It's the last-ever issue of Uncanny X-Men. Until next month's Uncanny X-Men #1, that is. Still, let's pretend it's the end, it's the least writer Kieron Gillen deserves for the effort he's putting in here.

The book opens with a version of the first-ever page featuring the X-Men, and it's sheer delight (click on image to enlarge).
The rest of the book would have to go some to match up to such wit, but Gillen and his artistic partners almost manage it. The framework for 'Uncanny' is that nasty old Mr Sinister is watching recent events from afar. He's reading about the Schism that's split the mutant community, in a storybook entitled 'The Uncanny X-Men' - what else? Times are changing for the X-Men, and he's making some changes of his own by moving into a new body.

While Mr Sinister becomes a new man, in the 'real world' Iceman says his goodbyes to Cyclops before heading for Westchester County and Wolverine's planned school for gifted youngsters. Bobby is trying to be perky, Scott stoic, but the true emotions show throw - Iceman is devastated, Cyclops is bitter. The Beast, one of the few other original X-Men and another hero throwing his hat in with Wolverine, arrives not so much to revel in Cyclops' pain, but to hope he pays attention to it and remembers Xavier's dream. But the only reaction Hank gets is anger. Emma Frost tries to be there for her lover, but Cyclops is surly. He's so lost that he actually believes he can hide his feelings from a telepath the way he hides his face behind his visor throughout this issue.

While I'm no fan of Mr Sinister - he has a stupid name, talks out loud to himself and his role as master manipulator of mutantkind rather rankles - there's a priceless moment as he stares at the Summers/Grey family tree, as if looking at it for long enough will make it see sense. 'Cosmic-scale-evolution-with-metaphysical-transferred-quasi-genetic-information?' indeed!

While penciller Greg Land seemingly continues his practice of painting superhero costumes on pouting models, resulting in facial expressions that don't match the art, there are some good moments here. Give the man a splash to do, and he's in heaven - a two-page spread of X-Men history is a corker: likely someone will give chapter and verse of the visual references used, but I'll still like it. Land is well served by inker Jay Leisten and colourist Justin Ponsor.

Gillen's dialogue is among the best the X-Men have had, with tons of great character moments, both individually and collectively. The only niggle I have concerns the whereabouts of the only other surviving original X-Man, Angel. Podcasts tell me he's gone dark and eeeeevil in X-Force. There is a tiny reference on page one, but as one of the five characters who started it all - as Iceman puts it, 'We were the Beatles' - he deserves to be a proper part of the (pretendy) final issue.

Artwise, the only real storytelling problem is that Mr Sinister's new body looks exactly like the old body. I'd assume the form he starts out with here is meant to be worn out, but he looks identical to the next guy who pops out of some scientific doodad. Maybe I need to read up on the chap.

So goodbye, my X-Men. See you soon.

Wonder Woman #2 review

The deranged fashion model type is Strife, an Olympian dedicated to discord. She shows up on Paradise Island and strikes at the Amazons, who are harbouring the mortal Zola, latest in a long line of human women to be impregnated by Zeus, King of the Gods. Zola has been brought there by Diana, Princess of the Amazons and known to the outside world as Wonder Woman. Hoping for a breather while she decides how to further protect Zola after the godly attacks of last issue, Diana relaxes among her people with a spot of martial combat. But once Strife arrives, the danger is all too real.

The first thing that excited me about this issue was the introduction of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons and as blonde and beautiful as the version I grew up with. She's a powerful presence: wise, and wary at the trouble she knows is coming as the result of Diana's actions. But like her daughter, she's compassionate, and isn't going to turn away a woman in trouble.

We see a little more of Zola's character, as the wounded god Hermes, ally of the Amazons, asks her what form Zeus came to her in. And Hermes reveals the circumstances of Diana's birth, something he refers to as a legend. Sculpted from clay, brought to magical life - you know the story.

'Story' being the operative word, apparently - Strife tells Diana at the end of this issue that they're sisters, both daughters of Zeus. She could be lying, but given that DC Comics has already spoiled this revelation in the Press, I'd say not. Soon we'll learn whether or not Zeus is Diana's father in the sense that he, rather than the females of Olympus, gifted her with life or whether Hippolyta and Zeus were intimate.

The foreknowledge means the power of Strife's news is lost to me, but that's not the fault of this comic's creators. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang are in perfect communion here, producing a story that reads and looks, well, wonderful. Diana is strong and likeable, while Hippolyta is the mother she deserves. Diana gives due respect to Hippolyta as mother and monarch, but it's clear they're friends first and foremost. Chiang grants his characters the emotions requested by Azzarello's script: as well as Diana's joy in sparring and guts in battle, there's Strife's manipulation of her mother Hera; the cuckolded Hera's anger at Zeus; Hippolyta's trepidation; Hermes' weariness at godly games ... it's page after page of glorious comics, made all the more beautiful by the colour art of Matthew Wilson. Every page is a gem but the birth of Diana and combat with the Amazon Alekka cry out for special mention. Along with this panel.
Alekka is the image of Artemis, from the last continuity, while Hippolyta's chum Dessa is reminiscent of Philippus - I wonder if this is another case of the new creative team using the same character types, while renaming them so as to seem All-New (see John Byrne's run). A case could easily be made that Strife is the new version of Eris, but it's all just fun speculation. The main thing is that this is a superb new presentation of Wonder Woman. Details are different, but the character and her world are recognisable. The few qualms I had last time - Wonder Woman's closet of spikey weapons! - are eased as we see Diana, taking up Alekka's challenge of a bout, favour a staff over a sword. This is no bloodthirsty warrior, it's a hero who'll take up the sword only if the battle demands it. And that's my Wonder Woman.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #2 review

