Thursday, 31 January 2013

Superman Family Adventures #9 review

Brainiac arrives on Earth and persuades Lex Luthor to team up with him for an attack on the Fortress of Solitude. Well, I say 'persuades' but in truth, he kidnaps Lex, putting him in charge of his shrink ray. Meanwhile, Metropolis is revelling in the super-efficient Brainiac tech that's been popping up without explanation. Perry White loves the Daily Planet's new computers, but Clark Kent is wary of any machine bearing the logo of a space pirate. And when Perry spots 'a skull-shaped alien space ship', it can mean only one thing.
Ah, that did my heart good - have we seen this iconic moment at all in the last several years of DC Comics?

Brainiac hits Superman with a Kryptonite ray unlike anything we've seen previously. I really can't justify spoiling its effects, but I can reveal the colour, periwinkle, and that it makes Lois Lane one very happy woman.

The villains arrive in the midst of a joyful scene - Superman's mom, Lara, was last month discovered to have survived Krypton's demise, and here she's trying out her super-powers. Egging 'Auntie Lara' on are Supergirl and Superboy, along with Bizarro and Krypto. The mysterious Brainiac bug is also around, but he's a tough one to read.

And that's quite enough precis - just know that there's fighting and fluffiness, wit and warmth in a supremely satisfying one-issue wonder that rewards readers who've been with SFA from the beginning and wondered why the constant barrage of boulders from beyond.

Writers Art Baltazar and Franco once more blend characters and continuity from seven decades of comic book and screen adventures, add in fresh ideas of their own and come up with a Superman comic for the ages, and all-ages. Kids will enjoy the smiley heroes and pets having DayGlo fun while older readers will appreciate the subtle sophistication and nods to the classics. Fans tired of the main line Superman Family's in-fighting will delight in a Superman, Supergirl and Superboy who love to spend time together. And everyone will relish the jokes, not least the closing scene between Clark and one very knowing girl reporter. Then there's a cameo from Miss Eve Teschmacher, and a charming chat between Luthor and Brainiac on the streets of Metropolis. I was grinning from start to finish.

Baltazar's artwork is super-cheery: bold and colourful, perfect for a world in which tiny Kryptonians play frisbee with super-pups. Pared-down character designs plus dynamic compositions equal pages that are Pop Art poetry, a treat for the eyes. That they're telling a coherent, amusing adventure is the cherry on the cake.

If you're worn down by the never-ending, frankly constipated 'storytelling' of many DC New 52 books, give this comic a try. One issue will put the smile back on your face. It's a crying shame that DC is cancelling it with #14, but good on DC for giving the book more than a year to find an audience big enough to satisfy the accountants - the one foe no hero can defeat. I don't suppose they might license it to a publisher with more success in getting kid-friendly comics to places where they might sell?

Archie Presents: The Superman Family Adventures, anybody?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Superman #16 review

As the Justice League tries to reclaim Superman's Fortress of Solitude from him, H'el tells Supergirl his tale. He'd already given the bare bones, but now she gets a richer narrative of his beginnings as an astronaut sent into space by Superman's father Jor-El in a bid to save Krypton's people from dying with their world. Presumably he's using his psi abilities to put pictures into Kara's head, showing him as the handsome student, beloved by Jor-El and Lara, given the El family crest as a mark of their affection and cheered by the gathered people who hope he can save them from becoming so much space dust.

Yeah, right. Poor, deluded Kara may take in this nonsense, but everything is just too angled towards making H'el seem the humble, noble hero. Maybe in the New 52 DC Universe the people of Krypton - for the first time in any version of Superman's history - knew of their world's coming end. Heck, DC has made Wonder Woman's Amazon sisters men-raping monsters so nothing is beyond them. I don't believe it, though. I think writer Scott Lobdell is clueing us in that H'el is full of nonsense; he's as twisted inside as he is outside. Plus, J'or never calls the astronaut by any name - it could well be Legion of Super-Heroes member Mon-El we're seeing, given the similarity to his Silver Age origin, with H'el a passing, deluded janitor.

And hallelujah, Kara is finally starting to have her doubts, to emerge from whatever spell she's allowed herself to be put under, so desperate is her desire to go home again.

Sadly, Kara's questions don't bring answers. Just as H'el seems ready to tell her that in order to travel back in time, Earth must die, Superman breaks into the chamber, followed by Superboy, and a fight ensues, causing H'el to take desperate measures.

The Justice League, meanwhile, learn why they've been having such a tough time reaching H'el, but never mind, they've had a good showing here, pulling together without bickering like brats. I hope this team shows up in the Justice League book sometime ...

While much of this issue continues the fight seen in the preceding Superboy, Supergirl and Superboy Annual, the dawning of doubt in Kara represents a reawakening of the character's intelligence. She's asking questions. Maybe next time she'll actually demand some answers.

Meanwhile, an understandably peeved Superboy bashes Supergirl soundly for earlier slights. As a massive Kara fan, it pains me to see her being the patsy of the crossover, but if she winds up wiser, and is the one to finally wallop H'el, I'll be somewhat happier.

For fairness' sake, Superman also gets to look like a total stook this issue. Asked why he has world-threatening creatures in his Interplanetary Zoo, Superman says he had no choice - it was a case of bring them to Earth or leave them to destroy their planet of origin. As opposed to, let's see, throwing them into space/the Phantom Zone/an uninhabited world/wherever.

Still, the moment pales before this sick-making little scene (click on image to enlarge).
Gee, 'Prince Diana', why not just get a t-shirt announcing 'He's MY boyfriend' and have done with it? 'Superman's current lover'? Oh, aren't we grown up. Otherwise, the script isn't half bad; Kara's a little more stilted than in her own book but again, I'm putting that down to her being in thrall to H'el - she's begun mimicking his romance novel speech patterns.

Look at the above panels again, and give credit to Lobdell for at least bothering to introduce the characters, unlike some big name >cough< writers. We're also thoroughly appraised of what this crossover is about, meaning that for once a comic company's claims about issues being able to be read independently of one another rings true. And if readers do want to read more, foonotes indicate where to find previous happenings.

There's an illuminating moment that helps define Superboy's TK-based abilities, increasing his potential as a powerhouse, and I do like that Kon the clone doesn't bow down before Batman, like the rest of the DC Universe.

Kenneth Rocafort continues to put other artists to shame, maintaining a monthly schedule without compromising on quality. His heroes look tip-top - noble, strong, determined - while H'el appears seductively evil. And the big rumpus scenes work very well indeed, having a real energy behind them. The colours of Sunny Gho and Blond add final definition to the players while making the art pop.

