Friday, October 31, 2014

Multiversity: The Just #1

For Halloween, let’s review a comic that really scared me! Grant Morrison’s Multiversity: The Just #1 scared the heck out of me because it reminded me how OLD I am!

Whatever else the new 52 has done, it really made me forget about a lot of my old favorites. I’m in the generation that had Wally West as Flash, Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern, and Connor Hawke as Green Arrow. Alpha Centurion was a rival to Superman. There are dozens of cameos of characters that I like more than their counterparts in the New 52. Max Mercury. Steel. Argus.Tempest. Heck, even Artemis as Wonder Woman is OK by me!

So yeah, this book made me feel really old because it made me miss characters and versions of characters I know we’ll never see again. Sure, it also has Chris Kent and Damian Wayne as the new Super-Sons, and Alexis Luthor mixing things up, and they aren’t flashes from my past like the rest, but they fit in well with the story. I know the Super-Sons are the protagonists of the story, but I would have liked a tad more time with some of the other old-timers from the ‘90s.

The actual plot continues in the same vein as the other Multiversity titles. A haunted comic book has interrupted the idyllic world of Earth-Me. In a world where Superman’s robots keep the peace, having powers is more about staying busy and being entertained than it is about saving the world. When the awesomely named Megamorpho commits suicide, it throws the entire super-community into a tailspin. Our first window in is the fantastically titled “Sister Miracle.” Morrison makes it look so dang easy to do these great legacy names!

The haunted comic book is influencing the world, causing villains to do bad things and heroes to doubt themselves even more than usual. There is barely any conflict in the issue, unless you want to count middle-aged heroes struggling with ennui and younger ones struggling with fame. Each of the Multiversity titles has left me wanting more, but this one… man, when the Superman robots are unleashed on the world, do the heroes have a chance? Are we to assume that the Gentry’s haunted comic book has destroyed this world? Or can the struggling heroes maybe stand up for themselves (I certainly hope so).

Ben Oliver’s art excels in some areas, but lacks in others. His figure work is great, but the facial expressions are unbelievably good. In a medium where facial features are hard to do right, Oliver nails it, giving different ages, outlooks, and personalities different facial structures, expressions, and body types. Just top-notch stuff. The backgrounds are lacking, which could be by design. Instead of a fully-realized alternate world like in Society of Super-Heroes, this feels a lot more dreamlike. The lack of backgrounds and extensive use of color makes this issue sort of flow by in a haze. Perhaps that was the intent, but I would have liked a bit more of a glimpse into this alternate world.

This is another GOOD comic in a string of them for the Multiversity series. I can’t wait to see what’s next. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Justice League: The Grid HC

This was a bit confusing to me. The name of the collection is “The Grid,” but this sure reads like the Justice League/Trinity War I remember taking place in the many JL books last year. I dipped my toe back into the DCU with the Trinity War books, and I wrote reviews of those books at the time, so I won’t focus on those here (feel free to click on the Justice League keyword at the close of this review.) I’ll focus on the new (to me) aspects of the trade.

Geoff Johns leads off with a fun “try-out” issue, the kind that team comics have gotten miles of for years now. We see a quick snapshot of the DCU, both in Geoff Johns’ pet characters for later arcs (like Platinum of the Metal Men), characters getting “pushed” during that month (like Blue Devil and Black Lightning), and actual new members like Firestorm, Element Woman, and the new Atom.

Johns really had a wonderful take on the Firestorm character back before the reboot, and that new merging of Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch still works. I love the jock/nerd archetypes forced to work together, especially with the more intelligent Jason forced to try and maneuver simple Ronnie through complicated chemical compositions. (I will admit I miss the more good-hearted Ronnie of the Fury of Firestorm).

Element Woman is mighty weird. Her voice is described as amazingly high, and combined with her sunny personality; she’s a character where a little goes a long way. I still like her though, in the dreary DCU, it is nice to have such a positive character popping up.

The new Atom… well, she’s got her secrets, as we find out by the close of the collection. I don’t want to ruin it, but having a new, younger Atom who loves playing World of Warcraft is a pretty fun combo. I think she probably could have used a bit better taste in her friends, though.

The high point for me? Despero. Despero shows up and smashes his way around the Justice League satellite. There is no one around who can possibly stop him, and even better, the current league knows it. Having the Atom narrate the hopelessness of the overwhelming foe is a brilliant choice, especially when she realizes that the only reason the JL won in their first battle is thanks to the Martian Manhunter. It is clear that Johns must have affection for J’onn J’onnz; the guy does more than cast a heavy shadow here. I had a big grin watching the Despero battle play out in such an unexpected way.

The art on DC’s flagship title continues to set the standard for the DC house style. That said, Ivan Reis’ shows off some spectacular battle scenes and Jesus Saiz gets some quieter moments. Both artists do a great job with their pages; this is an attractive, exciting book. And man, that sequence on the satellite with Despero… SO good!

