Friday, 28 September 2012

The Flash #0 review

The Flash's Zero Month issue takes us back to the weeks after Barry Allen was hit by a lightning bolt. Swathed in bandages while his burns defy medical expectations by clearing up, he's visited by newly promoted police Captain Darryl Frye. It turns out that Frye took Barry in after the tragedy of his mother's murder, and his father's imprisonment for it. Barry became Frye's protege, joining the police as a CSI, watching for any technological advances that could help prove Dad Henry didn't kill Mom Nora. And Frye helped the newly empowered Barry realise the value of symbolising goodness in a uniform, complete with badge.

The opening of the issue sees Barry working late in his Central City lab, remembering his most recent visit to Henry in prison. He was delivering the news that he had no new evidence that might free the elder Allen. Henry, thinking Barry should just get on with his life rather than hang onto hope where there isn't any, says that, yes, he did kill Nora. And when the fateful bolt strikes the cabinet of chemicals, dousing Barry in a should-be-deadly cocktail, the memory of Henry's shocking words mean his son almost welcomes death.

In an issue that jumps around without ever losing clarity, we see the boy Barry coached for a Spelling Bee by Nora, and pick up hints that all isn't rosy with his parents. The reader learns more, that divorce is on the horizon - there's another man in Nora's life, and the implication of a later scene is that it's Frye.

Maybe it isn't, though. And maybe Henry Allen did kill his wife - of course he'd plead not guilty in court, and his guilt would explain why Barry can't overturn his sentence. Who knows? Writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do, and they're perfectly capable of leading us in the wrong direction for sheer devilment.

Other interesting moments in a packed issue include the debuting Flash having a run-in with a small-time crook named Danny West (comic book rules say he has to be related to Iris - and maybe even the missing Wally West); and being met by an unidentified off-panel voice when his super-speed kicks in and he winds up in East Africa (Solivar of Gorilla City?).

The ambitious script even attempts to make sense of the Flash's typically fussy New 52 costume design, with its extra lines and odd segmentation. Pleasingly, Manapul and Buccellato reinstate the 'bursting from the ring' concept, but along the way inform us that it's not cloth panels Barry runs into, but metal plates. Seemingly, no cloth is strong enough to survive the as-yet-unnamed Speed Force, meaning that the Flash is wearing actual metal armour (click on image to enlarge).

Oh dear. It's the one off-note in a fascinating issue.

Drawing the book too, Manapul at least makes the revelation look superb. The rest of the issue likewise soars, with Manapul's imaginative layouts taking us through Barry's life at a belting pace, slowing down for the significant moments and using cutaway inserts to comment and enlighten. And Buccellato's careful, easy on the eye tones always make it clear just which flashbacks are flashing back the farthest. The opening splash, as lightning hits man, is a tremendous marriage of illustration and colour, only mildly marred by a composition that allows the gutter to split Barry in two (oh let's be nice, maybe it's a subliminal commentary on our hero's coming double life ... yeah, that's it).

One titchy query about what we see on the page - is that an Earth 2 Flash poster on young Barry's bedroom wall? Did he draw it himself? Is he dreaming about Earth 2, as DC writers supposedly did in the Silver Age? You can bet that when the inevitable crossover between Earths 1 and 2 comes, it'll begin in the Flash - so maybe this is a wink to that.
By the end of the issue, Barry has attained a measure of peace regarding his parents, and readers have gained a bit more insight into what makes the Flash tick. As zero issues go, this emerges firmly in the Plus column.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Superman #0 review

Last week, we saw the last days of Krypton from the perspective of Zor-El and Alura, parents of Supergirl. Now here's how it was for Jor-El and Lara, Superman's folks, in DC's rebooted comics line.

The broad strokes of the story are the same - DC was never going to change those - but the texture is richer than in most tellings. So it is that we see Jor-El deep inside Krypton, collecting the data that proves his world is dying; a Doomsday cult nipping any plans Jor-El might have had to save his fellows in the bud; Lara kicking butt and taking names rather than being a good little hostage; and Kal-El's conception announced.

New details adding to the whole include Jor-El's discovery of strange creatures in the bowels of his world; Lara's position as a hospital doctor; the man who was Jor-El's mentor; and the woman in his past. Making his debut as regular Superman writer, Scott Lobdell gives us enough Kryptonian terms (scicon, sekts, omniversity) to add verisimilitude, without overdoing the sci-fi jargon. And whether he's presenting Superman's narration, or laying down a conversation between Jor-El and Lara, Lobdell convinces with a stylish script.

The characterisation of Lara and Jor-El is pitch perfect: he's the brainiac with a tendency to dream, she's the more grounded scientist - but there's no doubt they're equals, and equally in love with one another. And I love the spirit shown by Jor-El ('What is science without a little chaos?') and Lara ('I'm a physician, Jor-El. Of course I missed all her major organs') .

There's a detail in here I don't recall from previous tellings, that one thing working against Jor-El's hopes to evacuate the masses via spacecraft was Krypton's traditional heavy gravity. It makes perfect sense ... has no one ever come up with that previously? Whether he invented it, or simply blew the dust off the idea, credit to Lobdell for including the story point.

Lobdell also surprises with the incorporation of that daft great cosmic horn blown way back in the first issue of Superman's New 52 run - I'd assumed that was going to be ignored forever.

Also climbing on board Superman this Zero Month is Kenneth Rocafort, Lobdell's partner on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Call it creative synergy, call it dumb luck, but something wonderful is happening here as Rocafort bring's Lobdell's story to life with drama and grace. One thing I especially like is that while Jor-El is recognisably Kal-El's father, they're not drawn as twins, as has usually been the case. And as coloured by Sunny Gho, the art looks painted, but never pedestrian. Krypton hasn't looked this wonderful - in the literal sense - in years.

So there you have it, the best issue of Superman since the New 52 debuted a year ago. With the new creative team keen to give us a long run I'm optimistic that at last the Man of Steel will get stories worthy of him.

National Comics #1: Rose and Thorn review

Teenager Rose Canton wakes one morning covered in blood - and it's not her own. There's a spiky rose freshly tattooed on her back, along with the word 'Thorn'. She has missing memories, and the boy she was with the previous night, Troy, doesn't show up at school. Having recently rejoined the community after time in an institution, Rose fears for what she might have done. She goes to the boy's house where she finds that a night-time, darker version of herself, calling herself Thorn, has indeed done something awful - but not to Troy.

You want Gilmore Girls meets Teen Wolf? Then this is the comic for you. The apparent stupidity of Rose in a) not turning to her cool Auntie Cate when she finds herself covered in blood and b) not going to the police the minute she fears for Troy, can be excused by her fragile mental state. But given said emotional brittleness, what the heck is this girl doing going to regular school? Either some psychotherapist is lousy, or they've deliberately put her where she can make trouble for who knows what reason.