Eighteen months ago, the newly resurrected Jason Todd was taken to a mystical place by assassin queen Talia Al-Ghul and introduced to three thousand-year-old sensei Ducra. She trained the former Robin in ancient fighting techniques and while she didn't knock the arrogance out of him, she won the respect of the future Red Hood.

Today, Jason is on his way from the Caribbean to Hong Kong, having heard that Ducra's realm, The Hundred Acres of All, is threatened. He's accompanied by Roy Harper, the sometimes hero known as Arsenal, and alien powerhouse K'oriander, aka Starfire - but he's not sure he wants them around. After Jason has a run-in with a monstrously large local mobster, the associates travel to the Himalayas, and his old stomping grounds. Ducra is dead, but her spirit tells him to dismiss thoughts of vengeance. Instead he dismisses her now-zombified warriors, once Jason's teachers and maybe 'the greatest people I have ever known'.

The chapter ends with Jason attaining a kind of peace, as he accepts that, like Ducra and her men, he, Kory and Roy are a team.

So the focus is firmly on Jason Todd this issue, as writer Scott Lobdell lays out his past for new readers. Details of his resurrection are glossed over, the point being that Jason felt aggrieved, and wanted someone to pay. Ducra taught him to channel his anger, allowing him to be the man he is today - one able to channel his aggression, a crimebuster happy to live off the profits of the criminals he's brought down.

Roy gets a nice moment or two, and it's good that he's presented as a capable fighter rather than a junkie mess, as has been the case over the past few years. Starfire is a lot closer to the character many of us grew up with than the empty vessel of last issue, showing cool, compassion and the ability to wear more than glorified pasties. The 'sexy moment' this time comes as an air stewardess virtually throws herself at Jason, but it looks like we may have a subplot on our hands.

Having not followed Jason's solo series, I don't know whether Ducra is a new character, but I'm happy that she comes and goes speedily here. She looks like Yoda, speaks like a sitcom Noo Yoiker and despite being half his size with stumpy little arms, can take a former teen wonder out. She talks about the threat that angry young man Jason is to the world but agrees to train him, rather than kick him off a cliff. Nah.

Lobdell's very good at slipping in moments of humour - the title of a rather famous Batman storyline is slipped into Jason's dialogue - without derailing the plot. And I love the colourful incidental characters who drop in, such as the looks-like-a-whale-in-drag Suzie Su. There's also a bit of mystery, with Kory referred to as 'one of the most powerful aliens trapped on Earth', and a sense that Jason is moving forward, as he begins to feel affection for Kory and Roy.

But Lobdell loses a point for introducing the Hundred Acres of All and not slipping Pooh and Piglet in there.

Illustrator Kenneth Rocafort's Jason and Roy are better differentiated facially than last time, while Kory's cheescake factor is dialled right down. The emphasis is on creating a colourful, dangerous world for Red Hood and the Outlaws to inhabit - a world of movement and action, fantastic locations, colourful characters and danger around every corner. The page layouts tickle the eye, with imaginative panels aplenty ... I doubt the jaggedness of many will play well on digital platforms, but c'est la vie, I'm loving the energy.

Blond's colouring pops, especially when our non-heroes disembark an aircraft during a lightning storm, while Carlos M Mangual's letters are just fine. I would, though, like these boys to get together and tweak Jason's narrative boxes - red out of black is tough to read when the font is so small.

It's a small thing in a comic which looks to be going somewhere. If Lobdell and co can keep the emphasis on characters and plot rather than lumpen 'sexiness', this book may have a bright future.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #12 review

There's been a break-in at the House of Mystery. Who ya gonna call? Why, Batman and Zatanna, of course, the detective and the magician. The House's proprietor, Cain, greets the pair, and introduces his brother Abel ... transformed into a tree.

Changing him back is easy for Zee, but the big question is: who did the deed? Who's powerful enough to get past the House's magical defences? And why is toilet paper strewn everywhere?

Cue our heroes taking on various mystical bad pennies, including Mr Mxyzptlk and Dr Destiny, before working out who the true trickster is. That's when all heck really breaks loose, as a horde of spooky villains are sicced on Batman and Zee. Of course, our heroes have friends of their own ...

