Monday, August 31, 2009

Jeff’s Comics Review, 8/19/09 releases, Part 1

Batman: Streets of Gotham 3: Kind of a “moving the pieces around the chessboard issue”, but in a good way as Dick and Damien try to keep Hush/Bruce Wayne under control and Black Mask, Zsasz and Penguin work on their plans. Some great dialogue too – Damien’s reaction to the “superstitious and cowardly lot” line is priceless. The Manhunter chapter shows Kate being resourceful without her equipment, though she does need a last-minute rescue from a familiar face.

Blackest Night: Superman 1: Unlike the other BN tie-ins so far, this doesn’t key off a specific scene in the main book instead featuring Superman and Superboy in Smallville. However, it does contain the worst kept secret of the year as the Golden Age Superman finally appears as Black Lantern Kal-L. I was surprised by who he brought with him, though (but I should have expected it.) Of course, James Robinson does a great job, even making a very clever and subtle point about Superman’s personality via the “emotion vision” from the Black Lanterns’ point of view.

Batgirl 1: I won’t give away the new Batgirl’s identity here, except to say that it is a different character in the uniform and you’ll find out who it is right away. Smallville TV writer Bryan Q. Miller gives Cassandra Cain a good reason to retire, and the new girl is intriguing enough that I’ll stick around for now. Barbara Gordon is also around, and I look forward to seeing more of her. Not a spectacular first issue, but a good one with lots of potential.

Supergirl 44: We’re in crossover mode this month, but even though most of the issue is devoted to pursuing the New Krypton assassin Sterling Gates still finds room for the tension between Kara and Lois and for a Cat Grant subplot so regular readers won’t be disappointed. (Though you won’t be able to make much sense out of this if you’re not reading all the “Codename: Patriot” chapters.)

Power Girl 4: Apparently this is going to stay a “cute” book, which I think is an odd choice for a character that’s usually had a hard edge, but Amanda Conner’s so good at it that I can’t really complain. It’s not quite as whimsical as her Supergirl strip in “Wednesday Comics”, but it will probably appeal to the same audience. The new Terra, also a Palmiotti and Conner creation, seems to be sticking around as a sidekick.

Brave and the Bold 26: The story featuring Milestone character Xombi and the Spectre is good, but already being familiar with Xombi I can’t judge whether this is a good introduction to the character or not. Not that it matters, since DC apparently doesn’t have any plans to use any of the Milestone characters besides Static (and him only barely). It’s a shame because in it’s day, “Xombi” was as good a supernatural horror/fantasy book as anything Vertigo has ever put out. Hopefully the Milestone trade paperback reprints will get around to it at some point.

Superman Annual 14: Even non-Legion fans will appreciate James Robinson’s history of Mon-El’s homeworld Daxam, which reveals some surprising ties to worlds we’re already familiar with. It touches a little on Mon’s arrival on Earth, but presumably Robinson’s leaving the details of that for Geoff Johns’ “Secret Origins”. Artist Javier Pina does a terrific job on a story that stretches from Earth all the way across the universe and back.

Dark Reign: Mister Negative 3: This was a good miniseries and I liked the origin story this issue – which has an unexpected tie to a pair of existing Marvel characters -- but I’m not sure it definitively answered the question about whether Negative’s two identities are aware of each other.

Out of time for today. More tomorrow.

Disney buys Marvel

I own a share of Marvel stock, so at some point I will be asked to vote on this. Tell me how I should vote! (Not that it will affect the outcome...)

Disney to Pay $4 Billion for Comic Giant Marvel (NY Times)

Edited to add: Rich Johnston has a great list of questions raised by the sale at his site.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ultimate re-launch = hits & misses

UltAvengers1_800

ULTIMATE AVENGERS COMICS #1

I liked this enough to want to come back for more. I found it very entertaining and cinematic in the way that Millar wrote and paced it and Pacheco illustrated it, reminding me of a good John Woo movie (or take your pick of action film directors).  The centerpiece of the book is an awesomely portrayed skirmish in the air that takes place inside and out of two helicopters - - and possibly the best action panels that I’m going to see, at least for this month.

I’ll summarize what occurs here without spoiling anything for you:

    Issue #1 focuses mainly on the characters as shown on the front side of the wraparound cover; and if the future team will include all the others depicted here then things should get very interesting.  Nick Fury as envisioned by Carlos Pacheco couldn’t possibly look any closer to Samuel L. Jackson than he does here.  It’s three months after the events of Ultimatum and Fury has been disciplined for his actions and replaced by Carol Danvers as head of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Hawkeye informs him that Captain America has gone rogue and Nick’s wanted to lead a team to bring him in.

     Judging by appearances, it looks more to me like Hawkeye has gone rogue. This masked mercenary bears little resemblance to the avenging archer except for the tufts of blond hair sticking out of his top-less mask.  In place of a quiver, he’s wearing two mini-backpacks, one over each shoulder - - and I don’t think they contain arrows, probably two very big guns instead.  I wasn’t really crazy about the Ultimates II version of Hawkeye but I warmed up to the leather uniform and learned to tolerate it (but not so much the way his character was depicted).   Here, Clint looks like an amalgam  of Image’s Grifter and DC’s Deadshot.  At least, so far he seems to be likeable and not an arrogant hot-shot.  What I do appreciate though, is the way Millar has him spring into action with both great courage and daring, especially when his pal Cap needs assistance.

     I don’t want to spoil it for you and reveal why Cap has gone rouge, but he learns something that disturbs him and we learn it as well during the flashback sequence that details the in-air fighting.  I just love Cap’s entrance into battle - - you have to see this.  Meanwhile, we never see Tony Stark in armor this issue as he is missing when needed and looks to be chasing that “demon in the bottle” again and avoiding his responsibilities at the most inopportune times.

  I think this will be a great action title and lots of fun to read.  I’m not expecting anything “break-through” here, just that Millar will write an engaging and entertaining tale.  I really loved  Ultimates I, liked Ultimate II a little less, and actually avoided Ultimates III on the advice of friends who found it very disappointing.  I’ll be hanging around here for the next several issues; and I expect to be happy.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COMICS #1

ULT SPIDER 2

Despite how good this title has been in the past - - and it’s been very very good at times - - I think ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Version #1 and also this new ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN  COMICS are very significant in the Marvel library for another reason  - = both titles represent the best chance (in my opinion, of course) to bring in new readers to Marvel.  And I don’t mean that aging/graying base of long-term comics aficionados (like me)  - - I mean brand-new, younger readers who don’t usually consider comics as an outlet for their entertainment money or time.   Bringing in brand new readers was one of the reasons for Marvel’s creation of the first  Ultimate Universe.   Since the regular Spider-Man books had been around for decades a new reader could get lost in the complex continuity just trying to follow along, resulting in discouragement and then quitting on  the books.  The original ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN offered a starting point, a chance to get in on the story from day one as it began all over again with the accident that gave Peter Parker his spider-powers.  And it changed some of the characters and villains and gave them new life and personality.  More significantly, writer Brian Michael Bendis really got his hands around what it meant to be a teenager going through these changes, and really captured that sense of youthful discovery as well as a clear understanding and depiction of teenage angst, values, philosophies and concerns.

             Right there on the cover, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COMICS promises all of this with it’s hyper-active teen heroes racing to the foreground, most of them wide-eyed and smiling invitingly. The newly-updated, modern-attired and hair-styled Aunt May looks on not with the familiar kind old grandmother look but more that of a mature, observant and counseling senior citizen.  The insides of the book deliver on the promise.   The rather funny opening sequence shows Peter at work as a fast-food counterperson trying to guide a senile and impatient elderly woman through placing an order, only to get called on the carpet by the store manager for poor customer relations. This seems to set the tone for the entire book - -  ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN will not just be about a young man coming to terms with the great power bestowed on him, and how the world/media doesn’t understand and misinterprets the way he handles the responsibility.  It’s also about the coming-of-age of a sixteen-year-old male as he grows and learns and struggles with the stress of balancing school, a part-time job and young romance. 

