Friday, 30 March 2012

Avengers #24.1 review

Longstanding Avengers powerhouse the Vision was ripped in two by teammate She-Hulk, while she was under the influence of his mad missus, the Scarlet Witch. Now he's back, repaired by Iron Man, and understandably confused. Why would Wanda, his beloved wife, do this? Iron Man has no answers.

He seeks out She-Hulk and she's thrilled to see he's back, ready to accept any beating he cares to give her. But that's not why he's there, and the pair, each haunted by the horror of that day years ago, make their peace.

Vision travels to the X-Men's isle of Utopia, thinking he might find Wanda there, with her father, Magneto, and get some answers from her. But she's not there. There follows a tense confrontation with the Master of Magnetism, with the Vison and Magneto nearly killing one another. The Vision returns to Avengers Mansion, where Captain America advises him to look to the future, because trying to understand the past won't give him peace.

And there you have it, a pretty decent focus on the Vision. The best scene is his meeting with She-Hulk, in which the emotions - guilt, shame, joy, confusion - are palpable. Mind, the Vision does have a great moment with Magneto (click on image to enlarge).
I really could have lived without Spider-Woman and Hawkeye slobbering over one another like randy teens in Avengers Mansion garden, though. Especially as it sets up the stupidest moment of the issue, as Spider-Woman asks Hawkeye who 'Wanda' is - the heroines knew each other for years! And seeing the notoriously formal Vision remark: 'I have a ways to go' made me cringe. Was Iron Man rat-arsed when he put Vision's brainwaves back together? Yeah, that has to be it, give me a No-Prize, Marvel. But seriously, associate editor Lauren Sankovitch and editor Tom Brevoort should not let this kind of thing through, it makes writer Brian Michael Bendis look sloppy, and them appear to be asleep at the wheel.

As I say, though, this isn't a bad issue. Bendis's story makes some kind of sense, while artist Brandon Peterson translates his narrative onto the page with precision. The Vision looks as imposing as a ghostly 'synthezoid' should, and the other characters are nicely on model. Sadly, the issue's money shot splash - Vision phasing into Magneto to grab his black heart - is wrecked, as random special effects obscure our view of the event. You don't have to use all the crayons in the packet, chaps.

And speaking of colouring, there seems to be a production problem; all the White characters are a sickly, sunburnt pink. Otherwise, Sonia Oback's tones work well in print.

Overall, this comic functions as a character piece, showing us how thoroughly confusing coming back from the dead must be. It's the sort of story we should have seen a lot more of down the years, and Bendis sells it. As a .1 issue, though, it's a bit dubious. The .1's are meant to serve as an introduction to a series and gently lead new or returning readers into the next big storyline. Well, this does set things up for Avengers vs X-Men, with Vision a proper cat among the pigeons on Utopia, and rounds out his reaction to Wanda in this week's Avengers vs X-Men #0. But as a nice clean entry point to the world of the Avengers, it's ropey to say the least, mired in a decade's worth of continuity.

Then again, how many of the '1s actually have served the advertised purpose? Maybe I should just be glad of a more than half-decent Vision story?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Superman #7 review

Alien overlord Helspont sends a powerful robotic 'thrall' to Metropolis to assess Superman and finds him worthy; worthy of enlisting him in his quest to make Earth Daemonite territory. When he finally meets Superman himself, he can't understand something (click on image to enlarge):
And with that one moment, showcasing a defiant hero, proudly wearing his S-symbol, I know that the DC New 52 Superman comic is in safe creative hands. Sure, Keith Giffen's association with Superman predates the Crisis on Infinite Earths, whereas Dan Jurgens came on board a few years after and gave us a classic run ... but could they make this series sing after a lacklustre relaunch which dragged Superman's good name through the mud?

I think they can. This first issue, co-plotted by them, pencilled by Jurgens and finished by Jesus Merino, is heaps of fun and popping with fresh ideas. Not Helspont - he dates back to the glory days of the Wildstorm universe, and while the name is rubbish, he has a villainous charm. I'm thinking of how we see Clark Kent's discomfort at being asked to glorify his other identity for the Daily Planet, and the presentation of Superman's new costume as 'Kryptonian biotech' he wills to appear. Then there are re-purposed concepts, such as Earth's propensity to act as a hothouse for superbeings (the Giffen-plotted Invasion mini-series of the late Eighties) and the return of Lois Lane's troublesome sister, Lucy (several thousand Silver Age comics and pre-New 52 Supergirl). There's humour at STAR Labs and the Daily Planet, a de-emphasising of Lois' new TV job and Superman cutting loose.

Simply put, this is a confident, enjoyable Superman comic. It's not out to remake the wheel, it simply wants to entertain - and the number of bad comics out there tells us that's not always an easy thing. The only misstep is the Metropolis throng's continued surprise at the presence of Superman among them, and the distrust many feel for him - isn't this comic set five or six years into the super-career? I get the feeling this sort of thing originates on DC Editorial's answer to Mount Sinai, that stone tablets exist saying that DC's heroes must be treated like Marvel's mutants. Well, enough already - let the DC Universe be the best DCU it can be, not a second-rate Marvel Universe.

The ponderous narrative devices of this title's first six issues have been dumped in favour of a present tense 'what Clark's thinking' - basically, good-old thought bubbles, but in white-out-of-blue caption boxes to fool the kids that we're all trendy now. I'd prefer unashamed balloons, but this works for me, making for a much more comfortable read than previously.

Clark's perpetually flustered appearance apart, I like the art here a lot. Jurgens knows how to pace a Superman story, while Merino adds strength to his breakdowns (presumably, as a first-class penciller too, Merino will be doing full art at some point). These pages are teeming with excellent figurework, great value backgrounds and pulse-pounding action, resulting in a dynamic feast for the eyes. And they're coloured with joie de vivre by Tanya and Richard Horie, while Rob Leigh adds energy on the lettering side.

The cover is by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis of Aquaman fame, and it's rather the winner - extra points for almost managing to hide the fact that Superman has lost his shorts.

If you gave this book a try at relaunch time but jumped off for whatever reason, take another gander. With the iconoclastic Giffen on board, surprises are guaranteed, while Jurgens has a knack for translating the classic DC sensibility for modern audiences. I understand that the Helspont storyline is something they inherited - the horn mentioned herein was blown way back in Superman #1 - but they're making tasty Kryptonian lemonade out of it. And once they can go their own way, who knows what thrills they'll come up with?

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The New Deadwardians #1 review

Chief Inspector George Suttle is the last of a dying breed. The only murder squad detective in the Metropolitan Police of 1910, he's not had a lot to do since Londoners changed. A zombie apocalypse decades previously means most people are beyond being murdered - they've either succumbed to the zombie plague or taken The Cure, voluntarily embracing a vampiric state that puts them off the predators' radar.

Not that such terms are used. 'Zombies'? 'Vampires'? How terribly vulgar. No, people are either shambling members of The Restless or stoic examples of The Young. The still-living who can't afford to take The Cure monthly are known as The Bright.

There is a killing at the start of this issue, but as it sees a roving Restless caught in the act of eating his housekeeper, there's no mystery for Suttle to get his filed-down teeth into. 'Filed-down'? Yes, Suttle is one of The Young, resigned to being a vampire but refusing to give in to the breed's baser instincts, their (ahem) Tendencies.