The story's called Trick or Treat, but it's treat all the way. Sholly Fisch's script is amusing and endlessly inventive, while guest artist Ethen Beavers' cartooning is nectar for the eyes - there's not a bad panel, while there are plenty of wonderful ones. Colouring them is Guy Major, giving this DC Kids book every bit as much care and attention as he lavishes on the 'grown-up' ones, while Dezi Sienty proves a dab hand at lettering. And regular B&B artists Rick Burchett and Dan Davis provide the creepily cute cover, ably coloured by Gabe Eltaeb (click on image to enlarge).
Month after month, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is jam-packed with wild and peculiar characters and ideas from DC's lengthy history, most of which won't get a look-in in the super-serious New 52 line (this issue boasts a subtle Red Bee gag). If you've not tried the series yet, check out this issue - I think it'll cast a spell on you,

Legion Lost #2 review

After pursuing a terrorist into the 21st century, a team of Legionnaires find themselves trapped. Their time bubble is destroyed, their flight rings have cut out, a pathogen has been released into the air ... and Chameleon Girl and Gates are missing, presumed dead,

You might forgive WIldfire, Dawnstar, Timber Wolf, Tyroc and Tellus were they to slope off and get drunk, but the only spirit on display here is Legion spirit. They have a job to do and while they're down, they're not out. So it is that as this second issue of the Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off opens, they're undercover at the memorial for the two dozen souls lost to the explosion caused by 31st-century madman Alastor.

They spot one of the supposed dead, Dr Jeffrey Scanlon, and he's a changed man. Infected by the virus scattered by Alastor, he's become an energy being similar to Wildfire, but with enough control to turn back into something resembling a human. Panicking, he releases a massive blast, catching the Legionnaires by surprise, and bolts. Dawnstar and Wildfire track Scanlon down, and the team explains what's happened to him. Alastor, grief stricken after the death of his sister at the hands of xenophobes, concocted a chillingly ironic plan for revenge. He stole a pathogen created by extraterrestrial scientists - a virus spiked with the DNA of thousands of races, meaning it will produce human/alien hybrids. Then he purloined a time bubble and headed for the past, with the intention of changing the course of human evolution, so that by his own era, his sister's murderers would be as alien as those they hate.

And so far, Alastor's succeeding. It's three days since the pathogen was released and Scanlon is the first victim. Most people would be freaked out, but he's weirdly calm, announcing that he'll no longer try to hold on to a human form. He manifests as a being of pure energy, and lets out another huge explosion. Fellow Legion members are saved by Tellus' telekinetic shield and they confront Scanlon, who despairingly claims that 'I stopped being human long before this happened'. He resists Widlfire's attempt to hold him together, lets go of his human shape and dissipates. Wildire sees this as just another failure on top of their 'letting' Alastor kill so many people last issue, and the Legion wonders what the heck's going to happen next.

Meanwhile, in a lake, something stirs ...

Another pathogen victim? Looking at the little hand reaching out, I'm hoping it's Gates. A teleporting alien has to be tough to kill.

But that's a matter for next issue. This issue, I loved. A much smoother ride than the debut, it could yet make a few new Legion fans. Fabian Nicieza's chapter this time is more focused than the previous part, with a pleasing throughline, a sympathetic antagonist and nicely defined heroes. Best served of all is Wildfire, who narrates the segment, giving us the action from his perspective while sharing opinions on his team-mates. It's an enjoyable framework, playing to Nicieza's knack for sharp characterisation, and I expect we'll see other members get their time in the narrative sun as the months pass. The real villain of the piece, Alastor, doesn't put in an appearance, but his plan makes him a constant presence .... it'd be interesting to see him narrate an issue too.

The dialogue's above average, with Timber Wolf more compelling than he's been for many a year (click on image to enlarge).
Other notable incidentals are the tying of this story to the Legion of Three Worlds arc via the xenophobes; the Legion's description of itself as 'a multi-species alliance'; and the mention of one of DC's nastier space races, the Psions. And I nearly fell off my chair when Nicieza referenced Wildfire's astrophysics background ... it's been so long I'd quite forgotten just how brainy he must be.

Artist Pete Woods likewise begins firing on all cylinders here, producing some great layouts and figurework. Nicieza's script is dramatic, and Woods amps it up further. While the splashy fights are excellent, my favourite panel is the opening spread, as sorrow and tension mingle at the packed memorial service. Like the rest of the book, this scene is gorgeously coloured by Brad Anderson, and smartly lettered by Travis Lanham. 

I hope that anyone put off by Legion Lost #1 - and I read many an iffy review - sees this continuation; it's so much more together, so much more enjoyable. If the rest of the storyline is this good I won't mind Wildfire and co being stuck in our present for quite awhile.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

My Greatest Adventure #1 review

Last year DC gave us the Weird Worlds anthology, six issues of great-looking, flighty fun. Here's the sequel, with two of the three stars of that book back, while the irritating Lobo is, happily, gone.

The first returnee is Garbage Man, the Swamp Man-Thing creation of artist-writer Aaron Lopresti (who provides this issue's lovely cover). As previously, it's an attractive time-passer, as our hero's old secretary pines for him, and the muck monster himself hitches his dirty brown wagon to a homeless priest's vestments. Matt Ryan inks and John Kalisz colours, adding to the lushness of the look.

Then there's Tanga, flighty alien powerhouse, who's something like Starfire when she was Starfire - a bit daffy, but charming. This time, artist-writer Kevin Maguire has her getting into trouble on an alien world. Nothing new there, but the strip looks gorgeous, especially as coloured by Rosemary Cheetham.