          It’s almost as if the events of ULTIMATUM never effected the world of the Ultimate Spider-Man.  At the conclusion of that universe-shattering mini-series Peter Parker/Spider-Man was missing in action, presumed to be dead.  Here he is, six months later and the only mention of those prior events occurs on the contents page and is handled in a few paragraphs.  On the following pages, we learn that New York City has been restored and everything seems the same. 

          But writer Bendis keeps our attention diverted from those events and keeps the story moving along, flitting back and forth between Spider-Man events and Peter Parker events and laying the groundwork for the stories to come.  Artist David Lafuente does a competent job here on the art, very fluid but nothing fancy or flashy.  (Although I think it would be very difficult to top or copy the original illustrator’s lengthy initial run on this book - - so don’t try, just take it in a little different direction.)  It’s that appealing kind of art that grows on you.  And Justin Ponsor does a real fine job on the colors, keeping it bold and attractive. I really like the way he shaded the moonlit encounter between Peter and Gwen.

     We’re introduced to a new hero (maybe) who breaks up a min-mart robbery, a red-cloaked mysterious figure who may be the Ultimate version of The Hood or perhaps Cloak.  He didn’t show any big guns, just using his bullet-proof outfit and muscles to put the thugs down before disappearing into the night.  Peter seems to have a nice love triangle going on between Gwen, Mary Jane, and Kitty (which ought to make Archie Andrews jealous).  An exhausted and collapsing Johnny Storm needs to crash at Peter’s home.  And the story concludes with a villain taking out the Kingpin.  Not sure who he is, but he looks like a cross between one  of The Enforcers (have to go back to the Ditko days of Spider-Man to recall that one) and the glowing head Mysterio. Except there were blue bolts that shot from his hands to hurl Kingpin out the window, which makes me think he might be the Ultimate Electro.  Have to wait to find out.

    It’s nice to re-visit this book after a long absence.  I used to share reading the first volumes of  ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN with my then middle school aged son.  In fact, it was the first comic that I started to collect in trade paperback instead of the monthly issues.  As my son moved into high school he grew tired of the book; and I was also getting a little annoyed by the heavy doses of angst as measured out by Bendis - - so we stopped sometime after TPB #10.   So, in spite of my praise for this title I have the feeling I won’t be hanging around very long with this re-boot.  I’ve already ordered the first run of issues, so we’ll see. 

NOTE: I held off on posting this review since I thought I would include the ULTIMATE IRON MAN: ARMOR WARS title as well.  But that seems to be delayed.  Until next time . . . . . .. . . . . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jeff’s Comics Review, 8/12/09 releases

Blackest Night 2: Too many great scenes to name in this space – I’d just wind up recapping the whole book – but I especially liked the GL/Bat-Signal splash and his “Flash Fact” line. The Black Lantern rules seem inconsistent; I thought the bodies were being possessed but not the spirits, which would explain Ralph & Sues’s behavior and how Boston Brand’s body is taken against Deadman’s will, but on the other hand Dove apparently can’t be taken because his spirit is at peace and somehow the Spectre is vulnerable. I’m intrigued by this, not annoyed, because I trust that Johns will make it all clear eventually. (And I still say the body count is too high for most of these characters to stay dead.)

Batman 689: I still like the way Winick is showing Dick finding his own way to be Batman – he’s realizing he’s more of a performer than Bruce – and how all his family members are adjusting. (Alfred: “Ah, that’s more familiar. Deflecting a moment of genuine emotion.) Mark Bagley’s art complements the tone very well.

Adventure Comics 1: Admittedly, I’m predisposed to like this but I thought it was terrific. Francis Manapul’s new style gives the book a Norman Rockwell feel that fits the Smallville setting, and the slightly washed out colors complete the illusion. (There’s no inker credited, so I guess they’re reproducing directly from his pencils.) On the story side, I think Geoff Johns does a great job restoring Superboy’s optimism, though he’s not an innocent anymore and still has a bit of an edge (as shown by the surprise on the last page.) The Legion backup starts with a great one-page summary of their origin (showing Clark in a Superboy costume in Smallville, blowing my theory that he only wore it in the Legion’s time) and a two-page character guide, then starts to resolve Starman’s story. There’s also a fun coming attractions page like the ones he did in the early issues of “Justice Society”.

REBELS 7: More fun, as Dox tries to manipulate one of the worlds unconquered by Starro but winds up an accessory to its destruction. (Don’t worry, it’ll be OK because Legion fans know it exists in the 30th century.) I haven’t really noticed the art much in this book, but Andy Clarke does a great job with both the opening space sequence and the underwater environment. I think title this gets pulled into “Blackest Night” soon, which will be good because it needs all the sales help it can get.

Green Lantern Corps 39: I was surprised that Kyle and Guy weren’t staying on Earth for “Blackest Night”, but I guess someone has to deal with the situation on Oa and there are plenty of familiar dead GLs and Kyle’s ex-girlfriends for them to tangle with there. (There was a column on Newsarama last week called “Kyle Rayner, You Need to Stop Dating.”)

Blackest Night: Batman 1: Like most of the other tie-ins so far, this starts with a scene from the main book – in this case the Boston Brand scene in #2 – and expands on it. Deadman’s abilities have changed to suit the story: they used to make a point of the fact that he knew nothing about the people he possessed and that they remembered nothing, but now there’s some memory sharing going on. But it’s only a minor issue, because Pete Tomasi does a good job showing the emotional impact of having Dick, Damien and Tim’s dead family members targeted. (The scene where Damien “meets” his grandparents is especially creepy.)

Booster Gold 23: I liked this, especially the art, but it is starting to run the risk of turning into “Exiles” where a different alternate timeline is explored every issue. Geoff Johns original rules for this book were supposed to prevent that, but I can understand why Dan Jurgens might have trouble telling stories under those conditions. Not too surprisingly, the Blue Beetle backup is starting to be connected to the main story as they share the Black Beetle as a villain.

Titans 16: Another solo issue, this time featuring Starfire. I like the idea that there’s some post-traumatic stress from being possessed by anti-life in “Final Crisis”, but I don’t particularly buy that Kory would seek therapy or that she’s still pining for Dick Grayson. She has matured some, but it’s still part of her character that she tends to live in the moment.

Uncanny X-Men 514: This is very much the middle part of the story, where the pieces need to be moved around without much resolution, but Fraction disguises it well by setting up all of Cyclops’ plans and having him take one of his teams out to observe Emma's. Terry Dodson’s art suits this title way better than Greg Land’s, which also helps.

Red Robin 3: I’m definitely warming up to this more, as Tim acts more like himself while trying to rein in Ra’s Al Ghul’s assassins and as the backstory fills in his feelings of isolation become more understandable. (He blames himself for Jason Todd’s rampage, for example.) Ramon Bachs is the only credited artist, but I could swear he’s channeling John Byrne on some of the Wonder Girl pages.

The Red Circle: The Inferno 1: Again this is good solid stuff, and I’m a lot more interested in this character than the Hangman, but I’m spoiled by JMS’ previous work and I’m still not being blown away like I had hoped to be.

The Marvels Project 1: I don’t always like these series that try to tie a lot of unrelated things together – not just in comics; Isaac Asimov did it a lot towards the end of his career – but because the prewar Marvel era is largely unexplored and because Golden Age storytelling standards were so low compared to today, I think it works really well here. I don’t have much to add to add to Mike’s comments below, except to say that as an old time Avengers fan I was really happy to see the Two-Gun Kid’s experiences in the future used to inspire one of the earliest Marvel heroes. (Two-Gun was last seen in “She-Hulk” if I remember correctly, so hopefully he won’t tell the people in the past that they’re in a comic book!)

Cable 17: I’m torn by this because I think it’s well written, especially Bishop’s justifications (“But he comforts himself with the thought that all of this pain and destruction will disappear in an instant.”), but I’m starting to get pretty tired of the chase and I’m not excited by the idea of it continuing into space.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man 1: Yay! It’s the perfect antidote to the gloom and misery of “Ultimatum” as this is basically the same awesome book it’s always been. Six months have passed, during which New York has been repaired and reopened allowing the cast to pretty much go back to their normal lives (with a few changes.) Bendis doesn’t miss a beat, and David Lafuente’s debut is terrific (for those of you that wouldn’t be caught dead buying “Patsy Walker Hellcat”.)