When the story doesn’t focus on the abbreviated history of the New 52, I find myself quite enjoying this title. It is a GOOD comic with some great heroes and classic villains. I just wish we didn’t have to pretend the villains and guest-stars were making their first appearances!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sledgehammer '44 TPB

Now this is interesting. With Mike Mignola’s monster-bashing hero Hellboy in a mighty strange place, I like seeing Mignola and John Arcudi bring in another working-class hero to bash Nazi’s and smash monsters. The visuals between Sledgehammer and Hellboy are mighty similar, with the baggy pants, bulky bodies, and thrashing fists.

But while the visuals are similar, the leads’ personalities are very different. Hellboy is a working class guy doing his best with a simple approach. Sledgehammer is more of a sad-sack barely willing himself into heroics. Its’ actually a tad more complicated than that, as there are multiple guys using the Sledgehammer name and powers in the first trade. Neither of the two driving personalities are very dynamic, although the second is at least determined once he gets moving.

The first few issues follow Sledgehammer’s initial deployment in the theaters of World War II. It’s a fun story, focusing more on the “support” team backing ‘Hammer up. The idea of the soldiers as backup is driven home in the dialogue, making it a lot more shocking when the soldiers end up having to carry the load. There are some fun, straight-up war sequences in the first limited series, totally devoid of any horror or supernatural elements.

The second arc gives ‘Hammer a super-villain to fight; the Black Flame. I can’t remember what we’ve seen the Flame do before, but in this he’s zooming through the sky and blasting into the ground like a comet. He’s much more of a superman than I remember, but he does make for an intimidating opponent. Sledgehammer does OK against him, but man, the Flame seems to have him outclassed. Again, keeping the story grounded with lots of soldiers and low-powered protagonists keeps the book grounded.

Jason LaTour and Laurence Campbell have different styles, with LaTour’s faces on the American soldiers almost looking like the Sunday funnies. This doesn’t take away from the drama in the story, but the look gives the opening arc a very different feel than normal BPRD titles. He does a crackerjack job on the Nazi super-robots, though!

Laurence Campbell has a grittier, tighter style that really works for the Black Flame. There are two or three sequences of mid-air combat that really impressed me. Setting the super-fight in the clouds surrounded by bombers and thunderheads makes for a hell of a dramatic and cinematic sequence. This is good-looking stuff.

This is still a GOOD comic, but it isn’t as good as BPRD and Hellboy. Those other books have had years to establish themselves, so I have hope for Sledgehammer. But for now, this is very far behind the other titles in the Mignola-universe. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Batgirl v4: Wanted HC

I think there might be something wrong with Gail Simone. When I write, I can come up with depressing and dark stuff. But Gail Simone has done it for so long, and done it so well… let’s just say I’m glad I don’t live in her neighborhood!

This book picks up with the new Ventriloquist, and my goodness, she’s a sicko. She’s a sociopath who started murdering as a child and hasn’t really slowed down. She kills famous people in an attempt for fame, but she also kills lots of random folks just to do it. This is about as new 52-y as you could hope for, if you are into bloody violence and murder!

 I must absolutely point out that Batgirl always responds to the death and violence in a heroic, appropriate manner. This isn’t the darkening of a hero; this is a hero trying to maintain a light in the darkness, which is much easier to take.

I’m not saying it isn’t well done; it absolutely is, but man! Simone continues to have a wonderful voice for Batgirl/Barbara Gordon. Babs is experiencing some major doubt after seemingly killing her murderous brother in the last arc. Jim Gordon witnessed the whole thing, and now Batgirl is public enemy #1 as the commissioner unknowingly targets his daughter. 

Simone does a nice job balancing the interpersonal drama here, including some new love interests for Babs. I really like the idea of Barbara dating a guy who is a bit damaged, so the romance has a nice star-crossed lovers feel to it. The warmth of the guy’s family does a lot to make the whole interaction sweeter too.

The art from Fernando Pasarin and Daniel Sampere is so effective in its use of the DC House style that I’m not sure I can really even comment on it! All those buckles, cowls, and strange detail lines are ever present on Batgirl and the villains are dark, spooky, and blood spattered. You sort of know what you are getting here!

This is an OK Batgirl story. I didn’t love it, didn't hate it. But I’m happy that there is a book featuring a competent, heroic hero in the new 52! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nova v3: Nova Corpse TPB

Much to my surprise, I’m still enjoying the most recent take on Nova. Gerry Duggan isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but through a clever use of guest stars, decent villains, and snappy dialogue, the current Nova series is moving along nicely.

This trade focuses on Sam Alexander’s first extended space-mission as he travels the galaxy searching for other Novas. The problem is every one he finds is dead. Duggan has a nice, if obvious twist near the start of the arc, but it is a good way to bring in guest star Beta Ray Bill. Bill isn’t exactly an A-level star these days, but his presence still lends a sense of legitimacy to Sam in the suit.

The two of them are hunting down a cosmic slaver/weapons thief, so naturally the chase leads the two protagonists to Knowhere. I was pleased to see one of my favorite DnA-era Guardians show up. This character’s acceptance of Sam again adds legitimacy and permanence to Sam’s role as Nova. I won’t lie, I’m still desperate for Richard Rider to come back, but Sam is at the least tolerable.