And then there's the newcomer, and the best of the bunch - Robotman. A fresh take on the Doom Patrol's Cliff Steele, the clunky gold parts of old have been replaced by nanobots, those atom-sized robots which, in science fiction, can do anything. So now Cliff can change form, allowing him to fly. More importantly from his point of view, he can feel physical things, just as he did before he lost his body. What he can't feel, though, is human. 

He acknowledges this, but he doesn't mope. Cliff's opened a detective agency on the outskirts of Las Vegas specialising in weird cases, in a bid to find the adrenaline rush that will make him feel truly alive. By his side is the mysterious Maddy Rouge ... yup, looks like we have here a new take on old Patrol villain Madame Rouge. The original, a shapeshifter, was conflicted: sometimes good, sometimes bad. If this new Maddy is anything like her predecessor she'll certainly add some spice to the mix. She comes with a built-in mystery, which can't be bad.

The story, by Matt Kinot, spends most of its 10 pages setting up Robotman's new status quo, including a nifty base. We don't find out if the Patrol exists, but I suspect the answer to that one is 'not yet'. That's fine by me, DC will likely unveil the full team before long. Meanwhile, I'm happy to see Cliff in the solo spotlight. His first chapter ends in Cuba, where he's hoping to track down the missing Dr Turing (now there's a nice nod to a great Briton). He zooms down by boot jet, Maddy follows by more conventional means of flight, meaning that by the time she arrives - hoping her psychic powers will prove useful - Cliff is already in deep trouble (click on image to enlarge). 
Drawing the strip is Scott Kolins, in a lively style more similar to his Flash work than his more recent JSA look: it's looser, more open and perfect for the adventures of Cliff and Maddy. Adding to the gorgeous look of the pages are the gleaming colours of Mike Atiyeh and thoroughly robotic letters of Jared K Fletcher.

Enjoyable as Tanga and Garbage Man are, I'd happily see the entire book handed over to Robotman - it's already been named in his honour, My Greatest Adventure being the DC comic which debuted the Doom Patrol in the early Sixties. If you've been swithering over whether to try this book, give it a go because even if, like me, only one of the stories grabs you, all three features are by masters of mainstream art. My Greatest Adventure is probably overstating, but A Jolly Decent Purchase can't be bad.

Batgirl #2 review

There comes a time in every cover's life when the logo has to be compromised. For the Batgirl masthead, this issue is it. OK, so it's only #2, but look at that gathering of verticles ... there's Batgirl, tombstone, villain and logo shadow, it's like a flaming totem pole. Lose the bat-background, move the 'Batgirl' and Babs your uncle!

Still, it's a lovely image from Adam Hughes, even if Batgirl does look about 14 years old. And the colouring means it won't pop off the shelf.

The cover does gain points for being a direct representation of events inside, as Batgirl and new baddie the Mirror stalk one another in a Gotham graveyard. The villain gets away after a fight, which is unsurprising as the reborn Batgirl is proving rather amateur hour. As we saw last issue, she's leapt back onto the vigilante train too soon; she's not strong enough, not centred enough. God bless her for the determination to keep getting out there, saving lives and trying to track down a madman, but she's going to get herself killed at this rate. It's all very well for Batgirl to keep reminding herself/us that she's a clever bugger, but she's hardly using her head. The girl needs to get out of the bat-suit and concentrate on rehabilitation and retraining.

There's no way this Barbara Gordon mentored Stephanie Brown, the last comics Batgirl, given how often Babs lectured Steph about not going out unprepared. If those stories had happened the same way, Babs would be the world's biggest hypocrite, and telling us so.

As for the story at hand, it's an enjoyable instalment of writer Gail Simone's opening gambit. As well as the tussle with the Mirror, which continues from the hospital where last month he murdered a cop and a killer, there's an uncomfortable moment with her new flatmate, a hint that her 'miracle cure' was a literal miracle, a lunchdate with her physio, and dad Jim Gordon's reaction to the news that Batgirl is back. Barbara also uses her research skills to work out the identity of the Mirror, explaining the names on his kill list.

Simone's narration is sharp, we're with Babs every step of the way as she realises just how rusty she is, and I like the acknowledgement that given her shortness and lightness, taking down big guys isn't easy.The rest of the dialogue is fine, a big improvement being that circumstances mean flatmate Alysia doesn't get to be as annoyingly cutesy as last time.

The art team of Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes does a creditable job, especially in the extended graveyard fight sequence so superbly coloured by Ulises Arreola, who really brings the rain to life. One thing the artists can't do, though, is make the Mirror's trademark flasher-Mac movement any less silly. No one could. This time we see what's under his cape and I think we're meant to be weirded out. I am, but likely not in the way intended.

A few random points: I like that we get properly tagged scene transitions and signed editor's notes. I don't like that a newspaper would allow the phrase 'two twin daughters.' I'm intrigued that 'Professor Stein' of Firestorm has his name etched in huge letters on a subway car. And I just adore Gotham taxi drivers (cick to enlarge image).
I do hope that Batgirl finds some way of making restitution, the Batgirl-shaped dent is her fault, after all. She can certainly have my $2.99 towards it ...

X-Men Regenesis #1 review

Wolverine is rebuilding Professor Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters on the East Coast. Cyclops is remaining on Utopia island on the West. Here's where a couple of dozen mutants decide where their future lies.

