Saturday, 30 June 2012

Glasgow Comic Con 2012

The front of house staff?
It was over to the west today for the second Glasgow Comic Convention. A small but fun affair, the big name guests included Alan Grant, Jim Starlin, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I missed Grant's chat, but enjoyed Starlin on stage with ComX publisher Eddie Deighton and Tank Girl artist Rufus Dayglo, talking about cosmic comics. Starlin was sanguine about Marvel not bothering to tell him about his creation, Thanos, appearing in the Avengers film; the charming Deighton suggested we take a look at the appeal page for the proposed Jack Kirby Museum; and Dayglo spoke of turning down Vertigo jobs due to their unoriginality while effing rather a lot for an event with several little kids present.
Where's Wally? Vulcan!
Quitely and Morrison spoke about how they began working together on such revered titles as Earth 2, We3, X-Men and All-Star Superman. Quitely said: "If it's a choice between working with Grant or some other writer then I go with Grant because he's the best." The ever-genial Morrison looked rather touched. Talking a little about his long-promised Multiversity project for DC, Morrison said the nine-issue series would re-establish the DC multiverse, and feature the likes of the Society of Super-Beings, the Master Men and the Just. One of the issues, Pax Americana, will be a collaboration with Quitely featuring the Charlton characters, and as Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Captain Atom and co inspired Watchmen, Morrison said he'd be taking his structural cues from that project, 'because nobody has really done anything with it'. This means an eight-panel - not nine - grid structure 'based on harmonics' (I have no idea what this means, but it'll likely bemuse me as much as Superman's singing did in Infinite Crisis).
Is this a Clea shot of Dr Strange?
The moment that really grabbed me was Morrison revealing that there'll be communication between worlds via comic books - characters on individual earths will be considered fictional in the others, with seven publishers across the multiverse telling their adventures. I love that he's going right back to the Flash's debut in 1956's Showcase #4, when Barry Allen was reading the adventures of Jay Garrick. "It's a bit of a puzzle box," said Morrison of the project's structure.
The Hobbit was negatively criticised for his smooth feet
The costume contest proved fun, with Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and the inevitable Dr Who. The winner was Eclipso (Jean Loring version), in a fantastic home-made outfit. Other favourites included Spider-Scotsman, the Black Cat and Dr Strange.
Black Cat, Spider-Scotsman and 'Mr Batman'
The contest organisation could have done with a bit of sharpening up - a bunch of wrestlers were cluttering up the stage, and when they broke into a pretend fight, no one could see it for the contestants; and blaring DC New 52 style grunge rock music drowned out much of the chat.
Eclipso steps into the light
Like last year, there were a few organisational problems, chief among them, the fact that the venue - the beautiful, Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Queen's Cross Church in Maryhill - is ruddy awful for a convention. Yes, the pews mean there's lots of seating for panels, but the acoustics are terrible and for some reason the organisers haven't bothered to hire cheap roving mics. So unless the person next to you is asking the question, you've no chance of knowing what the guests on stage think they're asking.
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Obviously
Plus, the space is basically the old church nave, a couple of rooms for selling comics and toys, and two tiny toilets. Some small press folk are shoved into dark corners. Refreshments are sold, from a titchy kitchen, but there's nowhere to just hang out. And the narrow aisles ensure you're constantly being elbowed. An extra hall over the road this year means there's space for more vendors and artist signings, but that too was chockablock with people. 
Harley Quinn (who lunched with us in a nearby cafe!) and Poison Ivy
I'm not ungrateful, I appreciate that a lot of effort goes into organising a con - chums of mine ran UKCAC and GlasCAC for years - and I did enjoy the day. But as last year, the chaos of the venue didn't encourage me to stay and spend money. Mind, it could be that the organisers appreciate that there's room for improvement, selling me this fine shirt ...
Suck it in, boy
I'll definitely be back at Glasgow Comic Con next year (if this post doesn't get me barred), but if the event could be held at one of Glasgow's universities, or a dedicated meeting venue, things would be much better.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Justice League #10 review

David Graves, who has been kidnapping enemies of the Justice League and torturing them for information, strikes. He invades the team's satellite and assaults the members with memories of loss that leave them gnarled husks. Along the way we learn how Graves was granted power by minor gods and perhaps acts as a conduit to feed them energies. And Wonder Woman shows us her fulsome breasts.

Oh, is that not a story point? You could be forgiven for being confused - every time Diana appears her breasts are fighting to stay inside her costume. Penciller Jim Lee is so focused on Diana's decolletage that when a splash shows the League turning towards the just-arrived Graves, she faces the wrong direction, looks towards the floor.
All the better to show off the Wonder-tits, my dear. They don't deflate even when the Amazon Princess becomes a walking skeleton.

Jim Lee is the co-publisher of DC Comics - is this really how little he thinks of us? Is this how little he thinks of Wonder Woman? I fear it is ...

And Geoff Johns' script is a backslide in quality compared to the last couple of issues. Aquaman is the butt of the general public's jokes once more. Green Lantern is an emerald ass. Cyborg projects holograms of villains that are less clear than a mobile phone snap. Superman is sniffy and distant. Flash is paranoid. Wonder Woman is a loose cannon liability.

Batman's OK, actually. 

There is, though, no way that I can believe these people have had one another's backs for five years - some of them can barely bear to be in the same room.

And while Graves' magical power is classic Silver Age silliness, his design is Modern Age awful - high collar and corset exposing the images of his late family carved into his ivory flesh. Or maybe manifesting from it, it's not clear.

And it's annoying that we're being teased about details of Wonder Woman's life that should be revealed in her own series. It seems Diana considers Steve Trevor simply a friend, on the same level as the unnamed Apache woman she visits once a month. It's intriguing. but given the Dallas With Gods soap that is her home book, Lord knows when we'll find out more.

It's sad that the biggest kick I got this time was an offhand reference to Eighties JLA legend Vibe. Yet I know that writer Geoff Johns and penciller Jim Lee can do so much better.

The 'other' Geoff Johns writes the back-up Shazam feature. The guy whose scripts eschew bombast for character building. The one who allows his players' personalities to reveal themselves rather than leap out and sock us in the kisser. I really like that Geoff Johns.

Here, Johns shows us Billy Batson's vulnerable side, reveals his surprising best friend and begins forging a bond between Billy and foster brother Freddy Freeman. He also catches us up on Sivana's search for magic and introduces a powerful new/old player. The script is subtle and satisfying, and perfectly envisioned by artist Gary Frank, whose facility with character 'acting' gets better by the issue; few artists can match Frank for realistically expressive faces.

So the supporting feature outshines the main attraction. Little Billy Batson and his mundane battles are more compelling than the 'world's greatest superheroes' fighting for their lives.

If Johns and Lee concentrate more on telling a good story with the League, and less on Kewl Moments and fake-looking breasts, they could turn things around. Soon would be nice.

Superman Family Adventures #2 review

Is it wrong that my favourite depiction of Superman currently being published by DC is in a kids' book? I love Art Baltazar's clean, square-jawed version of the hero - even in the new costume, he looks good.

There's another super-guy in this issue, but he's less friendly looking - Bizarro, backwards-speaking brute from an opposite-Earth. Here he menaces Jimmy Olsen and the citizens of Metropolis, before Supergirl tames him. He's soon causing trouble again, though, as he rampages around the Fortress of Solitude: freeing animals from Superman's alien zoo, leering at the 'widdle people' of Kandor, scattering Kryptonite samples and generally disturbing the Tiny Titans' TV night. Watching Supergirl and Superboy clean up after him is a hoot.

