Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 7: X-Factor #43 (1989)

Now how weird is this? This issue is actually BETTER than I remember!

First of all, Paul Smith's art is pretty fine. It is a bit cartoony, but the emotion on the faces is clear and the acting is strong. The alien planet is a bit on the generic side, but I'm not sure if that is Smith's fault or not.

It seems that X-Factor is required to always have one crazy person on the team. Jean Grey is up to the plate in this. It seems she's absorbed the memories of the Phoenix and of Madelyne Pryor, understandably making her go a bit bonkers. Of course, when she tries to rocket into space, killing her teammates, that is more than a "bit" bonkers.

One thing I'm pleasantly reminded of in this issue is the fun idea for Ship. Louise Simonson wrote X-Factor's new headquarters as half-puppy, half-servant. You couldn't help but pull for the sentient ship after the team freed him from Apocalypse. Ship's childlike responses made the entire team act more responsibly.

I also like that Warren Worthington is back and acting normally. Sure, he's got his souped-up Archangel powers, but he's clearly back to being the character we know and love. So overall, not a bad transition. He got new, better powers, a modern look, and in a few years the creators will reveal that he isn't even bald! That's just a skullcap that he wears for years straight!

As for the plot itself, it involves the team getting involved in some weird conflict between beautiful people and monsters. Of course, there are varied motivations and outlooks among these aliens, but that is to make sure the mutant metaphor is laid on pretty thick.

Maybe this story goes downhill in the subsequent issues, but as an opening chapter, this held up just fine. This is a FAIR comic.

Monday, December 30, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 6: X-Factor Annual #3 (1988)

The best part of this annual is that sweet Walt Simonson cover. If you click over on that, then you've seen the best part of the issue.

So Angel is dead. Beast is dumb (and getting worse). And Louise Simonson has to write a middle chapter to a big crossover. That's a losing combination.

Making matters worse, almost all of the pages feature blank slate, flunky villains working for the High Evolutionary or moloids. The X-Factor team are practically bystanders in their own comics!

Terry Shoemaker's art is sort of loose and impressionistic. There aren't any pages with lines as tight and dynamic as that cover. I'll be honest, after about 5 pages, I just started skimming. There aren't a ton of backgrounds to give this story a strong sense of location and the choreography of the fights is pretty loose.

I do find it odd that I remember this issue fondly, but honestly, it is an EVIL comic. The only GOOD part is that cover.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 5: X-Factor Annual #2 (1987)

Oof. Losing the Angel really throws off the chemistry for this team.

I'm not sure if Jo Duffy was trying to clean up Quicksilver's villainous portrayals in the Marvel U or what, but this is a reclamation project. Of course it was Maximus the Mad causing Quicksilver to behave so badly. And of course X-Factor can handle the problem.

It is weird, for a story that is fixing Quicksilver, he sure doesn't get a ton to do here. He spends too much of the issue mind-controlleld!

This is the first meeting between the original X-Men and the Inhumans, and things go fairly smoothly. Triton has a role much more front and center than I'm used to, while Gorgon fades into the background. Karnak gets some work too, but this is mainly a Black Bolt and Medusa show.

The problem? The Inhumans are boring. This is perfectly serviceable, but I never really got interested in the conflict because it was Inhuman-based. Even worse, there is a ton of cutesy Franklin Richards baby talk to make this even harder to bear. When things break down and the action starts, business does pick up nicely. But it almost too little too late.

Tom Grindberg's art can't really compete with the other artists I've been finding in this flashback review. I will say the inking by Joe Rubinstein is noticably effective, especially on shadowed shots of the main cast like Cyclops.

Yeah, so this is just sort of there, not awful, not great. I think this might have been when X-Factor started to lose its charm for me.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas Day 4: X-Factor #15 (1987)

And now we have one of the first comics to break my heart.
As a kid, I was never a huge Angel fan. His powers weren’t visually striking or really very useful in combat. Of the original team, my favorites were probably Cyclops, Beast, Jean Grey, Iceman, and finally Angel. I think I’ve gotten wiser about that order over the years, but as a kid I knew no better. Louise Simonson made me appreciate the character too late when she wrote this surprising issue.

This is the issue where Angel kills himself. During the Mutant Massacre, the two Marauders Blockbuster and Harpoon pinned Angel to the wall by his wings. As we find out in later issues, the secretly evil Cameron Hodge used this opportunity to have Angel’s wings amputated (after Thor’s great rescue in his own book).

Warren Worthington can’t deal with the loss, and the only one of his teammates to see him struggling is Jean Grey. Iceman and Beast are too busy dealing with the Mutant Massacre fallout with the Morlocks, and Scott Summers is moping in Alaska, deciding on revenge for his seemingly dead wife. Only Jean spends the issue trying to convince Angel he’s going to be OK. In the end, the team can’t stop him and Angel runs off and blows up his plane, attempting suicide. We all know that this just puts him in line for a sweet character makeover as Archangel thanks to Apocalypse, but at the time this came out, I was crushed.

Walt Simonson handled the art during this second year, and his dynamic, kinetic pencils were a nice fit. The characters aren’t individually as striking as in the earlier issues, but the sense of action is a lot higher. I’m also pleased to report that Angel spends multiple pages in his underwear as he escapes from the hospital. Seriously, what is up with that? Was that part of the character’s shtick back in the day?

Also, in a neat bonus, the letter column has fans writing in trying to figure out how Angel could remain a contributing member of X-Factor even without his wings. I don’t think anyone saw the Archangel swerve coming.

This is a sad comic, but a GOOD one. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas 3: X-Factor Annual #1 (1986)

Don’t you miss the days when annuals were just extra-length adventures? This annual doesn’t have any huge reveal, any huge crossover, or really anything to differentiate it from a normal storyline in X-Factor. Maybe having Bob Layton on both writing and penciling duties was enough to justify this going in an annual? Regardless, this is just another case-of-the-week procedural adventure for early X-Factor.

As a kid, I remember loving the stealth costume Angel is wearing on the cover. It isn’t that radical or awesome, and the story reason he wears it seems a tad unnecessary. You see, Russia contracts X-Factor to come give a talk on detecting and capturing mutants; X-Factor wants to go investigate how Russia is treating its mutant population. Everyone but Angel goes along by plane. Angel is the scout and has to FLY TO RUSSIA. Now, I know he didn’t fly the whole way, but dang, his wings are gonna be tired! (It is still worth it for this nicely toyetic new costume though.)

Since this is a story involving Russia in the ‘80s, the Russian mutant prison camp is guarded by Crimson Dynamo. I was sort of shocked to see Dynamo’s enormous scale compared to the mutants. And let me tell you, the original five X-Men vs. Dynamo is not a fair fight. Dynamo mops the floor with them. Seriously, was the disparity between mutant characters and Avengers characters always this strong? It is pretty neat seeing Iceman have to resort to subterfuge to win the day.

No one draws tech or armor better than Layton. Dynamo looks tremendous. Heck, even the mutant labs look striking and perfectly “comic-booky” to my eyes. (Since this was an early comic for me, that doesn’t surprise anyone.) I also love the way Layton draws Beast’s flattop as a near match for James Rhodes’ in Iron Man.

This Cold War throwback is GOOD!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas 2: X-Factor #2 (1985)

So remember yesterday when I said Angel should have been my favorite? I still believe it. 

The guy is so confident that he strolls around his X-Factor headquarters in an open robe. IN HIS UNDERWEAR. Seriously, there are like 3 pages where you just have cut-Angel walking around chatting and drinking coffee in his tighty whiteys. If Jean Grey did that we’d say it was exploitative!

And poor Jean. So Angel and Cyclops are already in love with her, and therefore awkward around her, but now the new recruit Rusty is smitten too. He’s stuttering and stammering as she tries to get him to master his pyro kinetic power. Note that she does this by saying, repeatedly, “I KNOW you can do this crazy new thing with your power.” There was no actual training that I could find.