While I like my Superman comics to balance heroics with Clark Kent's daily life, it's unrealistic to expect this in a Big Daft Crossover. I do wish, though, that a page or two had been devoted to Lois and the rest of the Daily Planet staff - what do they know of the current conflict, are they missing Clark, that kind of thing. I hope they return to the spotlight once H'el on Earth is finished. Meanwhile, this was a pretty decent instalment, showing how the various characters react to the same dire situation.

But please, someone give Wonder Woman a cold shower.

Hawkeye #7 review

What can a guy who shoots arrows do against a cataclysmic storm? Very little, as Hawkeye admits in this rush-release issue set against last October's Superstorm Sandy. Clint Barton, though, can do his bit, helping neighbour Grills get his father out of his Rockaway Beach home and to safety. And junior Hawkeye Kate Bishop gets out into the flooded streets of New Jersey to find desperately needed medication for a friend's mother.

As ever, Clint's biggest weapon is his humanity; he's always for the little guy, and here he has to negotiate not just the terrible weather, but the emotional storm that is the relationship between Grills and his father. Grills proves as much a hero as Clint, diving into a flooded basement to save something precious, and building bridges in his own quiet way.

Kate bumps into looters at a drugstore near the engagement party she's attending. She brandishes her bow at the bad guys, but it's the 'ordinary folk' who bring a happy resolution to events, and not because they've been inspired by a superhero's pluck - the goodness is just in them. There's a crisis, and they're pulling together.

Matt Fraction's script is understated and heartwarming. He doesn't bother having Clint 'explain' why some godlike superhero isn't stopping the storm. He trusts readers to get it - this is the comic that eschews the flashier side of the Marvel Universe. If you remember that, say, Thor and Storm exist, you as quickly assume they're busy elsewhere. This book is the palate cleanser, a place where the little guy shines. And shine he does, as Fraction gifts his characters with dialogue you can say out loud without embarrassment, and humour arising from personality rather than contrivance

The art is shared by Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm. Drawing the Clint section, Lieber skews closely to the David Aja house style, while using his own storytelling skills to excellent effect. My favourite page of a good-looking issue is Lieber's splash - no pun intended - of three men in a boat, simply conversing as the skies fall. And there's a silent panel that says more about Grills' dad than could any number of words. Kate's kinetic storyline is handled by newcomer Hamm, with looser linework emphasising the Young Avenger's frustration. It almost gets too cartoony at times, but stays just the right side of charming. The colours of Matt Hollingsworth help unify the story, while Chris Eliopoulos's lettering is quietly effective.

The same can be said of David Aja's cover, with the pulled-apart logo gently nodding towards Sandy. I suppose the spinning fireball represents the eye of the storm - it's tough to evoke wind and keep this series' cool graphic cover treatment. Were I Marvel, I'd have put a Superstorm Sandy Benefit Issue banner across the book to encourage sales - Fraction is donating money earned to the Red Cross, and Marvel and Disney have also given - but it seems the artistic aesthetic won out. Still, no complaints, this is a production as classy as it is entertaining. Everyone involved should take a bow.

Er, that's bow, not bow. Oh forget it, you know what I mean - well done, chaps!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Geek Girl #0 review and Mr Mash-Up #0 review


When Ruby Kaye lands a pair of hi-tech glasses invented by a brainiac student in a game of strip poker, she's granted flight, super-strength, and - due to a flaw in the specs' programming - super-klutziness! That's the set-up for this indie comic by Sam Johnson and Sally Stone-Thompson, first published last October but back with a second-print cover courtesy of Meisha Mimotofu.

There's a refreshingly everyday feel to the interactions of the students who make up Ruby's social circle. There are no nasty jocks or bitch queens, just believable kids who may get briefly annoyed at one another for, say, spilling a drink on a dress, but don't swear vengeance. Ruby is a little ... enthusiastic in her pursuit of scientist Trevor's glasses, but I'd want them badly too. And while it's pretty unbelievable he'd use them as a stake in a card game, drink is involved. No doubt he'll be trying to get them back before long.

There's a little too much space given to the admittedly enjoyable banter and too little to seeing Ruby strut her stuff as Geek Girl, but I like what we do get. Plus, there's a fine moment of foreboding once Ruby leaves after doing her first official good deed.

Stone-Thompson's work isn't the slickest, but she gives her characters comendably varied features and clothing, and shows a good touch with backgrounds; unfortunately, too many pages seem to be set in a featureless limbo. This is something colour could have helped with, but this is a black and white book.

Still, a comic starring a heroine with super-klutziness is almost bound to have a few hiccups. 

Also out now is Mr Mash-Up #0, a Geek Girl spin-off. In the first of three strips aimed at older readers, Cabra Cini, Voodoo Hitwoman, has accepted a contract on Tom Spelling, who killed his girlfriend in a pretendy vampire lark. Along the way, she runs into one Mr Mash-Up. And if that sounds familiar, you've either read Digital Visions #4 or my review of same. The rest of this black and white comic is also reprint material, showcasing Mr Mash-Up in his appearances outside of Geek Girl.

Return of the Prodigal #!%* shows us a different side to the limbo demon Cabra meets, with him positioned as underappreciated scion of a warrior family.An albino scythe-slinger, he has the ability to become anyone's worst nightmare, and here teams up with female fighter Delfi Matrix, who's getting a spotlight in Geek Girl. Like all the strips in this anthology, it's written by that man Johnson, and the mystery is how the apparently sane warrior here becomes the monster seen in the other strips. It establishes Mr Mash-Up's power during a scuffle with the 'Screemers', but Delfi fails to step out of the box marked Generic Female Fighter. The art by penciller Eric Lamont and inker Mike Bunt has energy, but looks very much like the work of journeymen beginners.

Then there's Gold Town, a place where urban legends are real - and Mr Mash-Up is among them. He's barely seen this strip, but his presence is felt as one Pete the Pimp, a rubbish wrangler of ladies of the night, bids to recruit new girls. Unfortunately for him, the only woman interested turns out to be more than he can handle. While Pete's open declaration to strangers that he's a pimp, and Huggy Bear wardrobe, made me giggle, this strip has the most potential, in a comics grindhouse way. Meisha Mimotofu's art isn't flashy, but the layouts work well and the characters look fine. The storytelling works for the most part, bar one moment when it seems Pete has been shot, but he hasn't - the shame of it is, I loved the composition of the panel which 'showed' he'd taken a bullet.

All in all, Mr Mash-Up is a varied read, showcasing Johnson's versatility, as well as his tyro artists and the title character. 