Thorn's motives are revenge. She wants to hurt the people responsible for killing her father, while getting answers as to why he died. By the end of this one-off opening instalment, the premise is laid out, with questions enough to supply plenty of plots for any continuation.

If this is sounding familiar, you likely know the Seventies Rose and the Thorn strip from Lois Lane, or read the 2004 mini whose logo this borrows. Both focused on split personality Rose Forrest, hunting down her father/parents' killers as the unpredictable Thorn. Both are a lot more enjoyable than this effort, though National Comics does at least attempt to appeal to a wide constituency - fans of blood-soaked young girls in their smalls, and sweaty fat guys with their pants down.


Being an old fart fan, I liked that writer Tom Taylor borrowed the Rose Canton name from the Golden Age Flash villain, but having read this issue I reckon he should give it back. I don't think the original Rose, as a Forties gal, would wish to be associated with this comic. Today's Rose and Thorn is very much a modern girl, passing messages to herself via 'Facelook', making a pass at her girlfriend and getting a tattoo. There are a few funny lines. There's a good moment in which something of Thorn seeps into Rose's science lesson. But overall, this just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth - imagine Jennifer Blood Goes To Sweet Valley High.

The art by Neil Googe really isn't my cup of tea. Rose is so skinny as to seem anorexic, the kids at school are lollipop-headed weirdos and the faces ... it's not just that they're inconsistent, there are panels in which features appear to be trying to escape their surrounds (left). One character laughs and her mouth could give the Joker a run for his money. And Googe does this weird thing with noses that makes it look as if folk are pressing against glass.

There are some good visual moments, such as Rose's mate, Melinda, playing the Bond villain, and the compositions aren't at all bad. The animation of the bodies is terrific at times. Some of the faces actually look fine, especially where profiles are involved. But the cod Manga approach - Thorn even dresses a la Japanese schoolgirls - detracts from the good stuff.

I understand the National Comics series of 'pilot' issues come from DC's West Coast division. Maybe that's why we get such repetitive notes as Rose's rotten school life (see Amethyst) and the quest for revenge (Phantom Lady). But while this issue is technically outside the New 52 DC Universe, it fits wonderfully well with the main line's all-pervading spirit of 'edginess'. Maybe there's an audience for tales of young folk cutting people up - DC certainly thinks so - but I'm not it.

Ryan Sook's cover illustration is outstanding for what it it - I like the Adam Hughes finish on Thorn - but the characters are far removed from their interior selves.

One big plus this issue of National Comics does have is something last month's Looker entry had too - a splendid pet (actually, there's a frog too, but he doesn't get much love). At this rate we'll get Captain Carrot back any month now ...

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sword of Sorcery featuring Amethyst #0 review

She learned the truth at 17, that she was born to be a queen.

OK, sorry, I couldn't resist riffing on the old Janis Ian song after reading the lead strip in this new DC title. A reinterpretation of an Eighties cult favourite, Amethyst tells of how school outsider Amy Winston receives a very special gift on her birthday - the knowledge that she's a lost princess from a fantasy kingdom. It's the dream of many young girls, but for Amy the dream turns into a nightmare. For one thing, arriving on Nilar the Gemworld, she and mom Gracie are attacked by warriors. For another, she's suddenly blonde.

Her redhead mother's now a blonde too. And though Amy doesn't know it yet, so is her wicked aunt Mordiel. And they all wear purple. Colour coordination is obviously big on Gemworld.

But so is intrigue, and magic, and warfare ... all the things you could wish for in a book entitled Sword of Sorcery. Amy's pretty handy with a sword herself.

We first meet Amy at school, the unpopular new kid, with her black, blue and purple hair, and big clunky jewellery. She makes the acquaintance of Beryl, another friendless sort - odd name, specs, awkward. So far so Heathers, Mean Girls, Square Pegs ... Refreshingly, though, Amy's not mooning over unattainable boys - she's too busy having a terrible time. Moved from pillar to post by Gracie, she's trained in combat skills daily by her mom, whom she - understandably - considers a 'freak'. The story she's told Amy is that on her 17th birthday, at a precise moment, she'll take her to their true home, where her father is buried.

And that's today.

Before that, though, Amy checks up on Beryl, who's been promised a date behind the bleachers with a school jock. Naive Beryl expects the best, but streetwise Amy suspects the worst. It's the worst; the guy turns up with two pals, intending to get 'a taste of Berry', not expecting the wildcat that is Amy. Suddenly, all that training pays off.

In Nilar, meanwhile - whatever that means in this context - Lady Mordiel is stealing the life essence of young girls who share her bloodline, several-generations-removed non-royal bastards.

Back on Earth, Amy is stunned when her mother opens a glowing portal with a mystic crystal, having likely anticipated a trip to Wales or Slovenia or somewhere equally Earthbound. They cross into a wonderland where both worshippers and would-be assassins await. Along with the aforementioned blonde and purple stylings.

Battle commences and while Gracie leaps forward to defend her daughter, Amy refuses to take advantage and flee. This first chapter ends with Amy - Sunday name Princess Amaya of House Amethyst, so the Who's Who text page tells us - leaping into the fray, in the first step towards claiming her birthright as warrior and royal.

Well, that was a nice surprise. Having read an interview with writer Christy Marx I wasn't expecting to like this: it sounded to be straying too far from the original concept of Amethyst - a 13-year-old suddenly flung into a magical world and her own adult body. Marx promised tweaks to backstory and relationships and it all sounded not for me. But it's good to give books a chance and within a couple of pages, the strip had me. Yes, Amy's older on Earth, and the only physical change seems to be her hair. But the essence of the strip, a young woman having to deal with big challenges and responsibilities, remains. This story, entitled The Catalyst, isn't something I'd give to my young nieces, what with the threat of rape, and the murder of kids, but there's a nice Showcase edition of the original stories out next month - a great all-ages read and perfect for colouring-in. Hopefully this ... I was going to say update, but the original is a timeless classic ... this reimagining will appeal to a different market, slightly older girls and big boys of all ages.

It's certainly nicely written. Marx quickly sets out the characters of her heroines - Amy, who wants to fit in with other kids while Crayola-ing her hair, dressing drably and avoiding the shallows; Gracie, intense, worried, fiercely protective. And both have the inner strength to take on imperial witch Mordiel, who's been gathering power as she awaited her relatives' return from exile.