You have to love 80’s plots. This issue has Beast and Iceman hook up with an old girlfriend, introduces size-changing villain Tower, and has Beast abducted from a supporting character from his Amazing Adventures days. PLUS a re-match with X-Factor taking on Tower at the end of the book.

This issue introduces Artie, now famously appearing in the FF title. He seems to be exhibiting more mental-reading powers in addition to his illusions; I don’t remember that aspect of his powers in current books. And why has poor Artie not aged like Black Bolt’s kid or Crystal’s daughter?

Again, Jackson (Butch) Guice handles the art, and again I love it. The 80’s hair, the tight pencils on the x-uniforms, this is good stuff. What impresses me most is the choreography of the fights. Guice puts some great shots in the battles, reverse elbows, full-on optic blasts, and ice clubs.

The 80’s made GOOD comics. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

12 Days of X-Mas 1: X-Factor #1 (1985)

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone is having a wonderful time during our X-Mas season!

Are you ready for the Twelve Days of
X-Mas! This year is all X-Factor, all the time! 

Oh my goodness. How the heck did I ever love Cyclops so much when I was ten years old? Scott Summers is living in Alaska with his wife, Madelyne Pryor and his unnamed son, and he’s the definition of a deadbeat dad. He’s never around, and when he is finally forced to go home after Storm beats him for leadership of the X-Men, he sulks around and moodily fantasizes about his dead girlfriend Jean Grey.

No, the clear favorite for my childhood should have been Angel. The guy LOVES being a mutant, is filthy rich, has a smoking hot girlfriend, and basically pays for his two loser buddies to travel from super team to super team. Warren Worthington is awesome! Plus, he gets in on the romance-angst that is to prevalent in this comic just after the return of Jean Grey.

Jean’s return was handled in some Avengers and FF issues, so her appearance here is sort of odd. She just kind of… appears. No huge dramatic moment for Angel or Cyclops when they finally meet up. I really liked how Bob Layton wrote Angel as being sort of protective of Jean after her return. He wants Jean for himself, so he really struggles with calling the other X-Men back on the scene.

And poor Jean. Half of her teammates are in love with her. Plus, no one will actually tell her that her ex-boyfriend, the guy she is throwing herself at, is now married and a father. Yowch. I’m also puzzled why Marvel wanted to remove her telepathy and stick with telekinetics. It weakens her a bit, although her powers are certainly more visual.

One thing that impressed the heck out of me was the introduction of Cameron Hodge, Angel’s old roommate and the head of X-Factor. Longtime X-readers know that Hodge is secretly the founder of The Right, an anti-mutant organization bent on genocide. Hodge’s plan is clearly whacko, and will just add to the mutant panic that is present on every page. But since Hodge was actually working undermine the mutant cause, it all makes sense.

The art is fantastic. Too much of Jackson (Butch) Guice’s pencils are covered up the 80’s era purple prose, but what is there shines through. The X-Factor uniforms are dynamic and striking. They might remain my favorite X-costumes for these characters. Angel’s red and white x-suit in particular is just tremendous. It is interesting that Guice gives new mutant Rusty the Quicksilver/Tyrannus hair cowlick, but that must just be a Marvel thing.

So basically, this Energy Analyzer review proves that ten-year-old Timbotron had good taste. This is a GOOD comic!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40k Movie

Let me preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of Warhammer 40k. It isn’t that I don’t like it; it is just that I’m not overly familiar with it. I’ve played some Dark Heresy RPG, I’ve painted some miniatures (the wrong colors, and never done any actual gaming with them). So I’m probably more familiar than most with the 40k concepts that show up in this film. For those who don’t know, this is an animated film, not live action.

Let’s start off with the good stuff. The voice acting is very strong. There are a lot of recognizable actors here, including John Hurt and Terence Stamp. Sean Pertwee is the lead space marine, and after seeing him in the similar Mutant Chronicles, it wasn’t a stretch to see hear him in this role. The ambient music and sound effects are quite good also. The sense of forbidding doom that creeps around the tainted planet is established quickly and effectively. The dialogue doesn’t win any awards, but it is effective at showing the grim dark future of Warhammer 40k. The marines refer to each other as brother, despise chaos, and constantly look to the Emperor for protection.

The bad? Everything else. The animation is very weak. The battle scenes are pretty hard to follow due to shaky cam. I don’t know why things need to be shaky in cartoon, but they are. The lack of any female characters keeps the interactions quite limited. The space marines are entirely indistinguishable from each other. I’m not sure if their armor markings actually changed or not, but it sure felt like they did. And once the helmets went on? I had no idea who anyone was, even the leads. It is hard to be worried about characters dying when you literally have no idea who it is.

There are only 12 Ultramarines on this mission. There are no named bad guys. There are almost no bystanders or other characters. And yet I still couldn’t figure out who was who. And keeping the cast of marines so limited made the space marines seem like a particularly disorganized organization. Why send 12 guys on a ship as enormous as the one we see them travel on?

So this is pretty flawed. I’d say it really is only for hard core fans who want to see the Ultramarines on their TVs, but I’m worried those people would be upset at the portrayals that veer too far from the game books. This is a movie to check out when it hits Netflix streaming. Any more commitment than that will leave you disappointed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Swamp Thing v2: Family Tree TPB

Gosh, this book just feels so Vertigo-y, doesn’t it? The absolutely horrific violence that gave the first few issues their charm continues here.

The opening Rot story is actually resolved and wrapped up in the first few issues of this collection. Swamp Thing and Abby Arcane get a nice win, one that makes it finally seem like Alec Holland has a chance against the overwhelming odds he’s facing. (Both this title and Animal Man portray the Rot as a foe WAY outside the range of their leads.)

Scott Snyder uses the early conclusion to great effect, reintroducing classic Swamp Thing villain Anton Arcane. He’s a natural, disgusting fit for the narrative. His monologue over a dying human (and directly to the reader) gives him a high level of villainy instantly. Only two or three issues in, and I’m anxious to see him get taken out by Swampy. It is hard to earn that level of hate this quickly. 

There is a lot of Parliament of Trees stuff, including the idea that Alex Holland was destined to be a champion long before the accident that left him at the bottom of a swamp. Was Arcane always that intimately involved in that origin? The fate of Holland’s wife in this collection is even more horrific and tragic than I had remembered.

Yanick Paquette again handles the bulk of the artwork, and he’s a great fit for the title. His majestic, antler-bearing Swamp Thing looks like a vegetable god, as he should. This is the most imposing Swampy has ever looked to me. He continues to outdo himself with the Rot, too. This book practically stinks. There is so much wet viscera and rotting flesh, sensitive readers might want to pass.

If you’re after a mature super-hero comic that proudly walks the path of early Vertigo, this is a GOOD comic for you. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Justice League v3: Throne of Atlantis HC

This hurts to admit, but I’m starting to get over my anger at the new 52. Now, this is accompanying my new attitude towards the new 52. In the past, I collected dozens of DC comics every month. I kept meticulous attention to my favorite characters, mostly the JLI-era leaguers and their supporting characters. 

Now, with the new 52 a few years old, I find myself as an interested observer. I will read any new 52 stocked by my local library. I have no interest in OWNING any of these comics. They don’t need to be added to my 75 long boxes. But I’m happy to read them for free and judge the DCU that left this old (38 year old) man behind.

And you know, it isn’t all bad! As I’ve said before, Geoff Johns is quite good at getting to the core of his characters. These leaguers feel close to what I remember from my older comics. This is like a cartoon version of the DCU, where everyone is angrier and more innocent bystanders die in order to up the stakes of each story. 

This is a DCU for fans of the Dark Knight, where seeing the heroes suffer is a big part of the fun.