Where last month's issue contained a full-length story, this issue follows Art and co-writer Franco's Tiny Titans formula of splitting the action into shorter strips; the decision pays off, making each vignette seem more special, and allowing a side story with super-pets Streaky and Fuzzy the Krypto Mouse.

This issue also sees Jimmy given a gift by Superman, Jor-El the hologram show off his new suit and Jimmy's pals introduced.
TV transplant Cloe (wot, no 'H'?) is rather the colourful dresser - methinks Jimmy Olsen is going to be having suspicions very soon.

All in all, this is another colourful romp from the first page - which echoes last issue's opening - to the feature section which closes the comic. Art and Franco gleefully embrace the Silver Age of Superman in a way that will hopefully appeal to today's children as much as it appeals to me.

The Hypernaturals #1 review

The Hypernaturals are the Quantinuum's protectors. The team has existed, with various line-ups, for 100 years, but the latest version - the 21st - has vanished on their debut mission. Can former members Bewilder and Thinkwell, and new kids Shoal and Halfshell, find them ... and the billions of ordinary people they teleported across space to save?

Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Brad Walker's sci-fi super-team concept debuted with a zero issue on Free Comics Day earlier this year, but if you've not read that, dive right in anyway. They couldn't make it any easier, presenting not just an engrossing story, but prefacing it with background material and supplementing it with a magazine-style focus on Bewilder. There are even a couple of in-world adverts to add texture.

The name doesn't give much away, but Bewilder has a super-speed power. And if you want fast, by the end of this issue writers Abnett and Lanning have already gifted her more depth than you see in creations who've been around for years. The other leads get less focus, which makes sense - sharing out the spotlight across a few issues ensures it doesn't become dissipated. I certainly got enough of the other Hypernaturals to care what happens to them, and I'm looking forward to a couple of other retired members signing back on - Clone 45, who's fallen on hard times, and Prismatica, whose partner was killed by the villain, Sublime.

Ah yes, Sublime. With his 'class thirteen hyper intellect' he surpasses Brainiac 5 from DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, which is likely former LSH scribes Abnett and Lanning 'aving a larf. We meet him in flashback, bidding to end the age of the Quantinuum, the artificial intelligence running not just the Hypernaturals, but human culture throughout the galaxy. It seems to be a benevolent partner for Man, but who knows, perhaps it's actually holding 'us' back.

That's a question for future issues. This one is concerned with world and character building. And the designs of Brad Walker pull their weight in this department. The heroes are different enough to look new, but familiar enough so as not to distance us - the most unusual in appearance is Thinkwell, with his deathly pale skin, cold eyes and mental ink dripping complicated equations from long fingers. But his dialogue and actions tell us that Poul Indersun (presumably a tribute to SF writer Poul Anderson - sadly, I'm not well read enough in the genre to pick up on similar tributes here) is a good egg. Refreshingly, a conversation with Bewilder, aka Creena Hersh, demonstrates that unlike other SF geniuses (Mr Spock, the aforementioned Brainiac 5), he understands human relations well enough.

Bewilder looks like the kind of hero Alans Moore and Davis might have come up with for the Special Executive - there's a real vibrancy to her appearance. Halfshell's armour is amusingly clunky, while Shoal (below right) reminds me of onetime Legion member Gear (left), but with a reversed haircut. And don't tell me that's not the Legion 'L' in Interlac on his sweatshirt before he dons the (rather ugly) team suit!



















Another Legion link? Well, here's one more - sharing the pencils with Walker is Andres Guinaldo, who also pops up in the latest Legion of Super-Heroes. Guinaldo, working with Mark Irwin and Mariano Taibo, draws most of the issue, but his style meshes well with Walker's. Not knowing the breakdown of work, I'll simply say that all the illustrators keep the story moving with pep and personality.

But none of them draw the cover - that's Francesco Mattina, and it's very nicely crafted, if not representative of the art style inside. Other covers are available ...

With such an assured, entertaining debut, the Hypernaturals more than earns its place on the crowded shelves. It's from Boom! Studios and definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Justice League Dark #10 review

John Constantine and his ragtag Justice League Dark dare to enter the House of Mystery.

Not that getting in is difficult - Constantine has a key, and proprietorial privileges to the property, 'one of two twin [sic] houses that exist at the cross section of all space and time'. Specifically, he has a demon servant, N'aall, and a hold over anyone who accepts his invitation to enter. So even though his reluctant colleagues may leave, he can always summon them back.

Zatanna and Deadman aren't happy about this, but they see the sense in helping Constantine with his quest to find the legendary Books of Magic. Having grabbed the map to the Books' hidden location from old Justice League enemy Felix Faust, he plans to track them down.

Meanwhile in Washington DC, Faust is questioned by government agent Steve Trevor - tortured, if truth be told - and he reveals that he's boobytrapped the box holding the map. Even as they speak, his Demons Three are attacking the League, with the aim of bringing the Books back to him.

And in Greenwich Village, the occultist Madame Xanadu's vision tells her that letting Constantine find the texts would doom the world.

So, the House of Mystery makes its DC New 52 debut, but without its most famous caretaker, Cain - presumably because the team recently fought a less cuddly version of the first murderer. Instead we have N'aall, who looks to be your standard sarcy servant, Alfred with bat-wings. And unwelcome guests in the form of the Demons Three.

The dynamic between our heroes - Constantine, Zatanna, Deadman, Dr Mist, Black Orchid and vampire Andrew Bennett - continues to be sparky without getting wearisome. We see what Mist's powers are, and find that Black Orchid isn't someone to cross. Zee learns that Constantine lied to her last issue (as I feared), while Deadman wants to leave, but reckons John is right that the Books of Magic shouldn't fall into the hands of any government, which is what would happen were they to turn the map over to their handler, Trevor. Bennett does leave, irked by Constantine's manipulations, but his newly forged link to the House means he'll be back.

In terms of character and narrative, writer Jeff Lemire is delivering. The plot is well-worked, the dialogue sparky and he isn't afraid to tap into DC's mystical toybox to show how big the magical universe is. The script isn't perfect, though - Dr Mist's usage of 'my dear' a couple of times is beyond cheesy; maybe he's trying too hard to play the mystic. And Constantine is referred to as 'the limey bastard' by two different characters over the course of four pages - has anyone really used the term 'Limey' since, oh, I dunno, the Second World War?

More seriously, I don't like Trevor's use of torture to get Faust to talk - this is Steve Trevor, traditionally the noblest of American military men; he should be above that.

I do like that Trevor's assistant is called Von Eeden. Put them together and you get Trevor Von Eeden, under-appreciated Eighties stylist. I also like Mikel Janin's expressive artwork, which really sells the idea that this corner of the DC Universe is just that little bit different. He's also first-rate at capturing the tension between the various heroes. Now, if only he and colourist Ulises Arreola would be kind enough to give the Demons Three their classic looks back - here, they appear to be rock creatures rather than the motley monstrosities of old - things would be perfect.

Topping off the issue is a splendid homage to probably the most famous House of Mystery cover, and it's typical of the care the creative team is putting into this offbeat superhero comic.

Batman Incorporated #2 review

Last issue closed with Robin apparently dead at the hands of a bounty hunter. This issue, we catch up with Damian's mother, Talia, the woman who put the price on his head, as she visits her father, Ra's al-Ghul, master of the League of Assassins.

There's not much in the way of progression so far as the story begun last time goes;  the damned Damian and his father, Batman, don't appear. At least not in the present, anyway. For this is Talia's tale, and the stars of the book take the role of supporting players as we travel through the life of the Daughter of the Demon, and see what makes her tick.