The narrative is divided between the magical and the mundane, but the former never overwhelms the latter in terms of drama; the concerns of Amy may seem like small potatoes compared to those of her mother, but we all know how intensely teenagers feel things.
Former Ms Marvel and Wonder Woman artist Aaron Lopresti sticks with the ladies by committing to Amethyst, giving Amy and Gracie distinctive, characterful looks. Sadly, this goes out the window on Gemworld, as the Winston women suddenly look like the Olsen twins at a Renaissance Fair (click on images to enlarge). When they come across Mordiel, don't be surprised if they break into a chorus of Triplets. Obviously, it's a story point, but the sooner the three get into distinctive outfits and better differentiate their hair, the better.

That's the nearest thing I have to a quibble with the art, as Lopresti is a solid stylist. I've never seen him draw teenagers, but the schoolkids convince me, and I've seen Glee. The builds, expressions, postures, they all make for believable kids. As for Gracie - or more properly, Lady Graciel - she's a harried mom, a tigress determined to give her whelp the skills to survive. And Gemworld looks stunning, fantastical without being twee.

The colouring by Hi-Fi is exemplary, with superb facial modelling - essential when an artist isn't working with an inker - and well-considered and applied colour palettes. The lettering, meanwhile, is handled by Rob Leigh and it looks good.

So yes, this isn't your parents'/my Amethyst. But it is a version that deserves to connect with a new generation, and be given a chance by my own.

The second strip, Beowulf, is another update on an old DC property. Well, 'property' may be the wrong term, as the story of the warrior Beowulf dates to Anglo-Saxon times, making it public domain. But DC published a few stories about him in the Seventies, and he popped up in Wonder Woman - drawn by Lopresti, coincidentally - a few years back.

This new version is set in an unspecified future, but seems to be using the source material, with a warrior called by King Hrothgar of the Danelaw to take on the beast Grendel, who preys upon drinkers in the royal mead hall. This instalment sees a young boy, Wiglaf, trick Beowulf into going back with him, but I suspect the terrifying warrior isn't as dim as he seems. Apparently part of some mad science project, he likely has an agenda of his own.

Tony Bedard's script isn't as immediately engaging as Marx's for Amethyst, retaining the feel of a heavy epic, but points must be given for offering a different flavour. It looks like this isn't going to be so much sword & sorcery as sword & science, and it may yet grow on me. But darn all those authentic Anglo-Saxon names, I find made-up comic stuff so much simpler.
The art by Jesus Saiz is sublime, managing to be both elegiac and action-packed, with beautiful composition and figurework. Brian Reber's colouring is sympathetic, letting the strength of Saiz's illustrations shine through while making them pop. Steve Wands letters with dash, resisting any urge towards unreadable Thor-fonts, instead opting for a mix of regular comics calligraphy and a more rough and ready style for Wiglaf's journal. It's good work all round.

With an attractive Josh Middleton cover rounding off the package, this comic, offering something different and of high quality within the bounds of the New 52 marketing campaign, deserves to find an audience.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Supergirl #0 review

Of all the DC Zero Month titles I've read so far, none gives up as many secrets as this issue. More than just a story set Before the New 52, it's the culmination of a year's worth of mysteries for Supergirl readers. Here we learn the disturbing details of Kara's departure from the planet Krypton; how the Worldkillers fit into the equation; who shot Zor-El as he was about to launch his daughter into space; and why she orbited Earth's sun for years rather than touch down as soon as her pod reached our world.

As well as answer the questions they raised, writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson set up a new riddle - what is Superboy doing in Zor-El's lab, in Argo City, on the day of Krypton's doom? It's likely this will be addressed in the upcoming H'el on Earth storyline in the Supergirl, Superman and Superboy titles, but for now, colour me intrigued by the surprise cameo.

There's a new spin on Zor-El's shielding of Argo City, Kara visiting Uncle Jor, Aunt Lara and cuddling little cousin Kal and a nice nod to a previous Supergirl in Zor-El's term 'Code Matrix: Kara'.

The pacing is first-class, with the issue punctuated by ever-more frequent and forceful 'planetquakes', while the script skilfully captures Zor-El's caring condescension, and fear of his plans being derailed, in refusing to explain them to either wife or daughter. The strained relationship between Zor and Jor-El makes sense in context, and the fact that the brothers never got to say goodbye is a tragic new wrinkle on the Superman legend.

But the book ends on a note of optimism, with an expanded version of a key scene sketched in a few months ago. The big question now is, when will present-day Kara learn what we readers have found out here?

Mahmud Asrar's artwork is excellent throughout, capturing the torment, exhaustion, confusion and courage of the characters. Zor-El and Alura's hair accessories apart - think sci-fi Archie meets Thor-Girl - the Kryptonian clothing looks excellent, with Jor-El benefiting especially; he comes across as a scientific shining knight. What's more, Zor-El's sky skimmer is a terrific design, while the planetquake effect is imaginative.

Dave McCaig unleashes his brightest hues for Krypton, meaning we get orange skies befitting a red sun, primary colour fashions and an intense green as the world ends. It's a lovely job. Lettering the book, Rob Leigh does well, though I doubt he really meant Kara to say 'far from preying eyes'. That's two for two in terms of DC comics and typos this week, with Wonder Woman #0 also an offender.

It's a small thing, but it distracts from an otherwise superb issue, containing one of the best takes on Krypton's end I've seen. I've complained in the past about just how drawn-out Supergirl's New 52 origin has been, and I stand by those reviews, but issues such as this ensure I'll keep coming back for more.

Wonder Woman #0 review

For Wonder Woman readers, DC's Zero Month means a trip back to Diana's childhood, and harsh lessons from an Olympian. The story opens with the 12-year-old princess of Themyscira stealing a harpy's egg to make her birthday cake. She hands the egg to her mother, because on Paradise Island, says Hippolyta, 'you need to present me with a suitable present or the passing of your years will not be acknowledged'.

Delighted by the oeuf offering, Hippolyta allows a tournament, at which rival Amazon Eleka shows Diana just how much she hates her. A distressed Diana runs off to the forest, where she meets the god Ares, who introduces himself as War. He tells her that the lessons of her sisters are not enough - she needs to learn the ways of the Olympians as well as the Amazons. The pair agree to meet each full moon and for the next 11 months Diana takes on board everything her patron has to show her, eventually deciding that she wishes to use a real blade, not a wooden training one.

War explains that if a warrior picks up a metal knife they had better be prepared to use it, and agrees to let Diana fight him with steel - to the death. Unsurprisingly, War bests the teenager, but despite his words, he holds back from striking a killing blow.

One month later, with her 13th birthday approaching, the god sends Diana into a labyrinth to find 'the greatest treasure' as Hippolyta's tribute. Inside, Diana meets the Minotaur, and after downing the beast is invited to strike the killing blow - what warrior queen mother could want more than a daughter prepared to slay an injured foe?

But will she murder the Minotaur?