The awkwardly named X-Men: Regenesis is set just prior to the end of last week's Schism #5, and shows us why the various members of each faction align themselves with a particular leader. For some, it's about personality. For others, it's Xavier's dream. Or flattery. Continuity. Home. A fresh start ... there are any number of reasons, meaning this extra-sized issue - 34pp for $3.99 - isn't the repetitive affair it could be. Instead, writer Kieron Gillen gives us page after page of sharp vignettes, with most of the decisions making sense in terms of the personalities involved. There are some nice surprises regarding who goes where, including which former super-villain looks set to be the school janitor.

The Beast is delighted to get asked to run the school. Dazzler is staying in San Francisco to oversee Cyclops' street teams. The newly 'Juggernauted' Colossus doesn't feel he's safe to be around kids. Storm wants to go one way but is persuaded to swerve. And so on.

It's hard to believe that after the vicious fight they've just had, Cyclops and Wolverine can stand to be around one another long enough to drum up supporters, but go with it and you'll likely enjoy this focus on characters.

The one thing I'm not at all keen on is the framing sequence showing mutants coming together around Wolverine and Cyclops as the two fight once more. We're in the land of Metaphor, it seems - participants are in rags or fur bikinis (even the robotic Danger!) and shaking bones. I think the idea is that the difference of philosophies between the two leaders is so deep, it's bloomin' primal.

Or maybe folks just went to a last-night-together Flintstones-themed shindig. It beats me, answers on a postcard ...

Whatever the reason, the scenes don't sit well with the rest of the issue - in trying to make an argument epic, the metaphor comes across as self-conscious and pretentious.

The artwork's by Billy Tan and it's not at all bad, bar some awkward faces (I'm looking at you, Dazzler, and it hurts). He captures a nice range of emotions. Colourist Andres Mossa ensures the two strands of story receive a different tonal treatment, which is smart, while Rob Steen handles the lettering well.

The cover, by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend, features some odd choices, such as a sleepy-looking, frog-faced Emma Frost and tiny heads for Magneto and Wolverine, but overall, I like it.

Based on the character split, I'll be siding with Wolverine and the X-Men, but expect to take a peek at Uncanny X-Men too. Please though, Marvel, no more extended visual metaphors.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Supernatural #1 review

I'm not a big fan of TV tie-ins, but the idea of a Supernatural story set in the city where I live tickles me. After all, Edinburgh doesn't get much in the way of visits from imaginary folk. We had the X-Men fighting Proteus, and Batman turned up as part of The Scottish Connection. That's it, so far as I know. So let's see what Sam and Dean Winchester, monster hunters, get up to.

Sam comes to Edinburgh on an exchange visit, meets one 'Emma of the Isles' while looking up spooky stuff in the National Library, they have a drink and it turns out she's a hunter too, she takes him into the street to see a ghost funeral procession, they kiss and it's super-sexy due to sticky ectoplasm. Or something. End of part 1.

And Dean? Nowhere to be seen.

Blimey, but Brian Wood's story is slight. Took me five minutes to read, and that includes stopping to marvel at Grant Bond's depiction of Edinburgh, which we could charitably describe as 'impressionistic'.
All this time and I never knew I was living in Toytown. I think the image is based on this view. It wouldn't be such a big deal, but the title of this story is 'Caledonia', of this chapter, 'The Dogs of Edinburgh' (Lord knows why, we don't even see the blessed Greyfriars Bobby), so a sense of place is vital. Realistic, evocative, I don't mind, but something. One good establishing shot would be fine, then I could just about pretend that the generic 'British' streets shown here could belong to Scotland's magnificent capital city.

And that's not the only problem with the art, which doesn't reach the standards of Dustin Nguyen's atmospheric cover. Presumably, direct resemblances aren't allowed by DC's licence, excusing the blank, stumpy dude meant to be the 6ft 4in Sam. But when the script describes someone as 'one really incredibly beautiful woman' we shouldn't wind up questioning Sam's eyesight. Even allowing for subjectivity, Emma is, at most, averagely cute (click to enlarge image, and enjoy Sam's arrogant idiocy in the first panel).
The most effectively illustrated scene is the ghost parade - Bond gives good spectre ... gnarled souls, more haunted than haunting. A solitary ginger beard apart, this is the only point at which Bond, doing full-colour art, brightens his palette, showing us that Scottish ghosts are an eerie blue; the rest of the book is all murky purples, greens and browns, whether we're indoors or out.

Of course, Bond could be giving us exactly what Wood asked for. Given that the script is so slow - what we have here would barely fill the space before a TV episode's opening titles - it's entirely feasible he asked for drab colouring so as not to overexcite the reader.

Sam's voice is captured pretty well, though he seems a bit dumber than on the goggle box, being amazed that Edinburgh might have ghosts, and fine with the notion that the first person he meets is a hunter (or as Emma terms the job, 'breaker'). And Emma is incredibly annoying, constantly using Sam's full name, like some lunatic refugee from Brigadoon.