And if this part-precis isn't enough to persuade you to try The New Deadwardians #1, this eight-part Vertigo mini-series likely isn't for you. But fans of alternate histories, and fantasy horror, are in for a breezy treat courtesy of Dan Abnett's clever script and I.N.J. Culbard's dead-on artwork. The dialogue is pure Downton Abbey, with Suttle's short internal narrative guaranteed to invoke empathy in the reader. As well as introducing characters and situations, the issue sets up an intriguing mystery to be solved in future instalments (click on image to enlarge).
Culbard, meanwhile, does a splendid job of capturing the Edwardian era, with period fashions and real-life streets of London. His people are happily imperfect, and he draws a mean corpse. And as a bonus for architecture fans, Culbard conjures up the planned-but-never-built Prince Albert Memorial Tower, dwarfing the Palace of Westminster clock tower that houses Big Ben.

The sympathetic colouring is, I believe, the work of Patricia Mulvihill, while Travis Lanham may well have contributed the stylish lettering - but as I can't find the creator credits beyond what's on the cover, I can't be sure. It's a shame, and whoever's to blame should be denied The Cure for ever more. I expect they're awfully common.

The New Deadwardians is all very British, but I doubt it's necessary to, say, get the 'Carry on, Sergeant' gag to enjoy this comic. It's a well-crafted opening chapter offering a new spin on the zombie, vampire and historical detective genres. I'd wager that means something for all the family - living and undead.

Avengers vs X-Men #0 review

And here it is, the beginning of Marvel's summer event, Avengers Vs X-Men. The focus here is on the two team associates set to be at the centre of each side's ire: Scarlet Witch, who removed the powers of thousands of mutants, killing many; and Hope Summers, the teenager able to jump-start new mutants, and presumed future host of the Phoenix Force. When mutant messiah meets mutant destroyer, expect fireworks.

But don't expect them here - they're together on the cover, but our protagonists don't meet. In the first of two solo stories, Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, her sanity newly restored and blame for numerous atrocities shifted to Dr Doom, takes on MODOK. The Machine Organism Designed Mainly For Killing (or whatever the acronym stands for this week) is out for revenge on a Wakandan diplomat who betrayed the big-headed baddie's scientific cabal, AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics, that one never changes). Wanda's not doing at all badly when old Avengers colleagues Ms Marvel and Spider-Woman happen along, and help finish the fracas. Ms Marvel - Carol Danvers - persuades Wanda to accompany them back to Avengers Mansion ... Scarlet Witch is understandably slow to accept the offer, even if she is off the hook some for the Avengers Disassembled and House of M incidents.

And her instincts prove spot on, via a very uncomfortable run-in with the Vision, the husband she had She-Hulk tear in two during Disassembled - even an android can die, it seems (happily, after years of 'death', he was recently repaired by Iron Man Tony Stark, though in a decidedly undramatic offscreen afterthought). The story ends with Carol flying the distraught Wanda away.

I rather liked this. Writer Brian Michael Bendis gives us a still slightly confused, but emphatically heroic, Scarlet Witch, not entirely convinced she deserves anyone's forgiveness. Being welcomed back with open arms by Ms Marvel and Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, makes her rejection by the Vision all the more painful. The fight with MODOK and his genetically engineered cronies is fun (Wanda even manages a decent gag) and there's a final panel that will resonate with fans of classic Marvel.

Frank Cho illustrates with his usual bombastic flair - it's good clean superhero art, and though figures are occasionally awkward in the smaller shots, overall, a very good job. His Wanda is as statuesque and regal as she should be, though her hair's a tad slick - the girl has curls! The only time art fights script is when MODOK mocks Wanda (click on image to enlarge):
Never mind the fact she has to be at least 30 in Marvel time, no woman drawn by Cho could ever be accused of looking like a little kid.

The exact same quibble applies to the equally nicely drawn Hope story, in which Serpent Squad member Anaconda quips: 'Boy, the superheroes just get younger and younger these days, don't they? What are you, the new kid from Power Pack or something?' I'd say this is more writer Jason Aaron's fault than Cho's - yeah, Hope looks about 25 but even if she looked her 16 years or whatever, that's a tad old for anyone to accuse her of looking like a mini-hero.

As I said, though, it's a quibble. Otherwise, this is a decent enough primer; as with the Wanda short, we're given a bit of background before the story gets going. Events begins with Hope asking Cyclops to explain what it would mean for the Phoenix Force to connect with her but, being an idiot, he says nothing, so she blasts him with his own powers. She's a hothead, y'see, as further evidenced by her running off to San Francisco to take on the Serpent Society, a police radio having told her of their in-progress robbery. Despite their snake-based abilities and years of experience, Hope's mutant mimicry, viciousness with a knife and proficiency at head-butting allows her to do plenty of damage before Cyclops and Emma Frost arrive to provide back-up and lectures.The story ends with Hope announcing that she'll welcome the Phoenix Force, and an outer-space shot of said fiery bird heading Hope's way.

As pre-game entertainment goes, this is fine, building a sense that something big is about to happen. The story's failings are Cyclops' frankly insane refusal to prepare Hope for the coming of the planet-killing cosmic entity that destroyed his life, and Hope's equally bonkers announcement that she wants communion with something that scares everybody witless. I really hope the writers of the crossover don't just let these moments lie; sure, they open the way to the coming theatrics, but they don't half make major characters look like idiots.

Frank Cho's cover is pretty darn stunning, it's a shame that a good 40 per cent of it is covered by the massively intrusive trade dress for the crossover.

Early numbers suggest Avengers Vs X-Men is already a hit, whatever the quality of the coming series and tie-ins - with luck, the rest of the story will be as good as this issue and, hopefully, far better. Come on Marvel, show us what you can really do.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Legion of Super-Heroes #7 review

Surprise surprise, the two China-set plotlines begun last issue are linked - the polluting fire raging in the Xinjiang region is the work of the future cultists running amok in the urban area. Thankfully, Legionnaires are at both sites and ready to fight. Holding back the fire are Element Lad, Sun Boy and Chemical Kid, while Dragonwing takes on the rogue metahumans - including her sister - in partnership with Chameleon Boy.

Back in Metropolis, Comet Queen and Harmonia Li are preparing to join the fire sub-team when Dream Girl, via holographic projection, tells them to get to the other emergency, Cham's flight ring having gone offline. And they don't arrive a minute too soon, as Cham has been lamped by one of the villains, and Dragonwing beaten down by force of numbers. Comet Queen shows that despite her bonkers slang ('Wow - some starburn, Legionnaire!') she's a force to be reckoned with, while the elemental Harmonia shows immense levels of power.

While this is happening, Dream Girl checks in with Chemical Kid and co, and finds the new Legionnaire growing an inferiority complex in the face of his more experienced colleagues; returning from a space mission, Mon-El decides to call a leadership election in the face of Brainiac 5's continuing attempts to snag the role; and the Dominators unveil hybrid Daxamite Dominators to use against the hated Legion.