I really rather liked this issue. Writer Brian Azzarello, who also stars as War, approaches his story with a breezy narration, claiming it's a reprint from 'All-Girl Adventure Tales for Men' #4. Introduction over, there's a William Marston-style narration and old school thought balloons. And how I loved the latter - sure, they're not naturalistic, but they add to our understanding of the characters and anyway, this is high fantasy. Azzarello keeps his habitual punnery to a minimum, concentrating on building up the characters of Diana ('Can my mercy be a tribute to my mother?') and War ('The purpose of war is to end conflict. You must strike.')

Appropriately, the young Diana is a less-arrogant character than the adult self we've seen in the DC New 52 series, and a million miles from the brutal harridan of Geoff Johns' Justice League. She's naive enough to secretly become the ward of the war god, and merciful enough not to take on board his final lesson. She's been raised to be the best, to please her elders, but she eventually makes up her own mind about War's wisdom. The story sets up the later antagonism between War and Diana in assured style.

There are a couple of mysteries - a watching owl, likely indicating the interest of Athena, and a training Amazon who looks for all the world like Starfire (that's almost certainly me over-reaching).

And this Before the New 52 entry is simply lovely to look at. Regular artist Cliff Chiang's young Diana is a wide-eyed child, intelligent, eager and plucky. She hurtles across the pages, taking on every challenge that comes at her with with grace and power. As for the most fantastical elements, Chiang's take on the harpy and the Minotaur, more traditional than the regular series' interpretation of things mythical, is a delight. As for War, he's as scary as he should be, even when acting tenderly towards Diana.

The colouring by Matt Wilson is as terrific as ever - I particularly like the blues of the sea and sky around Themyscira - while Jared K Fletcher digs into his font baskets to summon the appropriate comic book memories. There's at least one typo, and a misused word, both of which will hopefully be fixed by editors Chris Conroy and Matt Idelson for any reprint.

Altogether, though, this is a well-crafted, enjoyable look back to a formative period in the future Wonder Woman's life.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Uncanny X-Men #18 review

Now here's a surprise - an entirely different perspective on the fight between Cyclops and Emma Frost, and the united X-Men and Avengers, in this week's Avengers vs X-Men #11. It turns out that as Professor Xavier confronts Scott Summers with the news that he's invaded his mind, Scott and Emma are sharing an intimate meal. The comic pages divide, with scenes reflecting the crossover book taking up the top half, and the continuing dinner chat along the bottom. These are two multi-tasking mutants.

Writer Kieron Gillen doesn't so much enrich the storyline as we understand it, but make sense of it; Cyclops' actions at the close of AvX #11 are cast in a very different light, without contradicting anything in there. It's clever drama, perfectly presented by artist Ron Garney, and I only wish an editorial note in the other book had pointed readers over here.

The early part of the issue is also rather excellent, opening with X-Men PR woman Kate Kildare understandably dismayed at the idea of spinning the mayhem wrought by the Phoenix Five on the world (are civilians even out there, still? I can't recall seeing any reaction from ordinary people, or super-villains, for that matter, to the extension of 'Utopia').

We then have a conversation between Scott and Magneto emphasising how far the former has fallen, followed by a truly chilling scene. In Siberia, former Phoenix Five components Colossus and Magik reflect on their time possessed by the cosmic force, before a confession forces Peter to see Illyana for the twisted sister she truly is.

This crushing moment for Colossus is followed by the aforementioned dinner, with Emma and Scott sharing a meal that's no less horrific for being entirely in their minds. Emma's matter-of-fact manner concerning the menu and Scott's understated acceptance show how divorced from humanity they've become.

Garney shows his facility with character acting, ensuring this is far more than a talking heads scene. The work is especially impressive given that Scott's beak-visor means we can't see his eyes - his feelings are conveyed solely via mouth, chin and posture. The panels are arranged neatly, appropriate for a scene concerned with just how workaday life as dark gods has become for Scott and Emma.

The Illyana and Peter scene, though, is another matter. The rose-tinted glasses are removed from Peter's eyes and the gloves are soon off, too. Enraged, Peter gives in to the demon Cyttorak and takes on his Juggernaut form. Spiky version. The panels become big and angular, with Peter busting their borders. All the while, Illyana is a picture of insane calm.

Colourist Matt Milla joins Garney for the cover, which does a splendid job of capturing the mad love of Scott and Emma as they plunge from grace. Interior colour artists Morry Hollowell and Jason Keith ensure that Garney's stripwork pops, while Joe Caramagna provides the spooky Phoenix fonts.

While many Avengers vs X-Men tie-ins have failed to synch with the mother book in terms of timing or incident, this issue is a fine example of how to get it right, fitting in while telling its own powerful tale.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Batgirl #0 review

Here's the DC New 52 origin of Batgirl. Bang goes the daft-but-charming costume party business, in comes a moment of desperate bravery during a tour of Gotham police headquarters. It's still the same old Barbara Gordon, though: bright, bold, with a few good self-defence moves and the element of surprise - well, what massive thug believes a tiny girl could take them down? The thug here is Harry X, a mass murderer and cult leader whose acolytes try to bust him out of the police station. He sees Barbara as prime hostage material, and if not Barbara, her younger brother James, who's also on the tour.

Harry, though, soon sees something in James, decides he's an 'abomination'. He'll keep the girl, and kill the boy. But Barbara grabs a Batman costume cobbled together by SWAT officers and turns the tables. She even gets a 'nice work' from Batman when he arrives on the scene.

Amazed by how well she's done, Barbara spends a year on the streets as Batgirl, accepted by Batman and Robin as a member of their crimefighting family. Then she retires from the hero business, concentrates on her criminology studies. But one night, the Joker comes a-calling ...

So there you have it, the first coming of Batgirl in an excellent DC zero month issue from writer Gail Simone and artist Ed Benes. They quickly sketch in teen Barbara's character - intense, eager, exceptional - and make it believable that she should stumble into crimefighting. Of course she's taken self-defence classes, she's the police commissioner's daughter and a target for his enemies; of course she'd jump into a dangerous situation, she's inspired by her dad. While the details are different from the Sixties origin - for Killer Moth, read Harry X, for example - the feel is the same. The big difference is the presence of budding psychopath brother James Jr, complete with a lot of foreboding.

Simone's narration for Barbara is first class. She's confident, but not cocky, never assuming she can be a hero. But when she finds out that maybe, just maybe, she can be, she embraces the role. And while she 'can't stay away from the darkness', she much prefers the light, retaining her essential sunniness. As for James Jr, Simone makes him creepy, but not full-on - not so loony that alarm bells ring for Barbara ... of course he's weird, aren't all little brothers? But a fellow psycho can see who James is.
Providing both pencils and inks, Benes produces the best stripwork I've seen from him, nailing the young Barbara's character from the moment we meet her - pretty but not vampish, her intelligence etched on her face (click on image to enlarge). When she's drawn into battle, the future Batgirl has the gawky grace of a natural. And while Harry X is an imposing brute, he's not so scary that you can't believe Barbara would take him on.