The book opens with a very classic-feeling story starring a new 52 version of Cheetah. She works much better as a League-wide threat thanks to a massive power upgrade from Johns. Tony Daniel draws her as a sleek, nude murderess. She’s able to snatch Flash mid-stride and repeatedly slash his hamstrings to slow him down. She chops at Wonder Woman’s throat and is basically tremendously dangerous. I liked how Johns used a “personal” villain of Wonder Woman’s to show the league growing closer together. This is Diana’s villain, but her friends are happy to help her deal with the situation.

The rest of the book is the titled “Throne of Atlantis” story. Including issues from both Aquaman and Justice League, this opens with multiple coastal cities being flooded, including Gotham and Metropolis. There are many comments made about how many people died in the tsunami, once again showing that if I were living in a fictional comic book universe, make mine Marvel.

Johns gets a lot of mileage out of Aquaman’s torn loyalties between the surface and Atlantis. Ocean Master in particular seems obsessed with revenge, but not entirely unjustified in his actions. It’s a nice turn to make the villain somewhat sympathetic.

One of my favorite things about the new 52 is the use of Mera. She’s arguably more heroic than Aquaman now, who is too busy being angry and pouty to be a good hero. She gets a lot of nice moments throughout the story, including a big rescue scene where she arrives with the Justice League cavalry. I think she belongs in the league full time.

Especially since this trade includes the expansion of the Justice League ranks. Atom, Vixen, Black Canary, Element Woman, Firestorm, and long-time favorite Hawkman all join up to help repel the Atlantians. We know some of those folks are just here short term, as they are destined to split off into the JLA.

With nice callbacks to early Aquaman stories (both pre and post new 52), this feels like an epic story that pays off a lot of subplots. This GOOD comic is by far my favorite in the new 52. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Nova v1: Origin HC

Wow. Was I wrong about this comic!

I’m a huge Richard Rider fan, so this book was not going to be my speed, no matter what. Heck, I love Ed McGuinness’ artwork, but I knew that this wasn’t going to be a comic I could get behind, because I want more from Rich, not some new kid Sam Alexander.

Then I heard from some guys at my comic store that this was a pretty kid-friendly comic, so I decided to read it with my almost 9-year-old and my 6 six-year old daughters. Oh my lord, did they love it. They even requested to read new issues of Nova over new issues of Adventure Time, so you know they loved it.

The art is fantastic, as you’d expect. This thing looks like a cartoon come to life. And it functions as a great intro to cosmic Marvel, with Gamorra and Rocket Raccoon both showing up multiple times. I also like the way Jeph Loeb uses the Watcher. That guy is totally interfering now, he barely even hides it!

The villains are the Chitauri, the alien race from the Avengers film. McGuinness does a nice job keeping both the aliens and their “whale ships” looking on-model. That was another plus for my daughters; they felt they knew the villains already.

Loeb does a masterful job mixing in “normal” kid problems like school, parents, and siblings. Sam is a really well fleshed out character. Both of my girls are extremely taken with him. And that hopeful close to the book? Perfect. That’s what comics should be delivering.

And now my daughters are calling Sam “their Nova” and Rich is now “Dad’s Nova.” Oh my goodness, when did I get on the wrong side of history. (And Loeb, not even a shout out to old Richard Rider? C’mon now!)

This Nova for the next generation is GOOD!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thief of Thieves v2: Help Me TPB

I dropped Thief of Thieves after one issue because I felt like Kirkman expected us to care a lot more about these characters than we did. After one issue, who cares if people are double crossing each other?

I grabbed this trade to see if things have improved. To the surprise of no one, they really have. Kirkman knows how to spin a good yarn, and Thief of Thieves has really taken shape into a good one. I barely knew who the players were when I opened this book, but I found myself rooting for most of the conflicting players by the end of this.

It is interesting that Kirkman is joined by James Asmus, a writer I’m starting to notice. How is the work split exactly? This pairing seems very effective, both in the amped up plot and in the rich characterization throughout the book.

Conrad Paulson is the star of the book. He’s a professional thief respected by his peers and the police alike. He plans jobs carefully, sets things up perfectly, and never gets caught. Unfortunately, he has a bozo son who keeps messing up. Augustus Paulson is a decent thief, but man, he gets himself into one spot of trouble after another, and he needs his dad to bail him out.

It’s a classic noir set up; the master criminal who is untouchable with no weak spots except for his family. And the family is always full of them.

I thought this read like a TV show in the first issue, and it still does. But by reading the issues in trade format, the pacing doesn’t bother me at all. I found myself anxiously turning the page to get to the next issue. This is definitely a book that benefits from the trade format.

Shawn Martinbrough doesn’t get the credit he deserves. His super-hero work has been fine, but I was never a super fan. But the acting in this comic is superb. With no costumes or other shortcuts, Martinbrough has to sell everything though well drawn facial work and “acting.” He knocks it out of the park; there is never a moment where the direction of the art is unclear.

This is a GOOD crime comic. It is no Sleeper or Criminal, but it would be a great crime show on network TV. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Iron Man 2.0 v1: Palmer Addley is Dead TPB

What an odd trade. This clearly wasn’t written for the collected format. Nick Spencer spends the first few issues setting up James Rhodes’ new status quo. After the War Machine armor fails him in the field, Rhodes becomes Iron Man 2.0, and gets a gig with the military again. He’s “on loan” to a General so that the military doesn’t use someone else. Rhodes has a team of intelligence contractors, but throughout this trade they don’t get to do much more than fill in the background. They are too vanilla to make an impression.

Spencer clearly likes his “Palmer Addley is dead” through line, the phrase comes up at least once an issue for the first half of the book. And Addley has some potential. His creations are being used in “real world” type terrorist attacks, very much in the vein of Matt Fractions early Iron Man work with Ezekiel Stane. The neatest bit is when Spencer spends an entire issue revealing a bit (but not too much) about Addley through archived interviews. This is an interesting baddie!

Too bad he disappears halfway through the book. In a jarring change in tone, the book suddenly becomes a Fear Itself tie in. Titania and Absorbing Man do a quick walk on to pick up a hammer before wandering out of the book; I assume their story is resolved elsewhere.

Then, Iron Man 2.0 is teleported with Iron Fist and the other Deadly Weapons to stop a spiritual jailbreak from the Eighth City. Oh, and while they are there, they meet up with the Monkey King.

… I’m sorry, what? How in the world do these stories fit together? This is one of those times where having your main character voice the same confusion just makes things worse. When Rhodes says “I hate magic. Why am I here?” and stuff like that, I had to agree with him. This is a story for a different character. The collection ends with Dr. Strange talking about the magical entity that possessed Iron Fist. In an Iron Man comic?

Barry Kitson is the first credited artist on the cover, but it sure doesn’t seem like he did a whole lot of this. I love his art, but there aren’t a lot of pages boasting his tight pencils. He’s joined by a legion of fill-in artists, too many to list here. The drastic change in artistic tone, along with the jarring shift in plot from military industrial complex to magic makes this feel like a book that had no direction.

I still love James Rhodes. But I liked him as War Machine. Or maybe Iron Patriot. I think Iron Man 2.0 is insulting. I’ll keep waiting for a book that handles Rhodey with respect and a clear direction. This book is another in a long line of EVIL War Machine comics. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

X-Men Legacy v1: Prodigal TPB

I think I can sift through potential readers for this title with only a sentence or two. If you like the idea of a creature called Tyrrannix the Abominoid, if you want to hear him lisp “Mine is the power of telepathy,” then this is going to be a good book for you.

Simon Spurrier isn’t reinventing the wheel, here, but he is telling a strange, offbeat story different than anything else on the stands. I don’t recall having strong feelings on his writing either way, but after seeing how strong his voice is in this collection, I think I’ll be keeping an eye out.

After years focusing on the X-Men team, then on Rogue, X-Men Legacy now stars David Haller: Legion. The character makes sense with this title, and while I still don’t count Legion as a favorite character, there is no debating that this book is filled with intriguing concepts.