Promised the world by her father, she'd rather just have a mother around. Ra's has told her she died in childbirth, but Talia knows him to be the 'Lord of Lies'. He tries to distract her with gifts ('I always wanted my own secret headquarters under London, thank you', says Talia, as she takes over the place of a certain Devil Doctor of Limehouse), but as she grows from terror toddler to woman of wiles, Talia's curiosity won't be denied, and she turns to astrology for answers. Alongside a meeting she never expected, Talia gets the beginnings of an MO that will serve her well.

And in the present day, she finally makes her demon daddy proud.

I've never been a fan of the al-Ghuls - too James Bond for me, they've tended to take Batman away from Gotham to adventures on the international stage that didn't suit him. But this is Batman Incorporated, and trans-continental crimefighting is in its DNA, and it's something writer Grant Morrison presents exceedingly well. Here he, fittingly, incorporates old continuity points along with new details into a tapestry of Talia that lends her a measure of sympathy. Manoeuvred by her father into a one-sided love affair with 'the Detective' to further his own ends, Talia winds up hating both men. I'm not convinced we yet know her true feelings for Damian, only that if she really wanted his head, he'd be dead.

The theme of this issue may be misguided love, but there's no ambiguity in my feelings for Chris Burnham's artwork - I'd pledge my troth in an instant. Burnham captures Talia's usual haughty poise, but adds real vulnerability. Raised to be a suitable heir to her father - or at least, to birth him a spare body - she's never been allowed to relax, just be a little girl. And this fact is all over Burnham's elegantly composed pages ... his Talia has charisma to spare, and I look forward to seeing more of her.

Burnham also manages to draw Ra's at a global pop fundraiser and have him fit in - no mean feat when we're talking a hulk of a man with supervillain hair and no eyebrows. Add in the economic nous Morrison bequeath's Ra's, and you can believe the mysterious Melisande is drawn to him. Also, with colourist Nathan Fairbairn, Burnham pulls off Morrison's cinematic opening spread, which sets the tone for father and daughter's troubled dealings.

Burnham and Fairbairn's cover speaks for itself, a movie style poster that hints at the goodies ahead. I can't wait to consume them.


Friday, 22 June 2012

Legion of Super-Heroes #10 review

Brainiac 5 and Dream Girl have been kidnapped by the Dominators and locked up on the planet Panoptes. They want to add the Legion genius' DNA to their gene pool, and are considering a new caste with Naltorian-style precognition. On Earth, the United Planets has banned the Legion from mounting a rescue mission because there's no strong evidence that the Dominators are behind the vanished pair. Leader Cosmic Boy sneaks into the Dominator embassy in 31st-century Metropolis to find the evidence that will untie his hands.

Not all Legionnaires are willing to sit back and wait for the UP's go-ahead. Dream Girl's partner, Star Boy, resigns and organises a team of non-serving heroes comprising Legion Academy instructors Duplicate Damsel and Bouncing Boy, and students Mwindaji and Otaki.

Dream Girl nods off in the hope of receiving a helpful prophecy, and finds good news and very, very bad. Then she and Brainy are attacked over a most unappetising lunch.

And on a Legion cruiser, we see that the rescue team has a secret weapon ...

What is the sound of one hand typing? Because my other one is clapping right now, applauding writer Paul Levitz for his best Legion script in years. With each issue, he finds more of the old magic and this chapter is as good a Legion story as I could wish for.

There are surprises in the form of stodgy old Cosmic Boy turning spy, and the membership of the rescue team. Action as Dream Girl and Brainiac fight off deceptively cute Dominator drones. Characterisation with married Legionnaires Duplicate Damsel and Bouncing Boy reminding Cosmic Boy that Legionnaires don't bow down to politicians when their own are in peril. And new faces in the form of tracker Mwindaji and telepath Otaki.

And while there are nods to Legion history as Duplicate Damsel discusses her deaths, and Brainy and Dream Girl recall previous imprisonments, they're so brief in the former case, and subtle in the latter, that any new readers won't be put off. With luck, they'll be pulled in by a clearly told, pacy story showing how Legionnaires react under different types of pressure, whether it be political or life-threatening.

I've a couple of favourite moments: Dream Girl's reaction to news that the Dominators have ranked the Legion members according to how dangerous they're considered; and Duplicate Damsel's response to Bouncing Boy's fretting about their endangering students (click on image to enlarge).
Both scenes speak to character and history, while moving the story along - Levitz really does know what he's doing.

As does artist Francis Portela, who pencils and inks 'only' half the Javier Mena-coloured issue this time, but does so beautifully. His clean lines define the current Legion, whether delineating striking heroes, creepy villains, future scenery or weird science tech (anybody else lusting after a 'data-vampire'?). Cosmic Boy, in stealth suit, ripping his way into the embassy with magnetism makes for a cool splash page, while Dream Girl and Brainy's tussle with Dominator cannon fodder is ickily intense.

Handling the rest of the pencils is Andres Guinaldo, a new name to me, but hopefully one I'll be seeing across the DC Universe. Because his work on the rescue team scenes, inked by the ever-excellent Dan Green, is just splendid - first he gives us steely determination as the renegade Legionnaires tell Cosmic Boy they're leaving, then their doubts as the reality of the challenge hits home. His Metropolis has a real buzz to it, full of fantastic buildings and aircraft. Plus, he draws an adorable Comet Queen.

Oh yes, the most enthusiastic Legionnaire of all is here, alongside her idol, Bouncing Boy, and when he brushes her off there's a foreboding-filled panel of Comet Queen alone, in shadow. Oh dear, please don't let another Legion death be coming. I realise it's a tradition, but there's another, better tradition about to make a comeback, if Dream Girl's prophecy isn't skewed.

If the nigh-edible cover by artist Steve Lightle and colourist Guy Major is likewise a taste of things to come, the Dominators are going to get their hands on the rescue squad. I'll certainly be getting my hands on next issue to find out for sure.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Astonishing X-Men #51 review

I've only been to one gay wedding and it was good fun - love in the air and guests dressed up to the nines. The drag here is even more awesome, as the Avengers and Alpha Flight join the X-Men for the wedding of Jean-Paul Beaubier and Kyle Jinadu.

Before that, though, there's superhero action as Jean-Paul, aka Northstar, persuades Kyle not to shoot him. It's not pre-wedding jitters, he's being controlled by the New Mutant, Karma - she possesses people. She scarpers, Kyle accepts the proposal from Northstar which he turned down last issue, and the pair get hitched in Central Park.

This is really rather good. Yes, Marvel has pumped this wedding for everything it's worth in the real world, but as a special issue it holds together rather well. While the wedding party isn't attacked by the Circus of Crime or whomever, the other tradition of gorgeous nuggets of characterisation is adhered to by writer Marjorie Liu. So we have Rogue wondering what would have happened had her two evil mothers, Destiny and Mystique, tied the knot, while Wolverine recalls the tragedy of his own wedding day, without raining on Northstar's parade. And there's a lovely line from Beast emphasising that the heroes of the various teams really are simply one big (occasionally) happy family.

Most pertinent to Northstar's story, the new Warbird tells him that, with regret, she won't be attending (click on image to enlarge).
At first, I was impressed by the cleverness here - it looks like she's from a backward race of bigots, but of course, it's just that her people don't have marriages as we know them. Then I remembered that's she's Shi'ar, a race whose Majestrix, Lilandra, married Professor X a few cripplings ago. Perhaps if Northstar and Kyle were of differing species ...