Ultimate Comics Avengers 1: Surprisingly good, given my disappointment with Millar’s recent Marvel work. It’s not as shocking or innovative as the original “Ultimates” were, but it doesn’t need to be. Millar created these characters, so he inhabits them comfortably and it feels familiar but new without the dissonance of trying to force the mainstream Marvel characters into the kinds of stories he likes to do.

Deadpool 13: This issue tips way over into humor territory, without any of the grounding of the Secret Invasion/Dark Reign issues. I’m not thrilled about the change in tone, but I have to admit that it is pretty funny.

Amazing Spider-Man 602: Continuing the updating of the Spidey villains, this is a good creepy take on the Chameleon with a couple of brief stops to check in on Harry’s situation and on Peter’s new relationship with Mayor Jameson. Dan Slott (who didn’t write this issue) said that Mary Jane’s apparent knowledge from last issue would be resolved this issue, but that’s not the case so I guess they shuffled the stories around somewhat.

Ms. Marvel 43: “War of the Marvels” continues as Moonstone tries to hang on to the Ms. Marvel role. Ironically for a psychologist, she’s delusional -- “I represent truth and justice and everything that is good in the world”, she thinks as she drops a rescued civilian to his death. Meanwhile the real Ms. Marvel and Carol Danvers have been separated and if my interpretation of what’s happening is correct, then it’s something that Brian Reed has been setting up for at least a couple of years. (Which would be pretty impressive, if it’s true.)

Action Comics 880: It’s Superman’s first visit back to Earth since his move to New Krypton, leading to a (brief) touching reunion with Lois and (indirectly) to the next step in the relationship between Flamebird and Nightwing. Captain Atom is still confused, so it’s still confusing to the reader what’s going on in his backup feature.

Captain America Theater of War: To Soldier On: This is a very well done and respectful story by Paul Jenkins of Cap in the Iraq War. (Although either I or Jenkins is confused about the history – I thought the uninterrupted run to Baghdad happened in the first Gulf War, but the story definitely takes place during the current conflict.) However, I could read stories of Cap in WWII all day but reading about him in a real place where people are really dying now makes me uncomfortable. Again, I stress that the story is not disrespectful in any way, but I personally am just bothered by the injection of a fantasy element into an ongoing conflict. I don’t know why, but that’s how I feel.

Green Arrow/Black Canary 23: Apparently we’re alternating the lead spot each issue, so Green Arrow gets it this issue (though his story is connected to the Black Canary story so it really doesn’t matter.) I like that Dinah tones down her reaction from last issue a bit, but then the story kind of proves her point when GA picks the most impulsive course of action possible. (Which is the hand of the writer at work, because it feeds directly into Cupid’s delusion.)

JSA vs. Kobra 3: There are some interesting elements here, including the faith vs. reason debate personified by Kobra vs. Mr. Terrific and for longtime fans, the connection of Ted Knight’s Starman technology to another famous scientist in DC history.

G-Man: Cape Crisis 1: I’m a huge fan of Chris Giarrusso’s “Mini-Marvels”, so I’m happy to support this book featuring the same type of humor but using his own original characters.

Incredible Hercules 132: Shipping twice a month for a while, featuring Herc and Amadeus in separate alternating stories. This time it’s Hercules, called on by Balder to fight Asgard’s Dark Elves (who fear only Thor) disguised as the Thunder God. But all is not what it seems. The recap page alone, with panels from Thor’s origin “annotated” by Hercules, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Superman: Secret Files 2009: Features three good stories: Ursa (I always want to call her Faora, which tells you how old I am) on the day of Brainiac’s invasion of Kandor, Jonathan (Mon-El) Kent and his Science Police partner – raising the question of why she doesn’t recognize Mon-El since he doesn’t wear any civilian disguise whatsoever, and the story of Kara (Supergirl) and Thara (Flamebird)’s friendship which ended when Zor-El was killed. The profile pages have great art and a really striking design.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Jeff’s Comics Review, 8/5/09 releases

Dark X-Men: The Beginning 2: Turns out that the reason I thought Paul Cornell was writing this whole series is that he is doing a “Dark X-Men” mini with “Captain Britain” artist Leonard Kirk later in the year and I got them confused. Here, he does the Cloak & Dagger story that I was hoping for last issue and I like where he puts them – they’re in Columbia fighting the drug cartels – and I like Osborn’s sales pitch. (“I’d like to be able to say to the daylight side of the U.S. government that my people are making major advances in the War On Drugs.”) Again, the key to making Osborn work is for him to sound as much like a real politician as possible. The Weapon Omega and Daken stories are also pretty good, but it is basically an entire issue of Osborn talking people into joining his X-Men.

Doom Patrol 1: I’m on the fence with this. What I’m having trouble with is that a couple of team members (you can probably guess which ones from the preview) are lost on a mission at the beginning of the book and the remaining members behave pretty coldly afterwards. Now obviously “Doom Patrol” shouldn’t be sweetness and light – they invented angsty outcast superheroes at the same time as the X-Men, after all – but I remember them as being optimistic in the face of adversity and that’s not the way they are here. Giffen has a good enough track record that I’m willing to stick around for a while and see if he’s trying to make a point or if it’s just an interpretation I don’t agree with. The “Metal Men” backup applies the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire “Justice League” humor, and I don’t think it really works – it’s not that funny, and I think this style has had its day unless there’s a new element added (like in their “Hero Squared” for Boom Studios).

Reborn 2: Obviously things are going to get worse before they get better for everyone involved, but what struck me most about this was how agonizing it is for Steve Rogers to relive events without being able to change them and how Brubaker was able to convey that only in captions. (The art in the flashbacks is great, but it shows what "actually" happened while the captions are inside Steve’s head.)

Superman: World of New Krypton 6: Greg Rucka does a great job with the first part of the investigation into last issues assassination attempt – which I think would be more interesting if it had succeeded, but so be it – but let me instead take this space to praise artist Pete Woods. There are three really astonishing double-page spreads at the beginning of the book where the assassin is trying to escape through the crowd and, with almost no dialogue, he renders how sudden and violent the resulting riot is starting far away and then going to ground level where every face is distinct. Really, really great stuff, and the last page will make you cheer.

Secret Six 12: I’m not going to quote any of it, because I want you to read it instead of listen to me describe it, but there are scenes in here with Wonder Woman and Artemis that I can’t believe DC let Gail Simone get away with. As a result, the team splits mostly by gender (except for Bane, who’s in love with Scandal). Interestingly, the first arc was about the characters trying to avoid Hell and in this arc they’ve fallen in with someone who’s literally trying to create Hell on Earth (at least by Dante’s definition.) I gave the #1 spot to Detective because of the innovative art, but this is easily my second favorite DC book.

The Red Circle: The Hangman 1: I’m not hooked on this yet. The main character is basically The Spectre, although it’s deliberately left vague whether his power comes from God or Satan, so I don’t see how he’s going to fit in the DCU. This is a good comic by some really talented people, but I don’t feel driven to come back for more. I will, because JMS has earned a ton of trust, but so far this isn’t at the level of “Thor” or “The Twelve” for me.

Amazing Spider-Man 601: I haven’t checked the message boards, but I bet they’re going nuts over this issue. Peter behaves in a way that’s appropriate for his age, but which we haven’t seen him do in a long time (and never this explicitly, but times have changed). Plus, Mary Jane appears to know something she’s not supposed to know. (Though the way it’s presented, I think there’s a plausible alternate explanation.) Great stuff from Mark Waid and Mario (Spider-Man/X-Men) Alberti. The backup story by Bendis and Quesada, about how Jessica Jones was inspired by Spider-Man in high school and in which he inspires her again, is must reading for “Alias” and/or “New Avengers” fans.