Benes also gets to draw a Batgirl suit we've not seen before - similar to the traditional outfit but sans mask, allowing Barbara's red ponytail to flow freely. Which seems pretty silly, surely some villain would rip her hair right out of her head in her first week on duty? I wonder what the creative team's thinking is here.

Colouring Benes, Ulises Arreola uses a naturalistic palette that suits the story, while Dave Sharpe's lettering looks good against the artwork. Benes and Arreolo also provide the cover figure of today's Batgirl, which is attractive, if a tad too shiny.

The one problem I have with this issue isn't the fault of the creative team. It's DC's insistence on a five-year timeline for their superhero universe. Batgirl can't debut the same year as Batman, so we join Barbara 'four years ago'. It's already been established that Barbara's crippling by the Joker lasted three years, meaning Batgirl was only active for one year.

One year.

It's ridiculous. As I say, though. It's not the fault of Simone, she's making lemonade from a very dodgy batch of lemons. She gives us a pacy, dramatic, character-building beginning for Barbara, even finding a way to wink at the Killer Moth original. It's not a million dollar debut, but it's well worth my $2.99.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Team Seven #0 review

It's the DC Universe of five years ago. World governments are noting the emergence of superheroes and villains, and have identified the metagene that means more are coming. Believing a superhuman arms race has begun, they put together Team Seven from a motley bunch of agents and outsiders.

This debut issue quickly finds a formula and sticks to it - husband and wife operatives Dinah Drake and Kurt Lance pop up around the world and recruit specialists. They include Slade Wilson, the future Deathstroke; Cole Cash, wearing his head hankie years before he apparently first dons it in Grifter #1; and Amanda Waller, not yet heading up the Suicide Squad. There's also weapons expert Alex Fairchild, whose daughter Caitlin has shown up in Superboy; pilot Summer Ramos; intelligence expert Dean Higgins; and James Bronson, a 'blue flamer' - I believe that means he lights his farts.

I make that nine, so presumably two of this lot are getting killed. Then again, the government calls them Team Seven, so perhaps they're messing with my head. There are just seven folk on the cover, though. Which two are missing, I couldn't say, war-suits being rather non-conducive to facial recognition.

I like the Mr and Mrs Smith vibe Dinah and Kurt have going in Justin Jordan's pacy script, and the idea that the US government is taking action to ensure superhumans don't destabilise the world. Team Seven is part of a larger project known as Majestic, which is intriguing, and there's a mysterious reference to someone called Steel Soldier. Plus, the good old Gen factor is mentioned by some guy who's apparently inflating pillows with a bong.

But while black ops types make a certain sense, I'm not a huge fan of grimacing people with big guns - something I probably should have expected, given that this is a new version of a Wildstorm concept. And I hate Deathstroke in any incarnation. Still, I'll likely give the first couple of issues a go, see how the cast interact and what type of missions they take on.

But I do hope the editing gets tighter. The plural of military policemen is not 'MP's', and lines such as 'You're already the top of all your peers' have me wanting to turn this comic into cat litter.

Penciller Jesus Merino's storytelling is rather good, his dynamic illustrations making the script easy to follow. He's great at the hi-tech weaponry and crafts, and his people are nicely varied (though I had problems recognising Amanda Waller as a woman in her first panels, and he's too obviously a fan of women's bottoms). The inking is shared by Norm Rapmund and Rob Hunter, and while you can see a difference in finish, it's subtle, and overall the pages look good.

The cover by Ken Lashley, coloured by Nathan Eyring, shows that too many people in battle armour with guns can make for a messy page. To be fair, Lashley is hobbled by the DC zero month layout.

So, not the best debut ever, but I won't write this book off just yet. Jordan is an unknown quantity, and I'm a fan of Merino; now the introductions are out of the way, they may just dazzle us.

Avengers vs X-Men #11 review

The Phoenix Five are now two. Cyclops and Emma Frost share the cosmic power that can shape reality, and while they started out by changing the world for the better, the Phoenix entity is corrupting them. With the aid of brain scrambler supreme Professor Charles Xavier, the united Avengers and X-Men confront them, demanding that Cyclops stand down or be shut down. There's lots of fighting, until Cyclops turns on Emma to steal her power, then blasts Professor X, killing him. With the last shred of the decent Scott Summers apparently gone, Cyclops stands before his former friends as the new Dark Phoenix.

Hands up if you didn't see that one coming. No one? Still, they say it's the journey that matters, not the destination. But this one is bumpier than it should be, as the penultimate issue of Marvel's latest crossover event. 

The opening page is pleasingly teasing, as Captain America spends five wordy panels addressing someone so fearsome, so intimidating, he barely dares plead for their help. Who will stand before us as we turn the page? The Watcher? Galactus? The Celestials?

The Hulk. Snooze. Sure, the Hulk proves useful in bashing Emma Frost over the head, taking her out of the game for, ooh, seconds, but he's just a strongman. The strongest one there is, certainly, but Cyclops or Emma could kill him with a thought. He's no game changer.

Apparently, the entire battle occurs in Cyclops' mind, Professor X having transferred dozens of Avengers and X-Men there with him. Maybe it's a mindscape shared with Emma, as she's there too, but we're not given specifics. Given that Emma is one of the world's most-powerful telepaths even without the Phoenix Force, it makes little sense that she doesn't fight back against Xavier. OK, she's being assaulted by Avengers, sidelined because Cyclops is considered the man in charge, but still, she's sorely mistreated by writer Brian Michael Bendis here. And then she falls before Cyclops' assault like an injured kitten. 

Anyway, we're in Cyclops' mind, the Avengers and X-Men are there, and I have no idea why. Why not divide his attention, attack him on the physical plane while Professor X alone enters his headspace? I can think of no answer other than that a mindscape allows for extra-cool visuals.

Artist Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales certainly give us some striking images, powerfully coloured by Laura Martin, but the storytelling isn't brilliant, with confusing page layouts and panel after panel of non-specific energy blasts. It's pretty clear, though, that one of them kills Professor X, which is no big deal - he's been dead three or four times previously. This week's demise will inspire someone to fight especially well, or take up his dream of humans and mutants living peacefully, or something. Then he'll come back to life.
It's not all bad. There's a terrific moment which sees Professor X and Cyclops' relationship snap back to that of teacher and pupil.
But otherwise, this is a pretty poor comic book, all flash and little sense. There's one more issue, so one last chance for Marvel's 'architects', the five writers taking turns at the scripting bat, to impress us. But unless it's a heck of a lot better than this issue, it won't.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Green Lantern #0 review

So here's the debut of DC's latest Green Lantern, Simon Baz. We meet him on September 11, 2001, a young boy watching the Twin Towers atrocity on TV with his family. As the years pass, we see the climate of suspicion facing Arab Americans. And then it's today, and Simon has stolen a van and is being pursued by police. That's when he notices that there's a timer counting down ... the vehicle contains a bomb.