It's disappointing that the only character to declare they have a problem with two men exchanging vows (Alpha Flight pal Puck can't get his head around it, while Havok wonders what his grandma would think - yet both attend the service) is extraterrestrial. It seems a little easy, as if only daft aliens disapprove.

Otherwise, I like Liu's story choices. After Kyle's refusal to marry Jean-Paul last time I was wondering how on Earth they'd be in position to wed here. Well, Liu uses the kidnapping as the spur for Kyle to realise how much he loves Jean-Paul, as he embraces the notion that 'life's too short'. Previously the blandest of the bland, Kyle grows throughout the issue, until he's goofily declaring his love for Jean-Paul and I'm filling up. And Liu doesn't forget about Karma in the excitement of Northstar's big fat gay wedding. Jean-Paul is worried about her, but Wolverine assures him that the search is continuing. 

The icing on the wedding cake is a cracking ending, which may even bring a few of the curious back next time.

Mike Perkins, as well as appearing at the party with Liu and other members of the creative team (another fine Marvel tradition), draws this issue in fine style. The action scenes flow well, while the wedding sequence is a masterclass in how to make heroes at rest recognisable, and engaging. There's a real charm and crispness to the artwork here, and credit must also go to co-inker Andrew Hennessy (Perkins also inks). The only moment I don't like is the big cameo by some New York mayor or other - you crawlers, Marvel!

And as you can see, the cover by Dustin Weaver and Rachelle Rosenberg is a cracker.

I approached this comic expecting it to be all stunt, no heart. Do I admit I was wrong?

I do.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Avengers Vs X-Men #6 review

The Phoenix Force has touched five members of the X-Men, giving them the power to change the world. It's a week after the end of last issue, and Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Magik and Colossus have spent the intervening time doing good. They've fed the hungry, stopped wars, ended the energy crisis and they plan to do more. But before they go on, leader Cyclops demands that the people of the world pledge to live in peace, accept his Pax Utopia.

It's hard to argue with success, and even their recent enemies, the Avengers, can see that the mutants are doing a lot of good. Captain America has his team watching the 'Phoenix Five', but a grudging admiration is beginning to emerge within some members. President Barack Obama, though, has no doubt - while a heaven on earth is being created, the beings behind it are answerable to no one but themselves. And he's not having it: 'Something has to be done.'

The Avengers decide that means grabbing Hope, supposed intended Phoenix host, from Utopia island in a hit and run mission. But if they think they're going to get away with it, well, Cyclops and Emma actually know what they're thinking. Things look bad for Cap and co until a wild card appears - the Scarlet Witch. Her chaos magic can hurt Cyclops, allowing her to teleport the Avengers, and Hope, away. Cyclops decides he's had enough interference and utters three little words: 'No more Avengers.'

Which makes him either the wickedest, or stupidest, man on Earth. Given that he saw the tragic fallout after a deluded Scarlet Witch demanded 'no more mutants', to do the same thing is madness.

And intriguing. This event story is finally running full steam ahead, with big things happening and big stakes to play for. It's good that, finally, not all Avengers are blindly following Captain America, with Beast and Black Panther both going their own way. It's likewise good that Cyclops is seen as something other than lunatic aggressor (even if it's just until the end of this chapter).

Writer Jonathan Hickman adds some fine touches, such as Cyclops' reason for continuing to sport a visor, even though his new powers make it unnecessary; a surprising conversation between Colossus and an army of Zzzaxes; and a side trip to K'un Lun. More worrisome is his characterisation of President Obama as a hawk, ordering the Avengers to step in the minute US interests are threatened - the Phoenix Five have turned  a SHIELD base into a school.

He talks fine words about self-determination, but it's clear where he's coming from. This impression is emphasised by Marvel's head-scratching habit of apparently instructing artists to have sitting presidents hug the shadows of any room they're in. Here it makes Obama seem rather sinister.

I doubt that's what Hickman, penciller Olivier Coipel, inker Mark Morales and colourist Laura Martin intended. I do believe the positioning of Cyclops, during an inconclusive chat with a doubting Charles Xavier, is deliberate (click on images to enlarge). 
Tell me that's not classic 'would-be benevolent despot in secret headquarters'. While the X-Men are doing good, it seems we're meant to be of the same mindset as the President. Well, it's comics' default position, when someone with immense powers is improving the world in the blink of an eye. Rather than ask ordinary women and men, especially those in the developing world, how they feel about being able to forget the fundamental worries of daily living, the superheroes always decide that self-determination is more important than progress. That's Professor X's position here, as Cyclops asserts that all men will eventually accept the 'future' he's imposing: 'It's cheating ... it has cost nothing.' 

Cyclops isn't even demanding everyone bow down in return for his golden age - he just wants people to live in peace, and think of ways to make the world even greater. That really does sound like a good deal. The Phoenix Five are solving problems humanity has so far proven unable to beat, and letting even more people live free - how is that bad?

Remember how the Avengers cocked up way back when, in The Korvac Saga? A villain turned benevolent god aimed to transform the world for the better, but the Avengers could see only the villain, and Paradise was lost. I don't expect to see it, but logic demands the Avengers reference that occasion during current events - they really have been here before, so what have they learned? Will they make the same decisions again?

This issue costs the regular $3.99 but comes in at a meaty 36pp of story, which is far better than Marvel's usual deal for this price point. And rather good pages they are, with plenty to enjoy, and much to ponder before next issue arrives. I blow hot and cold on Hickman, but I've no major qualms about this issue; he balances big, daft superheroics with intriguing philosophical issues. The only thing I'd change would be the raid on Utopia, which has the Avengers donning stealth costumes more wacky than cool. If there's an action figure range on the way - and what other reason could there be for such silliness? - some kids are going to be giggling.
Still, Coipel and Morales give it their best. They grab the script by the scruff of its neck and draw the heck out of it. The scenes of the Phoenix Five cleaning up Mankind's mess are magic, while quieter moments - such as Scott and Emma using telekinesis while relaxing - help sell the idea that the future isn't so scary. And there's a page from the K'un Lun history books referring back to New Avengers #25 that looks simply fantastic. It's a shame this art team aren't around for the whole 12 issues.

Jim Cheung and Justin Ponsor produce a heck of an imposing cover - again, is there much doubt we're meant to find the Phoenix Five more scary than heroic? I do know I find them interesting enough to be back here next time.

Maybe by then I'll even learn to not read so quickly that I mistake an ad for a story page. Still, the juxtaposition of these pages did give me a laugh.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Shade #9 review

This issue features superheroes, supervillains, gods, monsters and a gentleman thief in conversation with an Irish Gypsy. And if the latter were all this chapter of Shade's world tour contained it would still be one of the best reads of the week. For Shade is one of comics' unique characters, a man whose silver tongue is as impressive as his supernatural powers. And here he's talking to Silverfin, a Traveller whose argot is as rare in a superhero universe as Shade's eloquence. It all makes for a most refreshing read.

That Shade and Silverfin - Finbar to his mates - are terrorising a fat devil called the Scarlet Terror as they chat just makes things even better. We don't learn the nature of the mission they're on, but it seems Finbar will be closing the matter with his bag of tricks.

Shade has other fish to fry - Lord Dudley Caldecott, his descendant, who's mixed up in some kind of mystical mumbo jumbo. Confronting him in the bowels of Bloomsbury, the man formerly known as Dickie Swift is in for a surprise ...