Justice League: Cry for Justice 2: There’s only one actual cry for justice in this issue and it’s more of a statement than a cry, so that’s an improvement. Kidding aside, I actually liked this a lot better but it largely focuses on Ray Palmer (including a two-page origin and an essay by James Robinson) and I’m a huge Atom fan (pun intended) so your mileage may vary. As far as this controversial page goes, my first inclination was to write it off as a silly joke but I have to take Gail Simone seriously when she says “…the Birds were ALREADY one of the very few books about female friendship which is so fucking rare in comics it might as well be moonbeams captured in mason jars. Not that friends can’t have sex, but once again, this is all about the man, and “Well played, sir” is just, ugh.”.

Agents of Atlas 9: A bit of a departure (but welcome), as the Jade Claw hands the team a defeat for a change. My understanding is that there’s a big push coming for this book with an X-Men crossover and a role in the next big Hulk event so I recommend the first trade (which I think just came out).

Hulk 13: I was surprised to see Banner here, as I thought he was exclusive to Grek Pak’s book, but I’m glad because this actually turns out to be my favorite issue of Loeb’s run. Plot-wise, it’s only about proving that last issue’s ending wasn’t a trick, but I thought the relationship between Bruce and Rick (and even between Bruce and the Hulk) was moving. (Red Hulk does not appear, except in flashback.) Plus, Loeb’s got the obligatory bit of great “Dark Reign” dialogue. (Ares: “I cannot promise you that Banner will be alive when I’m done with him.” Osborn: “We’ll drive off that bridge when we get to it…”)

War of Kings 6: Well, you definitely can’t say that nothing was changed as a result of this ending. I also liked the partial inversion of who the “bad guy” in the story turned out to be. (Not that Vulcan can ever be “good”, because he’s a violent maniac, but he’s arguably not the monster in this issue.) I look forward to seeing the ramifications play out.

War Machine 8: The Stark appearance from the end of last issue was explained away in a plausible, if somewhat cheesy, manner so I guess I’m satisfied with that – at least it’s not contradicting what Fraction’s doing in “Iron Man”. The rest of the issue is a sort of West Coast Avengers reunion, which is fun, and it looks like a confrontation with the Iron Patriot is coming next issue.

Ultimatum: Fantastic Four Requiem 1: I liked this a lot more than I expected to. Basically, the events of “Ultimatum” have changed the characters enough that they can’t stay together. I never thought there was a need for an “Ultimate FF” book, so if they keep them broken up for the foreseeable future (using them individually in other books) then I think that’s a bold and interesting direction for the Ultimate U that’s different from the Marvel U. If this turns out just to be setup for putting the team back together, then it will have been a waste.

Ultimatum: X-Men Requiem 1: The X-Men have more to mourn from “Ultimatum” than most, and this is mostly about giving those characters a proper burial, but there are also some confrontations with “evil” mutants (should they all work together now?) and a nice Ultimate Cap appearance (“I came to pay my respects.”) This is another book that I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t come back, but at least if it does it will by necessity be different since a lot of the main characters are dead.

Invincible Iron Man 16: Another exciting chapter, as Tony is finally forced to declare who the love of his life is at the same time she’s (maybe) taken from him forever. I have no idea how Fraction is going to get him out of this, but I’m totally hooked.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Run 4: I swear this issue is just an excuse for Matt Sturges to use up all his remaining condiment puns. (“Miso tired of you!”) Fun.

Irredeemable 5: As I mentioned, this issue is 99 cents to go with the $9.99 trade so that you can get caught up for about ten bucks. Even if you don’t buy the trade, this is a pretty good jumping on point as Waid shows how chilling an omnipresent (via telescopic vision and super-hearing) being can be and the first betrayal among the resistance is revealed.

Strange Adventures 6: A complicated and pointless journey through The Weird's mind, including – I kid you not -- a giant slice of pepperoni pizza and the original Captain Comet. Now that I hear Jim Starlin has left DC, I expect they’ll sweep this series under the rug and forget it quickly.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Three 4: This doesn’t bring the story of the Williams brothers to as much of a conclusion as I was expecting, but in the meantime Busiek has announced that ths book is going monthly later this year so I guess he’ll get to it in due time.

All Winners Comics 70th Anniversary Special: This isn’t the best of these specials, but Karl Kesel’s story of the post-war Invaders (a.k.a. All-Winners Squad) is in the top 25%. It features the first replacement Captain America, and the romance between the Whizzer (even including a tongue-in-cheek explanation of his name) and Miss America. Also includes a Cap and Bucky story from All Winners #12 (1944) that I don’t think has been reprinted before. (At least I’ve never seen the Red Skull in the costume he’s wearing in the story.)

Ghost Riders: Heaven’s on Fire 1: Yes, Ghost Riders plural, although only Johnny Blaze is in this issue. Basically, Zadkiel l has already won – he controls Heaven – and Blaze and his allies have to figure out a way to get there to keep Zadkiel from rewriting the Biblical prophecies. (“No Armageddon, no Rapture, no Second Coming.”) A little silly in spots – Blaze looks for the Antichrist in Las Vegas, Hollywood, Washington DC and Wall Street – but a good start to the end of Jason Aaron’s run.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I’ve Been Going A Little BATS, lately . . . part 4

sirens      detective      red robin

GOTHAM CITY SIRENS #2:

It’s an uneasy alliance between these three Sirens that will most likely be tested on a regular basis, maybe every issue.  Poison Ivy uses her powers on Catwoman to force the identity of Batman from her. Under the influence of the truth toxin secreted by Ivy’s lie-detector vines Catwoman tells the truth but still protects Bruce Wayne’s secret through a clever parlor trick taught her by Talia.  It seems a little contrived but perhaps writer Paul Dini is using this to get his point across that nobody is completely trusting here and this isn’t going to read like a standard “buddy book”.  I’m just wondering how far you can go with this concept.  So far, the book’s provided some light-hearted entertainment.  The Sirens seem willing to help each other out of trouble, and now its Ivy and Selina working together to rescue an apparently abducted Harley Quinn as the issue ends.  My opinion: this is still worthwhile.

BATWOMAN: DETECTIVE COMICS #855:

Without a doubt, this is the bat-book that everyone needs to check out.  If you are not enthralled with the gorgeous art of J H Williams III then you will be dazzled by the psychedelic colors of Dave Stewart this issue.  It’s just wonderful to behold.  Bad  girl Alice shows just how bad she can be (razor blade concealed in the mouth) and she is proving to be one of the wildest new villains in the Bat-books.  We get a very brief glimpse of Batwoman’s childhood trauma here during a moment in which she is trying to recover from some of Alice’s poison.  Rucka has always been good at depicting tough girls and he excels here, including the back-up Question feature. Two good storylines here and even more deserving of your attention if you have to chose between this and Sirens.

RED ROBIN #3:

Tim’s quest to prove Batman/Bruce is still alive takes him to Germany, where he breaks into a museum to pick up some undisclosed evidence. He’s communicating with Ra’s al Ghul on a regular basis now but hasn’t fully accepted his offer = to make Ra’s network available to Tim in exchange for sharing the findings on Batman.  Tim triggers an alarm and Ra’s trio of assassins from Issue #2 bail him out of a jam although Tim has to take steps to curb their murderous nature.  The superhero  who arrives on the scene with the police is The Wild Huntsman, a little too cornball and this slightly breaks the tone of the book.  The rest of this issue reveals more of the back-story and decisions/events that led Tim to where he is today.  Not a bad issue, but events moved a bit slower here with just one issue left before the first story arc concludes.  Still good, and I’m going to get the next issue.  The best of the bunch this month is:  DETECTIVE #855, hands down.

ABSOLUTE BATMAN: HUSH 

My budget doesn’t permit me to collect Absolute Editions.  When I saw this available through the local public library I couldn’t resist and checked it out immediately.  Wow is all I can say.  And Hush is one of the best stories to put in this hardcover over-sized edition - -those art panels by Jim Lee just scream into action when they are almost twice the normal size.  I won’t get into a summary of the story as I’m sure you’re all familiar with it.  It’s great to see it complete in an edition like this.  The extra features are a nice touch.  I’m glad I got to read this story again, just as “Hush” is becoming a major player (and problem) in the current Bat books.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Going 4th with Cap, part 2 . . . . .