In order to harness the many powers at his disposal, Legion has always had a big disadvantage; Legion is a split personality, with each personality exhibiting a different power set. After months of training at a weird retreat for psychics, Legion has created a mental prison. A construct that allows him to utilize one power at time, while keeping his other personalities locked up in mental “cells.” They don’t like this, of course, and things go smoothly for only a few pages.

This book kicks off after Professor X died during AvX, and his death shakes Legion to his core. And frees his many personalities. For the rest of the collection, Legion is hiding from his alternate selves, but trying to grab them in order to use their powers. It’s a weird game of cat-and-mouse where the roles are constantly reversed.

Spurrier uses young X-Man Blindfold quite a bit; it seems she’s got a destiny tied to Legion. There are some nice reveals tied to both characters, and a disturbing new villain with familial ties to Blindfold. Again, I could barely process what was going on, but the sharp, witty tone throughout makes it work.

Tan Eng Huat and Jorge Molina share the art duties in the first six issues. Huat reigns in his madness a bit, but this still doesn’t look like any other book on the stands. Fans of Chris Bachalo and other impressionistic artists might dig this style, but I preferred the more straightforward super heroic work from Molina.

This is another book that falls in the FAIR category. I’m not sure I’ll ever re-read it. It isn’t a modern classic. But Spurrier is weaving an inventive, odd ball tale here, and I want to see where it goes. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thunderbolts v1: No Quarter TPB

It really bums me out that we lost Jeff Parker’s fantastic take on the Thunderbolts, and all we got was this.

Now admittedly, that’s an unfair comparison; I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read from Parker, while Daniel Way’s hits are far rarer for me. (I’m pretty sure he did a Sabretooth limited series that I enjoyed…)

Anyway, on to this book. The main theme of this book seems to be Marvel characters that wear black or red and enjoy killing. Venom and Punisher even give themselves costume updates to make sure that they are only wearing black and red. That just doesn’t seem like too good of a unifying theme for a team, does it?

The Red Hulk puts the team together to deal with a past sin; General Thunderbolt Ross has more ties to gamma radiation than we ever expected. He gets Punisher on board through a pretty fun coercion angle, and Venom just signs up for a senior officer. Deadpool and Elektra are mercs; I can’t imagine it was too hard for them to get involved.

The plot involves a South Asian island called Kata Jaya. The red Thunderbolts head there to take out the current dictator and his muscle, Hulk villain Madman. I’ve been reading Hulk comics for a long time, and I must admit that the Leader’s brother never really made an impact on me. Sorry!

That brings me to my favorite aspect of this collection: the Leader. Daniel Way clearly has some affection for the Leader, an while the villain doesn’t exactly set the world on fire in this first collection, it is clear that he has set himself up for a return as a big bad. The scene where Punisher finds out he is on the team is laugh-out-loud funny.

Steve Dillon has drawn so many classic, emotionally resonant Punisher story, I kept finding myself being jarred out of this story. Dillon’s Punisher is the “real” Punisher for me now; the character lives and breathes under Dillon’s pencils. It probably isn’t fair to compare Jason Aaron and Garth Ennis’ classic out of continuity tales with a Marvel U-based adventure book, but the book just feels wrong. That bite of satire, the extra gut punch of violence… it is missing.

So a team of killers working on a generic mission in a setting none of them belong in. AND, this is Marvel’s follow-up to one of my favorite runs of all time (Parker’s Thunderbolts). That makes this an EVIL choice for the next chapter of this storied franchise. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Captain Marvel v2: Down TPB

How in the world did this book last as long as it did?

Kelly Sue DeConnick has built a cult following around Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers. The Carol Corps clearly adore this book. And I admit there is a lot to like. DeConnick has a great supporting cast, a nice handle on regular guest stars (including Monica Rambeau!) Death Cry is a great choice of villain too, considering the main drama of this collection is CM’s loss of her flying powers.

And that’s a neat idea! We saw in the opening chapters how important flying is to Carol, so seeing that ability fading away is heartbreaking. And I love how CM deals with the warnings too; she just ignores them and figures she’s stubborn enough to get along. That is my kind of character!

There is a bit too much talking for me, and I can’t make myself care about every member of the expansive supporting cast, but there is a lot of stuff to keep me interested.

But the art.

I dropped this book after one issue because of the art. I hoped when I grabbed this trade that the issue would have been addressed. It has not. Dexter Soy’s artwork is impressionistic, lacking backgrounds and settings in almost every panel. His actual figure work is OK when dealing with heroic characters (or sharks) but I never get a sense of where the action is happening. Filipe Andrade draws the 2nd half of the collection, and he clearly never saw a model sheet. He’s drawing a different main character than the one that appears on the cover of this trade. His backgrounds are stronger, but his actual figure work is inconsistent. Characters change sizes between panels, their eyes expand and contract like a manga book.

This is a fair story torpedoed by art that is clearly not my style. It could be that I’m just not the target audience for this book, but I’d argue the relaunch (with a more classic artist) will prove that the art hurt this book. Overall, this is an EVIL representation of a character filled with potential. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cable & X-Force v1: Wanted TPB

I’m sorry. I just don’t buy it. The premise of this book is that Cable puts together a team of “outlaw” mutants. Motivated by apocalyptic visions of the future, Cable needs to head off the next mutant disaster before it strikes. For some reason, he thinks that he can’t tell the X-Men, SHIELD, or anyone else. And when things go sour, he still feels that being on the run and not clearing up the situation is the best choice.

It just doesn’t work. I can’t buy it. It’s too bad, because Dennis Hopeless puts together a fun team, and he’s got a good handle on their disparate personalities. Forge hasn’t been this cool in years, I’ve missed the guy. Domino and Colossus are favorites of mine, so seeing them pair up and find a bit of happiness together is a brilliant move. I really like the way Hope and Cable work through their father-daughter issues in terms of guns and survival training. Heck, even the weird outbreak they have to stop is pretty neat and dramatic!

One weakness for the book is the lack of a clear antagonist. There is some sort of shadowy manipulation going on, but there isn’t enough of a mastermind or common foe to give the book much direction. That directly plays into my other problem with the book; the pacing. It takes three issues for Colossus to even show up. He’s the reason I tried the first two issues off the shelf, that’s too long for arguably the biggest name on the team. Hopeless just isn’t getting there fast enough for me. I’m not even certain that the end of the trade qualifies as a cliffhanger. It’s more like the mutants are just hanging out on the run.

It is too bad. Salvador LaRocca is an artist who I’ve liked for years and years, ever since his Ghost Rider days. This is more in the digital style of his Iron Man work, but the guy is a talented artist. I just wish he got to draw the characters doing a bit more comic book fisticuffs. When the characters do get to cut loose, it looks great. There just needs to be more.

Good art and solid characterization can’t overcome a lack of momentum in the plot. This comic is EVIL. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Shade TPB

See, now this feels like James Robinson wrote it. There is a certain, verbose, introspective nature to Robinson’s best work. A sort of smug tone that comes through, an unapologetic aloofness in both the character’s voice and in the plot itself. Robinson’s best work has this, found in Starman, The Golden Age, and even his Malibu series Firearm. It was totally missing from his average run on Justice League. This wildly variable level of quality is so vast that at my comic store, a group of readers have even voiced the belief that Robinson doesn’t write all the books that bear his name.

I’m not in any position to say that.

What I can say, is that this feels like Robinson again. There is no need to dwell on Justice League Cry for Justice when we’ve got good stuff right here. Picking up The Shade after all these years, Robinson picks right back up. The Shade almost inhabits a different world than the rest of the DCU, but in the age of the new 52, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, during the Shade’s expansive world tour and flashbacks, there are very few pre-existing DC characters. Vigilante looks just how we remember him; although I’m pretty sure he and some of the other heroes here don’t work with the new 52 timeline of active superheroes. While Deathstroke is wearing the wrong costume, he sounds just right.