Writer James Robinson's 12-issue mini-series just gets better, though I have to declare a bias; I'm English and it's a joy to see the UK treated as something other than a museum piece (ironically, in a comic featuring just such things). The Shade has come home and while things have changed, people are essentially the same - disappointing. Well, his people at least - Dudley is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, willing to sacrifice others in an arcane ritual while talking banal business with a power broker pal. Shade doesn't look kindly on such behaviour, despite his involvement in a murder just hours previously - apparently the last of several, for 'a greater good'. I wonder if Dudley would try to excuse his own crimes in similar manner? Good on Robinson for reminding us that despite his many acts of goodness, the Shade is still black of heart at times.
The most distasteful part of Dudley's dastardly doings is his taking off his underpants, alongside creepy-looking mate Miles. Whatever would One Million Morons say? The scene is beautifully illustrated, though, by Frazer Irving, along with the rest of the issue. As another Brit, Irving captures the atmosphere of London with ease, while his sherbet colours bestow a Wonderland quality. The occasional run of 'realistic' hues only makes the moments of horror and fantasy seem all the more weird.

While there are several attention-grabbing scenes, one of the finest sequences is subtlety itself, as Shade pursues Dudley through London, using his teleportation to pop up everywhere.

Tony Harris turns in another cover to treasure - it's just a shame the title blurb doesn't work with it.

With three issues to go, Robinson continues to introduce new threads, but I'm confident he'll tie everything up in a neat bow. Like Irving, he's a craftsman and a stylist, and I'll be sorry to see Shade disappear into the ether when things wrap up. 

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Legion Lost #10 review

The Legion Lost team get back to the future, but it's a future too far. A time bubble liberated from their enemy, Harvest, takes the heroes a few years beyond 3012, where they find ... no one. A catastrophe has devastated the Earth and the populace is nowhere to be seen.

Legion Clubhouse provides no clues, so the heroes decide to go back just a few years, to their own time, where the rest of the Legion can help avert disaster. Some hope - the time bubble shoots them directly back to 2012, where a strikeforce answering to Homeland Security, the Metamericans, is waiting for them.

Harvest is an interesting villain - when he's not on the page. In person, he's a corny megalamaniac, but as a backstage presence, he's rather effective. He's seemingly manipulating the Legionnaires throughout this issue, and may even have some hold over Chameleon Girl. She certainly knows more about him than she's telling, and other members are starting to notice. Leader Tyroc, though, is too busy freaking out internally over a grave he saw in his boyhood, and its connection to some prophecy or other, to demand explanation.

While there are disagreements, writer Tom DeFalco steers clear of heavy-handed fallings out. Even the biggest moment of intra-team tension has a point to it. Recent signing DeFalco is getting better at capturing the members' voices, while bringing the skill for plotting he honed at Marvel. The new antagonists here don't grab me immediately - just how many secret factions connected to Steve Trevor does the US Army have? - but we've not seen the box-ticking Trip (White Guy), Wideload (Big Black Guy) and Gunner (Girl, Probably Gay) in action yet. I suspect I'm just an old fanboy who can't get excited unless superhumans wear colourful costumes.
They do look drab though, don't they?

Drab, but very well-drawn, Pete Woods really is a force for good on this title, making every scene inviting to look at. It's a treat seeing him tackle the 31st century, even if it is a grubbier iteration than we're used to. And his Legionnaires have plenty of heroic character. Then there's the way he moves people around panels, in this case Chameleon Girl and Timber Wolf.
Brad Anderson's colours work in tandem with the softness of Wood's art to give this book a uniquely attractive look among the DC line.

Legion Lost #10 is the best issue in months, thanks in large part to the end of the truly awful Culling storyline. While Harvest's influence is still felt, the Legion are once more the stars of their own book, and with luck they'll quickly kick his arse to Takron-Galtos. The only disappointment is the ending, which aims for high drama but elicits merely a smile - I see no reason to worry. DeFalco and Woods have me convinced that this is a Legion team who can handle anything. 

Batman and Robin #10 review

In Gotham City, taking a course of acupuncture means getting into an iron maiden. And if you're a would-be supervillain calling yourself Terminus, it's going to be a hi-tech model transforming you into a man-mountain able to go up against Batman.

Who Terminus began as, and what his beef is, we don't learn this time. We do see that he's gathering a gang made up of criminals who came off badly when they faced the Caped Crusader (one of them may be a New 52 version of z-lister Magpie). As drawn on the final page by Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray, the new-look Terminus - he was pretty freaky to start with - is a strangely sexy brute, so I'll be back next time to see what he gets up to.

This time, most of the pages are devoted to Robins and rivalry. Bruce Wayne has gathered former partners Dick and Tim, and current companion Damian, for a family portrait. Alfred's there too, looking so young, I thought he was a disguised Jason Todd. But Red Hood's not invited to this clan meet, having a problem with the fact that Bruce Wayne never avenged his death at the hands of the Joker.

It's a fair point.

As it happens, Red Hood does show up, still in Gotham after his involvement in the Night of the Owls (it's not stated but this issue has to occur after the conclusion of the current Bat-event, given that there's no Talon-tainted threat to hand and, well, it was only one night. And a bit. Gosh, so Bruce survives!). Jason is summoned to a meeting of Robins by Damian, who has a challenge for them typical of the most arrogant brat Gotham ever did see. 'Day or night, when you least expect it, I'm going to defeat you at something you feel unbeatable at.' Nightwing and Red Hood are nonplussed, but before the issue is out Damian has well and truly made the super-cool Red Robin blow his top. Writer Peter Tomasi gives us the confrontation I've been waiting years to see, and he doesn't flub it. I was going to include a few panels here, but seeing them in context just makes them so much better. All I'll say is that Batman and Robin is brought to you today by the letter 'R' for Rambunctious.

This issue is full of terrific moments highlighting the differing personalities of the Robins. There's Dick, the original, grown up into the coolest of cats and protective of his legacy; Tim the detective, always wishing to honour the part originated by Dick; Jason, angry at being shoved into the role of Dick redux, but still feeling a certain kinship with the other Robins; and Damian, the endlessly fascinating Boy Fruit Loop who honestly believes no Robin can hold a candle to him.

The character who comes off badly here is Bruce Wayne, keeping from his other sons the fact that Damian has killed again. And smiling when considering his wayward boy - has he finally found the perfect 'soldier'?

This issue firmly ties Tim's recent Teen Titans adventures in with his Batman Family status, something his current 'home book' has failed to do. It also references events in Batman Inc. I really appreciate that, along with such incidental pleasures as Bruce making his own crimefighting equipment rather than relying on genius hunchbacks or his own labs; and Damian's definitive statement of who he is.

With four Robins to draw, you might forgive Gleason for giving us basically the same guy at four different heights, but he cares enough to gift them their own looks. Even out of costume, for their sitting with Mister Benioff, they're anything but Bruce Wayne mini-mes. And in costume they look fantastic, especially Red Hood - when Red Hood and the Outsiders artist Patrick Rocafort goes over to Superman later this year, DC should tap Gleason for an arc or two. Especially if he brings Mick Gray with him - I've never seen Gleason's art look so good. I like the solidity of Gleason's people, but occasionally faces have looked as if their owner has Bell's Palsy. With Gray on inks, there's a stylish consistency alongside the strength. The only dodgy-looking souls are the ones meant to look off, Terminus's 'League of Punchbugs', and even they, in their own way, look magnificent.

The colouring by veteran John Kalisz is extremely effective, emphasising the drama of individual scenes, while Carlos M Mangual's letters are solid. Kalisz also colours the cover, a gorgeous composition by Gleason and Gray that is, as they say, suitable for framing.