Being from a small British independent, you may find it difficult to get hold of Geek Girl and Mr Mash-Up, so I'm borrowing some info from Actuality Press' PR bumf. But call me Mr Advertorial and I'm setting the Voodoo Hitwoman on you!

Geek-Girl #0 is available now in $2.50 Regular and Variant Editions and $1 digital/Kindle Editions – along with regular and digital editions of Mr. Mash-Up #0 – at www.geekgirlcomics.com

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Avengers #3 review

In which the expanded Avengers team reaches Mars, fights world transformers Ex Nihilo, Abyss and Aleph, and a Damascene conversion occurs.

Said change of heart comes courtesy of new Avenger Captain Universe. I have no idea who she is - writer Jonathan Hickman doesn't deign to tell us here - but she has a thing for pies. Ooh, quirky. Anyway, because she channels the spirit of the universe or something, when she tells the troublesome trio to stick to converting uninhabited worlds, two of them jump.

Frankly, it doesn't make for the most convincing ending to this first arc. I do appreciate that Hickman got the ball rolling quickly, but it's awfully convenient - how come no previous Captain Universe intervened? Would aliens so arrogant as to mutilate living beings as they reshape worlds really be so subservient to a cosmic mom? All but Aleph go from horrific force to no threat in the blink of an eye, with Ex Nihilo even starting to act like some dumb kid.

The only reason I can see is the sheer power of Captain Universe, which dwarfs that of the robotic Aleph. But I'm still not convinced. The story looks good, as drawn by Jerome Opena, and there are amusing moments - such as Spidey's search for a tool - but there are just too many characters. The Legion of Super-Heroes makes a virtue of its massive cast, constantly introducing the members by name, homeworld and ability. The only help first-timers get here is one of Hickman's elegant graphics and a roll call on the space-gobbling, getting bored now, title and credits spread. Quick introductions of characters as they arrive on panel would be useful, and smart - I've read all three issues of this new book, but aren't sure of who everyone is, and what they do. Hopefully, future issues will give us enough quiet moments to get to know the characters and it won't seem like there are simply too many Avengers for a 20-page instalment.

Another problem is that a 'New Adam' created by the aliens suddenly starts spouting something in an alien language, and it's apparently scary. There's one of those annoying Marvel AR boxes, hinting at a translation, but it won't activate for my app. Bleeding Cool kindly reveals all, but such obfuscation isn't cool, it's annoying.
And while the artwork of Opena is pleasingly sleek and powerful, it can't serve the story when he avoids a face shot that may have picked up the slack where words apparently failed Hickman (click on image to enlarge). I think that's Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, but who knows? And presumably Hyperion doesn't punch Bruce Banner to death - the moment isn't followed up.

Dustin Weaver and Justin Ponsor's cover is, as you can see, lovely - bot all to do with this issue, but lovely nonetheless.

This is your textbook comic that's written to be read in the trades. Even the Marvel recap page doesn't help, being a TV-style collection of moments rather than a straightforward story-so-far precis. If you've been reading from the debut issue, you've a decent chance of getting something out of Avengers #3, but I suspect you're equally likely to be as frustrated as I was with this issue.

Supergirl #16 review

We're still in the Superman Family's H'el on Earth crossover, with the Flash trying to rescue Supergirl from the influence of creepy Kryptonian H'el. Kara, though, doesn't believe she needs rescuing. She's bought H'el's claims that together they can go back in time and rescue her homeworld and thinks that Superman is having his Justice League friends try to stop them out of spite and wrongheadedness.

Can a man with one super-power prove a threat to a woman with many, including his own? He can. Because Flash has just the one power, he's learned more ways in which to use it - Kara is astonished when he vibrates them through a wall. Plus, his super-speed is more intense than hers, putting her on the back foot. So it is that the Flash holds his own against Supergirl, until an unscheduled trip to Superman's interplanetary zoo forces them to work together.

Not for long, though. Once out, Flash makes a last-ditch effort against Kara, utilising an alien weapon from the Fortress armoury. It's only the intervention of H'el that saves Kara's bacon.

This issue also features a flashback to H'el's arrival on Earth, showing that he was observed by the alien herald of The Oracle. And at the end of the book, we see that said Oracle is standing outside Earth's atmosphere and ready to do Lord knows what. He certainly puts the willies up some passing aliens ...

... so, even if Superman and the JLA stop H'el's plan to use the Earth as time-trip fuel, the planet's in big trouble.

You know what Kara's biggest problem in facing the Flash is? She's been de-brained. Not content with having her swallow H'el's tales of planetary rescue as instantly as she protested Superman's revelation that Krypton was dead, writer Mike Johnson has her forget that she has any powers beyond flight, fists and speed. With freeze breath, vision powers, a sunburst and more, there must be any number of ways she could take down The Flash. But it's all speedy flying punches - and a rather vicious knee to the face - with Kara remembering she has heat vision only for an instant, to save Flash from an alien beastie. I realise Flash's speed has Kara off guard, but she's previously proven very capable of adaptive thinking on her feet.

Supergirl really is a dumb blonde at the moment.

It doesn't help that when Flash manages to speak to her, keeping the story going requires that he asks her only to come and talk to Superman, rather than bark out that if she's to have a chance of saving Krypton, Earth must die. That would have given her pause. Instead, she stays angry, focused only on serving H'el.

It really is shocking treatment of a superheroine in her own book.

Kara calms down only when she comes across Krypto, learning for the first time that baby cousin Kal's dog survived Krypton's destruction. Of course, she takes it as a sign that H'el's plan must go ahead. The girl meets dog reunion is the only happy moment in the comic - who knows, perhaps Kara will see that Krypto trusts Kal and think again about her new alliance?

Johnson, despite having been on this book since the beginning, here writes a much better Flash than Supergirl: he's smart, compassionate and wonderfully everyman in his reactions to learning that Superman has a) a zoo and b) a dog. Again, though, I believe Johnson is hobbled by the role Kara's been assigned for this crossover.

The Flash also fares well under the pencils and inks of Mahmud Asrar, who manages to channel some of the kinetic dynamism of Francis Manapul in Flash's own book. The frenetic layouts match the super-speed action, while the alien critters are suitably eerie. Kudos to colourist Dave McCaig for not only lively interior work, but for the wonderfully Silver Age treatment of the logo on Asrar's eyecatching cover - it really stands out.

Next issue, we're promised Supergirl versus the entire Justice League roster. I fully expect her to come across as a shrewish idiot. Please let H'el on Earth end soon, so Kara can stop being a misguided plot point and recapture her previous character growth.