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CAPTAIN AMERICA REBORN #2: by Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch/Butch Guice

To some in discussion groups and online chat rooms it seems pretty clear cut now what will happen and how Captain America will be reborn = apparently he wasn’t dead, he’s just been missing because he’s trapped in a time travel loop.  I’m not sure about that. Yes, time travel is involved but . . . . . . . my head is swimming with possibilities and I don’t mind a bit.  I think Brubaker has maybe revealed one card so far but he’s not going to show his entire hand until the very end - - and it’s going to be a full house of creativity.  I love this series so far.   How can you resist that WWII wish-fulfillment fantasy cover with Cap’s hands around Hitler’s throat and choking the life out of him with grim determination?

    In fact, before I get to the story I want to talk about the stellar art work done here.  Before,  I said that I felt the combination of Hitch and Guice equals Epting . .  and I still see that but I’m also picking up bits and pieces of the Hitch way of drawing as well as some of Guice’s stylings.  It’s a new look and a real compliment that this combo can create something that’s equally exciting as what they are known for. The two-page panel of Cap crouched down and rushing forward into battle with his legs extended as far as possible is awesome.  And the four-panel fight scene between Cap and Master Man that shows them falling off a building as they grapple with each other - - in an overhead shot that shows Cap maneuvering in mid-fall and positioning Master Man beneath to take the brunt of the fall is masterfully illustrated.  Say, doesn’t Master Man somewhat resemble a former U.K. superhero that Marvel recently acquired the rights to?  There’s another battle scene later where Bucky/Cap and Black Widow take on some Dark Avengers that’s equally stimulating.

     Now let’s get back to the story.  There are a lot of little hints /comments/ activities in this issue to indicate that things may not play out exactly as we guess they will.  Sure, Captain America is going to be “reborn” but it doesn’t say anywhere that “Steve Rogers” is being reborn, does it?  Suppose it’s yet another player wearing the Captain America guise?   I actually shuddered at the thought of what Norman Osborn suggested to the imprisoned Crossbones and Sin might actually be one of those potential scenarios.

 

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Meanwhile Steve Rogers seems doomed to keep revisiting past moments of WWII where he is still helpless to change the outcome of those events (unlike the suggestive cover).  He relives battles and other activities and then things start to fade as he is  snatched away at inopportune moments to another past event. Is he a broken man in a semi-conscious state having his life flash before him and reliving key moments right before the final darkness takes his life away?  Or is he, as Steve wonders himself, victimized by a mind trick and actually strapped to a table in Dr. Faustus’s or the Red Skull’s lab?  And the cruelest flashback of all is the moment following his transformation after taking the super-soldier serum as he watches helpless to stop the Nazi infiltrator gun down Dr. Erskine!  Is he doomed to watch again the moments of his birth as Captain America?  Isn’t that the same as being “re-born”?

  I think Brubaker has something unexpected planned for the final chapters of this series and for me this just enhances my enjoyment of an already very good storyline.   What does Reed Richards think he’s discovered during a medical examination of Sharon Carter?    What new scheme is Norman Osborn hatching as he tries to manipulate a captured Bucky/Cap and Black Widow to do his bidding?   And why does he want Sharon Carter enough to create a manhunt for her by leaking the news of her involvement in Cap’s death to the press?  Norm’s been talking up a reborn Captain America leading his Dark Avengers - -  I can’t stand the thought of that.  This title has me going round in circles almost as much as Secret Invasion did.  I think this is the best book Marvel has out right now.  Make mine Brubaker.

Quickie short reviews: sloppy seconds

DOOM PATROL #1 (DC);

I reviewed the 5-page preview of this previously and didn’t like it then. Nevertheless I decided to give the first full story a chance, and I also wanted to check out the Metal Men second feature.

I still don’t like this book but I respect it more after reading the full story. It’s not so bad and worth your time to investigate, especially if you like this team from past volumes. Two team members don’t survive the mission here and Keith Giffen uses that to make his point that there’s a reason they’re called the “Doom” Patrol and also explain some of their cold-hearted reactions to losing some members and then making light of it. Although it doesn’t quite ring sincere to me and the whole thing comes off a bit heavy-handed and inconsistent. Matthew Clark does a fine job on the art - -nothing special but it does show some promise in certain panels.

Giffen lays the humor on even thicker and heavier in the Metal Men feature and I found it to be very annoying. I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s probably impossible to write an interesting or enjoyable scenario around these characters - - they’ve always been sappy (I was just more tolerant of that back in the day) and nobody can write anything a little more serious involving them without trashing the entire continuity and back-history.

I will not be returning to this book.

THE RED CIRCLE: THE HANGMAN One-Shot (DC):

Seeing J. Michael Straczynski’s name on the cover plus the eye-appealing artwork of Tom Derenick inside prompted me to pick up this book. I like this re-vamp of a former Red Circle hero as outlined by J.M.S. (Since I’m not familiar with the original hero I can’t determine how much is created by JMS and how much is borrowed or re-written). A doctor working the Union med tent in the Civil War gets separated from his division and captured by Confederate forces who sentence him to hanging as a spy. Just before he crosses the life/death line, a mysterious wispy figure (like Spawn in a concealing trench coat and hat) offers to keep him alive for a price - - - determine the guilt or innocence of the accused and treat them accordingly through salvation or punishment. It’s not clear who is being served - - the Devil or God - - a nice touch. The Hangman will serve this mission until he is destroyed or until the end of the world arrives. Cut to present day and he’s still working his night-time gig and serving as an emergency room doctor during the day. Apparently, there is a continuing thread or storyline that runs through all the Red Circle books. This is continued in INFERNO.

THE HANGMAN is well-scripted. The art is good. This book has promise. Hopefully it will generate the appropriate sales response to prompt DC to put out a regular title or mini-series. If J.M.S. is the writer I am there. If not, all bets are off.

THE RED CIRCLE: INFERNO One-Shot (DC):

In the concluding pages of THE HANGMAN, the sole survivor of a cruise ship explosion is wheeled into the emergency room mumbling a name. He’s sort of an average kind of guy and when he wakes up he suffers from amnesia but criminal investigators are sure he knows something. A professional hit-man arrives at the hospital to kill him, and this triggers his metamorphosis into Inferno, a walking fireball with the body of a Russian-looking mustachioed bald-headed muscleman. The Hangman trails him, then befriends him, and they work together to stop another shipyard explosion. Continued next week in THE RED CIRCLE: THE WEB. Also scripted by J. Michael Straczynski, I’m liking this one less than THE HANGMAN simply because I find that character more interesting. But J.M.S. is doing a nice job here with a very moving story and the art by Greg Scott is equally good, reminding me of the 2000’s THE LOSERS series artist (who I can’t remember).

ULTIMATUM #5 of 5 (Marvel):

This finally wraps up The Ultimate Universe, version #1 and paves the way for the upcoming re-launch of some key Ultimate titles (Spider-Man, Avengers, Iron Man).

I love the art by David Finch. I love the art. I love the art - - and that’s reason enough to get this book. The story is very dramatic and violent / bloody with major characters dying but I’m not shocked or upset for two reasons.

1) A major benefit for comic publishers to have alternate universes with slightly different versions of well-known and liked characters is that they can do awful things to those characters in the alternate universe without suffering a major fan back-lash / revolt. For example, Earth B mirrors Earth A in many ways. We can safely kill an Earth B character because fans can still read that character’s adventures in the Earth A books.

2) And here’s the bigger reason why I’m not upset. Knowing the above, the only way I’m going to invest in Earth B books is for superior stories and/or art. The Ultimate titles started out great and then tapered off or became as complicated as their regular Marvel Universe counter-parts. Since I haven’t been reading them for years, I’m just not vested into the Ultimate Universe so I could care less who they kill off. I haven’t been made to care for any of these Ultimate characters. Over the course of Ultimatum approx 33+ heroes have died (most of them major, major players) and 3 (including Spider-Man) are missing in action, presumed dead. Mutants may not be who they think they are and one character manipulates another to cause events that cause them to manipulate someone else to cause events, to . . . doesn’t matter. It’s over. Let’s see if they can do one better in Version #2.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How about a quickie? . . . short reviews

CHEW #3 (Image):

This title deserves the attention. It’s well-earned. With Issue #3, things get even more complicated and the entertainment value keeps rising. I love this book. Crazy scripter John Layman comes up with another made-up word and almost gets us to swallow it. First, we’ve got a main character who picks up vital clues in criminal investigations after munching on decomposing body parts. Now, we learn more about his love interest (she’s not aware of it yet, though) - - Amelia Mintz, a food pages reporter who happens to be a “saboscrivner”, meaning people reading her newspaper column can actually taste the food she is writing about. In this issue, she gets bored with writing about gourmet food so she investigates all the D-rated restaurants - - and her readers start hurling and spewing. Clever artwork adds to the fun. Two issues left in the opening series - - and I hope we get a second helping.