He manages to steer the van to a deserted factory and leaps out before the explosion. Arrested and sent to Guantanamo Bay as a terror suspect, he's fighting back against an interrogator's brutal assault when a Green Lantern ring appears, declares Simon to have the ability to overcome great fear, zaps him with green energy and whisks him away, unconscious.

This puts Simon on the radar of the Justice League, Amanda Waller and some blue monster. As Simon sleeps on a beach, his ring glows with a message. And out in space, Green Lanterns Sinestro and Hal Jordan are lost.

As this is his first appearance, it's tough to assess what kind of a man Simon is - brave, certainly, given his resistance at Guantanamo (he has the word 'courage' tattooed on his arm, perhaps to inspire him). And he loves his family. But stealing motor vehicles? He's not mugging anyone, but every crime leaves a victim; unless the GL rings are as twisted as the current version of the Guardians of the Universe, why pick Simon as a member of their intergalactic police force? Courage is good, but shouldn't honesty - or, giving Simon the benefit of the doubt, good judgment - be a given?

This issue also introduces us to someone I'm guessing is a new character, Agent Fed, a name Simon properly notes as tautological - as a sub-editor by day, that rather endears him to me. Fed is in Amanda Waller's favour, and his son died on 9/11, according to his obnoxious younger boss, Crippen (oh please!). There's also Luis the torturer, who may wind up the first person to feel the glowing green fist of the latest Green Lantern.

The script's not bad, but it doesn't make me anxious to follow Simon's journey. I found it hard to just settle into Green Lantern #0 as a story. DC's media campaign - 'Hey, we got a Muslim guy now' - feels crass, risking that Simon will be an issue rather than a character. It's fair enough to set out to illustrate that good men and true can come from any faith background, insultingly obvious as that notion is. But introducing Simon as a car thief and having him carry a handgun in promotional art muddy the messages somewhat. Oh sure, he's been laid off from his job as a car engineer and needs money to help his single parent sister (betcha her kid is sick). And he's holding a prison guard's gun when hit by the Oan energy, so perhaps the sidearm becomes linked to him. But still, Simon's a car thief with a gun. And he's going to be wearing a rather sinister mask. I dunno.

I also dunno why the fifth Green Lantern from Earth has to be a guy - can't the rings work with the human X chromasome?

And tying his origin to 9/11? While that may make Simon seem more real-world, linking heroes to non-fictional events is simply daft, as Marvel found after having Reed Richards and Ben Grimm fight in the Second World War and Tony Stark injured in Korea. You either have to occasionally update the references to more recent wars, or forget them. Given that writer Geoff Johns isn't stupid, I suspect Simon Baz isn't intended as a long-term deal. 

Penciller Doug Mahnke draws Simon as a good-looking guy, and his storytelling shines, with three inkers not harming the overall look. I'd like to have seen the new Green Lantern in costume and action, but that was never likely in this age of drawn-out tales. What we do see on the page is compelling, especially the scene showing the arrival of the ring.

Well-crafted as it is, I didn't enjoy this book enough to guarantee I'll be back next month. I really don't see why another male Green Lantern is needed - it's not like the stunt background couldn't be applied to a woman. And I'm not invested in current Oan events, into which this book wll be tying (I just want one GL book mostly set on Earth and not constantly feeding off the GL mythology). But I'll watch for Simon in upcoming Justice League comics, and see if I take to him.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Green Arrow #0 review

Several years ago, nineteen-year-old Ollie Queen is working as a glorified office boy on his father's oil rig, in the latest chance he's been given by his magnate dad to prove he's not a feckless pillock. Unfortunately, he is a feckless pillock, and in this zero month special celebrating one year of the New 52 he's invited several dozen of his bestest pals onto the rig for a party.

By his side is best pal Tommy Merlyn, who laughs at Ollie's attempts to fire a bow and arrow straight, and girlfriend Leena, who reckons Ollie could at least try being something other than a 24-hour party person. Leena flounces off after a little tiff, just as supervillain Iron Eagle arrives, having taken advantage of the relaxed security Ollie's instigated for his shindig. The bad guy stresses that he's just after oil, and if everyone sits tight, no one gets hurt.

Unfortunately, this is the moment that an impulsive, overconfident Ollie finally decides to prove his worth - and it's his friends who pay the price

Judd Winick marks a brief return to Green Arrow with an impressive glimpse at Oliver Queen's past, narrated by the hero himself. The events on the oil rig set Ollie on the path towards heroism, both in terms of landing him alone on a desert island, and teaching him to think before he acts - except when taking aim; that's when a developed instinct must be trusted.

The story also shows us how Ollie became acquainted with Roy Harper, the future Arsenal, and makes it believable that Tommy might move from friend to foe. I was surprised to see Ollie having a play with a bow and arrow before his island sojourn, but an existing interest explains why he'd fashion a bow when he became a reluctant Robinson Crusoe. I've never thought any explanation necessary, mind.

Storyteller supreme Freddie Williams II puts a lot of work in here, giving us a vibrant cast of characters, great movement on the page and detailed backgrounds. For the first time in awhile, Williams has an inker, and Rob Hunter does a first-rate job, capturing the character of the linework. I'm not sure where Williams is going next, now his stint on Captain Atom is over, but I'll certainly give that book a look. The pages are sensitively coloured by Tanya and Richard Horie, and sharply lettered by Rob Leigh. The cover comes from penciller Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado and colour house Hi-Fi, and actually manages to make the latest Green Arrow costume look good. It's just a shame the cover credits regular series writer Ann Nocenti for Winick's work. There's another error inside, with Ollie referring to Iron Eagle as Raven - wake up, chaps!

Otherwise, this is a top-notch flashback tale, deepening Ollie's character and setting up Merlyn (I never did understand that as the name for an archer - now it's his surname, which is fair enough) as Ollie's greatest enemy. Winick doesn't have any work planned for DC in the near future, but I hope this isn't the last time he adds to the Green Arrow myth.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Action Comics #0 review

It's already set five years in the past of the current DC Universe, but for zero month Action Comics goes just that little bit further back. To the week Clark Kent got a job at the Metropolis Daily Star while looking like a tramp. The week he moved into his first apartment. The week Superman made his first headlines. And the week he lost his cape.

Well, not 'lost', exactly. It's taken by a wee tyke, but things turn out for the best as the super-resilient cape both inspires and defends.