Legion of Super-Heroes #16 review

It's Shrinking Violet and Chameleon Boy vs Validus as the search for the new Fatal Five continues. The pair visit prison planet Takron Galtos with colleague Lightning Lass to see if the giant with mental lightning really is still imprisoned in impregnable inertron, or if there's been a bait and switch.

Back on Earth, the rest of the team are tied up with the annual election for Legion leader. No one seems to be actively campaigning, but in a future that sees the Earth President drafted by computer, maybe personal desire isn't important. Certainly the winner - and may I just say, hurrah - didn't ask for the job. I reckon they'll do well, given their intelligence and experience.

While I'm still hoping this comic gets a 'main event' feel soon, this is a satisfying issue; the trip to Takron-Galtos shines a spotlight on the Legionnaires Three and reintroduces us to former Legion Academy member Gravity Kid. And the election allows a 'day in the life' feel, catching us up on such things as Star Boy's health, Chemical Kid's hero worshipping and the state of the Shadow Lass/Mon-El relationship. Plus, the mystery of rookie Legion witch Glorith looks to be moving centre stage, and Cosmic Boy gives a rousing pep talk to outgoing leader Mon-El.

Writer Paul Levitz shows his familiarity with the cast, keeping them in character while still able to toss out the odd logical surprise, as he does here with Star Boy's attitude to his return to full-time superheroing. And even when someone displays a less-than-admirable attitude, as with Shrinking Violet's alarming comments about the monstrous Validus, we don't lose sight of the heroism. The tussle with Validus is well choreographed, with some big moments that allow artist Scott Kolins to strut his stuff. Although I'm not keen on Kolins' interpretation of Cham's face, I love the life and energy he puts into every page. He deserves special credit for packing the book not just with dozens of Legionnaires, but with background aliens and 31st-century architecture and technology. Javier Mena's DayGlo palette works well with the cheerier scenes, darkening appropriately for the Validus pages. There's more than decent lettering, too, from Carlos M Mangual, and the issue is topped off by a fantastic cover from classic Legion artist Steve Lightle and colourist Guy Major.

So, rich characterisation, action aplenty, ongoing mysteries and terrific artwork - I vote the election issue a hit.

Young Avengers #1 review

High above the Earth, teenage Hawkeye Kate Bishop and Kree warrior Noh-Varr fight Skrulls who've interrupted a perfect morning after the night before. On Earth, shapeshifter Hulking borrows another hero's identity to foil a mugging. In a diner, god of mischief Loki feasts with no intention of paying, while well-travelled powerhouse Miss America Chavez keeps an eye on him.

And there's more. Hulking and boyfriend Wiccan have a talk about love, loss and heroism. Wiccan uses his magical powers to get Hulking the most amazing gift. And Irony proves a terrible visitor.

Yes, this is me being vague with story details. There's so much to enjoy in Kieron Gillen's script for this new version of Young Avengers, as much in terms of incident as character, that it'd be a shame to spoil it with a blow-by-blow. Let's just say that Gillen immediately strikes out in his own directions, adopting the young characters and inviting them to get out into the world and make it their own. Even a character I've never taken to, Marvel Boy, gains appeal in just a panel or two, while the more likeable likes of Kate retain their charm and even move up a notch. Read Young Avengers and cheer. And heck, it's a Marvel book priced at $2.99, so pretty affordable.

And pretty artwise, too, as Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton produce page after page of eye candy with real storytelling vim. Whether it's quiet panels of two characters having a heart to heart, or a busy action scene, the artists give it their A-game. One smart touch among many is Hulkling - let's just call him Teddy, it's less clunky - as Spider-Man ... the physical details aren't quite right, which makes sense given Teddy's not had prolongued contact with the hero. Then there's the look of wonderment as Wiccan - back from a hero break - lets himself feel once more just how awesome his powers are.
Colouring the book, Matthew Wilson adapts adeptly to setting and mood, while Clayton Cowles gives great runespeak, and makes the aforementioned action spread even better with some bold font choices.

I like the cover a lot - it's 'designer' without being too out there, Pop Art for today.

I've moaned about so many Marvel Now! books being twice monthly, but here's one comic I'd love to be reading fortnightly. With a freshened cast, fresh ideas, lovely art and a light touch that makes the darker moments stand out all the more, it's a delight from start to finish.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Superboy #16 review

In which Superboy, Superman and the Justice League fight to take the Fortress of Solitude back from Kryptonian con man H'el. At stake, the survival of Planet Earth.

This is down the line superhero fun. I nearly typed 'big dumb superhero fun' but it really isn't - writer Tom DeFalco is at his best here, producing a rock solid chapter of the H'el on Earth crossover with the Superman and Supergirl titles. He writes the Teen of Steel as a striver, trying to embrace the best of himself and do what's right for the world. He's still not so sure about Superman, but he's doing his damndest to help, and we see just how far he'll go in a moment leading into the upcoming Superboy Annual. DeFalco's Justice League is first rate too, proper professionals rather than the shower they've often seemed in their own series. H'el's plan to sacrifice Earth to energy-fund a trip back in time to save Krypton isn't advanced much, but as a stepping stone along the way, this issue is thoroughly entertaining. It even boasts this line: 'Killer Droids from Epsilon 18!' Well, what else would Superman have in his fortress?

Oh, and DeFalco shows that thought balloons still have their place in modern comics, using them sparingly, but well.

It's just a shame the demands of the crossover keep Supergirl firmly in place as H'el's dupe. The woman has X-ray vision - she has to see through him soon, surely?

The story looks great too, thanks to the energetic thumbnails of Ron Frenz which Iban Coello and Amilcar Pinna work up into full pencils, before the finishing inks are added by Pinna himself and Rob Lean. Then Tanya and Richard Horie apply bright, but never garish, colours. The result is sleek, bombastic pages, with the only negative being a discontinuity which means Batman doesn't get to wear this ...
... for the entire issue. Over in Batman, the Joker wants to make Batman a king; it turns out he already has the ermine.

Batman #16 review

The Death of the Family crossover continues, with Batman wandering the corridors of Arkham Asylum, transformed into a twisted Bat-Castle in tribute to the Caped Crusader. A dance of death with guards and prisoners dressed as twirling Jokers and Batmen; blazing knights and nightmarish steeds; a tapestry of Batman's adventures made of mutilated men.