THE STUFF OF LEGEND Volume 1: The Dark, Book 1 (Th3rd World Studios):

A nice touch here - - this book is Golden-Book sized, a squarish 10” x 10” - - just like those treasured tomes we grew up with. I saw almost 1/2 of this material in the Free Comic Book Day edition and the remainder of the story flows just as nicely - - and we get a glimpse of how artist Charles Paul Wilson III handles the action in the fight scenes, and it’s a delight to view. I’m going to retract my statement in my earlier review of the FCBD edition in that I no longer think this is suitable to read to very young children. It gets much darker in the second half, some toys defect and change sides, and a major player doesn’t do very well in an encounter with The Boogeyman, a character that is portrayed in an interesting fashion wearing a jet black cloak that drips darkness (like flames falling off a burning log). The Boogeyman also has some facial characteristics that make him seem androgynous. This book doesn’t disappoint, and the previews of the concluding chapter (due in September) look just as spectacular. Get it if you can find it - - supposedly it’s going to a second printing.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600 (Marvel):

I’m not presently reading this title and haven’t been for many years so I viewed this anniversary/landmark issue # as a good way to preview the book and see if I wanted to jump on and start reading it again. I’m sorry to report (not really, I’m saving that money for something better) that I didn’t see anything here to make me want to start following this book. I still like John Romita’s Jr.’s art and his distinctive, squarish/boxed style but the story is ho-hum and got a bit tedious and anti-climatic at the end (I’m not talking about the wedding, I mean the resolution with the Dr. Octopus thing). And I’m not really upset with the changes that have been made with this book - - but I don’t think they made the book more interesting (just the opposite is what has occurred for me). I expect better than this from Dan Slott. Stan Lee’s short story has a real Ditko-like flavor and I don’t mean just the art - - I mean it all. And I liked it except for the cornball dialogue and puns. Mark Waid’s story was good, if a little bit too cute. And Mitch Bretweiser’s tribute to Gray Morrow on the art made the tear-jerker “The Blessing” easier to take. (No offense, Aunt May, that was just a little bit melodramatic). “Fight At The Museum” is just bad - - story and art. Ugh. And the final story “Violent Visions” which is supposedly a preview of an upcoming storyline involving Madame Web is a crazy cobweb I don’t want to cross through. That’s all for me and Spider-Man. I’m content to read what Jeff and Shane write about these titles to stay up to date. I’m not going to follow those books. And I thought AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #600 was 3x better than INCREDIBLE HULK #600. You don’t want me to write about that one!

Let’s Go Back To The Start

What better way to top off a year-long celebration of 70 years of Marvel Comics than with a limited series that details the beginning of it all?

What better writer to handle with care the marvels project 2

heady task of plotting this event and 

treating these long-term characters

properly than Ed Brubaker? What better

artist to trust with maintaining accurate

historical detail while creating some exciting visuals than Steve Epting? They are probably the best writer-artist combination available today, with their long-term work on CAPTAIN AMERICA serving as evidence of how their teamwork makes both story and art even better.

The advance information on THE MARVELS PROJECT promises an eight issue limited series that will explain the start of the Marvel Universe and reveal the hidden connection between the heroes. It will feature some well-known characters (Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Captain America) as well as some lesser-known and lesser-used secondary characters from Marvel’s early days (The Angel, for one) that should grant Brubaker some artistic license to develop them even further. In issue #1, he shines a light on Dr. Thomas Halloway, the narrator of this issue (and I suspect, perhaps the narrator of the entire series).

Dr. Halloway is a caring practioner, giving of his personal time to see after the care of his patients. He’s an extremely likeable character, and we see the events of the beginning of the Marvel Universe unfold as he sees them, from his point of view, as his narration guides us through the book and the captions read like his own personal journal entries. As he reacts to what he sees and learns, Halloway starts to put his concerns into actions and take on even more responsibility for protecting the public from the havoc to come (and I suspect he will do this in later issues as The Angel).

                       marvels project 3   Rather than wait for all this to play out and then purchase the trade paperback so I can read it all at one time, I’ve decided I want to follow this book from month to month. While I don’t think it’s going to capture everybody’s interest and create the same kind of “buzz” and excitement that SECRET INVASION did I do think it’s going to be one of the most talked about books this year. If there’s an online chat or just discussion among friends about THE MARVELS PROJECT, then I need to stay current with this series if I want to participate. While I’ve been trying to reduce my monthly pull list and concentrate on mostly trade editions - - there are still some series that you can’t contain your anticipation that long. Ed Brubaker seems to be one of those “can’t wait” writers (although I do hold out on CRIMINAL until the trade comes out, and I’ve been stockpiling his DAREDEVIL trades. Maybe it’s because those two titles don’t generate enough “buzz” for me to always be wondering what I’m missing by waiting.)

In Issue #1 of THE MARVELS PROJECT, Brubaker starts laying out the groundwork and building on his foundation. It may turn out that the unifying theme that connects to all these heroes is World War II, especially what looks like a pre-war technological race between the United States and Germany to be the first to develop a super-human. This leads U.S. forces to recruit some special agents (Nick Fury for one, in his pre-Howling Commando days) to extricate a defecting German scientist who wants to help the U.S. in their efforts (could this be the same scientist who helped develop the super-soldier a.ka. Captain America?). marvels project 1

We also learn that Prince Namor’s long time distrust (and even hatred) of “surface-dwellers” may stem from Nazi Germany’s exploitation of his race in their super-human experimentation. And the android Human Torch’s accidental discharges bringing flames and destruction to the city may be the beginning of it all as prophesized by a seemingly demented elderly man on his deathbed - - the same man who related stories of gods and monsters and heroes to Dr. Holloway in the opening prelude of this book. (Don’t overlook the possibility of time travel that he alludes to, either.) No, I didn’t spoil it for you because there is a lot more to be intrigued by here. I’ve read this issue three times now and still enjoy the experience.

One last item to make this worth your time is the carefully detailed artwork of Steve Epting - - - all the action takes place in 1938 - - and he is authentic in his illustrations of this period = from cars, buildings, clothing, items of furnishing down to the street scenes. You won’t be disappointed.

This review was orginally posted on Captain Blue Hen Comics website on August 11, 2009.   See http://www.captainbluehen.com/

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Creepy is in the eye of the beholder

CREEPY #1   (DARK HORSE COMICS, July 2009)

     Illustrated horror of the short-story variety finds another new outlet in the re-boot of CREEPY, to be published quarterly via Dark Horse Comics.

      creepy 1    This standard format-sized, 48 page black and white comic attempts to re-animate the form  and revive some excitement for disturbing short stories with scary punch-lines of the type once popularized by the original CREEPY and EERIE black and white comic magazines back in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Greatly influenced by the even older EC Comics TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR, etc. it was time for CREEPY (and soon EERIE) to be brought back to life, especially since their pappy (TALES FROM THE CRYPT)  has been doing reasonably well in it’s new series from Papercutz.  Also, with the recent success of the CREEPY and EERIE hardcover reprints from Dark Horse Comics it was inevitable that a spin-off group like New Comic Company would come forward with a proposal to create original works in the spirit of the old.