It's a busy issue, with much in the way of incident, action and personalities at play. It's good to see Chemical Kid's ego dented a little, and even better to watch Sun Boy cut loose and Harmonia get out of the lab. Dragonwing's super-spit remains a particularly unappealing power, but she shows great Legion spirit, while Comet Queen is, as ever, a delight. There's not much I'd change in Paul Levitz's script; I'd make the scene transitions less filmic and more comic book-ish, and properly introduce the individual baddies attacking Dragonwing, but that's about it.
On the art side, Francis Portela continues to own this book, juggling hordes of characters and settings with style - an awful lot of work has gone into these pages, and it shows. Finally, this issue, he gets to design a mission suit for Harmonia, and it's rather nice, making her look endearingly witchy (click on image to enlarge). Unlike most other DC New 52 books, the Legion of Super-Heroes isn't awash with splash pages - outside of the opening page, there's just the one, and it deserves the room. Otherwise, the many attention-grabbing moments are made to work in smaller panels ... that's talent, that is. And colourist Javier Mena deserves a cover credit for his big contribution to the artistic success of this book, making the pages bold and bright without ever hurting the reader's eye. Rounding off the core creative team is letterer Pat Brosseau, whose work is ever dependable, never boring.

The cover's a tad dull, mind. I've seen far more imaginative work from penciller Chris Sprouse and inker Karl Story. Guy Major's colours are fine - there's not much for him to interpret here.

The Legion books remain a hard sell to younger fans, which is a shame, as the quality is always high. This series certainly deserves to be a big hit. I'd love to see a cheap digest of the first seven issues of this series, to give newcomers a chance to bask in the sheer scope of the 31st century, and get into the rhythm of the characters. How about it, DC?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child #1 review

New Orleans. Post-Hurricane Katrina. Grad student Dominique Laveau finds her pals disemboweled, escapes death by werewolf when snakes spring from her brow, then falls into the grave of legendary voodoo queen and namesake Marie Laveau. She has visions of the massacre of the latest of Marie's successors and her court, and is attacked by a gunfighter type tossing arrowheads. She escapes, only to find her aunt dying in a pool of blood, and herself attacked once more by the guy from her vision.

It's fair to say that this latest Vertigo title is embracing the grandest of Guignol. It's blood and guts and gore and effing and blinding. The pages that don't feature supernatural horrors contain a gun battle between Dominique's cop boyfriend Allan and local gangbangers. I found the whole thing rather exhausting, but in a tiresome, rather than exhilarating, way.

Not helping is the narration from writer Selwyn Seyfu Hinds that reaches for the musical, aims for significance, but in fact recalls the poetry of teenage Sandman fans. The script's not all bad - the characters', and narrator's, 'N'Orleans' accent rings true, and Hinds obviously has his story worked through - as well as Dominique and Allan, we meet local fixer Chancellor Malenfant, who uses voodoo to maintain his power base. And I'm intrigued by the idea of setting folklore against the backdrop of post-Katrina New Orleans - that's what persuaded me to try this comic, along with the presence of the excellent artist Denys Cowan, in the first place.

But a story so magic-centred should have a bit of charm; this is just brutal, in-yer-face stuff, and there's an uncomfortably self-conscious feel to proceedings. This extends to Cowan and inker John Floyd's smugtastic habit of signing the splash pages, tripping the narrative up every time. That apart, the artwork is the saving grace of the book, with the realistic approach grounding the horrors. It's just a shame the horrors are so frequent. The odd spilled internal organs, fine, let's see the stakes, but too much viscera gets old very quickly (click on ever-so-slightly censored image to enlarge).
The elegant cover by Rafael Grampa doesn't match the mood of the book, with this Dominique's self-possession reflecting a woman light years from the character we meet inside. Plus, the posing is awkward, and the snake gives the impression that our heroine's a hunchback. I really like the logo (even without the necessary colon) and colouring, though.

I hope there's an audience for this comic. I love the idea of it, but so far the execution isn't for me.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Batman #7 review

The Court of Owls story goes on. And on, and on, spreading its wings through the entire Batman Family of titles. And Jonah Hex. And likely Tiny Titans, if it weren't being cancelled - well, there is a Talon in there!

The Talon in here's an entirely different guy, though, and Batman discovers just who he is after examining his almost-corpse in the Batcave. Almost? Indeed, it seems Talon has a Get Out of Death Free card, in the shape of a tooth. The idea makes sense in a comic book science-meets-history way - it's rather cool, and a nice change from the Lazarus Pits generally piped in whenever a Batman character needs a speedy return from the other side.

Shockingly, someone closer to Bruce has a similar trick tooth, one he quickly knocks out on realising that this particular Talon is the great-grandfather of ... Dick Grayson. It turns out that the Court of Owls had its claws deep into Haly's Circus, and every ten years a kid would be selected for Talon training. Dick got the tooth, but not the assassin classes, Bruce's adoption having saved him from the Court's clutches.

I tell you, I didn't find the Court of Owls that scary until I realised they even owned Gotham's dentists. How many check-ups has Dick had over the years, and the Tooth Wonder gone unremarked?

Then again, given the evidence here it's entirely likely that if Dick ever did have toothache, Bruce just punched the offending molar right out of his head.

Rattled at the thought that the Court of Owls were nesting so close to home, Bruce gets terribly melodramatic about the city. Dick, bless him, basically tells Bruce to get a grip and quit being a daft old nelly. It's just a shame Dick doesn't smack him one back (click on image to enlarge).
Other scenes this month see the Court of Owls wittering on as cornily as Bruce, prior to sending a whole bunch of Talons into the air to 'take back our kingdom'; nearly dead after the events of the last few issues, Bruce has a revelation about the fate of the bat that inspired his pyjamas; and some woman named Harper (Jamie, Nightwing's old pal?) revives the fallen Batman with jump leads but gets neither thanks nor job offer.

It's an interesting issue, a crescendo of drama from writer Scott Snyder. My only real problem is that I don't quite get what the Court of Owls wants. There's the aforementioned business about owning Gotham, but given that the Court is made up of Gotham's richest, surely they already own the city? Why do they need to dress up and talk like bad actors? If anyone can explain it, I'd be most grateful.

The art by Greg Capullo is hugely effective at conveying the creepiness of Gotham, from the fate of the First Bat through to the freeing of the All-Talon-Squadron. My favourite scene is the scraggy Batman's arrival outside the Batcave, an alley filled only with darkness and a gun-toting Alfred. It's first-class work from Capullo and colourist FCO. A shout-out, too, to letterers Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt (of Owls? Dentists?) for good-looking calligraphy.

I'm ready for this story to wrap - I know, some hope - but if more individual issues are this good I can take the Court of Waffle awhile longer.

Wonder Woman #7 review

If you've no attachment to the Wonder Woman legend, I can see that this comic could go down well. It's full of relationships that get more interesting by the page, clever moments of action and unexpected revelations.

As a longtime fan of Diana, I enjoyed the introduction of two more of her relatives, Eros, a love god by way of La Dolce Vita and 100 Bullets, and Hephaestus, beastly-looking blacksmith to the gods, arms like Ben Grimm with sunburn. I loved that Diana showed the smith that she doesn't need a deadlier version of her magic lariat, and his later assertion of how its truth abilities work (I'm not saying that I believe them!). I liked the battle with a lava lizard sent by Hades, and Diana's attempt to inspire a revolt among those she sees as oppressed workers.

But would someone please introduce writer Brian Azzarello to the work of Wonder Woman creators William Moulton Marston and Harry Peter? I'm not meaning the bondage business, just the nature of the Amazons. They're warriors, yes, but they're fighting for love. They want to enlighten the world, spread the message of goodness.

They don't, oh, let's take something off the top of my head, seduce sailors for sperm (insert your own seamen/semen gag), turn them into empty husks, then throw them into the sea. They don't, nine months later, swap any newborn boys to Hephaestus in return for weapons.