The story involves Shade tracking down his descendants and either helping them out, or taking them out. The plot is largely secondary. This is a world tour of Robinson’s DCU, meeting superhero vampires and Outback/dreamtime demigods. I read it in a few nights, and even I lost track of the overarching plot a few times. This is a trade you read to meet some of Robinson’s new ideas rather than see the development of a superhero universe. And frankly, that’s exactly what I want. When you can’t stand the new 52, seeing it pretty much ignored is perfect.

Of course, Robinson’s case is strengthened by teaming him with tremendous artistic partners. The storytelling in this book is uniformly excellent, even with different artists taking the many chapters and characters. Cully Hamner, Javier Pulido, Frazer Irving, Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson, and Gene Ha is a pretty ridiculous set of collaborators.

A self-contained story with fantastic art. One that harkens back to “my DCU” more than the new 52. The energy analyzer says that makes for a pretty GOOD comic. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Avengers Arena v2: Game On TPB

For those of you coming in late, this is Marvel’s version of Hunger Games and Battle Royale. Master of Murderworld and X-Man villain, Arcade has decided to up his game by kidnapping a slew of young superheroes from schools all over the Marvel U, then pitting them against each other in a fight to the death. I’m still not entirely convinced that this isn’t in some sort of virtual reality program, because I have a hard time believing that killing existing intellectual property for a series like this is worth it. Even Darkhawk is somebody’s favorite…

After the initial slaughter of the opening few issues, Dennis Hopeless has reigned himself in. Instead of killing characters every issue, he’s doing it every few issues, and he’s going for his own creations as much as existing Marvel characters.

Longtime readers of the blog know I hate it when authors kill off characters without doing their own “work” to make that death mean something. When Hopeless kills off a few of the Murderworld contestants in this collection, he makes sure that they all had at least a few moments in the spotlight. Not enough, for the one pre-existing character who dies, but at least he seemed somewhat competent before being dispatched.

More importantly, Hopeless is building up Apex to be a pretty solid villain in her own right, making her as much or more of a threat to our heroes as Arcade. Arcade’s drastic upgrade in power is explained, but I just don’t buy it. This is way above his pay grade, and the fact that he’s killed off these super kids is just impossible to swallow. If this is for real, and he’s dispatched these characters and killed off others, then I have to think Wolverine and some others might be killing Arcade the next time we see him. (I also have to assume that Constrictor survived his revelatory moment with Arcade. Upgrading Arcade isn’t worth killing an existing villain like that either.)

This book looks fantastic. Kev Walker’s designs look like they’ve been around forever, even on new characters. His Darkhawk is a nice blend of the original 90’s look with the bulked up version introduced during War of Kings. Best of all, his work with the revamped and powered-up Nico from Runaways is tremendous. Walker also excels with his facial expressions, the acting is so important in this book, and Walker nails it.

For me, I won’t really know how to grade this until I see how Hopeless wraps up his story. I am going to show some confidence that he’s not going to kill too many more original intellectual properties, so I’ll say this comics is GOOD.


For those keeping score at home, here’s the tally for this, the second Avengers Arena trade:
Still alive and kicking: X-23, Hazmat, Reptil, Cammi, Nico, Chase (now Darkhawk), Deathlocket, Apex, Cullen Bloodstone, Anachronism,
Dead: Mettle, Juston & his Sentinel, Red Raven, Nara, Kid Briton,

Missing: Chris Powell (original Darkhawk)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Deadpool v2: Soul Hunter TPB

Just to catch you guys up from the reboot of this book last summer; Deadpool’s Marvel Now series has tongue planted firmly in cheek as he opened the series fighting the re-animated bodies of the dead American presidents. This included fighting Ronald Reagan on a space station and William Taft in a bathtub. So Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn haven’t exactly been aiming for drama. This is meant to be a fun, irreverent book.

The status quo heading into the second trade is an update to Wade’s weird voiceovers. He’s got a co-pilot in his head, deceased SHIELD agent Preston is now wandering around in Wade’s mindscape; able to both see what he’s up to in the real world, and explore the depths of Wade’s memories during downtime.

Through the use of an inspired “inventory issue,” Deadpool gains a new nemesis in Vetis, a demon with big plans. Vetis has been storing stolen soul power in his victims for decades, now he wants Deadpool to go and “collect.” Naturally, this involves Wade killing a lot of people.

The plot is largely secondary here; there more to facilitate some interesting team-ups and give the core cast time to make jokes. Iron Man (circa Demon in the Bottle) and Daredevil get some panel time, but the biggest guest appearance is the Superior Spider-Man. It is interesting that Otto Octavius’ take on Spider-Man has so much less patience for Deadpool than Peter Parker. Parker always makes concessions and often looks the other way; Otto does not.

Of the core cast, Preston, Ben Franklin, and the inept wizard who raised the presidents make for a good supporting cast. Deadpool only works when he’s got people to bounce off of; Duggan and Posehn know that and make it work. They also introduce some potential game-changing back story for the future.

The artwork from Scott Koblish and Matt Hawthorne is professional. I’m not overly familiar with either guy, but I can’t complain. They had big shoes to fill since the departure of Tony Moore, but the art is fine.

While I enjoy Deadpool in team books, I rarely love his solo series. This is no exception. This is competent and it has real laughs. I think fans of Deadpool’s lighter side will really dig this. But for me, this is definition of a FAIR comic. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Aquaman v2: The Others TPB

Aquaman ANGRY! Aquaman SMASH!

OK, it’s not quite that bad, but man, Geoff Johns really does like darkening up his heroes these days, huh? This collection is a long revenge-fest. Aquaman has many reasons to want Black Manta dead, and he states his goals clearly and repeatedly. I think two or three issues end with Aquaman promising to kill Manta.

That’s not to say Manta doesn’t deserve it. The book opens with him hunting down and GUTTING a former teammate of Aquaman’s from The Others. I’m not sure if Manta meant what he said about filleting the hero’s family, but if he is serious, then his level of villainy just went up to Joker level. And honestly, bad guys that bad do need to be put down. My problem is that I just think that is too far for serial super-comics. If bad guys were doing things that bad, how could they live past one or two confrontations?

The focus of the book is on The Others, a forgotten super-team, these were his teammates before he joined the Justice League. As always, Johns shows off his inherent chops for super-heroes. These characters only need to show up on panel for a panel or two before their archetypical designs and personalities start to shine through. Jungle Woman, super-spy, Russian patriot, supernatural avenger. This is a perfectly built super-team, with all the required roles met and checked off. I’m not sure I could name them all just a few days after reading this book, but they certainly entertain from cover to cover. I think the Russian Vostok might be my favorite. His combination of power but fear of crowds immediately gives him an interesting conflict.

One thing I really appreciate in Johns’ reboot is the power and importance he gives Mera. She’s Aquaman’s wife, and second banana, but it is pretty clear that she’s at least his equal in power, and it sure seems she’s a more level-headed hero at this point too. Actually, amend that, I just remembered that DC announced that the two of them aren’t married, because married heroes are too boring. So I guess that makes her his queen, but not necessarily wife. I’m sure all the mythical kids reading this violent, gory comic are a lot more likely to connect with the heroes since they are boring and married like old people. Ugh.

Ivan Reis is on art for this collection, and his work remains solid. As I said, the character designs for The Others is so good, it feels like I should already know all these heroes. They’ve got iconic, classic looks that look modern too. I gotta say, they don’t look particularly “new 52” to me, though. Not enough collar or lines on the uniforms. Reis has drawn Black Manta before, but man, that guy looks threatening for a big-headed swimmer. I also like that Reis draws Mera a bit slimmer than the average overdeveloped superheroine.