It's grisly stuff, but Batman fights past all threats and presses on, his spirit unbroken. Mr Freeze, Clayface, Scarecrow ... none of them mean much as Batman strives to find the missing members of his family. And when he reaches the throne room, Batman finds the Joker with more of his archvillains - the Penguin, the Riddler and Two-Face, taking on the roles of court members. And across the floor, four unfortunates representing members of the Justice League, ripe for execution.

There are clever ideas in Scott Snyder's latest script; the fit of villains and court roles makes sense. You can feel Batman's real unease with the situation. And the torments he faces are creative.

But far too grisly. Snyder is smart enough to come up with credible problems and threats without resorting to the easy out of disembowelments and death. It's wearying to read Batman going from room to room, meeting one horror after another, unable to save the Joker's victims. And bringing in a cod Justice League begs the question: why doesn't Batman call in Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest? Why hasn't he got the Flash searching for his loved ones? Why isn't Cyborg summoned to shut down Arkham's systems? Yes, when reading the solo book of a superhero team member we have to pretend they don't have gods on speed-dial. And I'm perfectly willing to do so, for the sake of drama. But it wasn't me who brought up the Justice League.

Suffice to say, Batman doesn't call in the real League. And the fake League suffers.

On its own terms, Snyder's story works. There's an all-pervading air of nastiness as he works to convince us that the Joker is a Mephistophelean figure, able to manipulate anyone in his vendetta against Batman. It's at the expense of the hero though, with Batman's only success being that he keeps moving forward. Which, given the Court of Owls storyline in which even evisceration couldn't stop him, is no surprise. I'm ready for a new surprise, for Batman to dazzle the Joker with his own display of genius. Likely we'll get such in the closing chapter, very soon now, but this story's gone on for so long that Batman looks like an amateur, forever on the back foot.

The pencils of Greg Capullo and inks of Jonathan Glapion make for a tasty dish to set before the Bat-King. They ooze darkness, drip with menace. The two-page reveal of the throne room and its inhabitants is especially eye-popping. Colourist FCO Plascencia once again earns his spurs as an artistic partner, taking control of the mood on various occasions. The fly-ridden Joker is a real horror, while most of the vignettes can't be faulted in terms of storytelling impact. Most ... there's a sequence with Mr Freeze that I couldn't make head nor tail of. I think Batman chopped off his hand, though. Answers on a postcard, please.

There's more great art in the back-up strip, which follows on from the lead's final page. The Joker wants to continue his fun without the Penguin, Joker and Two-Face, making for interesting, inciteful interaction. There's a cliffhanger and surprise surprise, it looks to involve something very nasty indeed. The efficient script is by Snyder and James Tynion IV, while the edgy artwork comes courtesy of Jock and colour wizard David Baron.

You may wonder why I'm continuing with this book, given it's really not to my taste right now. Partly, it's optimism; I keep hoping that the story will turn a creative corner, eschewing the constant misery for some moments of heroic triumph. Partly, it's the memory of Snyder's Detective Comics run, when he was writing Dick Grayson as Batman and giving us stories that didn't depend on one-upping himself in the unpleasantness stakes. Mostly, though, it's because I want to see the entire Batman Family punch the Joker's lights out. Don't let me down, chaps.

Threshold Presents The Hunted #1

Tolerance. It's always a good thing. Except when Tolerance is the name of a city on an enemy world and you're being hunted down by citizens eager to claim a bounty on your head. That's the situation facing Green Lantern Jediah Caul in this new science fiction drama. Captured, then cast out for the benefit of a TV show, he's either unable - or reluctant - to use the green ring embedded in his chest and so must rely on wits and fists if he's to survive.

It's a couple of days since he was dumped into the city and he's been spotted by poverty-stricken citizens eager for riches, and looks set to fall. Help appears in the form of Ember, another contestant, apparently a shapechanger, who helps him escape the crowd and find refuge.

Elsewhere, two more contestants meet, Stealth and Ric Starr. A soldier with camouflage abilities and a former Space Ranger, they're swapping stories when trouble comes calling ...

So, only a month since the debut of Avengers Arena, and here we have another 'hunted heroes' series. One difference in concept is that the characters on the run here aren't invited to kill one another, as at Marvel. One difference in structure is that writer Keith Giffen isn't using protagonists with fanbases, he's chosen to use - or been saddled with - such ancient DC properties as Star Hawkins, Tommy Tomorrow and the aforementioned Space Ranger, and the more recent Stealth, one of Giffen's old LEGION members. Ember and Caul seem to be new, but probably aren't, given the Copyright Crew we have here.

None of which means this series is hobbled before it starts. Cult Legion of Super-Heroes spin-off LEGION made a star of Lobo and Giffen has the talent to come out with a breakout character or two here (there's a certain super-powered bunny on the way who's created quite an online buzz already). I do wish, though, that DC wouldn't try and 'modernise' by changing the spellings. If you're reviving Tommy Tomorrow, star of numerous space operas in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, give us Tommy Tomorrow - T'om T'omorrow is just as silly, in its own way. If this is a new take on Rick Starr, why is the k-less Ric better?

Hey ho, it's a relatively minor point. More important is whether or not this works as a debut issue, especially for those of us who never read a linked story in last week's Green Lantern: New Guardians Annual #1. I'd say so. We get a bit of information on the main four players, learn about the game via an efficient opening page and see something of the society in which it's played. We find that evil space queen Lady Styx is running the show, with a space slug - called Adonis, amusingly - as her number two. The fight through the streets involving Ember and Caul is entertaining, with decent banter, and Starr seems to have a plan up his sleeve.

So there's plenty going on, and enough to get me to come back and see where Giffen will go. The Hunted does, though, lack the 'wow factor'. There's no breakout moment to get readers talking, something a first issue sorely needs.

Oh, and 'd'ast all', I do hate space slang. What the heck does that even mean? A corruption of 'dash it all'?

Drawing the book is Tom Raney, who does a decent job of introducing the players and setting the scenes. Characters are nicely differentiated, with Andrew Dalhouse's colours helping too, and there's a powerful sense that Tolerance is a nightmarish place to live. As with the script lacking a WTF? moment, though, there's no standout visual - everyone looks good, no one is especially memorable.

But we're in space, and there are 23 contestants we've not yet met, so who knows who will show up?

Showing up in this $3.99 book's back-up strip is Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern. He's a bit of a one-note comic character, and not one I've found especially funny, but somehow that man Giffen had me smiling throughout. The tale has Larfleeze having kidnapped the scribe Stargrave (another old DC name) in order to write a chronicle immortalising him. Then mysterious players ruin Larfleeze's day. It's a short, sharp shot of sunshine adding some much-needed lightness to an otherwise dour comic, and I look forward to more.