Other bits of business in Grant Morrison's story include the least subtle hint yet - heck, I'd go so far as to say it's a reveal - as to who the man in landlady Mrs Nyxly's life is; Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White's first reading of the symbol sported by the mysterious strongman popping up around the city; and Clark's assessment of Lois' writing style which shows he's quite the wordsmith himself.

This is solid, inessential fare, filling in the background of things we already know, or could guess at - but by cracky, it's entertaining. The biggest thing this story does is provide a bit of depth to Jimmy, letting us know something of his family background and what drives him.
The art by Ben Oliver is a treat for the eyes, bewitchingly realistic. The price for overall gorgeousness on a deadline, though, seems to be an overabundance of panels in which the figures are silhouettes - I counted something like 14 in 22 pages. And while counting may seem anal, I was curious as to how many there were because the constant black figures became so distracting. Where colours are needed, Brian Reber does a top job. And lettering the story, Steve Wands keeps it strong and subtle.

A back-up written by Sholly Fisch and drawn by Cafu shows us what prompted Erik Drekken to begin the research that wound up with him able to slide up and down the evolutionary scale and a member of the Anti-Superman Army. It also colours in some of the detail around recent villain Adam Blake, aka Captain Comet. It's an intriguing, good-looking time-passer, but other than the (rather guessable) Drekken reveal, more a bonus than a necessity.

The cover is by Reber and Oliver and it's of the quality that could see it mounted in the DC offices for years to come.

Overall, I'd say this is Action Comics marking time, giving us the zero issue required by DC's marketing team, but holding back its best tricks for the regular monthly. Nevertheless, it's more skilful, stylish and entertaining than most superhero books out there, so recommended nonetheless.

The Phantom Stranger #0 review

Each of DC's zero month issues features a Who's Who in the New 52! page, summing up what's known about the characters in each book. So far I've found the World's Finest and Earth 2 entries nice and straightforward. The Phantom Stranger's, though, gets rather coy: 'What little is known about the Phantom Stranger remains rumour and conjecture. His true identity forever unknown, it is said that the Stranger committed a great evil against the universe.'

Actually, his identity is made apparent in this very issue - the Stranger was once known as Judas Iscariot. He's not named, but script and art tell the tale.

Years ago, the identity of the Phantom Stranger was indeed a mystery to comic fans. When DC printed a Secret Origins special devoted to the onetime horror host, four creative teams gave us four different beginnings, with none favoured (read more about that issue at the excellent, if apparently dead, Phantom Stranger blog).

Writer Dan DiDio and artists Brent Anderson and Scott Hanna don't name names, but unless the DC Universe had another situation in which a man with infinity capacity for forgiveness was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, and those coins were used to buy a field, and he left behind a robe, well, we're talking Judas.

You can't have it both ways, revealing all in the story, then denying what we've just seen on a text page. It's Judas - in a surprisingly traditional reading of his motivations for that betrayal - and I think readers can cope with that. It's not like Mike W Barr and Jim Aparo, in that Secret Origins issue 25 years ago, didn't already link the Stranger to the Crucifixion, although they invented a man named Isaac rather than use Judas.

The story opens with another perspective on the mystical trial of Judas, Pandora and an unnamed fellow as seen in this year's Free Comic Book Day special from DC. Judged one of history's greatest sinners, Judas is condemned by a Mysterious Voice to walk the Earth, clad in the robe of Christ and wearing a necklace made of the silver coins, until called on to make amends by helping someone. Thousands of years later he's guided to help desperate detective Jim Corrigan find his kidnapped girl, Gwen, before his temper gets the better of him and he kills someone. Using his mystical gift ('I catch glimpses of the future and tie them to the present'), the Stranger reveals to Corrigan that Gwen is in an abandoned warehouse.

But she ain't, Corrigan gets killed by hoods, transforms into the Spectre and accuses the Stranger of betraying him. He's about to stomp the Stranger when Mysterious Voice sends him off to inflict his wrath on the more deserving.

Yup, God (ssssh, don't call it God!) set the Stranger up to set Corrigan up because he wants a Spectre.

As payment for being a patsy, one coin drops off the necklace and the Stranger realises he has a fair few encounters ahead of him before he's forgiven. Going back to the Who's Who page, there's a detail in there that you'd think DiDio might have given us in the story - the Stranger will always betray those in whose lives he intervenes.

That's not a bad set-up. The Stranger has a finite number of missions, and there's no guarantee he'll be helping individuals in that old Touched by a Quantum Leap way. I fear DiDio may have shackled himself with such a rigid formula, but we'll see.

It's odd that God - oh all right, DC likes us to say The Presence - couldn't find someone else to plug into a New 52 origin for The Spectre, but Dan works in mysterious ways. DiDio's script is decent, workmanlike for the most part, though actively bad in the pages detailing Corrigan's exchange with his boss - editor Wil Moss might have gotten out the blue pencil and made it less wooden. But I feel I got to know the Stranger a little, which is necessary if we're going to be reading him as protagonist rather than short story host, his most familiar function.

The art by Anderson and Hanna is exemplary; the draftsmanship elegant, the finishes lush. The Stranger and the Spectre both look superb, unknowable and powerful. The only thing I'd tweak would be the necklace, which looks rather too Disco for something meant to be made of ancient coins. The pages are coloured by Jeromy Cox, as moodily as you could wish for. Cox also colours Anderson's cover, which is spooky, but a little too murky to my eye.

I remain to be convinced that the Phantom Stranger can work as series star rather than occasional guest, but it could be that the series debuting next month is secretly limited, existing mainly to set up the Trinity War event trailed in that Free Comic Book Day Special. On the basis of this issue, I'll at least give the strip a chance to impress me.

World's Finest #0 review

In the first issue of Earth 2 we saw how Supergirl and Robin were bumped from their own world to Earth 1, where they refashioned themselves into Power Girl and the Huntress. Here, as part of DC's zero month, we see their earliest days as crimefighters, and how they met.

I enjoyed this from beginning to end, with highlights of Paul Levitz's script including a peek at the Earth 2 Selina Kyle, Catwoman and mother to Helena Wayne, the debuting Robin. There's a mystery surrounding Supergirl's arrival from Krypton, and hints around how Lois Lane died. Supergirl, we learn, was Superman's secret weapon, just as the Silver Age version was, while Robin planned to be a homefront hero while dad Batman fought the forces of Apokolips alongside his fellow 'wonders'. Soon, though, events cause the teens to get out front and centre with their fellow heroes,

I hope that at some point Levitz writes a story featuring the home life of Mr and Mrs Wayne, because the brief look we get here (click on image to enlarge) shows a pleasingly passionate pair. It seems that, if not henpecked, Bruce Wayne isn't the only one wearing the trousers. Or Bat-trunks, as the case may be.

