Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A-Force #1

Boy, I really wanted to love this comic. I truly did. But I’m more than a little lost.

I see that a lot of the heroes featured in this comic are sporting their classic costumes. Does that mean these are versions of the characters plucked from different points in time? I have a lot of questions. A lot.

Did this disco Dazzler join SHIELD? Why is Loki a woman? How exactly did Loki raise Miss America and Nico? Is this a brand new continuity for the She-Hulk-led Arcadia? Why is Dr. Doom in charge of everything? How did Sam Wilson become a mix of Captain America and Thor? Has She-Hulk met this Sheriff Dr. Strange before? Do they have their Avengers history? Why do none of the X-Men besides Dazzler have speaking parts? How does Dazzler fly? If the name of their country is Arcadia, where did Miss America get her name?

That is a LOT of confusion for a first issue.

After reading G. Willow Wilson’s eloquent and powerful blog post about this book, I wanted to love it. But instead of being able to buy in, I must confess to some confusion myself. I’m a long-time comic reader. I’m well versed in comics continuity. Heck, I’m caught up on my Marvel books.

I will admit to avoiding Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and Secret War books, though. And it sure looks to me like that willful dodging of Marvel’s summer tent pole means I’m not the targeted audience for this book. I assume that’s the case. It is pretty frustrating that the comics I’ve tried the hardest to avoid for the past few years are now dictating the direction of the entire Marvel Universe.

Wilson and her co-writer Marguerite Bennett do a wonderful job giving characterization and voice to many Marvel heroines. Jorge Molina’s art is delightful too. The megalodon antagonist is sufficiently horrific and I love the classic uniforms I mentioned above. The female leads are attractive and heroic while not being exploited. Most of all, I’m delighted to see She-Hulk leading a team of competent, powerful super-heroes. That’s what I was looking for when I picked up this book!

But instead, I’ve got a whole bunch of odd stuff about barons, Dr. Doom as a god, and the Nightwatch protecting the world from the white walkers. Oh! I mean the Shield protecting the world from zombies. I know Marvel wanted to get in on the Game of Thrones action, but this is ridiculous!

With all the press, the fantastic cover, and the concept of an all-lady Avengers team, I had really hoped that this would be a book I’d read with my daughters (who are also well-established Marvel fans.) I actually wonder if their lack of continuity knowledge might help them enjoy this book? Maybe I’ll get my 10-year-old to write a review too.

I truly hope this book and this creative team get more of a chance to show their stuff after Secret Wars ends. There is a ton of potential here, in both creative energy and in the concepts. But my absolute confusion about the very premise of the Arcadia world means this book is AVERAGE. 

Thor #8

This is almost the perfect comic. Jason Aaron’s story delivers a fantastic, logical reveal, and prefaces it with some wonderful high-octane action. Russell Dauterman has somehow become one of my favorite artists, and his portrayal of the ladies of the Marvel U taking on the Destroyer is absolutely gorgeous. I read this comic sitting in my work’s parking lot, something I haven’t done in 10 years or so, but that is how excited I was to find out the new Thor’s secret identity. And thanks to the well-choreographed action that opened the issue, I had a smile on my face the whole time.

I’m not going to give it away here, but Aaron swerved me with the obvious choice over the last few months. I read this book with my daughters (we all love it) and while my 7-year-old was with me with the obvious suspect, my 10-year-old didn’t buy it. She told me that “they wouldn’t just give it away that easily.” I will say that they were both happy about the reveal, although my younger daughter especially was immediately overcome with concern for this character. It was pretty great to get to tell her “this is a comic book, buddy, I’m sure the writer has a plan in mind.” Jason Aaron has repeatedly proven himself to be one of the best writers in comics and this is just another piece of evidence building that case.

But Russell Dauterman. I didn’t know this guy at all, and he has impressed the hell out of me. The character work on all these guest-stars is stunning. Karnilla the Norn Queen became one of my favorite characters in the span of two pages! (I thought she resembled the singer St. Vincent, anyone else get that vibe?) In any case, my younger daughter immediately declared that she wants to try to get an artist to draw Karnilla at the next comicon she attends. (It’s good to have a plan, right?)