One of the high points of the series is Duggan’s take on Sam’s youthful voice. Sam is irreverent, frequently overwhelmed, and wholly likable. This comic is one of my daughters’ favorites; I’ve said in the past how they call Sam “their Nova.” Well filling his word bubbles with amusing and self-depreciating comments only adds to their affection.

My favorite villains of the storyline are the dark space knights. Under the pencils of Paco Medina and David Baldeon, they truly look like evil ROMs. I’m not the biggest fan of Medina’s pencils, but he does put a great sense of energy in every page. I’ve always enjoyed Baldeon’s work, especially on teenaged characters. His Sam looks good, of course; I’m more impressed at how powerful and cool Beta Ray Bill looks.

This isn’t my favorite comic, but it is GOOD for what it is; a new-reader accessible character enjoying all-ages adventures in the cosmic Marvel U. (Now just bring back Richard Rider!)

Monday, October 20, 2014

She-Hulk v1: Law & Disorder TPB

On my first read, I don’t think I liked Charles Soule’s She-Hulk #1 enough. It was a decent enough issue, pitting She-Hulk against Iron Man in a legal conflict. I’d been hoping for a bit more fisticuffs, so while I liked it, I didn’t love the title at first.

Now I feel differently. Soule’s ear for dialogue is his greatest skill, with She-Hulk, Photon, Hellcat, and guests like Kristoff Vernard (Dr. Doom’s “son”) all having unique and interesting voices. Soule is in full-on “establish” mode here, making sure to include a fair amount of guest-stars to the proceedings. Matt Murdock, Hellcat, Tigra, Shocker, and more all show up when the focus switches to the “Blue File.”

Most impressively, minor footnotes from Marvel history show up too. I don’t remember anything else about Nightwatch other than that he looked like Spawn, but Soule does a good job making seem like an elder statesman. Nightwatch, people! Seriously, how many people even know who that is? Soule knows his comic book history!

This is She-Hulk’s book; as she’s probably my favorite Marvel heroine, I was worried the focus on her legal career would leave me cold. Instead, I love the workplace drama feel of Jennifer Walters and her employees. Shulkie has a great, scrappy partner (Hellcat) and a new, mysterious paralegal with a monkey pet that is clearly more than meets the eye. One of my favorite aspects of the title is that She-Hulk’s career as a super-hero is clearly the most successful part of her life. Her legal and professional struggles do wear her down, but man, she can still kick butt when she needs to (and that fact is brought to life by Kevin Walda’s excellent covers).

Javier Pulido’s cartoony art wouldn’t have been my first choice. He makes Jennifer look a bit plump, and his tendency to draw everyone with staring eyes might have been distracting. Now I know better and appreciate the unique look and the fact that the art makes the book different than the “super-hero” books next to this title on the stands. This is another book I now read with my daughters, and man, do they love it. I think this might be their #1 book these days. Pulido’s art gets a lot of that credit. They love his facial expressions on the lead and her best friends (although they are a tad weirded out by Hellcat’s eye-slits on her mask).

Ron Wimberly does pop in for an issue of guest-art, and man… I know a lot of folks really liked it, but that is too far out there for me. The fish-eye lens, the rubbery limbs, I fear this isn’t a great fit for the book. I understand it is courting Hawkeye readers and other folks looking for something different, but Wimberly’s art is just too out there.

This is an EXCELLENT comic featuring one of my favorite characters in solid action every month. Even with the focus on super-hero law, there is always some sort of action so we don’t forget She-Hulk is a superhero.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell HC

Let’s start off with the one negative for this book; it is too expensive for such little content. I got this from the library, but man, if I had paid $23 bucks for this, I’d have been TICKED. This can’t be much longer than a normal comic issue, with the page count padded by including the script and a ton of sketches. I love seeing sketches, but man, that’s a lot to pay for the privilege.

I get the feeling that Paul Dini really put this thing together to give Joe Quinones a chance to show off. The story is very slight. Canary and Zatanna team up to take down an evil thug who had some sorcerous powers. There are some twists and turns, but that’s not where the book shines. The main plot is strictly by-the-numbers as an excuse to put the ladies in some daring situations and show off a sensible amount of skin.

Quinones isn’t exactly a good-girl artist, it seems. He’s certainly good at drawing all the ladies involved in this story. The constant references to Power Girl made me wish for a chance to see his take on the character. Rather, Quinones seems to boast a cartoon-y version of the characters that makes them seem like everyone is having a good time. Green Arrow, the JLA, the Female Furies, they all show up and have a few pages to show off before Dini’s script whips the leads off to another interesting locale and costume change.

So this is slight, no doubt. But I still loved it because this comic featured the versions of the characters I know and love. This was the real JLA. This was the real Green Arrow. Best of all, this was the real Black Canary; the confident stalwart of the JLA. Zatanna hasn’t suffered quite as much in the new 52, but at least she’s in her correct costume here!

I can’t be the only person who relished this chance to see the REAL versions of these heroes in a GOOD, lightweight, enjoyable story!