     CREEPY magazine was first introduced to me at the tender age of eight while learning my multiplication tables and geography at a Catholic school, under the tutelage of several large and towering nuns looking very Goth sans any make-up or jewelry (except for the rosary beads that looked too much like the knuckle bones of small children)  in their black cloaks and cowls concealing their hair. (Meet Sister Druid.  The only way you could tell the nuns were female was because the priests didn’t dress the same way.)   A fellow third-grader terrorist/closet psycho cautiously passed me his copy of CREEPY #3 which I deftly palmed into my book bag for secret reading in my bedroom behind a closed door. (It seemed forbidden, like I shouldn’t be reading this  - -  which added excitement to the feeling of dread induced by some of the stories and art).

     Along with the scary stories I marveled at the incredible over-sized art in black and white. I was introduced for the first time to the use of shading and shadows to enhance a mood or effect in the story (Alex Toth and Neal Adams, among others) and learned that panels didn’t have to be square and four, six or nine to a page - - they could be rectangular or jagged and angled and over-lapping (Gene Colan).  I still remember because this was the first time I noticed that a comic would credit the writer, artist and inkers (not the first company to do this, but rather the first time I paid attention to it.)

     My reading interests took me beyond my time with CREEPY and EERIE (and VAMPIRELLA was gorgeous, but not very scary). I credit those magazines for chasing me to the library to check out H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelly, Bram Stoker and others, which introduced me to the world of great literature of a horrific nature.  So, you can imagine my excitement and anticipation once the re-launch of CREEPY was announced by Dark Horse.

     I wish I liked this book as much as I want to like it.  While it does capture the spirit of the original works, the story and art falls a bit short in execution.  It’s still worthy of your time and support - - for we need to see more quality horror anthology titles on the racks and hopefully they will lead others to pursue some great works on the book-shelves (like King, Barker, Campbell, Clark, Simmons and others).  Part of the let-down may be my fault.  I’m not the same person I was and you can’t always turn back the page and get the same results.  I’ve read so much since then and been exposed to so many great horror stories and movies that I’m a little bit jaded - - so a lot of this is going to seem “same-same” to me.  It wasn’t very hard to figure out where several of the stories in CREEPY #1 were heading, and that spoiled some of the fun.  I also confess to having a similar let-down after reading the first issue of Papercutz’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT several years ago (and I haven’t bothered to go back).

     The cover by Eric Powell  is very well done - - good art, good use of color and depicts a confrontation in a swamp between a three-headed monster and two surprised businessmen (who apparently waded right in with their suits on!) - - but it’s not scary at all – just kind of dumb. Only one of the three heads is actually looking at the men (the pig head, and it appears to be half blind). The snake head is looking the wrong way (maybe not interested), and so is the wolf head  which looks to be yawning (wonder why?) instead of roaring.   Instead of being a little bit scary or “creepy” this cover is just sort of . . . . .  . dumb.  The actual 3-headed monster as depicted in the story (“Hell Hound Blues”) is much more menacing and replaces the pig with a boar and the wolf with a rat. And the couple who end up facing the monster in the story sure aren’t anything like these two businessmen. (Did the writer or editors send different messages to cover artist and story artist? Sloppy.)

      Please take a minute to look at the enclosed art from the Creepy archives – you have to admit that creepy2_400it’s much scarier and more mood-evoking than the cover art for CREEPY #1.  It’s also unfortunate that the other selection of good art in this issue is the frontispiece by Bernie Wrightson - - a sketch that teases and begs for more. (Please). 

     The first issue includes four new stories, a short “feature”, and a reprinted story from the original title.   The first two stories feature good story and art, and it goes down hill from there until the reprint wraps up this issue.

     “The Curse, Part One” takes a previously-used premise (the power of suggestion, with consequences) and scripter Joe Harris makes it work with some concise and sometimes clever dialogue coupled with some eerie artwork that helps set the proper mood and conveys the grisly message through the half-mad, glazed look on several of the characters. Thank Jason Shawn Alexander for the twisted pencils.

     I’ve seen so many variations on the conflict and resolution depicted in “Hell Hound Blues”  that I lost count but it’s my favorite story here, not because of the actual plot but more for the execution (yeah, that’s what I’m talking about) of the story-telling and art.  The story by Dan Braun has a nice flow, and he does a good job of conveying the selfish nature of the two record store employees who make the trip to the swamp in search of a legendary recording by Junior Johnson, cousin of blues master Robert Johnson who allegedly made a trade with the devil, exchanging his soul for the guitar-playing skills.  This is the most complete looking art in the book, with all shades and lines carefully detailed. The work of Angelo Torres looks very much like it was influenced by the great Mort Drucker (Mad magazine).

     You will certainly figure the ending of  “Chemical 13”  long before the 10 page story ends. Nazis in 1943 Germany try out some new chemical gas on prisoners and it turns them into zombies to lie in wait for the next military team to investigate the base, who don’t find any troopers around and don’t think anything is out of the ordinary except that prisoners were apparently mistreated and underfed.  Even I could tell from the interesting and different art work (the “wash” effect) that they were zombies. 

“All The Help You Need” borrows from classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game” in a story about desperate overweight dieters willing to attend a secluded camp with a different approach to weight loss.  It could have been a good story if the art wasn’t so cartoony and at least a few of the characters were depicted as deserving of some sympathy or empathy. creepy 2 I found the script to be a little mean-spirited but, alas, not at all scary or even engaging. I couldn’t wait for this story to end.

   The two-page feature Loathsome Lore with a history lesson of “Faustian Deals” narrated by Sister Creepy has some excellent detailed art by Hilary Barta and  is gratefully just two pages of snore until it ends by trying to make us feel guilty with a pointed question. 

    Issue #1 ends with a reprint, “Daddy And The Pie” a decent if also somewhat familiar story by Bill Dubay that is worthwhile thanks to the art of Alex Toth. A farmer and family rescue an alien from a crashed spaceship, bring him back to health and them put him to work on the farm (just another family member) until the townsfolk find out and don’t take kindly to foreigners.  It’s an unusual selection for the first issue, since it’s the least scary/horrific story of the entire issue.

    Have I gotten this far only to tell you not to spend any of your time or money on this book?  Not really.  I think this book deserves a chance.  I also think they need to upgrade the story and art in order to draw in a larger audience.  This could be a great book - - it isn’t now - - but I hope it gets there.  I plan to give Issue #2 a look, and that will determine if I go any further with CREEPY.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Blog Layout Poll

I’ve been thinking about updating the blog layout to something a little less generic, but still fairly clean and uncluttered. Does anyone feel strongly pro or con about any of the sample layouts below? (You have to click through to see them.) Or should I just leave it the way it is?

MaroonKing (click on the image): blogger_02

Extreme Georgia

Smash My Typo

Gotham Nights

Evidens

2Plus

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Jeff’s Comics Review, 7/29/09 releases, Conclusion

Wonder Woman 34: The tone lightens up a little bit as Diana starts to deal with the changes in her life from last issue, but still has to tie up some loose ends from the previous story arc. She recruits Black Canary for help, who of course Gail Simone has a lot of experience writing, which leads to some really funny disguises and dialogue. (BC: “The sexier the outfit, the fewer questions asked…but that means exposing our community’s second most famous bosom.” WW:“Wait. What was that about my bosom?” BC:“You mean you haven’t seen all the websites? Trust me on this, those things are considered like a national treasure.”)

Justice Society of America 29: Pretty much the shift in tone I expected to more of a “traditional” superhero book. So much so, it’s like they’ve been saving it up – the team is attacked by over a dozen villains. Still, I liked it just fine and Willingham and Sturges seem to have a good grasp of how these characters are supposed to act. I’m not sure I like the idea of splitting this into two books, but this was a good enough start that I’m willing to give it a chance. But if anything permanent happens to Mr. Terrific (see the last page), I’ll be annoyed.

Final Crisis Aftermath: Ink 3: This has been good so far, but it reaches up to the next level here as Mark makes a series of bad choices with good intentions – trying to live up to the DCU heroic ideal. (“This is what heroes do…they make the tough choices.”) He thinks everything is going to work out in the end, but actually his life is spiraling out of control. Very good, and the sketchy art by Fabrizio Fiorentino cleverly parallels the sketchy moral choices. The writer of this series, Eric Wallace, will soon be the new writer of Titans which gives me a little hope for that series too. (Although it seems to have little reason to exist with Donna Troy and Dick Grayson confirmed to be in James Robinson’s Justice League.)