This is one of the better new 52 books, people. It is violent, gory, and fairly mean-spirited. It is based on betrayals, past mistakes, and “everything you know is wrong!” type reveals. For me, that means this is only a FAIR comic, but maybe it is more your cup of tea. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thor: The Dark World Review

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience seeing Thor: The Dark World. It is a lot more “Star Wars-y” than I would ever expect from a Thor film, though. There are a couple sequences on an alien (dark elf) spaceship that felt like they came straight out of the rebooted Star Trek franchise. And the battle for Asgard involves elf fighters and spaceship versions of Viking longboats. I had to laugh in the theater, the sound effects and feel of the whole sequence was like Empire Strikes Back or Chronicles of Riddick.

Chris Hemsworth clearly enjoys the role, and watching him strut confidently around the screen is a joy. The ladies want to be with him, the men want to be him. As a big fan of female heroes, I wish Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif did more than give sidelong glances in between butt-kickings. She has so much potential. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster is a walking plot device. She does what she can, but she spends so much time being moved around the board as a living MacGuffin that when she finally has an impact on the story, it felt like too little too late. I am also fully convinced that Marvel Comics needs to find a way to get Idris Elba’s Heimdall into the comics. He goes from an afterthought to a supporting character with potential with nothing but Elba’s gravitas.

Stealing the show, once again, is Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Honestly, how is it not a problem that the “villain” of the Marvel U has the most charisma out of any of the leads? Whenever Loki is on screen, the sense of humor involved goes up, but the dramatic weight of the scene doesn’t suffer for it. Thinking back on the film, almost every highlight involves the trickster son of Asgard.

As for the villains, they don’t hold up as well as the other Marvel movies. I think Christopher Eccleston tried his best, but he can’t act his way out of that much makeup. Malekith the Dark Elf is never more than a generic big bad with vague motivations. He has a few lines of dialogue that briefly raise the stakes, but not as many as Tom Hardy’s Bane from the Bat franchise. It takes a lot of good lines to raise a villain’s personality through masks and prosthetics. I have no problem with the inclusion of Kurse. There were enough nods to the comic to make the villain feel familiar, and Kurse is also the source of the most “comic-booky” moments of the film. Tell me you didn’t smile when he picked up that enormous boulder and tossed it at Thor. Physics be damned!

Perhaps I sound too down on this; it is a fun movie, filled with whimsy and action. Alan Taylor clearly has affection for the comic source material, and the feeling of adventure and excitement that permeate the film are hard to resist.  It is a tad long, and a tad too space opera, but if you want to see super-heroes banging ancient weapons off each other, this movie hits the spot.

Thor is GOOD!

(And other than the previews, pretty kid-appropriate too. My 8-year-old loved it.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

World War Z (2013)

Time for my occasional movie review!

I saw World War Z last night, and wow, did it shatter my already low expectations. The film had many problems, so I’m going to limit myself and only talk about a few of them.

As a zombie film, it totally misses the point. The entire creeping dread of a world going “zombie” doesn’t work if people turn 12 seconds after being infected. That movie, involving living monsters, was called 28 Days Later. An incubation period that short leads to an entirely different style of film, not a classic zombie movie. The 12 second incubation would also curb any possible spread of the virus worldwide on normal aircraft. While I believe I did see a zombie driving a garbage truck, I’m reasonably sure they can’t pilot aircraft. Let that sink in, a zombie was driving a frigging truck.

Now, before someone pops in to defend it, I heard the line of dialogue where the incubation period was at first a few hours, or minutes. If the virus is adapting and changing that rapidly, then sign off on the Earth, cause messiah Brad Pitt’s “fix” isn’t going to work.

One of the most haunting aspects of a good zombie story is the knowledge that these monsters were once people. Usually, a good, slow turn gets the point across nicely, but seeing zombies in their un-agitated state does it too. Normal clothes and surroundings can hint at the average life each zombie once led. This movie avoids that thought at all costs. In an attempt to hold a foolish PG-13 rating, the zombies never have any personality. They are chomping, leaping images created by a computer. They act more like angry frogs than any zombies I’ve ever seen. Hell, if you are doing fast zombies, you might as well put some chubby people in there, the zombies don’t all have to be marathoners if they are CGI anyway!

So those are some generic complaints on the lack of zombie-ness in the movie. Now the specifics.

Brad Pitt is the only person in the world with a functioning brain, eyes, and ears. No one, not even trained scientists or political leaders are capable of putting simple facts together. Nope, the world’s only and best hope is an unemployed pancake maker who thinks stacking suitcases in front a curtain will stop a horde of zombies.

Rarely have I seen a movie that so gleefully exists just for the main character. Convoluted, moronic set pieces await Brad Pitt all over the world. Innocent morons waiting to be eaten, zombies capable of jumping up onto helicopters, and more; they are all just waiting for Brad (and the camera man) to arrive so they can get things going. Honestly, the same plot is just repeated around the world: Brad arrives, surveys zombie situation, meets a few bozos, zombies overrun the bozos.

The action is shot with shaky cam. Shaky cam and CGI are a ridiculous mix. The zombies have superpowers that come and go as necessary. The entire world doesn’t take reasonable precautions, even in a zombie apocalypse. I mean, you built a wall to keep the zombies out; wouldn’t you want to keep an eye on it? Or a frigging camera? Who knows when the zombies might get the insane ability to turn into an undead escalator?

This was a good book, people. With great settings, characters, and unique situations that really said something about zombies, and yes, about society. That is what good zombie stories are supposed to do. Author Max Brooks did it. Director Marc Forster couldn’t. As a film, this was amateurish, insultingly stupid, and impotent. As an adaptation of a good book, it is devastatingly inept and ineffectual.

World War Z is POOR.

(And for those of you who liked it, I will try to help you. I’m going to put up a list of GOOD zombie movies so you can compare them.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

X-0 Manowar: Planet Death TPB

I think it is time we had a talk about Valiant Entertainment.

I was a HUGE fan of the original Valiant back in the day. So I’m the target audience for this modern day relaunch. I have to say, overall, I’m very impressed. I’m collecting these new Valiant books digitally. Comixology has regular sales of just about the entire universe, so I find myself buying almost every book in the line when the appropriate sales kick off.

The creative teams on these books are fascinating, generally consisting of what I consider B-level Marvel and DC talent. Since those tend to be my favorite types of creators, the quality of these books is remarkably solid. You’ve heard of these writers, you’ve heard of the artists. This is good stuff.

Planet Death wraps up the initial “spider-alien” storyline that dominated the original X-0’s attention for so long. Aric is a Visigoth, captured by cruel aliens and forced into slavery until he discovers the holy armor of Shanhara. The aliens, known as the Vine, are furious with Aric for escaping and making off with their holy artifact. After repeated attempts on his life (including a pretty sweet fight with Ninjak!), Aric gets tired of it and heads to the Vine’s homeworld. He is a total maniac, killing dozens or hundreds of spider-aliens as he brings the planet to heel. Hence the title, Planet Death.

Robert Venditti does a remarkable job actually putting some moral conflict into this black and white story. He actually has some spider-aliens we can root for! I’m not sure if they are good, but they are definitely not as bloodthirsty and cruel as most of their kind. It is a neat trip seeing Aric very slowly come around to the idea that he doesn’t have to slaughter the entire Vine race. It is also a delight seeing the human slaves of different eras and locations come together to throw off their captors (along with some interesting alien allies too).

Cary Nord and Trevor Hairsine handle the art, and it is wonderful. The X-O Manowar looks just like I remember it (even if it has been modernized, it FEELs right, an important distinction from the soulless new 52 costumes). One of the neater aspects of the art is the absolute lethality of the Shanhara armor. I mean, the laser beams practically burn off the page due to the strong coloring.

These Valiant books are darn good. And when you can get them for 99 cents each in a digital sale? That’s a STEAL! GOOD!

Monday, November 11, 2013

B.P.R.D.: 1948 TPB

So I recently complained about not knowing what was happening in Superboy volume 2. I was totally lost; felt dropped in the middle of a story I had no investment in.