Scarlet Witch, Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Lady Sif, Freyja, Angela, Karnilla, Valkyrie, and the new-to-me Hildegard. What a fantastic lineup of suspected Thors and guest stars. And throughout all of this, Aaron and Dauterman keep “regular Thor” as an integral part of the story. This has become a team-up book featuring the two Thors and I love it.

I said this was almost the perfect comic. And I meant it. It is EXCELLENT. This is Marvel Comics done right, folks.

(FYI: The perfect comic book will never exist because it would be a team-up of all my favorite b-tier Justice Leaguers and Avengers.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Justice League #40

I clearly don’t learn my lessons. I’ve been stung so many times by false hopes about the new 52 easing back on its new grim continuity, and here I go again, hoping that this time it is actually going to happen.

This issue of Justice League is the first new issue I’ve bought since issue 3 or 4. (I have been reading Geoff Johns’ series in trade paperback from the library. I’m working through a library of Forever Evil books right now.) Interestingly enough, I don’t think a single member of the Justice League appears in this title.

Instead, our focus is on Metron of the New Gods. And believe it or not, he looks pretty much like he’s supposed to look. Maybe Kevin Maguire has modernized him a tad, but there aren’t any obvious new 52-isms going on in his uniform. That alone had me smiling in the opening pages. The fact that Kevin Maguire is drawing the opening scene just made me even happier.

Through the pencils of different DC artists, we follow Metron as he recaps the origin of Mr. Miracle and Orion (by Kevin Maguire), Crisis on Infinite Earths (by Phil Jiminez), Zero Hour (by Dan Jurgens), Final Crisis (by Jerry Ordway), and Flashpoint (by Scott Kolins). And my friends, these pages are glorious. These classic artists capture the tone and look of their particular eras perfectly, sometimes in less than a page of work! Jurgens’ Zero Hour piece in particular made my day. (And I’ll also say, I wish Kolins had gotten a better assignment than the boring Flashpoint). There were long periods where I preferred DC to Marvel, so seeing these characters again was a real treat. Jason Fabok and Jim Lee provide the art for the closing chapters that tie in to the upcoming Darkseid War storyline.

The book finishes up with Metron facing down the Anti-Monitor. Metron ominously declares that “Reality cannot survive another Crisis.” Well, that gives me hope, cause I’m crossing my fingers for another one! Especially after the Anti-Monitor and Metron explicitly state that the new 52 reality has “yet to solidify.” I’m sure that statement is music to the ears of a lot of readers.

So, with my sublist lightening up for the summer, I think I’ll see this one through. I’m back on Justice League, with the hope that somehow, Geoff Johns is going to give us back some aspect of the DCU that we lost at the end of Flashpoint. The potential alone made this comic a GOOD one.

I’m a super-hero fan, right? I can’t help but be an optimist. 

(Oh, and we all think the Anti-Monitor is a future version of Metron merged with the chair, right?) 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Convergence: Justice League International #2

This is really more of a comment on all the Convergence books, although I will be talking about this one in particular.

I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly what the status quo is supposed to be for all these characters going forward. Are all the interesting versions of the DCU's cast going to stick around or are they just shuffling off into obscurity again, leaving the limelight to the collar-wearing new 52? Please don't tell me that I'm supposed to be reading the core Convergence book to understand what is going on in the bigger storyline. From what I understand, that is all about the Earth 2 series that I never read, so that ain't happening.

As for this issue; what a refreshing change. Ron Marz knows these characters. Blue Beetle and Kingdom Come Wonder Woman try to talk their way out of trouble at the start of the issue. The way heroes should. Then when things finally do break down, the KC heroes make sure not to be jerks about the whole thing. The battle of Metropolis' champions plays out sort of like a scrimmage. No one needs to get hurt.