Scott Kolins draws up a storm, handling Larfleeze's transitions from daft oaf to scary monster with pizzazz, and giving Stargrave some wonderfully weary expressions to match his sarcastic lines. The colours of John Kalisz are worth a nod too, knowing when to be gritty and when to be vibrant.

Would that the cover colours of Hi-Fi Designs were a tad brighter, allowing Howard Porter's illustration to pop in the face of an army of copy. Sadly, t'was not to be.

While not a knockout, the first issue of Threshold (why Threshold?) offers enough enjoyment to bring me back next month. Really, though, I want this series to catch fire - with no strong connections to 21st-century DC Earth, the sky's the limit. Let's go beyond that.



Friday, 11 January 2013

The Phantom Stranger #4 review

The witty cover from illustrator Jae Lee and colourist June Chung says it all. The Phantom Stranger is dragged unwillingly into the murky business of Justice League Dark. On the coat-tails of John Constantine, no less. And all he wanted to do was get through a tedious shopping trip with his wife (click on image to enlarge).
Wife? Yes indeed, if you've not been reading this book, it turns out that these days the Phantom Stranger has a secret identity - Philip Stark, family man. How this came about, we don't know, but he's certainly protective of his time with them. So he's furious when a trip into a department store changing room leads to the House of Mystery, headquarters of the JLD. There stands Constantine, Black Orchid, Frankenstein, Madame Xanadu and Deadman.

Constantine makes the Stranger an offer, but it's one he can refuse. He shouts down the idea of a partnership with the team, even though he's lately made some powerful enemies that Constantine says will likely cause trouble sooner rather than later. To prove a point, the Stranger shows the mystical heroes that they're no match for him. So Constantine tries another approach, a bargain - join up, and he'll hand over the lost coin from the chain the Stranger wears, one of the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas - the future Stranger - for betraying Jesus Christ. Condemned to walk the Earth until he's exchanged every coin as part of a cosmic bargain, the Stranger desires the talisman desperately. But it's the hubristic Constantine who dismisses the Stranger, sending him back to Earth, convinced he's shown him a worm that will reel him back in on his terms.

Maybe, maybe not. The Stranger has other concerns, when he finds that 20 minutes have passed and his wife is missing ...

And there's more. And it's great. But I suggest buying this book, which has improved hugely with the arrival of JM DeMatteis to script Dan DiDio's plots. Suddenly the Stranger sounds real, whether he's in mortal guise or cosmic form. There's a personality at play, one that bears watching. DeMatteis even makes the headscratching notion of the Stranger's family life enjoyable, by giving wife Elena a fun, sexy personality and having Philip respond in kind.

As a longtime Justice League writer, having helmed its heroes in their lightest and darkest hours, DeMatteis can handle a League team with his eyes closed, and he immediately captures the JLD's voices and natures. And as a veteran of DC's mystical realm - if you've never read his Dr Fate, do yourself a favour and seek it out - DeMatteis elegantly weaves a dark mystery that makes next issue a must-buy.

So yes, securing DeMatteis's services is a big win for this book, and credit to DiDio for bringing him on side, and for an intriguing plot.
Brent Anderson produces his best pencils yet, capturing the various moods of the Stranger with skill, and conjuring up a great-looking JLD. He neither oversells nor undersells the moments of humour, the dramatic beats - it's a pitch perfect performance. Anderson is given excellent support by embellishers Philip Tan and Rob Hunter, while Ulises Arreola smooths out the differences in their linework with a clever, moody colouring job.

While it's undeniable Phantom Stranger is a contrived set-up for the upcoming Trinity War series - there's some of that here - this issue sees the book gain its own voice, and hints at a more interesting direction. It's one of the most enjoyable superhero comics I've read this week, and well worth a look.

Not convinced? Would a grumpy wee Scottie dog do it for you?

My thanks to the Grand Comic Database for the Doctor Fate image.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Action Comics #16 review

If you've not been reading Action Comics, any attempt at summation of this issue by me is going to fall very flat. We're almost a year and a half into a grand, glorious storyline spanning several periods in Superman's life, as well as the far future. Then there are the representatives from the magical Fifth Dimension, a coterie of villains, a smidgen of Lex Luthor ... and this issue, Doomsday enters the fray. Yep, the beast who kinda sorta killed Superman is back, not quite the same as when we met him in the Nineties, but close enough to cement a version of the storyline into DC's latest continuity revamp.

For about ten minutes, at least - writer Grant Morrison has built into the series a get-out clause, in that the major villain of the piece, Vyndyktvx, is screwing with time as he attacks Superman. So by the time he's through, Superman will have died at the hands of Doomsday. Or maybe not.

If you're new and intrigued, order a trade paperback - knowing DC's glacial release schedule, it'll likely be out just in time for next Christmas. If you have been following along at home, you'll perhaps be intrigued to see Action Comics #16's encounter between Lois Lane and her magical minx of a niece Susie; you may cheer as Lois and Jimmy show what they're made of; you might wonder what the Legion of Super-Heroes are doing back in the storyline. All of these reactions were mine. I was also a little confused by the Blue Kryptonite Man, and a bit bored to see bandaged bad guy Xa-Du still around. But the quest for Mr Triple X - aka Mr Mxyzptlk aka Superman's last hope - had my attention. There's one more issue of this story, and Morrison's tenure as writer, to go, and I'm excited.

It's a busy issue, and while a moment or two went over my head, all is forgiven for the wonderful portrayal of one of the lost Legions, the Zero Hour/Archie version of the team. Morrison captures their teamwork and ingenuity wonderfully well, and I do hope that one day we see him write them as leads, rather than guests.
Rags Morales and Brad Walker share the position of penciller once more, with Andrew Hennessy and Mark Propst inking. I think it's Morales and Propst handling the opening, with the adult version of the Legion fighting against the rule of the tyrant Universo. They make Saturn Woman, Lightning Man and co look suitably harried, while appropriately heroic. In a nice touch, a 3030 street scene shows the same statue we see in 21st-century Metropolis a few pages later (it's the familiar Superman with eagle figure, revised to meet the silly demands of DC New 52 costuming). Walker and Hennessy (I think - please correct me if my eyes err) conjure up an especially lovely Lois Lane, and do wonders presenting Superman's tussle with Xa-Du. Then there's Vyndyktvx, superbly eerie and alien, like Lucky the Leprechaun crossed with a sunburnt spider - whoever drew that one, take a bow (Morales?). And likewise step forward Brad Anderson, for colouring that helps drive the drama, and Steve Wands, for super-solid lettering.