This is the opposite of that. I started off in the same place. I have absolutely no memory of what happened in the last couple BPRD flashback books. Other than Professor Bruttholm, I don’t remember any characters. But IT DOESN’T MATTER. This book has everything you need to get invested in the current mystery. This book has horror, gore, action, and a great set of characters that pulls you right in.

A friend of mine just said “how can a comic keep being this good” and honestly, I just don’t know. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi have been putting out these excellent stories for so long, spanning genres and artistic styles in a magnificent fashion. Hellboy fans will adore these books, of course, but all you have to really like is good stories to get something out of this collection.

Set in 1948, this story is wrapped up with alternate dimensions, atomic bomb testing, and the early days of the BPRD as a military offshoot. One of my favorite aspects of these early days is the way the field agents are basically just US military troops with weird orders. I love monsters, because you can shoot them. And man, do the BPRD guys shoot a lot of monsters in these comics. No cheating vampires or ghosts with no rules, these are big, tentacle monsters that want to eat you.

I’m not a huge fan of Max Fiumara’s art, but honestly, his stuff didn’t bother me here. His monsters look so otherworldly and spooky that I’m willing to look past his odd faces and somewhat cartoony human drawings. Every scene has a strong sense of setting, and again, the action is fantastic. The jump cuts between the soldiers and the monsters sets each conflict in utter clarity.

This scary comic is GOOD!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Justice League: The Nail TPB

Wow. I forgot how much I absolutely love this series. Alan Davis might be my #1 favorite comic artist (certainly top 5), but man, I love his writing too. He hits all the necessary beats in a good Justice League story, and even more impressive, he does it without Superman.

In this world, a nail in the Kent's tire keeps them from adopting young Kal-El, which means the world develops very differently. We still have a Justice League, but here it is Hal Jordan, Batman, Wonder Woman, Barry Allen/Flash, Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl, and the Atom. Just including the Manhunter guarantees I’ll like it, but Davis gives him such a great depth of character and emotion, it reminds me of the beloved DC New Frontier.

This book does have some deaths. As an Elseworlds, that was sort of a staple in the mid-90s for an alternate reality. The great part is that the deaths always mean something. Hawkgirl is constantly drawing strength from Hawkman’s sacrifice, and Batman gets some extra motivation (and a new partner) from the developments here too.

The series does suffer a bit from Davis’ clear desire to draw as many DC characters as possible. But do you blame him that he wanted to draw Ultraa the Ultra Alien and found any excuse to do so? We also get the whole Green Lantern Corps!!! I also have to appreciate the use of a great 90’s era Superman villain as the big bad too. The reasoning is sound, and this guy was a major antagonist in the triangle Superman era.

Reading a book like reminds me how much I used to absolutely adore the DCU. I think it is time to break out some more Justice League minis! Alan Davis and his comics are GOOD! (Actually, they are EXCELLENT!)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wolverine: Covenant TPB

The last Wolverine series sort of ended with a whimper. I don’t remember hearing anything about Cullen Bunn’s closing arc on the book, which is too bad. He and artist Paul Pelletier deliver an action-packed travelogue through the Marvel U. 

Sure, these are new locations, populated by new baddies of Bunn’s own design rather than Marvel classics, but he does a great job fitting them in to existing Marvel lore.

One exception is the inclusion of Ulysses Bloodstone as a member of the Covenant. As a super-secret organization, I’m not sure how useful a monster hunter would be, but I do like the idea of old timey-heroes and… ‘tweeners being out there looking out for the world. Bunn covers all his basis, with a hulking sorcerer, a lady adventurer, a tinkerer/inventor, a Shadow-type vigilante, and briefly, Wolverine.

Of course, Wolverine parted ways with the group real quick, and that’s the crux of this story. Softie Wolverine didn’t pull the trigger years ago, and now his target is a threat to the entire Covenant.

I’m not sure I ever really bought in to the danger of the chaos that the Covenant is trying to stave off. I certainly never worried overmuch about the fate of the dreamer either (even when she is shown to have ties to the awesome Celestials). This definitely has the feel of a fill-in story, but thanks to Bunn’s interesting characters and Pelletier’s top-notch ability to draw action, the fill-in doesn’t equal wasted time.

In the old rating, this would have been a FAIR, but the Energy Analyzer finds this comic to be GOOD. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Iron Man: The Secret Origin of Tony Stark

I knew it. There was no way that Kieron Gillen could have originally been planning on this Guardians of the Galaxy, evil robot 451 kick for Iron Man. It never felt quite right. I loved the first five issues, but since then, I’ve been disconnected from this volume of Iron Man. I’m hopeful that my feelings will change now that the story is getting a pretty radical shift in direction.


So Tony Stark is adopted. The evil robot 451 meddled with Howard and Maria Stark’s child, and when Howard tried to negate that meddling, he paralyzed his own son. In order to hide the fact that their son wasn’t exactly what 451 wanted, they adopted Tony. That means that the REAL Stark son has been sitting in a hospital waiting to hear that he can come back into the world. This is a status-quo changing event, and I think it could add a lot to the Iron Man mythos. Especially considering who the other Stark is…

Arno Stark. The evil Iron Man of 2020. Only 7 years away from us now, Kieron Gillen gets to play with some fantastic Marvel continuity and bring Arno into the real Marvel U. Will he be a villain? Will he be a hero? I don’t think any of us can know for sure, but it is going to be fun to find out.

It’s an odd situation. I certainly haven’t loved the last 10 issues of Iron Man. This whole space storyline has felt like a bad fit for the comic. But it may end up being worth it in exchange for this exciting new status quo.

So the last few issues? EVIL. But my excitement for the next issue? GOOD

Friday, November 1, 2013

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #2

What a delightful little crossover. If you can forget for a moment just how much all these $3.99 titles have cost, this is a great throwback to the X-crossovers of the past decades. No one does time-travel better than the X-Men, and no one does crossovers better either.

When I last updated you all on this one, we only had a crew of X-Men from the future, a team in the present, and the original five X-Men from the past. In the course of the story, we get a whole different team of future X-Men, and a glimpse of the possible future that warped some of the characters so badly. (Special Agent Dazzler is sure important for a character that just stands around bantering with Maria Hill.)

There are tons of nice character moments scattered through the latter half of the crossover, but the best moments seem to belong to Iceman. I’m reading this series with my 8-year-old daughter, and man, she LOVES Iceman. Everything he says, she laughs. When Iceman and Beast travel with Magik to the future? She could barely concentrate on any other aspect of the story. “Dad, I just want to see what happens to Iceman and Beast.” I love it. I’ve never been prouder.

As they often do, there are a few remnants of the time-traveling groups sticking around the regular Marvel U. We might have a new Brotherhood of Mutants. I think there is a new student at the Jean Grey School. But best of all, the original X-Men and a VERY important member of the school staff are switching teams.
My number one complaint about the post-AVX X-universe is that not enough characters are siding with Cyclops. Wolverine is a crazy murderer too, and his moral superiority is absolutely crazy. So seeing SIX characters join up with Cyclops evens the odds a whole lot. My interest in Uncanny X-Men just shot up a ton.

The status quo going forward is going to be fascinating. Kinder, gentler, pretending Wolverine? Smug, possibly winning Cyclops? And the return of Nightcrawler?

Guys, the X-books are where it’s at. You can skip the Avengers these days, you want to be reading X-Men. GOOD

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Superboy v2: Extraction HC

You wanna see something really scary?

Here it is.

I really tried, folks. I saw a few new 52 volume 2 collections listed on my library's website and decided to give them a shot. I think I made it 8 pages into this collection. I'm not even sure where to begin.

I'm not some crazy WildCATs or Gen 13 fan, but wow. I can't believe that Jim Lee is OK with his creations being sent this far off the mark. That is Warblade on the cover of the trade. Remember him? 90's topnot, looked as Image as possible? Now he looks like one of Cameron Hodge's smiley robots from the late 80's!