Batman #10 is getting all the attention this week, but good as that is, this is the better book, building on decades of characterisation while taking advantage of the fresh opportunities afforded by DC's recent revamp. It boasts a thoroughly entertaining script, one that surprises and thrills without descending into soap opera shocks, and I can't believe fans of Robin - any Robin - won't love it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Batman #10 review

Batman confronts the Court of Owls, but its members have confronted their own mortality - rather than face the judgment of Batman, they've taken their own lives. With a big dollop of 'apparently'.

Batman follows the clues, and his gut instincts, to Willowwood, an old Gotham hospital for kids with mental problems, where he finds philanthropist Lincoln March. It turns out he wasn't killed by Court assassins the Talons, he's been in league with the Owls all along. But feeling that they betrayed him, he's killed the prime movers. 

Now he's donning a Talon suit of his own, to take on Batman. And the fight is more personal than Bruce could have anticipated, as Lincoln reveals that he is ... Bruce's forgotten brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.

Yeah, right. I believe that about as much as I believed March was properly dead last issue. For it to be true we'd have to accept that:
  • Martha and Thomas Wayne would wish to place their son in a home when they could afford first-class live-in care.
  • Thomas Wayne was inclined to name a son after himself, but not his first-born.
  • Batman, who has trained his mind to perform all manner of memory stunts, can't recall that his mother was pregnant when he was three or four.
  • The hospital never bothered to contact the Waynes' executors, most likely Alfred, about the child before calamity closed it when Bruce was entering his teens.
It's all a bit much to believe. I'm old enough to remember the short-lived comics career of the original Thomas Wayne Jr in the early Seventies - Peter S Svensson looks at those stories over at Bleeding Cool - and while this is a fun nod to that, I reckon writer Scott Snyder is playing with us. The mention of a clay badge Martha wore hints at master of disguise Clayface toying with Bruce for some reason. My best guess, though, is that Lincoln is simply a foundling fed a line by those pesky Owls.

If he somehow is Thomas, well, that's him dead before the year's out.

It's fun to speculate, and it's fun to read this story. Batman gets some cool moments, particular in the opening scene, which sees him scare a rich biddy connected to the Court. His remembering a lesson from the detective Henri Ducard works well. The slow revelations of Lincoln /Thomas seem corny, like a bad episode of Murder She Wrote, but that's him giving Bruce time to escape bonds while he puts on his Talon drag. But my favourite scene is a conversation between Bruce and Alfred - an orphan he may be, but there's no denying Bruce has a father around. This sequence also shows Bruce has a concentration aid that makes lots of sense, given his ghoulish sensibility and collector mania (look at the Batcave and tell me the guy isn't an especially morbid fanboy!).
While he still doesn't shed any light on why the patrician class of Gotham would dress in owl masks and plot, when they already rule the city, Snyder's script works well on its own terms. And artist Greg Capullo is his perfect partner, controlling the pace of this important instalment with smart storytelling decisions, rendered with skill and style. Little details such as old lady Powers' clawlike hands and Batman's entrance to the Court's inner sanctum reflected in a mirror add to the story, even if you notice them but subliminally. And more deliberately showy scenes, such as Batman's arrival at the 'courthouse' (above), make for effective drama. The only moment that I'd say is undersold is the panel in which Lincoln claims to be Thomas, which is presented as just another frame on the page - it deserves at least half a page, if not a splash.

But that's the nearest thing there is to a 'problem'. Capullo, inker Jonathan Glapion and colourist FCO Plascencia are producing career-best work that's elevating a decent storyline to the level of truly memorable. Let's hope that before it's collected someone at DC corrects a couple of typos, little irritations that mar the big picture.

The very readable back-up, by Snyder and James Tynion IV, shows Alfred's father and predecessor as Wayne butler, Jarvis, remembering the events that apparently led to the early birth of Thomas Jr. Certainly, Martha - feisty to the point of stupidity - is pregnant here, and there's a car accident, but will a child be born who becomes Lincoln March? If so, it'll be because the Owls steal him away, not because the Waynes put him into someone else's care. I'm still not buying it - I'm betting there's a  Lil Wayne not in a Talon suit, but in DC heaven.

Whatever the case, there's a fine level of craftsmanship on display from artist Rafael Albuquerque and colourist Dave McCaig. It's just a shame that another typo shows up here - whatever happened to proofreading? I don't doubt I make the occasional booboo on this blog - Sod's Law says there'll be a few in this very post - but I'm a one-man band, and not charging anybody.

Overall, this is a sharply-written, extremely well-drawn comic (you can judge the book by Capullo's excellent cover), one of the best chapters of the too-long Owls storyline. I look forward to the conclusion, and maybe even being proven wrong about a few things.

Jedidiah Starr #1 review

Jedidiah Starr - the name screams 'space cowboy'. And that's what we get in the first issue of this new series from View Comics, as a stranger moseys into town - after waking up in a crater.

Jedidiah isn't his real name. He's a starman, a man who fell to Earth, named after her father by bar owner Sarah when he can't recall his identity. He can't remember his past either, but that doesn't stop Sarah offering him a place to stay. Perhaps she recognises an innate goodness.

Or perhaps she's the patron saint of bad decisions. Her choice in boyfriends doesn't point to a terrific knack for reading people - her ex, Dirk, who runs the town, is a nasty piece of work. After Jedidiah stands up to him, he returns the next day with his gang of thugs and sets upon our hero.

With the aid of super-powers that surprise even him, our hero does, of course, win the day.

I say 'of course' because there are no surprises in this chapter - noble stranger defends hapless saloon girl from the town bully. I suspect writer Dave Christian is deliberately hewing a classic furrow before going off in wilder directions (the story's opening and south-western US setting heavily recall the Will Payton version of DC's Starman). The final page certainly points towards a more interesting future.

It's a shame this issue doesn't give us a little bit in the way of originality, though. There's definitely room for more in the way of incident, with several panels given over to needless, wordless moments, such as Jedidiah and Sarah looking at the door Dirk and pal Butch have gone through; Butch just sitting there after Dirk addresses him - is he actually mute?; Jedidiah looking at the door to Sarah's back office.

Sometimes, silent panels are used logically, and well - for scene setting, going from the general to the particular; or for a character beat. More of these and fewer 'moments between moments' would jolly things along nicely.

Artist Jose 'Louie' Hernandez's character designs are decent, and happily consistent from page to page, but there's a stiffness to much of the figurework, and some of the proportions are really rather off. It'll be interesting to see how Hernandez develops, as his storytelling instincts aren't bad (I'm assuming all those extra silent panels are dictated by the script). There are some powerful images, such as our first look at Jedidiah, and a commendable attention to the cowboy country backgrounds. I expect that with time and lots of practise, most of the rough edges can be lost.

Randy Pare is to be commended for hand-lettering in this age of computer fonts, but I'd suggest giving in and using a computer font while practising the hand-lettering - the work here doesn't look great.

So, Jedidiah Starr #1 isn't the slickest of debuts, but there's a likeable old-fashioned quality to the set-up, mysteries to be solved and characters to be explored. And that equals potential.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Worlds' Finest #2 review

In the present, Huntress and Power Girl, refugees from Earth 2, battle radioactive man Hakkou in Japan. They don't know what he wants, but suspect he has connections to Apokolips.

In the past, the heroines put together their new lives on Earth 1, as they conclude that the Darkseid sent packing by the Justice League is the same creature who sent Steppenwolf to raze their homeworld.