I get that Azzarello pitched his Wonder Woman run as a horror story. This take on the Amazons fits right in with such an approach, But it's just not an approach that should be used for Wonder Woman's sisters - they're supposed to be the good guys, but here they're monsters. Succubi.

We only have Hephaestus' word for it that this is how things go down, but there's no feeling that he's being duplicitous, and he certainly has a very grateful gang of likely male Amazons working for him. The revelation really soured the first issue I was properly enjoying in ages; it's bad enough that Diana is related to scumbug gods without the other side of the family being beyond vile too.

Back to the good stuff. I like Eros, he's entertainingly Italian. I like Hephaestus, because he saves orphan kids. I like that Diana is smiling here, that she has an easy confidence rather than unearned arrogance. I like that we learn something of the source of Lennox's knowledge. There really is a lot of good craft on display in Azzarello's script - Hephaestus would be proud.
And the artwork of illustrator Cliff Chiang and colourist Matthew Wilson is exemplary, taking us through the story step by good-looking step. Their newest creations, Hephaestus and Eros, fit into this world of ever-surprising god forms, while the lava monster is a hoot and the (reviving a horrible old term, here) Manazons look great in and out of their workwear. And Chiang's cover is a beaut.

I just wish this creative team wouldn't twist Wonder Woman's world quite so much as they're attempting to redefine her for a new century.

Justice League #7 review

In Baltimore, the Justice League saves the day when scientist Dr Samuel Street is infected with a virus he's delivering to government organisation ARGUS. The bug turns him into a monster-man able to create mini-monster men. As well as physically, it brings out the worst in him mentally, causing him to threaten his ex-wife. Putting him down proves ridiculously easy for the League, it's just a matter of force, and with Aquaman, Superman,Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg and Batman to hand, they have power aplenty.

As it turns out, the monster wasn't the point, the fight was set up to give a mysterious background villain the information he needs to defeat the Justice League. And in the opinion of the bad guy - who seems to be David Graves, the cash-in author we met last month - the weak link is their government liaison, ARGENT officer Colonel Steve Trevor.

After his introduction at the start of this run, it's good to finally see how Trevor acts as the League's handler, though it's also disappointing. Good, because we have a Steve who's smart, brave and ready to bat for the League when Congress start tightening the leash, and as a Wonder Woman fan of old, that makes me happy. Disappointing, because the League, hiding away in their satellite above Earth, are like a bunch of bratty frat kids, waiting for their 'parents' to send up another parcel of goodies.

This presentation from writer Geoff Johns is surprising; #7 is set five years after the first storyline and I expected the League to be functioning as a mature team by now, on and off the battlefield. But Green Lantern Hal Jordan is still razzing on Batman, Flash is his super-wingman and there seems to be no real leadership. Wonder Woman is located as the calm presence, raising her eyebrows at the idiot boys. And Batman makes a surprising remark as regards the Justice League International.

It's ironic that while her own book fills its pages with godly posturing, it's in Justice League that we properly meet her most famous supporting characters - as well as Trevor, there's Etta Candy, no longer a chubby white gal but New 52-ed into a skinny ass black lass. I'm going to start a donut collection to send her, this girl doesn't look happy.

We also learn something of Steve's relationship with Diana, and the knowledge made me want to give Steve a hug, the lovesick sap.

Steve's actually the star of this issue, when he's not shooting up the 'Seeds' of 'Spore' to save typically ungrateful citizens, he's standing up to Congress's demands that the League lets one of them visit the Watchtower satellite. He handles the small stuff so that the League can focus on the big stuff. Wonder Woman thinks his work for the Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans is beneath him, though he has his reasons.

Johns' dialogue is pretty good. Hal's daftness and, later, lasciviousness aside, he shows the JL as a focused group when on mission, ready to listen to Cyborg's intel and not needing Batman's guidance. And there's a nice gag involving umbrellas.

Gene Ha provides the art this issue and it's intelligent, atmospheric work. The storytelling is spot on, with even the splash pages earning their keep. And everything is well-coloured by Art Lyon. Fans missing regular artist Jim Lee may enjoy his cover with inker Scott Williams and colourist Alex Sinclair. I do like the gaudiness of the tones.

Cameo lovers will enjoy an appearance by British TV star turned comics writer Jonathan Ross, but not as much as he will (click on image to enlarge).
This issue sees the debut of Shazam - Captain Marvel as was - in the New 52 Universe. Geoff Johns gives us a short yet entertainingly efficient tale of mystical abductions, a moody orphan and a scientist desperate to learn the secrets of magic. As well as meeting a very teenage Billy Batson and an oddly hunky Dr Sivana, we hear the legend of Black Adam and get a close-up of, presumably, the wizard Shazam. And we meet an apparently lovely couple who want to foster Billy to join their existing bunch of kids ... I see a bit of Flashpoint continuity about to cross over.
There's a terrific podcast joke, a man who may be another take on Steve Trevor and an ending ladled with pleasing foreboding. And it's all stonkingly well drawn by Gary Frank and coloured by Brad Anderson.

Finally, an issue of Justice League that's worth the money - two potentially fine stories begin, both filled with intriguing character and incident, and drawn with drama. While the new take on Captain Marvel looks to be miles from my personal preference, for what it is, it could be good.

After the first six issues, I was ready to give up this series, but with the move to the present day, and the addition of a quality back-up strip, the comic steps up several notches. I do hope it can keep it up.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Legion Lost #7 review

Trapped 1,000 years in their past, seven members of the 31st Century's Legion of Super-Heroes search for bio-terrorist Alastor. The trail brings them to New York, where Tellus gets involved with a young woman in need of a hero, and Timber Wolf alleviates the team's need for cash.

The woman needing help is car crash victim Katia, whose stupidity has led to the death of her friends. As she fights for life her subconscious mistakes medics for assailants, and her silent cries are heard by Tellus. Thinking she's in urgent need, he tracks her down and while his colleagues tut at the state of 21st-century medicine, he does what he can to help Katia.

Timber Wolf, meanwhile, goes off half-cocked when he notices a local youth spying on the team, and uses him to steal the profits of a drug gang - after beating them up, of course. While I'm not in favour of pushers keeping their dirty money, neither am I for superheroes lifting it; it'll be interesting to see whether other members' reactions are explored should they learn the source of their newfound cash. I'm not convinced this will be addressed, though, as writer Tom DeFalco and artist Pete Woods treat Timber Wolf's strutting off with the moolah, telling his wannabe sidekick that he's not getting any, semi-humorously - I can hear the plinky plonky Desperate Housewives soundtrack. Yes ...

The Tellus scenes are thoroughly predictable, but at least equal more spotlight time for my favourite telepathic frog and open the doorway to some intrigue.

Speaking of spotlights, I'm sad to report that in his first issue as solo-writer, DeFalco throws out one of the techniques that has made this series so enjoyable - the rotating narrative. I was expecting Chameleon Girl or Gates to be giving us their insights this time, the other members having had a turn, but sadly we get an omniscient narrator. There are decent moments for the characters - Chameleon Girl gets her first sniff of a personality in decades, for one - but I want more.

As for the other members, everyone gets a moment, even if there is more bickering than I'd like - Wildfire, in particular, is back to the grating ways of his earliest years. Overall, though, DeFalco does a creditable job and with luck, as he becomes more familiar with the characters, he'll embrace the narrative-as-baton idea.