But the reader doesn't even get to see that, because we are lucky enough to follow Blue Beetle's point of view as he teams up with the Kingdom Come version of himself. It sounds more confusing than it is, thanks to Marz's playful script and laid back attitude towards Telos' threat level.

And while Marz clearly didn't have permission to use Booster Gold, rest assured, he knows what fans of the JLI want to see.

Mike Manley's art is a bit retro, and I mean that as a good thing. His JLI look absolutely perfect. I wish I could have had a few more panels with his version of Martian Manhunter. Ice's costume seems like a neat update too. The Kingdom Come characters are a bit more hit or miss. KC Blue Beetle looks just fine, but KC Wonder Woman looks like normal Diana with a sword. I would have preferred to see the armored version we get on that spectacular cover.

This is another GOOD book where the better versions of the characters are left intact. So at least I have a little hope. Surely DC wouldn't just tease the old fans with this type of content for two months then just dump it, would they?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Convergence: Shazam #1

Aargh! It kills me that DC is putting out these books! It proves that they COULD put out a good Shazam comic if they actually wanted to. Jeff Parker, a long-time fave of mine, clearly gets the character. Billy Batson is optimistic and naïve, but still heroic. His family has his back. And best of all, the heroes want to do the right thing! What more could you want from a Captain Marvel book?

This is one of the stronger Convergence books because it barely acknowledges its part in the overall crossover. Three-quarters of this comic features a great showdown between the Marvel family and some of their greatest foes. It isn’t until the last few pages that we have to suffer through the redundant Convergence exposition.

Things get repetitive when we have to sit through Tellos’ exposition once again. As in most of these Convergence titles, the worst part of the story is the actual Convergence storyline. The battles between the different domed cities holds absolutely no interest for me. There aren’t enough pages to do justice to the antagonists, and in almost every case we have to just blindly accept that the heroes involved would give up and fight for Tellos’ amusement. I’m not buying it. Worst of all, I’m tired of reading the same dialogue over and over again!

It is crime that we are going to have to see Evan “Doc” Shaner spending time on the Red Rain vampire characters rather than Captain Marvel characters. Heck, I’d almost rather just get more sketchbook pages where we can see the brilliant ways Shaner would handle more characters if he got the chance. His clean style is retro and modern at the same time. Shazam looks perfect! Mary Marvel looks heroic and wholesome, like a kid-sister hero should. The villains, while threatening, are rocking a fantastic retro vibe that just makes them stand out.

How the heck did DC put out another EXCELLENT Shazam comic so soon after Multiversity. And what does it say about DC that the “real” version in the new 52 is so much less compelling? 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Convergence: Suicide Squad #1

Can you imagine if we had gotten this comic as an actual series? Super-crime specialist Frank Tieri writing some of the biggest villains in the DCU? Tom Mandrake indulging in his moody and striking super-hero art? Agh, it makes me sad for what might have been.

Tieri spends a long time setting things up. Too long, if I’m being honest, especially when the art leaves it unclear exactly who we’re seeing in some of the opening scenes. (I’m assuming Deadshot, but I’m not exactly sure.)

Things get repetitive when we have to sit through Tellos’ exposition once again. As in most of these Convergence titles, the worst part of the story is the actual Convergence storyline. The battles between the different domed cities holds absolutely no interest for me. There aren’t enough pages to do justice to the antagonists, and in almost every case we have to just blindly accept that the heroes involved would give up and fight for Tellos’ amusement. I’m not buying it. Worst of all, I’m tired of reading the same dialogue over and over again!

But man, once that repetitive stuff is over, can you believe this team? The real Amanda Waller, big and bad and taking names! Deadshot! Black Manta! Bane! Cyborg Superman! Poison Ivy. AND DEATHSTROKE! My goodness! That lineup would be a license to print money, at least in my opinion. With a lineup this strong, I wish we had gotten more time with the characters rather than setting things up.