With the likely link to Apokolips, writer Paul Levitz makes the current day portions of this buddy comic as compelling as the flashback sequences. Last issue, it seemed that Hakkou was no more than a throwaway energy baddie, but here he hints that he knows Power Girl, Karen Starr, isn't from this world. Could it be that the wrecking of Starr Enterprises' quantum tunnelling generator wasn't an accident, but sabotage?

And because he's old enough to remember subplots and the concept of added value, Levitz leaves the main action to show us that Huntress' theft of funds from Wayne Enterprises may not be as untraceable as she thinks.

In the past, we see Huntress, Helena Wayne, terribly smug about how easy it is for her to steal from her alt-Earth father, while Karen notes that her 'body's not working the same way'. We don't find out what this comment means, but by cracky, it's intriguing. As is the indestructible belt that crossed worlds with them - did someone come with it? And would they be friend or foe?

While she took an early injection of funds from Helena to set up her business, Karen no longer relies on her pal to bankroll Starr Enterprises. It turns out that some judicious mining makes for quite the fundraiser. And we meet Karen's trusted associate Somya, as a flashback loops into the recent Huntress mini-series.

So, there's lots going on, but still room for fun, as Karen introduces Helena to the 'joys' of playing a meteors video game for real, and the ladies partake of a picnic. It's heartening how quickly Levitz has gotten into his stride with this book, with the heroines' friendship front and centre at all times.

And courtesy of the two art teams, it looks splendid too. George Perez and Scott Koblish handle the super-villain action scenes in the present, while Kevin Maguire sticks mainly to character work in the 'five years ago' sequences. There's not a page I don't like, as Perez and Maguire show why they've become industry legends. Maguire's eye for body language and fashion makes his every panel adorable, while the most powerful moment comes from Perez, as a blast hitting Power Girl homages the death of the Silver Age (or 'real') Supergirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
And doesn't that shot of Hakkou in Perez's electric cover illo call to mind Supergirl's killer, the Anti-Monitor? Or am I imagining it all?

I don't know if Huntress and Power Girl will ever make it back to Earth 2, but with issues as good as this set on Earth 1, I'm not sure I want them to.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dark Avengers #175 review

And Jeff Parker surprises me again. Which is surprising in itself - after years of stylishly stalwart service writing such Marvel titles as Agents of ATLAS and Thunderbolts, constantly delivering original spins on old tropes, I should expect the unexpected.

Like here. The cover tells us that Thunderbolts has become Dark Avengers, with Norman Osborn's knock-off no-goodniks kicking the regular guys out of their own book. Open the comic, though, and it's another story. Regulars Luke Cage, Songbird and Mach V are still around, kicking the collective arse of Trick Shot, Dark Spider-Man, Ragnarok and Toxie Doxie. The newcomers, it turns out, are the latest captured supervillains drafted into the Thunderbolts Programme - if they help the authorities with a mission, they'll get considerations. If they go off-mission, nanites blow their brains out.

Luke and co are distinctly unthrilled, what with this bunch being among the Avengers' most vicious enemies, but FACT - the government wallahs who oversee the Thunderbolts - inform them that their services are no longer needed. Our heroes, though, have other ideas. When the Dark Avengers reach Africa to rescue a spy next issue they'll be under a field leader of Luke's choosing - Skaar, Son of Hulk!

Whom I know nothing about. I've avoided Hulk spin-offs other than She-Hulk. And I didn't bother reading about these Dark Avengers. All I know is that Thor clone Ragnarok looks the business in the Asgardian's original costume, and Toxie Doxie is the best female character name since Hero Hotline's Microwaveabelle. Given Parker's talent for economically sketching in personality, I've no doubt the new recruits will have become favourites by the time the missing Thunderbolts return from the time stream.

Because they've not been forgotten, with a scene in which Hank Pym makes progress towards finding Troll, Mr Hyde, Moonstone and the rest, while Luke Cage has fun with alligators. Whether one or more of the returnees will stay with the Thunderbolts I can't guess - certainly the Dark Avengers are treated here as a one-off team rather than the Thunderbolts Evermore - but at least they'll be available to play.

As well as Parker, we get to keep artist Declan Shalvey, further emphasising that this book is still the Thunderbolts. Shalvey's linework here seems less assertive than usual, but it's still good, and the colours of Frank Martin Jr help keep disappointment at bay.

All in all, the creative team manages the neat trick of producing a book that, while a relaunch, is the same comic which fans have been enjoying for years. The character mix is different, but changing ranks have long been a Thunderbolts trademark. So while the Dark Avengers have the prime logo spot for now, have no doubt - the Thunderbolts will be back. 

Harbinger #1 review

Eighteen-year-old Peter Stanchek is on the run. His life dominated by psychic powers he can barely control, he's flitting from city to city to escape the man known as Tull. Accompanying Peter is Joe Irons, who's also unable to fit into society, but it's not powers that's his problem, it's a schizophrenic illness. Medication helps, but Joe won't take it if he can help it.

One day, Peter brings Joe back to his old Pittsburgh neighbourhood, hoping to see the girl next door again. But Kris hasn't been carrying a torch for him during his years in a mental facility - he'd terrified her and she was glad to see the back of him. And rightly so, as we see when Peter tinkers with her mind to make her think she cares for him. And he takes her to bed.

The next morning, a dog has a message for Peter. Except it's not a dog, it's Toyo Harada, head of a multinational do-gooding corporation and possessor of all the powers Peter might one day manifest - including illusions. He offers to teach Peter how to deal with his abilities, if he leaves Joe behind, and frees Kris. But then, all hell breaks loose ...

It sounds as if Harada's a good guy, telling Peter to let Kris go, but he's been closely monitoring Peter's progress since the day he was born, meaning he could easily have intervened the previous night, told the teen not to cross that line, not to rape Kris. But he didn't - he let Peter go too far, in the hope that he'd realise he'd hit rock bottom and take up Harada's offer. And Kris? Just one more baseline human to be used.

So I'm putting Harada in the negative column. And Peter too - I don't care how confused and alone he feels, the guy knows he's doing wrong. I could excuse his 'persuading' pharmacists to give him drugs to dampen his mind and help Joe with his condition, given that they were on the run. But rape? Nope.

All of which makes it tough for me to root for the two main characters in this reboot of the Nineties Harbinger book. I'll certainly give the series a chance, though. The comic doesn't condone Peter's actions - this isn't an Avengers #200 or Robot Teacher from Krypton scenario. I'm confident Kris will confront Peter when she learns what he's done. Plus, I want to see if some of the old guys - Zephyr, Flamingo and Torque, primarily - show up.

Knowing this revamp was coming, I've prepared for it by doing precisely nothing. I've not dug out dusty copies of Harbinger, to remind myself of what Jim Shooter and David Lapham gave us, and I've avoided Wikipedia story rundowns. I remember the bare bones of the series only, meaning I can come to this book almost fresh and judge it on its own merits.

And there are plenty, as presented by writer Joshua Dysart and artist Khari Evans. In Peter and Joe we have two complicated leading men, while Harada obviously isn't the benevolent mentor figure he presents as. Kris has an edge to her that seems to go beyond 'moody teen' while Tull may be more preyed upon than preying. Dysart's dialogue skews nicely towards the naturalistic, and he lays the storyline out with skill. And Evans has a real knack for giving his characters depth - they're easy to read, yet look to have a lot going on beneath the surface. The colours of Ian Hannin are smart and subtle, while letterer Rob Steen earns his keep with the dozens of thoughts, amusing and appalling, being picked up by Peter - that cover by Arturo Lozzi will give you the idea.