On the artistic side, Pete Woods produces more lively work, with highlights this time including Tellus's mindscape and Timber Wolf's first meeting with bad boy Oz. And Brad Anderson's colours do a good job of bringing out the contrast between the New York streets and the private realm of Tellus. And Travis Lanham's letters are unobtrusive, but vital. 

While I'm itching to see the arc plot with Alastor tied up in a neat bow, this is a fine change of pace issue, one that has me rooting for DeFalco. He shows a decent grasp of the set-up and characters, makes the big action scene speak to a story point and delivers a message worth hearing - don't text and drive, kids. 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Saga #1 review

Love and war, they're the concepts on which this new series from Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples is built. So while the details involve other worlds and alien races, the backdrop comprises notions we all understand instinctively.

This first issue sees Marko and Alana become parents while on the run from the armies of Wreath and Landfall, their respective planets. Drafted into opposing armies to fight on a third world, Cleave, they found one another, deserted and donned matching rings. Identifying as husband and wife, having a hybrid baby girl, puts them on everyone's radar - the leaders want them eliminated before their message of love spreads.

So it is that war-weary Prince Robot IV and magical mercenary The Will are commissioned to find and kill Marko and Alana. The interspecies Romeo and Juliet, meanwhile, have no idea of the attention they've brought on themselves, believing that if they can just get offworld, they can make a life for themselves.

There's an awful lot of backstory, and incident in the here and now, in Saga's debut issue, and I've not even attempted to summarise it all. I hope I've given some idea of the core narrative, though it's the specifics that will have me coming back for more. The tender relationship between the lovers. The complex characters assigned to bring them in. Bat-winged secret agent Gale and unicorn-horned Vez, who give IV and The Will their assignments. Ideas such as the Heartbreaker gun, war as something to outsource and a big cat who knows when you're lying. The phrase: 'We've got magic incoming.'

Vaughan brings a script with plenty of colours, nicely paced in its blend of action and character moments. He's matched in craft and style by Fiona Staples, providing full artwork. Every character and setting has a distinctive look and the storytelling is superb; the layouts aren't showy, there are no unnecessary splashes, just page after page of artwork that invites us into the narrative and keeps us there. I particularly like the way Staples translates the beats of Vaughan's script onto the page. And her colouring is very effective, never alien-wacky, 'just' moodily appropriate.

A big hand, too, to letterer Steven Finch for a good-looking, intelligent job (and if he'd like to do something about that snoozer of a logo, I'd be even happier).

The title suggests that we're getting a big story here, and as this opener spans worlds and generations, I'm willing to believe it. Noticing that the first issue is a generous 44 pages of story for $2.99, I thought I'd give it a punt. I'm very glad I did.

I could've lived without robo-buggery, mind ...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Saucer Country #1 review

If Paul Cornell ever gives up penning science fiction, he could make a mint as a political speechwriter. Seriously, the oration at the heart of this Vertigo title's debut issue had me itching to be a fictional American, just so I could vote Arcadia Alvaro in as president.

Mind, if certain beliefs held by the New Mexico governor are made public her chances of reaching the White House are slim. For she's convinced she was abducted by terrifying extraterrestrials, and presidential power is her best shot at protecting Earth from them.

It seems her ex-husband Michael shared whatever she experienced while, over at Harvard, academic Joshua Kidd talks to a pint-size pair of Naturists only he can see. Other characters worth meeting include Arcadia's shady security chief Fausto, right-hand man Harry and speechwriter Chloe. It's obvious Cornell has thought through his characters and storyline at near-atomic level, and I can't wait to see what's to come.

His partner on the book is Ryan Kelly; whose skill at making ordinary people look as if they have actual pasts and inner lives is invaluable on a comic book that can't rely for visual interest on fight scenes and capes. Mind, there are towels.Very sinister towels ...

With new Vertigo titles, the big decision is whether to follow in single issues, or wait for the trade. Snub the singles, of course, and there's no guarantee a series will run long enough for trades to appear. On the basis of this first issue, with two superb storytellers on sparkling form, I'll be buying Saucer Country as it appears monthly. Heck, I'd hate to miss the end because I got abducted.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Batgirl #7 review

Batgirl battles new reprobate Grotesque, whose unique selling point is that he likes the finer things in life. Except shoes ... he's a barefoot bad guy. The devil-masked foe's not exactly dripping with charisma but as filler villains go, he's entertaining enough.

The real reason to buy this issue is a sizeable scene in which Batgirl visits old pal Black Canary to release pent-up frustrations, physically and conversationally. And suddenly, it's like Flashpoint never happened; here's the Barbara and Dinah I know, two fighting females whose firm, feisty friendship makes them stronger (click on image to enlarge).
Best of all, Dinah advises Barbara to pack in the whining about being able to walk once again - her regained mobility is a gift and she should enjoy it, like any sane person would. And so it is that for the rest of the story, Barbara is chirpier, better at being Batgirl. Until the final page, when it's two steps back. I won't spoil the scene, I'm too busy banging my head off the desk.

Happily, there is other good stuff - the returned Barbara Gordon Sr finally visits Commissioner Gordon, having not spoken to him since she walked out a decade previously. We see a surprisingly vulnerable Jim Gordon, and learn something of why, in his wife's eyes, she had to leave.

Regular artist Ardian Syaf draws two-thirds of the issue, with Alitha Martinez handling the central section focusing on Dinah and Big Babs. Talented inker Vicente Cifuentes maintains continuity and everything looks great. The conflict and character scenes are equally strong, no matter who's drawing, but Martinez gets extra points for not presenting the elder Gordon as Barbara's twin.

With luck, this is the storyline in which writer Gail Simone puts Barbara's survivor's/walker's guilt to bed, at least for a good while. Because this could be a great comic, it just needs to stop hobbling itself by dwelling on the past. I was against Barbara walking again, dropping her Oracle role, but the decision was made - if we're not going to embrace the new possibilities, why bother?

And those new possibilities include regular team-ups alongside Black Canary, because they truly bring out the best in one another. DC is retooling the old World's Finest title, which for decades teamed Superman and Batman, as Worlds' Finest, starring Power Girl and Huntress. What I'd like to see is DC cancelling both this book, and the disappointing Birds of Prey, and giving us The Brave and The Bold, starring Batgirl and Black Canary. Written by Gail Simone and pencilled by either of this issue's lead artists, it's a surefire winner. Anyone else?

The Ray #4 review

The Ray is down and almost out. If he's going to save girlfriend Chanti from the reality warping wannabe film director Thaddeus Filmore, Lucien's going to have pull something big out of the bag.

Which he does, unsurprisingly. What is surprising is the way he cleans up after the events of the last few issues, combining his new super-powers with gifts given him by his parents to allow everyone a second chance. The final pages of the book see the Ray enjoy some downtime with Chanti before saving San Diego office workers from human bombs. And the mini-series ends with the Ray receiving an offer to join a certain government organisation.

Bravo to writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, and artists Jamal Igle and Rich Perrotta, for a thoroughly entertaining introduction to the latest incarnation of The Ray. Lucien and his friends and family have been great company and little by little we've seen what our hero can do with his light abilities. His biggest display of power here motivates a bombastic spread from Igle illustrating just what the Ray can do when he's running on instinct.

