Thursday, September 29, 2011

DC NEW 52: ALL STAR WESTERN #1

ALL STAR WESTERN #1  (DC, September 28, 2011 release)  Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, Writers. Moritat, Artist and Cover.  Gabriel Bautista, Colorist.  Rob Leigh, Letterer.

Hex

The writers of one of the longest running western comics in modern history (Jonah Hex) bring the same character over to the NEW 52 DC and never miss a step.  I haven’t been a regular reader of JONAH HEX but this appears to be more of the same great content and style as Palmiotti and Gray keep the momentum going without pause.  If you’ve been a reader of  JONAH HEX (pre-NEW 52), you’ll want to continue with this new series.   If you aren’t familiar with the character, this is the best time to jump on as the storyline provides numerous examples of what makes up the character/personality of Jonah Hex.

ALL STAR WESTERN #1  is one of the best written NEW 52 debuts that I have enjoyed so far.   Imagine you are a comics writer and consider the scope of the task in front of you:  Start over again with an established character, make it simple enough for a brand new reader to grasp the concept and follow along, don’t bore or lose any of your existing readership either, establish a problem/conflict, include some kind of action (blood and/or sex may substitute if needed, reminding me of a comment overheard by a comics shop employee about “the new DC - - bloody-er and slutty-er”), and keep ‘em hanging at the end so they come back next month.  Palmiotti and Gray make it all happen in ALL STAR WESTERN #1, and they do it in style.

Ok, it’s spoiler time - - so skip ahead to the last paragraph if you don’t want any of the story elements revealed before you can get to this book.

So, what happens in Issue #1?

Jonah Hex rides into the 1880’s version of Gotham City and meets a number of citizens whose last names will seem familiar to many of you. (They are ancestors of current DC characters who reside in Gotham).  He’s come to see about collecting the bounty for uncovering the identity of the Gotham Butcher = who, like Jack the Ripper, murders prostitutes.  Jonah reluctantly teams up with Doctor Amadeus Arkham, medical consultant (with a preference for psychological analysis)  to the local police.  As their investigation makes progress they uncover another threat that may be even more serious. It seems there is a secret organization of prominent citizens identified by their skull rings who claim to be advocates for developing the potential of Gotham City. However, their ideals also involve the “betterment of society” and their methods may not have the best interests of all citizens at heart.

What did I like about it?

1) We learn almost everything we need to know about Jonah Hex through narrative captions that relate the story as seen through the eyes of Dr. Arkham.  At the same time, we learn about the character of Arkham as he frequently comments, editorializes, and tries to analyze Hex.  The end result is that the story moves along at a great pace without long interruption while the reader is getting the needed background details through the captions in almost every panel.  Arkham is a great new character in his own right.

2) The art team does a commendable job of visualizing Gotham as an 1800’s western-looking town growing larger through the introduction of more and more industry and all the increased traffic and pollution it brings.  Shades of gray, black, brown, beige and rust red help to both establish the image of a dusty western setting as well as enhance the lightly dark mood/style of the book.

What didn’t I like about it?

While I’m happy to pay $3.99 for a quality book - - I feel that whenever DC deviates from their earlier “holding the line at $2.99” promise  they throw in enough extras to make it worthwhile. The big difference here? - - - You get 27 pages of story instead of the usual 21-22 pages. Is that enough to justify the extra $1.00 per issue?  (Note: In future issues, Hex will share book space with El Diablo and later a new DC character - -the Barbary Ghost).

Do I love, like, stay neutral, dislike or hate this book?

It’s a very, very strong like at this point.  However, I’ve already decided to continue with this through Issue #3, along with the rest of my 11 selections . . . . uh, make that “Mike’s DC 12!”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DC NEW 52: JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1  (DC, September 28, 2011)  “In The Dark – Part One: Imaginary Women”.  Written by Peter Milligan.  Art by Mikel Janin.  Colors by Ulises Arreola.  Letters by Rob Leigh. Cover by Ryan Sook. 

Justice League Dark

I’m not reading every single #1 issue of the DC NEW 52, but the numbers keep growing from my original plan to follow 9 series for at least their first 3 issues.  I recently added WONDER WOMAN to that list, decided I could manage without  DETECTIVE COMICS after reading one issue, and now I’m about to change the game plan to “Mike’s DC 11” after finishing  JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1. 

This is definitely the most twisted title in the DC NEW 52 that I’ve read so far. It’s wacky and all over the place, but in a way that endears itself to me.  Writer Peter Milligan has a way with inserting random, scatter shot events into his stories that seem out of place until he connects everything together much later  (as in issues later, or sometimes not at all). 