The story starts and a few pages in there's a 'three years ago ...' caption, leading me to spend the whole issue thinking we've had a framing sequence followed by a flashback - Sam came to Scotland three years previously, met Emma and has come back due to unfinished business. My mate Steve read the story the same way.

On further consideration, it seems that the whole issue is set in the past ... couldn't Wood have told us this on page one? The time frame is presumably to put the story before Sam entered the family business - the narration mentions that he's still at Stanford University. Well, that might explain his naive manner. Did anyone actually know the seven seasons have been contracted into less than three years?

But if we're not setting the book in current continuity, why not just choose to have Dean in there? It's not Supernatural without Sam and Dean. Maybe the older Winchester brother will show up next issue but I won't be around to find out; this comic was just too unsatisfying, even as an instalment of a larger story.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

X-Men Schism #5 review

The most fearsome Sentinel ever is trudging towards Utopia and all Cyclops and Wolverine can do is attack one another. Admittedly, the former is trying to stop the latter from blowing up the godforsaken rock that has become the 'mutant homeland', but the fight's about more than that; it's the culmination of the philosophical gulf that's been widening between the pair over the course of this five-issue mini-series. It's the war over who was loved the most by a long-dead woman.

With the common goal which forced them to put aside their massive personal differences gone, of course these two fight - Logan is a scrapper by nature, while Scott has been twisted by his siege mentality. That they should keep fighting even when the Sentinel reaches the island rather than work together is tougher to stomach - I suppose it's not just Wolverine who can have 'berserker rages'.

The two most senior X-Men only pull themselves off one another and take aim at the giant robot when a pack of younger mutants - the Generation Hope and New X-Men kids - appear and attack. And they win, pummelling the Sentinel to bits.

Not that the people behind the attack - the Hellfire Creche - care. The incident has shown the mutant-hating Rest of the World that the new Sentinels are worth investing in ... and guess who has the patent?

For the X-Men, more cataclysmic than the giant robot tussle is the aftermath - Wolverine can't take it any more, he's leaving Cyclops and Utopia, and he's not alone. A group of younger X-Men have also had it with Cyclops' aggressive stance, and apparently wish to honour Charles Xavier's original dream of integration, not isolation. (I was excited to see Iceman on board the Blackbird too, but I suspect he was merely acting as chauffeur, and is returning to be one of the monkeys on Cyclops' little Gibraltar. Darn, I'd love Bobby Drake to get an important role in an X-Men book for once, and if he were one of the few senior X-Men in the coming Wolverine and the X-Men title, he'd be just that.)

Schism has been the best X-Men event in years, a short, sharp shot to the system; deftly written by Jason Aaron (and, in Generation Hope, Kieron Gillen) and superbly drawn by a cadre of artists. This issue we have Adam Kubert on pencils, which is always a treat.
Like father ...
... like son
There's a real intensity to his fight scenes, with an obvious throughline from his father, the brilliant Joe Kubert. Kubert Jr gives us Cyclops, Hope, Wolverine and Irie attacking a Sentinel, but it could as easily be Kubert Sr's Sgt Rock and the Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company taking down a Nazi tank (click on images to enlarge - Our Army at War cover borrowed from the superb Grand Comics Database - let me know if I'm nicking bandwidth, chaps!). The determination in the body language, the grim set of the eyes - Adam Kubert has an X-gene of his own, but by cracky he's worked to hone it.

And it's not 'only' the figure work: the page compositons also help the story hugely - fractured panels to reflect the ideological spat between Cyclops and Wolverine, tiny and numerous for quick pace. And then big, splashy images as the greater conflict can no longer be denied.

Huge credit too, to Mark Roslan, whose digital inks add a richness to the linework, and Jason Keith for a fiery colouring job. The only negative so far as the art package goes would be a spread of panels drawn across the fold, but that's minor.

The book ends with Wolverine and company at the place he's chosen for their new home - the demolished Xavier's Home for Gifted Youngsters in Salem Centre, Westchester County. It's a spot with memories good and bad for Logan, and the perfect place to begin his own dream for the future of mutantkind.

Cyclops, meanwhile, has his rock.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Hawk & Dove #2 review

While Hawk and Dove fight to keep Washington DC safe from Alexander Quirk's Monsters of Mass Destruction, super-criminal Condor kills rival Osprey so his powers can turn a psycho into a Swan ...

... spotting a pattern? Yup, everyone's a bird. And everyone has a variation on the same costume: Hawk and Dove, Condor and Swan - without Matt Yackey's colours you'd have trouble telling them apart.
Actually, you'd have trouble telling anyone apart: Hank and his dad dress alike, share hair wax and have identical rictus grins; Hank's old bird Ren and Dawn go to the one hair stylist and both dress in tinfoil slit to the waist. And yes, I realise Ren is Asian-American, but most people in this book look Asian-American. 

And everyone talks through a toothy grin. I swear, if DC wanted to conquer the ventriloquists' market, they'd show them Hawk and Dove.

'I'm going to gash your grains out, Hawk!'
'Gugger off, you gig guffoon, Dove has my gack!'