An earlier version of the Zero Hour Legion stars in this issue's back-up (a slot the Legion regularly filled in the late Sixties), as we see the incident that led to the dark future of 3030. It's a solid tale of triumph leading to tragedy, with that dose of irony Silver Age DC readers so loved >choke<. Sholly Fisch's script is tight and taut, and there's the bonus of seeing penciller Chris Sprouse and inker Karl Story return to the characters they illustrated at DC in the Nineties. Their clean stylings are well served by the retro-colours of Jordie Bellaire, who throws in a few zip-a-tone style effects every now and then.

All in all, another busy, brilliant issue, but one which will read better as part of a block than in single issue form. I can stand it - who knows when we'll see such a sustained, smart run of Superman again.

Earth 2 #8 review

Qurac, Bialya ... it doesn't matter which continuity we're in, or what the dimensional plane, DC is never short of a Middle Eastern country that hates the US. The latest, Dherain, debuts in this issue. Its chief feature isn't the futuristic towers that dominate the landscape - it's the citizens' tendency towards ludicrously expository dialogue. Just look at these guys (click on image to enlarge - but step back, in case those word balloons knock you out - well done to letterer Dezi Sienty for making it through to the other end).
Now, credit to writer James Robertson for trying to ensure readers have enough information to appreciate and enjoy the story. But a writer as experienced as Robinson can do better. I've seen much more elegant examples of 'in-flight exposition' from him.

A non-native inhabitant of the land but one who's taken to the local speech patterns like a duck to cliches is Steppenwolf. Here we learn that for the five years since he led the Apokoliptian assault that seared Earth, he's been hiding out in Dherain, as a guest of its King Marov. For some reason, Earth 2's world leaders allowed the country to close off its borders after the war, even though they aided the invasion. And no one has noticed the hulking alien general who was stranded when Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman gave their lives to save the world.

Which beggars belief, but surely Robinson will explain all in time.

For now, the business of the issue is to introduce Steppenwolf, and that moody mare on the cover. She's his secret weapon, Fury, who rushes to protect him from Marov's betrayal. And yes, she is Wonder Woman's daughter - stolen from Amazon Island, raised and corrupted by Steppenwolf. She's quite the powerhouse, and quite the cruel woman, smiling as she murders for her master with her glowing whip. Just how Fury is going to get to the point at which she can join the side of the good guys is the big question.

On the basis of what we see of her here. I don't actually want Fury to cross over to the side of the superheroic 'Wonders'. She's too much the damaged goods, all nurture, with no sign of a better nature that might out in time. I'd be perfectly happy for Robinson to keep her as a bad gal, and introduce a shinier, nobler example of Amazon-hood in due time.

Steppenwolf lacks the visual charisma of Jack Kirby's original, but penciller Yildiray Cinar certainly makes him an imposing powerhouse, and Robinson ensures he's the type of plotter one would expect in Darkseid's elite. After his five-year rest, he's ready to resume his plans to conquer the world for Apokolips, and I can see him giving the heroes a bit of a kicking.
I'm not thrilled by the Fury design, but I can see why we have a Big Barda vibe. If Fury does turn, perhaps she'll gain a slightly more inspirational look.

After sterling, stylish service on the last Legion of Super-Heroes run, it's good to see Cinar getting a wider audience. His work just looks so good, with sharp inking support from Ruy Jose and Sean Winn, and the glowing colours of Alex Sinclair. Colouring the cover by Cinar and Jose is Gabe Eltaeb, and the subtler palette really works to convey an air of sinister doom.

As for Hawkgirl, Flash, Green Lantern and the rest, they're not around this issue - it's strictly Steppenwolf and Fury's show. But once the infodumps are over, Robinson gets things moving apace, bringing the Steppenwolf/Marov situation to a head, and giving Cinar plenty of meaty battle scenes. It makes for a flashy slice of alt-Earth DC superheroics, all sound and Female Fury. Whether this retooled version of an Amazon princess will ever signify anything beyond a typically New 52 stain on a heroic ideal, only time will tell.

The Superior Spider-Man #1 review

So here's the Superior Spider-Man - Dr Otto Octavius enjoying an indefinite residency in Peter Parker's body. He has himself a fine old time this issue, taking on the latest version of the Sinister Six, taking Mary Jane Watson out for a meal, inventing like crazy ...

... of course, he is crazy. Crazy to think he can just steal Peter Parker's life. It's only a matter of time before he's challenged by MJ, who'll gradually put together the clues that this isn't the man she loves. The drinking, the inattentiveness, the body language - it'll build and MJ being MJ, she's not going to give 'Peter' the benefit of the doubt for long.

This issue, though, throws a spanner in the works of my expectations, with a last page surprise that brought a big old smile to my face. I won't spoil it here, if you really want to know, it's out there on the web. Let's just say that writer Dan Slott surprises me by dropping a story bomb I expected much farther down the line.

That apart, there's loads to enjoy here - the latest Sinister Six irritates original founder Ock by being not just all-new but, in his opinion, all-lame; there's Speed Demon, Boomerang, the Living Brain, a female Beetle, Shocker and the utterly ridiculous Overdrive, a guy in a giant tyre. The self-proclaimed Superior Spider-Man is making short work of them until a barrage of super-fast blows from Speed Demon sees Ock decide that the fight's not worth the hassle.

So much for being a better Spider-Man - Peter would have stayed and found a way to turn the tide.

Not that Ock lets the Six roam free. He plants spider-tracers in a unique way and races back to Horizon Labs, using Peter's access to hi-tech resources to build a few toys that may turn the tide. And on the way he finds himself compelled to save a policeman from one of Boomerang's deadly weapons. Hmmm.

Slott's script is well-crafted, pacy and witty. The only change I'd make would be to show Ock trying to tone down the mad scientist speech patterns when in public - 'Dolts!' He should be smarter than that.
Ryan Stegman's art is excellent - the action scenes are clear and dynamic, the character moments hit every time (click on image to enlarge). The storytelling choices work a treat, such as the high angle shot of Ock lying in wait for the Six, dominating the panel. And his Peter and MJ are sharp takes on the classic looks. Edgar Delgado adds several extra dimensions with some fine colouring, while Chris Eliopoulos picks some suitably intense fonts from his box of tricks.

The cover looks great too, courtesy of Stegman and Delgado - what a creepy little Spider-Man this is. A shout-out, too, to Nessim Higson for a logo that suits Ock down to the ground, and production guy Manny Mederos for ensuring all the elements hang together so well - even the issue number works with the art.