Tieri really lucks out with this antagonists too. The Kingdom Come Justice League is such a rich, valuable group; I wish the characters were getting their own spotlight. Heck, it is going to be difficult to not cheer for them in the upcoming showdown. Out of all the opponents in Convergence, the Kingdom Come characters are the ones I love seeing the most.

Mandrake has done so much DC work over my DC fan years that it is great seeing him drawing these characters again. And for me, these are “classic” designs. I know people don’t dig the 90’s these days, but man, I am thrilled to see these guys again. I hope we get more Kingdom Come characters next month too.

This was a GOOD issue, but after all that set up, I’m ready for some costumed mayhem! I’m hoping the next issue is even better. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Convergence: Blue Beetle #1

I’m reading these things totally out of order now. I was going to try and review these by week, but all the Convergence books just ended up in a big pile, so now my reviews will be in whatever order I happen to read them in!

Blue Beetle is one of the more mundane entries in the Convergence mythos. Scott Lobdell’s plot checks the necessary boxes, and features the necessary characters, but at no point did I feel particularly connected to anyone in the book. Blue Beetle is one of my all-time favorites, but in this version of the character, he’s pretty dull. He could be any tech-based hero at all. Nothing he does really screams out “Blue Beetle.”

And it goes on from there. Nathaniel Adam/Captain Atom is a pretty generic government thug, only his few moments of introspection save him from actually being a bad guy. And the Question clearly has his more interesting tendencies, but we hear about them from other characters rather than from the Question himself. It’s an odd choice.

In the end, the plot is minimal too. The heroes want out, but can’t do it. And eventually the dome comes down. It goes on for more pages than in some of the other books, but there isn’t much more to it. I did enjoy the chance to see how desperate things could get for normal folks in a dome. The way people scavenged the fallen Madmen so quickly was a neat touch.

Things get repetitive when we have to sit through Tellos’ exposition once again. As in most of these Convergence titles, the worst part of the story is the actual Convergence storyline. The battles between the different domed cities holds absolutely no interest for me. There aren’t enough pages to do justice to the antagonists, and in almost every case we have to just blindly accept that the heroes involved would give up and fight for Tellos’ amusement. I’m not buying it. Worst of all, I’m tired of reading the same dialogue over and over again!

Yishan Li does a decent job with the art, but doesn’t bail out the sort of bland storytelling I described above. This may be a Charlton-centric version of these heroes, but I vastly prefer the ones with more personality and more visual identity that I got from the JLI era of DC comics.

This is an AVERAGE comic, and one of the few Convergence titles that I won’t be pining for come June. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron Movie Review

Well, I remain very impressed by Marvel Studios’ output. Even with a majority of positive reviews, I was a tad concerned about Avengers: Age of Ultron. There were a fair amount of reviewers who said it was overstuffed, full of too many characters and too much action. Worst of all, according to some critics, Age of Ultron ignored the new post-heroic status quo of Tony Stark. Remember at the end of the abysmal Iron Man 3 how Tony blew up his Iron Legion and decided to hook up rather than step up? Heaven forbid that character-destroying moment be ignored! More like “Thank Goodness!”

So with that out of the way, how is the actual movie? It’s good. It is everything we loved about Joss Whedon’s first Avengers film. It is fun and full of character. There are action moments for every single hero and villain. And most importantly, James Spader, like Tom Hiddleston before him, steals the show as the film’s villain.

I’m not a huge James Spader fan. It isn’t that I don’t like him, just that our paths have never really crossed in my extensive media consumption. But man, I’m a fan now. With his voice alone, Spade establishes the playful and malevolent outlook of the MCU’s Ultron. When he’s not on screen, I found myself anticipating the next ridiculous, great line of dialogue Ultron would have for me. A strong antagonist is SO important to a good narrative. And Joss Whedon knows it; he’s had the best two villains in the entire Marvel movie library.