A few of the splash pages apart - there are five in this 20-page comic - the work here is awful. I'm not a Rob Liefeld fan, but when he's on form his art does the job. Here the illustrations - inks by Liefeld and Adelso Corona - are often excruciating. Body shapes are seen that are never found in nature, Hawk turns into a giant, a head twists like an Exorcist tribute act ... Liefeld either needs to take more time, take an art lesson or take on an inking partner willing to overpower his pencils and make the figures work. Maybe even - whisper it - draw in regular backgrounds.
Still, it's not like Liefeld is ruining a good story. The usually reliable Sterling Gates doesn't move the Quirk business any further on, Dove's Big Secret doesn't come up ... instead pages are wasted with unconvincing soap involving Dove's boyfriend Deadman and the aforementioned Ren - both centred on inappropriate jealousy. 

As for all the Hawk and Dove-alikes running around, Kestrel was bad enough in their last series, now the book is going all Green Lantern on us with a horde of rainbow bird baddies. So next month it's Hawk & Dove vs Condor & Swan, which sounds like a court case. Certainly someone should sue for a painful reading experience.

This comic has so much potential, but so far it's for the birds.

Justice League International #2 review

Now that's a fantastic cover - a well-conceived image, finely executed by Aaron Lopresti and coloured in unusual tones by Hi-Fi Design.

Inside Justice League International #2 we have the continuation of the battle with the mystery giant in Peru, and things don't go too well. Circumstances see leader Booster Gold take the tough decision to recall the team to Washington DC. There they find headquarters the Hall of Justice razed to the ground, and Green Lantern Guy Gardner finally taking up his offer of team membership. There's dissent among the ranks over Booster's decision - cowardice or pragmatism? - but a trio of heroes get firmly behind Booster and the rest of the infant team follows.

'Infant' being the key word here. Had Booster been given time to get to know the new JLI's capabilities and personalities, the fight in Peru would have gone a lot better. As it is, a lesson is learned and the team rededicates itself to stopping the giant. Except suddenly there are three more, with their leader about to descend from space.

Said leader looks an awful lot like Marvel's Galactus, as drawn by Lopresti and inker Matt Ryan and, more importantly, coloured by Hi-Fi; I'd not be surprised were his swatches to be switched out by next issue, as someone at DC decides he needs a less homagey look. That apart, the team of Lopresti, Ryan and Hi-Fi doesn't put a foot wrong, offering wonderfully clean storytelling that captures the unique looks of the various JLI members, and the action of their battles. And letterer Travis Lanham does a great job, and likely isn't responsible for the single mispointing word balloon.

One thing they really need to be drawing, though, is Godiva getting glue poured in her lovely, lustrous hair. The woman is a disgrace to the United Kingdom, with her heavy-handed flirting at a time when heroism is needed. I've no idea why writer Dan Jurgens would reduce a character so awesome she could turn her hair into an umbrella, complete with transparent eyescreen, into a desperate trollop, but he needs to redeem or repatriate her, and sharpish.

So far, Godiva is the only member I'm not liking, a situation which breaks this Brit's heart. The rest of the JLI have all stepped up, using their powers well - once they actually learn to combine abilities and act as a team, they'll be formidable. For now, I'm happy with 'enjoyable', something they're proving to be under Jurgens, and I'm looking forward to seeing the threat of the (so the title says) Signalmen getting bigger.

I'm intrigued that Guy drinks at a bar run by a chap named Beau - presumably named for Stephen Scott Beau Smith, longtime writer of Guy's old comic. And delighted to see that Booster is still palling around with sarcy security robot Skeets, even if he doesn't appear on panel this time.

Skeets' showing up is just another reason to keep watching this book - two issues in and already a DC New 52 favouirte.

Huntress #1 review

The Huntress is in Naples, out to stop a shipment of drugs reaching Gotham. It turns out the contraband on a boat isn't just illegal substances, it's women. After fighting her way past some goons she gets the ladies out and blows up the boat. While the local crime boss takes out his unhappiness on a lieutenant, the Huntress begins tracking him down. First she pumps journalists for information, then she has a bellboy arrange for a sex worker to be sent round to her hotel, getting her one step closer to the source, and into trouble once more as hoods storm her hotel room. But her fighting skill and mini-crossbows see Huntress prevail, and she leaves the thugs tied up, presumably to send a message to their boss. He sends a message to his failed gang - a lethal one.

Darn. DC's All Access promo page this week hints that this six-part mini-series stars the original Huntress, Helena Wayne, on Earth Two. Well, unless Helena Wayne also uses the name Bertinelli, and there's a Batman and Daily Planet over there, the tease is just Executive Editor Eddie Berganza being evil to get extra sales. Not cool.
What is cool is the vibe of this comic. Paul Levitz, co-creator of Helena Wayne, writes a Huntress closer in feel to the original than to the second version - more professional, less angry. Things go wrong for her, but she doesn't lash out more than she has to; she contains situations. I like this. I don't like that her internal narrative implies she's fine with killing - indeed, the boat explosion likely offed a few crooks, though the script can be taken either way - but we've yet to see what formed this character.

One extra fun touch - after the boat goes 'kaabooom', the next scene opens with the crime boss querying: 'Kaboom...? The whole shipment?'