Thunderbolts 134: As an original Thunderbolts fan there’s a lot in this issue I liked, as well as yet another surprising revelation about the “mole” that was uncovered (to the reader) last issue. It was revealed last week that Andy Diggle’s run on this book will only be 12 issues total, and at the rate things are unraveling I wonder if this book will end when he goes.

Secret Warriors 6: This is largely plot-driven stuff with secrets within secrets, so as we come to the end of the first story arc there’s not a lot I can safely say except that I loved it and that the surprises keep coming until the last page.

Dark Reign: Hawkeye 4: And now we come to the “Dark Reign” portion of our program this week. This book isn’t terrible, but it’s not as good as the people involved are capable of. Andy Diggle ought to know better than to have his antagonists pontificate in front of security cameras, and Tom Raney ought to know better than this bizarre perspective shift.

Dark Reign: The Hood 3: A very good issue, where Parker (the character) tries to escape from Dormammu for his family’s sake and Dormammu tries to pull him back in. Meanwhile, his family is in more danger than he thinks. There is a little extra poignancy in knowing what eventually happens in New Avengers, but I don’t get the sense that Parker (the writer) planned that way. I don’t know why Kyle Hotz doesn’t get more work – his art is always great.

Dark Reign: The Sinister Spider-Man 2: The novelty’s worn off a little bit, but Brian Reed keeps it fresh by playing Venom’s narration against type. (“Needed an alias, and I figured the odds of him having read Kurt Vonnegut were pretty low. What? I went to college.”) The absurdity of the other characters (not to mention the J. Jonah Jameson situation) is fun, except for the Dr. Manhattan parody which I thought was over the top. But it’s mostly great, and Chris Bachalo’s art is as good as I’ve ever seen it.

Dark Reign: Young Avengers 3: Paul Cornell says on his blog, “I think Young Avengers might turn out to be my best comics work so far” and I’m inclined to agree with him. The “old” Young Avengers are trying to train the “new” ones, but their optimism is tested as some of the new characters are just not cut out to be heroes and some of the others are playing them. One of the things I like about this story is that it wouldn’t work with older, more cynical, characters but Cornell isn’t playing the young characters as naive either. Not only my favorite of the “Dark Reign” minis so far, but one of my favorite Marvel books overall.

I don’t have copies of Dark X-Men: The Beginning #2 or The Stuff of Legend #1 yet, so those will have to wait until next week.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blog Post of the Week

Heidi McDonald of THE BEAT wrote the best post-Comic-Con analysis I've read.

Jeff’s Comics Review, 7/29/09 releases, Part 1

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps 3: This last issue is a bit of a departure from the previous ones, with two Green Lantern origin stories – Kilowog and Arisia – and the pencils to Blackest Night #0 with commentary by Geoff Johns and the other creators involved. The origin stories (by Pete Tomasi) are good, though I think the timing is off on the Arisia story. (Guy Gardner is shown as a Green Lantern before Arisia joins, and I’m pretty sure it happened the other way around.) Ivan Reis’ issue 0 pencils are amazing to look at, but there’s nothing critical in the commentary if you already have the issue.

Ultimatum 5: So this is finally done, and the ending comes full circle with Ultimate Origins. Besides the massive destruction in New York, some characters are killed who would be unkillable in the Marvel Universe and other characters cross lines they would never be allowed to cross in the Marvel U. If it sounds like a pretty gruesome comic, it is, and I’m not convinced that these changes (drastic though they are) make a good new direction for the Ultimate books.

Ultimatum: Spider-Man Requiem 2: This, on the other hand, is more like it. Great work as always from Bendis, Bagley and Immonen and the change to J. Jonah Jameson seems substantive and interesting. (Peter’s status, however, is not as changed as it first appeared.) I’m definitely looking forward to the new series.

Fantastic Four 569: Speaking of Stuart Immonen, as I was reading this I wondered why the art seemed “off” and it turns out that Immonen drew this issue instead of Bryan Hitch. (It looks great, even though Immonen sort of tries to do Hitch’s style – it’s just not Hitch.) Frankly, I’m stunned that Marvel decided to ship this with a different artist instead of delaying it for consistency’s sake like they did with “Civil War” and “Old Man Logan”. The only thing I can think of is that there must have been no chance that Hitch would finish the book this year. Anyway, the first 2/3 of the story with the multiple FFs and Doom and the two versions of the villain bored me, but the last third about the Thing’s wedding was terrific. Just when I thought Millar didn’t get these characters at all…

New Avengers 55: Might as well talk about all the Stuart Immonen books together – this is is first issue as regular artist of this book and it looks great. There are a lot of characters and crowd scenes in this book and the panels always look interesting. Storywise, the team regroups and tries to figure out what their next move against Norman Osborn should be – with some ideas more extreme than others – when they’re attacked with a new weapon that could completely change the balance of power.

Teen Titans 73: Better, as Wonder Girl’s mistake last issue is acknowledged and the rest of the kids are written well enough and authentically enough that it’s entertaining. Still, there’s a new “permanent” writer coming in two issues so it’s hard to get that excited. (Though Dwayne McDuffie speaks well of her, so I have high hopes.) The Ravager story is also pretty good, but it hasn’t really gotten into high gear yet.

Superman 690: An odd issue that has neither the title character (which has been the norm lately), or his temporary replacement. That’s right, Mon-El isn’t in this issue at all (well maybe in the Science Police section, it’s hard to tell when they’re in uniform.) Instead, the various subplots each get some space with some of them to be continued in other books. There’s Steel vs. Atlas (which will continue in this book I guess), the beginning of a Science Police story to be continued in Superman: Secret Files 2009, the meeting of young Zatara and a long forgotten DC magic character (which I’ll leave as a surprise), a Guardian/Dr. Light scene to be continued in JLA, and an Ion/Tellus encounter to be continued in this year’s annual. To James Robinson’s credit, all these threads are compelling enough that I didn’t feel bored or shortchanged at all. (Edited to add: According to Sterling Gates' current interview at Newsarama, it is Jonathan Kent a.k.a. Mon-El in the Science Police segment, so he's briefly in the issue after all but not in costume.)

Justice League of America 35: I like Len Wein from back in the day, so I was expecting to like this issue (and next) but I liked this even better than expected. He does a good job with the team he’s been handed – which even the villains complain about (“Where are Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, any of the other big guns?”) -- even bringing back a Morrison-era member we haven’t seen in a while and a villain we haven’t seen in years. At the end of the day it’s still a fill-in, but it’s a good one.

Son of Hulk 13: If you’re having trouble keeping track of Hulk-related books, this one has stayed the space-based book. Skaar and Bruce Banner’s adventures on Earth will be in Incredible Hulk and the Red Hulk still stars in Hulk. So who’s the star of this book? An former slave boy named Hiro-Kala from planet Sakaar who also claims to be the son of Caeira and the Hulk, though he may be deluded or lying. Paul Jenkins does a better job with this than I expected, as the survivors of Sakaar look for a place of refuge and to stage their revenge on Galactus. (There’s a lot of that going around lately.) Too early to tell whether I’ll stick with it long term, but it’s a good start.

Detective Comics 855: I honestly don’t have the words (insert your own joke here) to describe how amazing the J.H. Williams III art is in the Batwoman story, but you can see the preview pages for yourself at DC's blog. Suffice it to say that Williams and Rucka are at the top of their game and this is the best book DC is currently publishing. (I love the Question story too, but the level of innovation is not the same.)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Marvelman Updates

Shane and I have been posting links to more information about the Marvelman situation in the comments of my original post, for anyone who’s interested. I probably won’t spend a lot of effort making news posts here, since CBR and Newsarama do that so well, but this seemed like an extra big deal and I knew some of you would be interested.

Speaking of comments on posts: If you have an RSS reader and you want to follow comments, there’s a link at the bottom of each post to subscribe to comments on that post and there’s a link in the sidebar to subscribe to comments on all posts. (You can also subscribe to the posts themselves from the sidebar.)