I liked this first issue a lot, and at $3.99 for a dense 25pp, it's a good value read too.

Mind, Peter could be making me type this ...

Earth 2 #2 review

This issue looks set to sell well after the publicity surrounding the new Alan Scott's sexual orientation. But the news that the latest Green Lantern is gay is probably the least interesting thing about this comic. All that happens with Alan is that he's reunited with fella Sam in China, and has a surprise for him. Oh, and something cliffhangery occurs on the final page.

But really, that's next issue stuff. This issue is choc-full of enticing events, most of them centred on Jay Garrick. Last month he came across a strange figure, fallen to Earth. Here he realises he's meeting the Roman god Mercury. The deity has a warning for the world, and figures Jay's the guy to pass it on. So, in his dying moments, he imbues the student with godly speed and suggests he runs from the arriving authorities. Soon Jay is discovering just what he can now do, helping people and gaining a new name in the tried and true manner - via a misunderstood comment. Having trouble stopping, Jay finds himself in Europe - where another costumed figure is waiting.

And wandering around the back streets of Jay's city, a stranger mutters in foreboding manner.

Elsewhere, Mr Terrific crosses the dimensional barrier from his own Earth and quickly realises he's on a parallel world. He's immediately met by someone we might expect to be his biggest ally. Or rather, confronted by ...

Writer James Robinson serves up a satisfying meal here, fleshing out Jay and Alan, to whom we were introduced last issue, and bringing Mr Terrific into the mix in a compelling scenario. And yeah, Alan's scene with boyfriend Sam, sweet as it is, is the least interesting aspect of the book. 'You're turning me into a sap, sir.' Alan jokes to Sam. But he is - it's not a gay thing, because a similar scene with Alan and a girl would be just as dull. Still, I suspect the point will soon be moot.

As well as his personae, Robinson fills in more details of this world. We begin to see how the Apokolips invasion five years previously - which killed Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman - has changed daily life. For one thing, there's a World Army on the lookout for alien warlord Steppenwolf. And scarier yet, vicious Apokorats - Boom Tube stowaways - remain on Earth to terrorise humanity. Plus, the opening spread provides such tidbits as a takeover of Waynetech, a tribute to one of the fallen heroes and news of boxer Ted Grant's latest bout.

It all makes for a story that's as fascinating as it is entertaining. And once more, penciller Nicola Scott matches Robinson's creativity, her luscious lines making the story easy and exciting to follow. Her heroes exude nobility, while the villain Mr Terrific meets is sinister even in a sharp suit. And speaking of suits, Jay Garrick's new look isn't a match for his classic togs, but after a few panels I was liking it for itself. It's an interesting marriage of Jay's street clothes - a tracksuit - and Mercury's godly headwear. In a nice touch from Alex Sinclair (or co-colourist Pete Pantazis) Jay's super-suit, when it reverts to his regular duds, keeps the colours of The Flash. And Trevor Scott embellishes with style, bringing the right tone to settings as diverse as the US, Poland and China.

In just two months Earth 2 has become my favourite DC title - its blend of tradition and today, with a splash of futurism, is what the New 52 should be about.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Avengers vs X-Men #5 review

The Avengers and the X-Men are fighting on the moon, with Hope Summers the prize. She's plugged into the Phoenix Force, which the former team fears will destroy the Earth and the latter believes will restore Mutantkind. Iron Man and Giant Man create a giant robot to disrupt the Phoenix, as it crosses space on its journey towards Earth. The plan seems to work, with the firebird manifestation of the cosmic force shattered, and the energy spinning outwards to its new host. Or rather, hosts - and Hope isn't among them.

Well, I never saw that one coming. Not the identity of the Phoenix's chosen, but the fact that writer Matt Fraction should produce my favourite issue of this series yet. I've not been bothering with his Marvel work since the terrible Fear Itself series, and his subsequent dismissal of reader complaints about aspects of the story. But he's part of the tag team writing this event series, so gets another chance to impress me.

Which he does, with a briskly efficient narration from Hope in which the girl who believes the Phoenix wants her wonders whether she's akin to the man who pushed the button that dropped the atomic bomb, or the weapon itself. It's an interesting meditation, giving the superhero slugfest a more mythic feel. My favourite line has one character assert; 'Time to evolve tomorrow itself. Beyond everything you've ever imagined.' Something about this piece of dialogue raises my anticipation levels for the rest of this storyline.

I've been critical, negatively so, of penciller John Romita Jr's work on this series, but this time we're nearer his A-game, with the good-looking panels outnumbering the wonky moments. The Transformers-style robot allows Romita to go a little wild, for one, while the final visual of the new hosts reflects the game-changing nature of the moment. Inker Scott Hanna and colourist Laura Martin also deserve praise for their skills in bringing the bombastic. There's an eye-catching cover too, from illustrator Jim Cheung and colourist Justin Ponsor.

The comic's not perfect - I still don't get how Hope can manifest Phoenix energy while the entity is thousands of miles away. And Cyclops still comes off as such a fanatic that it's tough to believe so many X-Men would follow him. But it seems we have to accept these points or there's no story.

We're almost halfway through this 12-issue run and look to be entering the second act. Finally, the Phoenix is here and we'll see whether the right way lies with the Avengers or X-Men - or neither.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Almighties #1 review

Maxi-Tron. Ms F. Nite Fang. Mason. Stefanos. A super-team sponsored by the mysterious White Out, they embark on a series of missions 'to combat groups that pose a threat to the very fabric of American life'. But unknown to them, things aren't what they seem ...

The witty logo and the battle cry, 'Almighties Amass', make it clear that this is intended as a parody of the Avengers. Which is just as well, as the team isn't an obvious take on any iteration of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Yes, there's an Iron Man analogue in Maxi-Tron, and Ms F may be a Ms Marvel knock-off, but otherwise we're talking a werewolf, a Rambo and a kebab shop owner who beats people up with his mighty meat.

Obviously, the latter is my favourite. It's hard not to like a chap with mystery meat on a massive skewer, even if his British-style kebab shop seems incongruous in a US setting. As for the rest, Maxi-Tron is an ass with a weak spot, Ms F a Seventies throwback, Mason terribly keen to kill and Nite-Fang a sarcy sod. They have internal conflicts, but not ones especially reflecting Avengers history.

Sam Johnson and Mike Gagnon's script's not bad, with lots of pace and one or two good gags, but the Almighties are thicker than might be expected of title characters. The final revelations come via a (literally) parachuted-in new character.

The only real problem I have with this first issue is the depiction of some of the African-American characters whom the Almighties are sent to round up. Artist Pablo Zambrano, in the second half of the story, depicts leering, eye-popping stereotypes, throwbacks to less-enlightened times. I don't doubt the exaggeration aims for humour, but the effect is unfortunate. The enthusiasm is commendable, but on this showing Zambrano isn't quite ready for primetime. Eleanora Kortsarz's art in the first section is a little slicker, with the figure work and storytelling stronger - she also handles the cover. There's also a third artist, DC White, for the final pages, and their fight scene with a robotic Hitler works well.

Overall, this isn't a bad debut; it's trying hard to please, but as parodies go it doesn't quite hit the spot. I wonder how The Almighties would have turned out had the creators approached their material straight, with a few gags around the edges. As it is, there's so much plot that there's not a lot of room for character work, and these protagonists have potential as more than comic cuts. Still, this is a done-in-one, and at $1.99 for 28pp of story and art via digital download, it's worth a look.