So, the first issue of The Superior Spider-Man is a hit with me. I can't see myself wanting to read about Dr Octopus for long - I'm too big a Peter Parker fan - but this is a terrific debut.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

New Avengers #1 review

When last we met this title, the New Avengers starred the more down-to-Earth members of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. This relaunch goes entirely in another direction, with the Marvel Universe's self-proclaimed Illuminati - prominent members of superhero teams and secret nations - taking the spotlight.

Metaphorically at least. Looking at the cover, you might expect the tagline Earth's Shadiest Heroes. But that's the Illuminati all over, the heroes and monarchs who plan to run the world from behind the scenes, keeping well away from the light. Because if they're in the light, they'll be seen by their team-mates, loved ones and citizens.

The whole idea that Mr Fantastic, Captain America, Iron Man and the rest should basically betray their fellows in the belief that only they know what's best for the world is profoundly distasteful, spitting on decades of characterisation. Even the more imperial-minded members, such as Namor of Atlantis - who likely has some ideas on how the surface world should be run - isn't one to hide his light under a (pardon me) 'bush-shell'.

So applause to writer Jonathan Hickman for using the Black Panther as his entry character for the series. As we see in a prologue, T'challa, king of the advanced African nation of Wakanda, turned down a chance to sit at the top table with his self-proclaimed peers (who also included Dr Strange, Black Bolt and the late Professor Xavier). T'challa saw the horrific hypocrisy and danger of the Illuminati's existence and walked away, recommended that the others did the same. But they didn't, and this issue something happens that forces T'challa to appeal for help from those he snubbed

It's a lovely day in Wakanda. Three of its brightest young people have won themelves places on the nation's space programme, to go out into the universe and see who's out there. Unfortunately, the extraterrestrials come calling first, with tragic results. And the queen bee of the aliens, 'a Black Swan', is someone T'challa feels he can't take on alone. Why he doesn't simply call in the 'daytime' version of the Avengers, a team he's served with several times, is something we're not told yet.

Foreboding is added with an opening flashforward to a day later, showing Reed Richards saying that this is a fight the good guys can't win. And he accepts that Planet Earth is doomed.

Now, I've had my issues my Marvel's portrayal of Reed Richards over the last few years, what with his habit of following secret agendas - it's happening right now in the new Marvel Now! Fantastic Four and FF series. Usually it's because he doesn't want to worry his (incredibly powerful and resourceful) family. It makes some kind of sense that such a Reed Richards would sit with the Illuminati. I still hate the idea.

And the notion that Reed would just give up ... nah, I'm not buying that. I want to know more. The combination of Reed's statements and T'challa's nobility is most intriguing. Plus, the Black Swan - apparently a multiversal traveller - is accompanied by a man named Manifold with the same visual as the Manifold in Hickman's Avengers book. It's definitely a different guy, though.

This issue's well-structured opening chapter has some fine dialogue from Hickman, and the entire script is complemented by the sublime stripwork from penciller Steve Epting and inker Rick Magyar (click on image to enlarge). Page after page of lovely images combine to form an appealing, well-paced read. And Frank D'Armata's colours don't 'just' look good, highlighting the characters and settings, they tell the story in a bigger way.

Does the world need another Avengers book? Obviously not. Heck, this could as easily be titled Secret Avengers as New (fear not, a relaunched Secret Avengers is on its way). But this series looks set to blaze its own trail, and I'll stick around for at least a few issues to see where we end up.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Superman #15 review

Here's a H'el on Earth tie-in without an appearance by the titular antagonist. No, this issue focuses on Lex Luthor as Superman searches for insight that may help him beat the supposed Kryptonian. Along for the ride is Superboy, and the clone proves an object of fascination for Luthor after fighting his way into the criminal's bespoke prison alongside his 'big brother'.

We learn that Lex spends a lot of time trying to figure out a way into Superman's Fortress of Solitude; that he suffered a badly scarred head in a fight with Superman; that he does his own ironing.

That last one is a shocker - who knew Lex's convict clothing even required a regular press? More seriously, what sane prison system would allow the brightest brain on the planet access to anything he might use to escape? We also see that he's allowed to shave himself.

As it turns out, there's no problem - Superman reveals to Superboy that he tricked Luthor into designing 'a prison so elaborate even he couldn't break out of it'.

Which sounds clever. But honestly, does he really believe Lex wouldn't see through such a scam? Or that he'd come up with a design lacking his very own 'get out of jail free' card. Truly, it seems as if Superman and Luthor just enjoy playing head games, with their back and forth conversation just one more chance to score points off one another. I will give writer Scott Lobdell credit for an intimidating Luthor ... often authors give us a scientist so impressed with himself that he barely needs Superman to trip him up. This version, though, is Hannibal Lector creepy, sniffing Superboy and declaring him 'a piece of art' and displaying knowledge he shouldn't have (click on image to enlarge).

Superman puts on his game face, but is clearly rattled. He's also annoying in his own right, indicating to Superboy that he's taking him along to see Lex not because he's trusted, but because while the younger hero is borrowing the super-armour, he's 'a person of interest'. Nice.

Later, when Superboy suggests calling in his Teen Titans colleagues, Superman gets incredibly sniffy about the 'unsupervised superhumans', before calling in that shining example of metahuman maturity, the Justice League. It's as if Lobdell is trying to get an entry on the Superdickery site.

Then there's Lex's implication that his scars are the result of Superman trying to kill him, but losing his nerve. The sooner that incident is out in the open, and rebutted, the better.

I also don't like yet another reminder that the New 52 Superman isn't trusted by most of the world. Oi DC, he's Superman - he should be trusted. Move on.

The arrival of the League sees Lobdell's third-person narration get awfully soppy as regards the current fling between Superman and Wonder Woman. It's tonally out of keeping with the rest of the issue, but mercifully brief.

I do like that Lobdell puts Lex front and centre as Superman's greatest foe; this run has been sorely lacking in credible threats, so why not bring out the classic? And it's good that Superboy is allowed to be likable for a whole story, with no moments of pouty anger or mind control. Plus, there's a lovely scene as Superboy meets Flash for the first time. But the presentation of.Superman really takes the shine off this issue.

The art is consistently impressive though, with the leads all looking great, and Kenneth Rocafort's Justice League bodes well for next issue, as they try to grab the Fortress back from H'el. And the design of Luthor's prison is excellent. The colours of Sunny Gho clarify and add class.

Not a perfect issue, then, but the Lobdell/Rocafort Superman is certain an interesting beast. I'm looking forward to the close of the current crossover, to see where the creators will go when not having to serve a linewide storyline.