The rest of the artwork's none too shabby either; I've still not warmed to the hero's visual, but I do love the energy with which it's drawn. And the supporting characters have a humanity that's rare in comics, being seemingly captured rather than posed. Their naturalism matches the easy dialogue of Gray and Palmiotti. Deserved nods, too, to colourist Guy Major and letterer Dave Sharpe for sterling contributions.

I've no real complaints about this issue, just a headscratcher: why is there a credit stating 'The Ray created by Jack C Harris and Joe Quesada'? A Ray, sure, but not this one. And the last Ray wasn't exactly the original, so it's not as if DC can claim Ray Terrill was the source of all Rays. It seems someone had a good agent.

I hope this book has sold enough to bring us, if not an ongoing, an occasional mini-series or special. Lucien is a likeable character with an interesting set-up and I'd like to get to know him better before he's lost among the hubbub of the New 52.

Whatever happens, though, I've had four issues of refreshingly modern superhero fun, and that's nothing to sniff at.

Avengers Assemble #1 review

The movie's not out yet, but here's the comic tie-in. The idea is that this book features the Avengers seen in the film, but in the regular Marvel continuity. So while there's a crowd shot featuring the likes of Wolverine, Spidey and Spider-Woman, the focus is on Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. The green Hulk has his own scene and will presumably join the other heroes soon enough.

The story itself sees the organisation of a new version of villain gang The Zodiac. Soon Aquarius and Taurus are gathering maguffins, bringing them into conflict with our heroes in separate vignettes. Hulk versus a chap made of water makes for a busy, if daft, scene - where's the threat? A bunch of military men get excited and fire stuff, but Hulk vs tapwater, really? HULK SPLASH! The big, scary man-bull that is Taurus make for a more credible opponent, a magical base making him effective against the Avengers' biggest guns.

Credit to writer Brian Michael Bendis for giving us a more action-packed comic than is his habit. His trademark banter works well, with the exception of a needlessly crude request from Clint to Natasha. The idea that this is regular Marvel continuity doesn't quite convince - the Zodiac is set up as if they're the first iteration, Hawkeye and Natasha forget that he was dead awhile back, Aquarius thought Hulk was a myth - but I can live with it. The vibe is close enough to both the comic book and film versions to work.

My favourite dialogue scene is the opening speech from Cancer, a nicely measured call to rally. It's not as snappy as 'Avengers Assemble' but does the job with eloquence.

On the art side, penciller Mark Bagley and inker Danny Miki provide explosive layouts, with the two fight scenes looking great on the page. They don't bother trying for likenesses of the actors (or more likely, aren't allowed to), but God bless Bagley for giving Thor his helmet! The base costumes of the Zodiac members are unprepossessing, but get more interesting as they use their powers.

The artwork benefits greatly from having the superb Paul Mounts as colourist, while Clayton Cowles has a ball with sound effects.

Bagley's cover isn't brilliant, it looks as if the Avengers are trying to balance on some out-of-shot beachball. Black Widow, especially, looks about to fall flat on her face.

Overall, though, this is a decent Avengers book, with a pleasingly old-school feel. I can't see myself coming back next month because the mix of characters isn't my favourite, but I expect Marvel will get a dozen or so issues out of the tie-in. Let's just hope the marketing bods have some grand plan to get this under the noses of fans of the movie who would welcome a jumping-on point. Spinner racks in cinemas? Ads with comic shop addresses on the back of tickets? It's not rocket science, is it?

While there are no credits here for the creators of the various characters, Bryan Hitch gets a nod on the title page for designing Hawkeye's costume. It made me laugh, but in a sad way.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Swamp Thing #7 review

At last. After half a year's worth of Swamp Thing without Swamp Thing, the star of the show steps into the spotlight. It's not a matter of Alec Holland embracing his destiny, so much as making his own future. Here's Alec in a choose-your-own-adventure, with stunning board game layouts from artist Yanick Paquette. The trippy compositions look like the scariest game of Snakes and Ladders ever as Alec and the Parliament of Trees discuss death, and Abby Arcane becomes death. Alec's good looks contrast with the twisted agents of the Rot and the warped beasts who would worship Abby. And as Alec comes to a new understanding of his supposed brethren, the Parliament begins to look as nightmarish as everything else around him.

Almost as scary as the corrupted creations of darkness is the notion that Alec will become the monster that for so long believed it was him. A creature whose memories have been driving him half-mad. But the fact that he's dying helps Alec make his decision. We watch his body transform outwardly, inwardly, on a genetic level, in another memorable vignette from Paquette and colourist Nathan Fairbairn.

And then I cheer, as Alec, for love of Abby, embraces change, becomes a new, more centred Swamp Thing - the green knight needed to take on first the Rot, then the Red. Abby, meanwhile, thinks only of Alec as she morphs into ... what?

Writer Scott Snyder took a risk by making us wait for Swamp Thing's comeback - I dropped several New 52 titles after a single issue - but I'm glad he did. He's let us get to know the man before he becomes the monster, and now we're assured that man and monster are truly one at last. Swamp Thing is made of grass and branches and mulch but he has a heart, a soul. Real humanity rather than a fading copy.

And I'm more excited than ever to see where this book goes next. Hopefully the Rot and Red storylines will be over by the end of the first year and new horrors will emerge. And maybe even a few delights. So long as Snyder and Paquette are guiding Alec and friends, I'll be there.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Justice League International #7 review

The first word I ever learnt from comics was 'ironic'. Reading handed-down Silver Age Superman family books you could barely get through an issue without a 'How ironic (choke)'. That nutty phrase stuck with me to the extent that it almost became the name of this blog (on Earth 2, it is the name of this blog).

So .... how ironic (choke) that after defeating a being able to destroy entire planets, the JLI is brought down by an earthbound  bomb. Members live, members die, all due to the actions of someone who doesn't want the new team to carry on. Detonated as the JLI were lauded by the UN last issue, the bomb hits heroes and civilians alike, meaning the JLI members able to fight on this month spend their time rescuing victims. The squabbles of previous issues are benched as Leaguers rally to save as many people as possible.

This means that the new villain behind the explosion, Lightweaver, is able to stay off JLI leader Booster Gold's radar until he chooses to make himself known. His sinister solid light creations, on the other hand, attack the heroes throughout the issue.

Also on the attack is UN Security Chief Chairwoman Bao, who steps forward, mid-battle, to tell the JLI - who have just saved the planet from doom - that the UN is withdrawing its backing because they attract trouble. Being adults with bigger things to worry about, like keeping this thoroughly stupid woman alive, they ignore her idiotic demand to cease and desist superheroing, on threat of a lawsuit.

Like they should care when one member is in a hospital bed, two are on operating tables and a third is on a slab. Who's who? I'll let you discover that for yourself.

Well done to writer Dan Jurgens for an issue that's come out of nowhere and slapped me around the chops. A lack of spoilers meant the deaths in this issue - it's not just a JLI member who pays a price for idealism - genuinely surprised and saddened me. And such reactions mean I'll keep following this book rather than its solicitations. Watch and learn,  marketing men.

Jurgens' script is solidly serious without being depressing. Booster narrates and while his personality is intact, there's no flightiness here; a colleague has been lost, and friends hurt, on his watch. He's going to go after the people behind the atrocity, just as soon as he's sure as many innocents as possible have been saved. And it's not just Booster who benefits from Jurgens' deft touch, all the heroes aquit themselves well, and all have their own voice. The only person in the book I don't believe in is Chairwoman Bao - she's too big an idiot even for a comic book politician.
Drawing the script, penciller Aaron Lopresti and inker Matt Ryan provide solid, good-looking superheroics, all coloured with pizzazz by Hi-Fi (click on image to enlarge). I especially like their subtle body language. My only quibble is that while the energy creatures created by Lightweaver are referred to as a threat on the first few pages, they're barely visible. At the very least there should be an establishing shot - if you manage to spot them before page five (and they are there) you win a prize. Probably.