Levitz contrasts the youthful enthusiasm of Supergirl with the melancholy of her cousin, and outlines what must be the first piece of advice given any Robin, but it's one I don't recall seeing previously. Basically, the issue is filled with smart character bits, clever detail and hints of stories not fully told.

And the artwork of penciller Kevin Maguire and inker Wes Craig is just edible, replete with great expressions and telling body language. Robin is spunky with her parents' confidence, Supergirl sweet yet strong, Catwoman a motherly vamp, Bruce the concerned Dad and Superman the father figure of them all. The action sequences are fluid, and the Supergirl and Robin costumes so good that it's a shame we won't see them regularly; certainly, Supergirl's outfit is miles more attractive than the Earth 1 Kara's nightmarish togs.

The issue is well coloured by Rosemary Cheetham, who also toned Maguire's outstanding cover

Whether you're a fan of the Superman or Batman Families, Silver, Bronze or Modern Age, or just the new Earth 2 series, there's something here for you.

Earth 2 #0 review

DC's New 52 initiative is one year old. More than four dozen new and revamped books came and since then, a few have gone and been replaced. The overall success of the line-wide relaunch (commercial, if not always creative) is celebrated this month with a slew of 'zero issues' - stories set before we joined the New 52 timeline.

So here's somethng of what happened on Earth 2 before the recent debut issue, which saw Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman die as they forced a retreat by invaders from Apokolips. The narrator is Terry Sloan, 'the smartest man on Earth'. In comics history, Terry Sloane was the original Mr Terrific, Justice Society of America member in good standing. This chap is Mr 8, a self-styled hero working with Earth's 'wonders' to beat back the hostile aliens. He shows us just how bad things are on Earth, with entire nations enslaved by Steppenwolf's 'anti-life' process and the heroes no nearer a win after several years of fighting.

And he thinks he knows what needs to be done - cut out a cancer to save the rest of the body. It's not an easy operation: he's going to wipe Italy, Brazil, Pakistan and South Africa off the map. His reasons are twofold - ensure the World Army doesn't waste time trying to save zombified civilians who are beyond hope, and show Steppenwolf that the people of Earth are willing to do whatever it takes to win. But first, he has to betray his three most formidable colleagues ...

Talk about blasts from the past. Since he appeared briefly in the Earth 2 series, I've been dying to know more about Sloan, and James Robinson gives us a good look here. Incredibly intelligent and more arrogant still, his words are persuasive - of course some countries are beyond saving, of course their people should be sacrificed. And of course, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman -  on Earth 2, the Ternion, rather than the Trinity - would never go along with the notion ... they believe that where there's life, there's hope.

One thing that guides Sloan's decisions is an accidental look at parallel Earths (including, perhaps, the world of Kingdom Come), and conclusion that bad as the forces of Apokolips are, something worse is coming. That tallies with what new Green Lantern Alan Scott has been told in the regular series, feeding my anticipation for coming storylnes. A further mystery, one just introduced here, is the identity of a hero Sloan won't name, for some terrible thing they did - what could be worse than his own acts?

A nice touch from Robinson is Sloan's list of Superman's weaknesses (click on image to enlarge).
The in-story reason for the name Mr 8, rather than Mr Terrific, is a bit random. I love the Mr Terrific monicker - it's so big-headed, perfect for a man like Sloan. As for Mr 8's costume, it's forgettable, like something a D-list Spider-Man villain would wear.

I doubt artist Tomas Giorello designed it, given DC Editorial's hands-on attitude to such things. I am waving a finger at Giorello for Wonder Woman's chest zeppelins, and at least one utterly grauitous knickers shot (that panel above is both good and bad). Otherwise, I like the artwork; Giorello's storytelling is fine, his characters have grandeur and the big moments are suitably bombastic. There's excellent work, too, from colourist Nathan Eyring, who makes the blockbuster sequences even bigger.

The cover by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Rod Reis is, I think you'll agree, stunning.

If you were hoping DC's zero month would be a chance to save money by skipping inessential bits of backstory, you won't like this - it's a compelling chapter in the history of Earth 2 and an essential lead-in to upcoming events. 

I can stand it.

Preview review - Seventh Dimension of the Devil #1

Told by her Dad that she's the last, best hope in a battle between God and the Devil, 11-year-old Julie freaks. Understandably. But running away from a prophecy isn't a luxury she has, as the forces of evil come calling close to home. She's forced to do some growing up and soon she's taking on the Devil - but when it seems the battle is won, the Devil claims that Julie's mission isn't quite what she's been led to believe ...

Of course, would you believe an infernal demon with no one there to contradict him? I suspect that Julie's answer is a big part of issue #2. Before that, this debut from Blue Eye Comics has intriguing aspects of its own - who wrote the book Julie's father possesses, telling of seven Earths which are the subject of a bet between God and Devil? What are the powers which allow her to take on a fallen angel? And what will happen when her mother - supposedly off gathering help for Julie - shows up?

They're good questions, ones which should intrigue the Young Adult readers at which this comic is, presumably, aimed. Before we get to the action there's an unashamed infodump, and while I prefer the overarching story elements to be revealed naturally as we move along, in the end it's simply a matter of taste ... lots of people like to know what they're in for as quickly as possible. The set-up of Chosen One vs Ultimate Bad Guy, mentors and prophecies, has been done to death, but that's because these themes resonate; and besides, I read about a dozen superhero comics per week so it'd be rich to whinge about genre cliches.  

Julie's a bit of a cypher this issue, her primary role being to react to the scary future she's told faces her; by the close of this chapter, though, she's embracing her role, and has gone through changes which should allow her to become the big player she's predicted to be. The Devil, unfortunately, is simply annoying, far too self-conscious in his dialogue ('Call me Lou')  - let's hope he settle down speedily.

When it's not laying out backstory, Lee Kolinsky's script has its moments. This one is among my favourites (click on image to enlarge).
And I like that Kolinsky has a Big Picture he's working with - now he's got the set-up out of the way, and main players in place, there's room to go wild.

Arifin Samsul's illustrations serve the script well. There are weak spots (compositions that chop off character heads in consecutive panels; facial expressions that try for 'intense' but achieve 'mad; sound effects that don't quite work), but overall he hits the right beats. The action sequences are strong, the backgrounds pretty great and his colour work excellent. The word balloons need to be better thought out, mind - some are far too big for the amount of dialogue, others have a sinister edge where I can't imagine one is desired. Hopefully Kolinsky and Samsul's collaboration will last long enough for wrinkles to be ironed out and creative synergies to emerge.
If you enjoy fantasy fiction in which a kid has to step up and fight forces they can barely understand, you might give Seventh Dimension of the Devil a try when it appears on 1 October.