References to Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and the Arab Spring give the issue a refreshing real world patina which fits this street level tale. I won't, though, complain if later in the series such old Huntress enemies as the creepy Earthworm show up later - six issues of gangsters is guaranteed to lose my interest.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the Naples setting, as drawn by Marcus To. Refreshingly for a Bat-book, Levitz sets plenty of action in the daytime, allowing us to see gorgeous Italian buildings and bays at their best. As for the Huntress herself, To excels in showing the heroine's fighting style. He also gives us plenty of variety in angles and his facial expressions are very nice indeed ... Helena has a confident sexiness she's not afraid to use, but she never goes the come hither route. The art's not perfect -  at one point in a tussle Huntress looks not so much flexible as rubberised, and the trafficked women look so alike I was expect a cloning story - but overall, To - inked by the super-sharp John Dell - makes the Win column.

The story is attractively coloured by up and comer Andrew Dalhouse, the one odd note being a sound effect that's tinted only in outline, due to its positioning over a falling bad guy - it looks neither here nor there. There's nice lettering, too, from Sal Cipriano, presumably the book's in-house Italian-American.

Guillem March and Tomeu Morey provide the cover, and while I love the background and composition I'm not keen on the figure, which is a little too chunky - I think it's that shoulderpad that's unsettling me, coming across as a third breast. And the eye make-up's too heavy. Still, the visual has impact.

If you're looking for a Batman-style character away from the usual Gotham goings on, or a superheroine who doesn't have to flash the flesh to command attention, give Huntress a look.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Fury of Firestorm, the Nuclear Men #1 review

Ronnie Raymond is Firestorm. And Jason Rusch is Firestorm. And together they're Fury.

Oh dear. One of my favourite concepts in comics - kid with crappy home and school life becomes a colourful, fun superhero- is blown apart as instead of one likeable Firestorm, we get two idiot ones.

First there's Jason Rusch, whose prejudices about high school athletes get him into an argument with football hero Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie isn't quite as obnoxious - Jason reckons he needs his social consciousness raising - but he doesn't half rise to Jason's bait.

When a terrorist attack on their school leads Jason to grab a 'magnetic bottle' entrusted to him by the late Dr Martin Stein, and both become versions of Firestorm, Ronnie becomes a regular Mr Angry, hitting out at Jason. And that's when they combine into the massive creature, Fury, who talks like a goon in a bad Forties gangster movie.

The terrorists, meanwhile, are left alone at the school, and decide to blow it up ...

Now there's a cliffhanger I won't be back to see resolved. All the charm of previous Firestorm series, whether Ronnie's original or Jason's later one, is dumped by a comic wearing its 'edginess' on its sleeve. Terrorists cut a man's throat in front of his family before blasting them too; torture, and likely stab to death, a scientist; fill a school guard full of holes; murder the football coach; slaughter one of Ronnie's team-mates. The shootings we see, the throat slashing is off-panel, but the father is shown in silhouette, bright red blood streaming.

The comic is rated T for teens, and maybe kids raised on shoot-'em-up computer games love this kind of thing. Me. not so much. The bad guys run riot through this comic and while they'll no doubt all get their comeuppance - one is hurt by the Firestorm transformations and may well become a new Killer Frost - by then, plenty of innocents are dead. I'm pretty much OK with bad guys meeting a sticky end, and heroes dying heroically, but I can't stand ordinary folk being dragged into situations and murdered, just to show how bad the bad guys are.

The gang leader is one Cliff Carmichael, whom longtime fans will recall was originally Ronnie Raymond's nemesis, the school bully who, in a flash of originality on the part of Firestorm creators Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, wore glasses. He didn't need to kill folk to be scary - he had muttonchops. And he later became the Thinker in Suicide Squad.

As for the 'can a black guy and a white guy get along for the greater good?' angle, it feels forced, as if someone had just seen The Defiant Ones for the first time and decided to try the concept as a superhero.

In terms of this being a reimagining of the Firestorm concept for DC's New 52 Initiative, I'm confused. Martin Stein, originally one half of the Firestorm matrix, is supposedly dead by the time this comic begins. On a screen in a Mysterious Evil Lady's office we see images of other Firestorms, meaning the hero has certainly been around previously. So given that this isn't a reinvention from Day One, why not simply have Ronnie and Jason continue on from the end of the recent Brightest Day series? I suppose there's no rule book to say a jumping-on point has to be a total new beginning, but to my mind a fresh start would make most sense.

The book is co-plotted by Ethan Van Sciver, who's a very good penciller. His partner is Gail Simone, who also does the script and wrote the excellent, just-cancelled Secret Six. That book had plenty of twisted moments, but they were always criminal on criminal. The best moments in this book show Jason and Ronnie having supper with their respected single parents, their school personas put away for the night. Otherwise, this is page after page of unpleasant people yelling, bitching and killing.

They're all very nicely drawn by Yildiray Cinar, though. There's an appealing naturalism to the school scenes, a banal horror around the murders and an intensity after Jason sparks the Firestorm transformation with one magic word. The designs of the three new Firestorms, likely the work of DC's Costume Committee,  are less appealing, being unattractive variations on the glorious Milgrom original. They look their best on Van Sciver's cover, but they're still not great.

This was one of the new DC titles I was most looking forward to, but it's turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments. Instead of Firestorm as a meeting of minds, it's a meeting of asses.