The art team regains a few points for a cracking depiction of a surprise guest on the final page. It'll be interesting to see how this guy fits in.

On the cover, David Finch, Rich Friend and Peter Steigerwald give us their take on a classic comic book scenario. Works for me.

I sort-of said it last time and I'll say it again. This Justice League book is so far ahead of the Geoff Johns/Jim Lee 'flagship' League title in terms of story, plot, script and artwork that it's just silly. DC should be promoting  it a lot more.

Night Force #1 review

There are dark corners in the DC Universe, areas so secret that even the mystical heroes doesn't notice the evil that lurks there. But one man does. Baron Winters, master of Wintersgate Manor in Washington's Georgetown, is ever on the alert. He claims an aristocratic heritage but some say he's merely a jumped-up carny. One thing's for sure - upset the baron and you'll be staring into the face of his cheetah companion, Merlin.

The baron is back in this seven-part mini-series and while he's changed physically since we saw him last - he's gone from sinister to almost sexy - he's recognisably the same guy. Still manipulating unwitting pawns for the greater good, giving them only the information that serves his purposes, and if they get killed along the way, well, these things happen.

In this debut by Marv Wolfman and Tom Mandrake, Winters brings in two new members for his ever-changing 'Night Force', cop Jim Duffy and student Zoe Davis. Duffy is beginning his last day on the force whereas Zoe has just survived a murderous attack. Soon the pair are knee deep in shadowy demons, dodgy federal agents and mystical conspiracies (click on image to enlarge).
And I love it. Tom Mandrake conjures up a world in which the bogeyman isn't under the bed, he's sitting on it and climbing towards you. Pages drip with darkness and gothic detail, angles unsettle and eerie artworks frame the frames. And what Mandrake doesn't show with his pencils and inks, Wolfman tells with his well-honed words. The Night Force concept, which he created with Tomb of Dracula partner Gene Colan, allows Wolfman to play to the horror strengths he developed on that Marvel book back in the Seventies. His words describe a world of horror, in which ordinary men and women stand little chance of surviving the dark powers that surround them. The only hope is to confront your fears head on and trust someone, somwhere is watching out for you. And even if you live, there's no guarantee you'll retain your body parts. Or sanity.

Sure, the tropes are familiar - a girl who dreams of devil worshippers; a cop who's braver than he knows; a man who knows much, but says little; a house of secrets and mystery - but they're blended into an intriguing mystery with such style and confidence that Night Force reads as fresh as any of DC's New 52 series.

Credit, too, to colourist Wes Hartman, who knows when to apply bright tones without wrecking the mood, and letterer Wes Abbott, whose urgent style recalls Tomb of Dracula letterer John Costanza.

Hartman also colours Leonardo Manco's cover, a beautifully composed and executed piece of work marred by the linewide We Can Be Heroes banner forcing the sharp new logo too far down into the image area.

Never mind, this remains a fine package for just $2.99. Plotted with Byzantine skill, drawn with sinister grace, Night Force deserves to be sampled by all fans of horror comics.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Green Arrow #7 review

Take three girls. Three attractive, deadly girls. Triplets with massive assets. And never mind their brains, they're stunning to boot - this is comics - and their blonde charms prove useful for getting Green Arrow's attention.

Along with hundreds of tiny arrows aimed at his head.

Ann Nocenti gets her run as writer off to a splendid start, presenting an Oliver Queen who's just having fun. Throw anything at him, and the unflappable archer will toss back a quip worthy of Ian Fleming. Or perhaps a line from Shakespeare. Along with a killer judo move and maybe even one of those arrows he's named after. This is an Oliver Queen channeling Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man, a guy so bright he's constantly fighting boredom. So when three girls show up inviting him back to Daddy's place in Canada to look at the arrows they've invented for him, and they include flak, six-shooter and 'mindprick' arrows, of course he's going to go. They may be trying to play him, but if so, well, Ollie knows a thing or two about (ahem) shafts.

The Skylark sisters sound like a lounge act, but they're not to be dismissed; think Marvel's Stepford  Cuckoos with incredible toys. Not that this bunch constitutes a group mind - there's a rebel in the nest, and whether that makes her their strongest asset or a weak link remains to be seen.

This really is a delightful surprise, the Green Arrow book DC should have given us from the start of the New 52. I packed in this series with #2, but I'm back and can see myself hanging around awhile. From the story's punning title, Triple Treat, to the final spread showing that Ollie's flights of fancy have consequences, this is a tremendous read.

Away from the adventure, Ollie quits his boring job as the public face of Q-Core, and thank goodness for that - it just doesn't suit his devil-may-care ways. That butterfly mind of his, along with his athletic skills, is better employed out in the field (click on image to enlarge).
Nocenti's not the only newcomer this issue, with Harvey Tolibao signing on as artist. There are some rough edges - he hasn't a good handle on upward angles, making for a few Egg-Fu-like physogs. But his storytelling's good, he doesn't skimp on backgrounds, the action scenes come off and the work is just plain interesting to look at. As for the dodgy upshots, a study session focusing on the great Gil Kane nostril-shots should help. Tolibao's style reminds me a little of the early work of Richard Piers Rayner and Mark Buckingham, which isn't a bad place to start. With an old hand editing this book - the excellent Joey Cavalieri - Tolibao could come on in leaps and bounds. The first tweak I'd make would be to lose the presumably realistic light marbling on the goggles - Green Arrow's a hero who lets his personality play and we need to see his eyes.

The rest of the creative team - that's Richard and Tanya Horie colouring and Rob Leigh lettering - play their parts to perfection, supporting Nocenti and Talibao all the way. Howard Porter provides the dramatic cover while Hi-Fi adds the tones. And ... Blimey O'Reilly... this book actually has a weapons consultant, Raphael Pierson Sante. Well done that man (any chance of making me a mindprick arrow!).

This is, as they say, a perfect jumping-on point. I hope plenty of people dive in

Avengers: The Children's Crusade #9 review

Last issue, Stature died fighting Dr Doom. Now the question is, should the assembled Young Avengers, Avengers, X-Men and X-Factor allow Iron Lad to take Cassie's corpse into the timestream in the hope that future medicine can bring her back?

The answer leads to the brutal loss of another Young Avenger, a second going down a very dubious path and a turning point for the remaining members. They've been through a lot since they gathered after the tragic events of Avengers Disassembled. Now, not only are the adult Avengers back as a team - several teams, actually - but the woman who wrought so much chaos that day, the Scarlet Witch, has returned too, her sanity back. It's time for everyone to take a breath and decide where to go from here.

Her father and brother, Magneto and Quicksilver, want to spend time with Wanda. Cyclops orders her to make amends for wrecking the lives of thousands of mutants on M-Day. The Scarlet Witch herself wants to be a mother to Young Avengers Speed and Wiccan, while doing what she can for the people she - however inadvertently - hurt.