The entire ensemble is excellent, as you’d expect. But Captain America is my favorite, and Chris Evans does a fantastic job in the role once again. Cap is a straight arrow, but man, he backs up his morals with actions. From the opening exchange with Iron Man all the way to Cap’s moral declaration at the close of the movie, Cap is the friggin’ man. One of my favorite things about Marvel movie Cap is the power boost he’s received. Giving him a touch of super-strength really makes his action scenes pop, especially when he takes on Ultron one on one.

I expect the top-notch moments from Thor and Iron Man, so the badass moments from Hawkeye and Black Widow are always a treat. Hawkeye gets a lot of back-story and a good rivalry with the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, while Black Widow continues to do a TON of the heavy lifting in the Marvel U. How is it that I like the Widow so much more in the movies than in the comics? Scarlett Johansson’s Widow has been an integral character in Marvel’s Phase II movies; I can’t wait to see her continue to shape the Marvel U.

All this rambling, and I’m short-changing the Hulk, the Vision, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill, who all get their moments to shine. Surprisingly enough, the Vision was my 7-year-old’s favorite character!

Did you come for the Easter eggs? Again, Marvel knows the score. We get hints of Amadeus Cho, Klaw, and Black Panther. We see Thanos again. There is even the equivalent of the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” era of Avengers. (For those who don’t know, a bunch of the founders left the team early on in the comic run, leaving Cap, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye to man the fort.)

So at the end of this one, we’re set up for the next big moments in Marvel movies. We’ve got teases of the upcoming split between Cap and Iron Man for Captain America 3: Civil War. The “Infinity Stones” are out there, with Thanos hot on the trail to create his Infinity Gauntlet. And we’ve got some nice seeds planted for the Black Panther. Plus, a fertile Marvel U ready for more Netflix TV shows.

All in all, I don’t see how Marvel fans can be anything but thrilled. We live in an era where comic panels come to life on the big screen, and look fantastic doing so. There is a moment in the film where Thor, Iron Man, and the Vision are all blasting Ultron with their different energy blasts. All I could think was “my goodness, as a kid I dreamed of getting something like this, and here it is. And there is more to come.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an EXCELLENT film. (It ranks right after Guardians and Winter Soldier.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Aquaman #40

What are the odds that this book would get reshuffled in the upcoming Divergence relaunch? As someone who is buying only a handful of DC comics these days (Aquaman, Batman & Robin, Batman, and JL3000), I’m pretty bummed that Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier are leaving this book.

I’ve made no secret of my distaste for the new 52. I have many reasons for disliking it; the generic stories, having to pretend that characters have never met before, and lack of consistent or interesting characterization all make the list. But Parker’s Aquaman didn’t fall victim to any of those traps.

Parker gave us Aquaman as a king of Atlantis who was experienced as a hero but was still on his hero’s journey. More importantly, but putting Arthur against new foils and obstacles, nothing felt repetitive. Throughout the Maelstrom storyline, we’ve seen Aquaman team up with other heroes and take on a variety of classic villains. In every case, the evergreen interaction that Parker presented meant that this story would fit into any continuity. I found this approach so refreshing. I don’t’ know if incoming writer Cullen Bunn will continue this or not.

One of the best parts about this run has been the bond between Aquaman and Mera. They are the ultimate butt-kicking couple, supporting each other while maintaining their own personalities. Heck, in this final chapter of Maelstrom, Mera steps up to take on the big bad in a spectacular action sequence. Through all the familial strife of the last few issues, things never seemed too dire because Aquaman had Mera at his side. Judging from the solicits, that will not be the case after Divergence.

Pelletier is one of my favorite artists. I always say I can see a John Byrne influence in his work, so it has been a pleasure seeing him draw Martian Manhunter, Gorilla Grodd, and the other characters in this arc. Atlanna is a great addition to the DCU, half Conan and half DC Atlantean. Pelletier also excels at drawing monsters, making the fantasy-tinged Maelstrom a showcase for his monster design skills.

Parker and Pelletier delivered an action packed story with many good character moments, crowd-pleasing guest stars, and the addition of Aquaman’s mother to his mythos. That’s a pretty GOOD run, folks.