Grunge is a "Ravager," which evidently means that he's in some kill or be killed group that is trying to find the toughest young superhuman. I got a Terror Titans vibe from it, to be honest. I'm not sure what exactly was happening because I think the Legion of Super-Heroes were teaming up with Superboy, but I never saw them meet up. Seriously, the book goes from a one-on-one fight with a tech'ed up Grunge to a team-up with the Legion in bad costumes. I have no idea what happened.

I know I only read the first couple issues of Superboy with the relaunch, but surely I should be able to understand what is going on in a comic when I read it. Scott Lobdell and Tom DeFalco have done much better work than this, including some great mid-90's stories. But this, I couldn't even get through it.

RB Silva and Brett Booth don't exactly fit in the mold of the new 52 house art style, but the terrible costumes and re-designs make sure that the art is generic and uninspiring.

When I have to return a library book unread, that means it was EVIL!

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Revival TPB

I’m not sure exactly what Tim Seeley is going for in his new Image series. Is it a long-form story of a changed world? This certainly has the world-building details I’d expect from that sort of story. There are all sorts of side-characters and mundane details that make his small Wisconsin town feel lived-in. But that doesn’t always lead to a riveting read every month.

Is it a horror story? Make no mistake; there were numerous times where I actually got chills at some of the horrific scenes in this story. The slaughter in barn was gory but effective, but I was a lot more scared at the haunting howls and mumblings of ghosts lost in the woods. But these moments aren’t exactly constant either.

This has got two elements that make for a good story. Good details and a strong, well-rounded setting. But it is lacking an antagonist. At the end of the first trade, I don’t really understand what our leads are fighting against. What exactly are the stakes? What happens if they fail at whatever it is they are doing? This lack of direction does dull my interest a bit.

Fortunately, Seeley has a strong cast to keep the reader invested. Dana Cypress is a local cop in charge of dealing with the “Revivers,” the recent dead who are coming back to life. Most of them seem fine; they are just back, as they always were. But some of them are definitely… off. And they are a little violent. So Dana’s got some work to do. Dana’s sister Martha is the other lead, indulging Seeley’s penchant for hot Goth chicks.

In summary, I’m getting a big TV show vibe from this one. I could easily see this coming on after Sleepy Hollow or a show like that. This lands back in the “Fair” territory of the old ranking system.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Red Hulk: Mayan Rule TPB

This is never quite as good as I hoped. Jeff Parker has done amazing things with Rulk, and I always love Dale Eaglesham’s artwork. And believe it or not, I actually read Alpha Flight before I read Avengers, so yeah, I’m a fan.

While Alpha does appear in this story, it never really turns into quite the mob of heroes I was hoping for. I suppose that is just the fault of my expectations. Alpha Flight and the guest-starring She-Hulks (other faves) are little more than victims and hostages for most of the story. This leaves most of the heroics to Red Hulk and Machine Man. They are the stars of the book, so I get it, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed.

But wow, what art. Parker’s Mayan gods are awesome, modern interpretations that make for fantastic villains. Dale Eaglesham brings them to life. They look absolutely tremendous, and each panel of smashing jumps off the page. I’m also amazed at Eaglesham’s ability to put human emotions on the faces of snake men and monkeys. Darn it. Flipping through, I’m bummed Eaglesham didn’t get to draw Alpha Flight more. His Snowbird is absolutely stunning!

In conclusion, this is a great conclusion to the Red Hulk series. It is fun, with new villains, good guest-stars, solid dialogue and great art. I don’t think wanting more is always a negative. Sometimes it just means you read a GOOD comic. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Batman #24

(or Batman: Zero Year part 1)

Batman is one of the few remnants on my DC sublist, and I don’t even get it at the comic store. I subscribe to this book when Tanga puts the mail-order subscriptions on sale, and I have to say, I think I’m making out like a bandit. The newest issue, the closing chapter in the “first phase” of Year Zero, cost $6.99.  I think I paid $8.99 or something like that for the whole year! At that price, I’ll read almost anything!

Fortunately, Scott Snyder has been very consistent on his Batman launch. This comic is still very entertaining. While some details have morphed around, this is still Batman as we know and love him. In fact, I don’t even mind this re-telling of Bats’ origin. I’ve experienced so many origins in comics and film that I seem to have no resistance left to seeing Batman get a new origin.

The opening arc of Zero Year focuses on the Red Hood gang. Led by an unhinged mystery-man in a red hood, we never figure out if this is still the man who becomes the Joker or not. That mystery has always worked well for the clown prince of crime, and Snyder doesn’t shy away from it. He does bulk up the supporting cast with a new uncle for Bruce Wayne, a lost business man who gets a character arc of his own. Edward Nigma and other future problems also show up; content in their mundane criminal lives until they are inspired by Batman?

Isn’t it odd that two of Snyder’s big storylines feature hordes of secret society members in masks? First the Court of Owls, now this…

Greg Capullo hasn’t missed many deadlines either. The book has maintained the same feel since issue one and that’s largely down to Capullo’s art. I really enjoy his take on the “original” bat suit. The red hoods sometimes look a bit odd, but that’s a small complaint.

Best of all, this book is filled with both action and words every month. There is always some sort of physical conflict, but Snyder gives each fight a sense of importance through narration. This is not usually a quick read.

Batman who feels like the character I know and love? That makes this a GOOD comic!

Friday, October 18, 2013

X-Treme X-Men v1: Xavier Must Die! TPB

I liked it the first few times. I loved Exiles. I loved Jeff Parker’s Exiles relaunch. (Didn’t care for Claremont’s run, but what the hey?) So I’m afraid the concept of the alternate reality X-Men hopping through time isn’t a new one. It takes a crackerjack lineup and a strong creative team to keep my interest in the concept now. This doesn't have the lineup, it has a decent writer, but the art is not impressive.

Greg Pak won me over years ago with his work on Hulk and Hercules. I haven’t liked his later work quite as much, and this is another near miss. Clearly he’s in love with Dazzler, who gets an amazing power upgrade for this series. Seriously, I think she could take on Magneto if everyone wrote her with this mastery of her light powers. She blasts desert rocks into magma at one point!

Emmaline Frost gets a few good lines, but she doesn’t have a huge impact on the book. Xaver’s floating head is a walking plot device. I can appreciate Howlett as a very different Wolverine, but I sort of feel like Pak is telegraphing his big secret. (I do like the use of Adamantine to lace his bones, though, that is a nice twist!) Kurt Waggoner is a nice kid, but every time he’s on panel I can’t help but think how much I prefer the real Nightcrawler. And I’m not sure, but is Dazzler’s crush Johnny Ito a stand-in for Pak? I hope so. If you are going to write comics, why not write in a Mary Sue?

So the point of the book is that the X-Men must travel through alternate realities killing evil versions of Charles Xavier. We start off in a weird, Olympus-type world where Thor, Storm, and the other surviving X-Men are gods to the surviving humans. It’s an odd setup. One where I’m not entirely certain I even understand the swerve. What exactly did that world’s Xavier gain from this situation?

The second story is a bit more straight forward. Xavier is a brute-force mind-controller in charge of an old West town populated by X-Men. Its fun seeing cowboy Cyclops and rail worker Colossus, but I can’t help but think that the objective in this arc was more to put Dazzler in more period costumes.

As a star-making vehicle for Dazzler, this almost works. I think that might have been a better tack to take, actually. The three or four member team of X-Treme X-Men never really seem to agree on a goal or even on the mission they are supposedly undertaking.

The art is OK. Stephen Segovia does a pretty decent Leinil Francis Yu impression, but the finishing touches on the faces and backgrounds is not there. Later, Paco Diaz takes over. I’d hazard a guess that Dazzler is his favorite character too. She looks great on every page, while the other characters sometimes don’t seem to have gotten quite as much attention.

This is a book for Dazzler fans. If you feel she’s never gotten her due, and want to see her lead a team and use her powers in new and innovative ways, you’ll dig this book. As someone who has no strong feelings about Dazzler at all, this book is EVIL.