As for the Young Avengers, they act like the adult original team and decide to split up, go their own way for awhile. Months, in fact, as this long-delayed mini-series catches up with the current Marvel Universe. We see members ignore crisis after crisis, donning costumes again only when summoned by Captain America for a ceremony at Avengers Mansion. The then-destroyed property was the scene of the teenagers' first gathering, by the statues of Avengers lost in battle. Now the rebuilt mansion is the setting as events come full circle, putting a cap not just on this mini-series, but on the first phase of the Young Avengers' existence.

Because they'll be back. Even as they go into retirement here, Speed reckons it won't last, and Hulking hopes that's the case. Meanwhile, this book has finally laid the appalling story that was Avengers Dissassembled to rest. Wanda is back, Ant-Man Scott Lang is alive again, Dr Doom has claimed 'credit' for the crisis ... Hawkeye and the Vision both returned in the Avengers series proper. And the Young Avengers can make their own way in the world, free from the responsibility of replacing the adult heroes before their time.

This is, overall, a gloomy read, with heroes understandably not in the cheeriest of moods. They're exhausted and, frankly, so am I. Those delays I mentioned have taken away from the initial excitement of having the Young Avengers back, as this book existed in a strange limbo apart from the rest of the Marvel Universe. The catching-up page is necessary, but it means that a scene which, really, should have occurred about a week after the main story comes months later for no reason other than, perhaps, Alicia Masters having a busy schedule. And what exactly has Wanda been doing all this time? She's not been a presence in the Marvel Universe during this period. Plus, there are so many little chats to be had in Allan Heinberg's script that there's no room for a big, cathartic splash of the Young Avengers going into the sunset. You know, the plucky survivors watched over by cheery ghosts. Instead, the final panel is a mix of Young and adult Avengers and some woman I don't recognise being hugged by Hulking. Jessica Drew? A second on-panel Kate-Hawkeye? Probably it's Cassie's proud mom, but who can tell?

Before that we do get a big picture of two of our heroes sharing a big moment, which is sweet. I'm sure One Million (Bigoted) Moms will be thrilled. It's the happiest scene in the book, so I'll take it. Actually, it's the only happy scene - this really is an issue for the Gloomy Guses among us. Artists Jim Cheung and Mark Morales have little in the way of fun moments to illustrate, and the only action echoes one of the nastiest parts of Avengers Disassembled. Still, what they do get to draw looks pretty good. The transition page between then and now, with Wiccan in the same pose over several frames as Hulking reacts to the world around them, is a great rendering of Heinberg's clever narrative device.

I've enjoyed previous issues, but am left feeling flat by this conclusion. While the tragedies that hit the Young Avengers act as a neat bookend to their first phase, I think the heroes deserve better. They were keepers of the Avengers flame when there was no one else, and it'd be nice to see them all alive, together and being thrown a parade. As it is, given Marvel's reluctance to have anyone but Heinberg and Cheung tell the team's stories, it could be a long time before we see them again. Let's hope not.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Legion: Secret Origin #5 review

The Legion's first attempt to recruit Superboy in the 21st century is stymied when an unknown, powerful force reaches out and tosses their new time bubble back to the future. In the 31st century that same being is possessing United Planets security wallah Mycroft and ordering him to kill Legion benefactor RJ Brande.

Having returned to their own time without Superboy, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad join their teammates in outer space, to take on the unidentified warships entering UP territory. It's their first time fighting outside Earth's atmosphere, but the tyro team takes out their enemy, with much of the credit going to newest member Ultra Boy.

As the book closes, with Mycroft about to spring a trap on Brande, we see that the being who's taken him over is ... the Time Trapper.

Well, probably. That's my interpretation of the shadowy figure drawn by artists Chris Batista and Marc Deering. And it makes sense, given this villain's apparent mastery over time. We'll find out for sure next month, in the conclusion to DC's latest origin of the Legion (collect 'em all!).
My favourite moment this time isn't one of the strands already mentioned, but a tiny bit of characterisation involving Phantom Girl and Triplicate Girl; it's nice to see the beginnings of the Legion's classic couples (click on image to enlarge). Well, one of' 'em, anyway - Triplicate Girl never got further than mooning over Superboy in previous continuities.

Other commendable bits of characterisation in Paul Levitz's breezy script see Invisible Kid showing Brainiac 5 that while he may be as clever as he thinks he is, others have smarts too; and Gim Allon being colossally cheesey.

The art's bright and bold, as befits a Legion origin, but Batista over-elongates his characters, at times. The black-clad Invisible Kid, in particular, looks for all the world like he should be going by Stick of Licorice Lad.

With five down and one issue to go, I can't see this mini-series coming up with an ace now to blow me away. This most detailed retelling yet of the Legion's beginnings is a pleasant read, but entirely missable. Really, it's only for longtime fans with pockets as big as Colossal Boy's.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Shade #5 review

Anyone for a drop of La Sangre? Barcelona's vampire heroine, previously seen in Shade writer James Robinson's underrated Superman run, steals the show in this instalment of the 12-part Starman spin-off. Gentleman thief and occasional hero Richard Caldecott, the Shade, seeks out La Sangre to ask for her help with a family matter. But while she's willing to give it, a more immediate problem shows its ugly head - her arch nemesis, the Inquisitor, is back, and baying for her blood.

It may seem odd that a book with several dark moments left me with a silly grin on my face; the thing is, this comic is delightful. From Robinson's frothy script to Javier Pulido's sprightly art by way of Hilary Sycamore's colours and Todd Klein's letters, I had a ball.

First off, that script. It's blood and blood ties and blood feuds, quests and jests and tests. We learn something new about the Shade's past and nature, and how La Sangre - the happiest vampire you ever did see - came to be. Robinson is a gifted storyteller, tossing his clever little tales at one another and letting them collide and connect in a game of narrative billiards. I can't tell you whether I'm more interested in Darnell Caldecott's search for truth, La Sangre's latest tussle with the Inquisitor or Shade's flashback to an encounter with pirates - all are compelling, in their own way. And I love that in a DC Universe containing a vampire as heroically gloomy as Andrew Bennett - namechecked here - there exists a young woman who uses her dark gifts to be a superhero.

As a Spaniard, Pulido is perfectly placed to present a Barcelona-set tale - you won't be surprised to learn Robinson tailored it to his talents. So we get a pitch perfect depiction of Gaudi's La Padrera building, hero and villain fighting during the Spanish Civil War and a stroll down the more surreal streets of today's Barcelona. Best of all, there's the pixie-ish La Sangre, Little Red Riding Hood with a bit of Bad Wolf in her veins. Pulido also does a fantastic Shade, strikingly handsome in his Mandrake the Magician topper.

And while I'm not a fan of repeated images, there's one spread in here that's so creative, that works so well, that it was awhile before I noticed he'd apparently used the one central image in a dozen different ways. Deadline saver or experiment? I suspect the latter, and if so, it works.
Pulido does great action sequences too, his characters moving with a balletic grace rare on the comics page. And it's all intelligently, beautifully coloured by Sycamore - subdued here, Pop Art bright there - it's unashamed comic book colouring rather than overly modelled attempts at naturalism.

And laying down the lettering is the legendary Todd Klein, master craftsman and cracking cook (I'm not sure a vegetarian should be lettering this issue, but I'll let it go). While Klein never gets showy for the sake of it, if a character suggests a distinctive font treatment he's happy to oblige, and that's what the Inquisitor gets here.

All this, and a killer cover from Tony Harris.

The Shade #5 is another riveting chapter in the life of DC's most charming rogue. Don't miss it.