In contrast to the other JUSTICE LEAGUE book, this one is closer to meeting my expectations.  Most of the characters are introduced.  We get some quick insights into their personalities/powers.  A real conflict is established and a first attempt is made to resolve it.  Those are all things I expected to see happen in JUSTICE LEAGUE #1 - - - but they didn’t.  Geoff Johns and Jim Lee told a good story,  not a great one, but moved at a snail’s pace compared to JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK.    The amount of story contained in the first issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK would take Johns/Lee four or more issues to tell if it occurred in their book.   I like the faster pace.  This could be a great story (I’m holding back in case it unravels and doesn’t live up to the promise in upcoming issues).

Of course, JUSTICE LEAGUE #1  has great art.  Artist Mikel Janin in JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #1 is no match for Jim Lee.  Few artists can match his creative abilities and detail.  JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK has good art - - that gets better on repeated viewings and may end up elevating my rating of it.  What at first appeared to be inconsistent art actually isn’t - - it’s variations by the ink and colors team that changes from sharp bold lines and vivid colors to thinner lines and muted colors (and less of them) depending on the scene/locale and the characters/actions taking place.  It seems deliberate, but the effect may be disorienting because of the quick transitions in Milligan’s story between scenes.  There are some pages here of very creative art that deserve to be lingered over and appreciated - - including the opening page with Madame Xanadu and the Tarot Cards; the double page spread of multiple versions of June Moone involved in various highway hit-and-run/accidents/fatalities; and the final image of a landfill composed of human bodies.

You guessed it.  If you’ve read this far, you’ve come to the spoiler point.  This is a book worthy of your attention and purchase.  Stop now unless you still need to know more about this book.

So, what happens in Issue #1?

Madame Xanadu consults her Tarot cards and learns of a “time of terrible danger.”  The mad and insane witch Enchantress has made a cabin hideaway from where she is (perhaps unintentionally) creating supernatural and catastrophic events across the world.  The Justice League also becomes aware of this and dispatches Cyborg, Superman, and Wonder Woman.  They are defeated by the magic powers of the Enchantress.  Both Zatanna  and Madame Xanadu work from different locations to assemble a “darker” team whose powers may be more appropriate to help combat this particular threat:  Shade, The Changing Man; John Constantine, Hellblazer; and Deadman (plus Zatanna and Xanadu, of course).  Not sure if June Moone (who some of the characters are familiar with) is going to be joining the team. She may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

What else did I like? (that I didn’t mention above)

1) The quick character introductions that give succinct insights:  a lonely Shade who creates/imagines a female companion;  a confident Zatanna insulted by Batman’s insinuation that she can’t handle the problem without his help - - rather than argue, she conjures thick vines to bind his feet so he can’t interfere;  self-centered nature of John Constantine;  a very sullen and quiet Deadman who doesn’t appear much in this issue but we see just enough to learn he’s shacking up with another super-team member

What didn’t I like?

1) This is more of a concern:  I’m used to seeing Shade and Constantine in Vertigo titles where more complex and adult-themed storylines occur than in standard DC books. Is this an attempt to bring them into the DC universe on a more permanent basis?  If so, is it going to change and adjust these characters to make them fit in better - - perhaps  muting or diminishing their mature story and character potential? 

Do I love, like, stay neutral, dislike, or hate this book?

I like this very much.  I’m not ready to call it love just yet.  I want to see where Milligan takes this story line in the next few issues.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, September 28, 2011?

 

I didn’t get to read any advance previews this week - - so instead of the usual review I’m just going to list the books that come out tomorrow that I consider worthy of further investigation . . . . . song2. . . . . . .

DC:  Aquaman #1;  Batman And Robin #1; Batman: The Dark Knight #1;   Batman: The Widening Gyre TPB.

MARVEL:  Deadpool Max #12 of 12;  Fear Itself #6 of 7;  Iron Man 2.0 #9

DYNAMITE:  Game Of Thrones #1   

IDW:  Ghostbusters Ongoing #1

BOOM!:  Hellraiser #5250px-Holy_Terror_cover

LEGENDARY:  Frank Miller’s Holy Terror hardcover

ONI:  The Sixth Gun #15

Comics On TV: CASTLE (ABC) September 26, 2011

 

Heroes-and-Villians-15-180x180

Yesterday’s Season Four premiere episode was titled “Heroes And Villains”.

This popular detective show featuring a partnership between a sexy homicide detective and a crime fiction novelist focuses on comics, and does it in a respectful manner rather than the usual smug approach.

There are many nods to Marvel characters and references that are accurate as well as some spot-on scenes occurring in a fictional New York City comics store.

The storyline revolves around a costumed vigilante suspected of murder and the ensuing investigation.

If you missed it I believe you can watch the episode at HULU TV’s website.

They Said It Better: Priest on Marketing

Joe Bennett breathes new life into the would-be Panther, Kasper Cole as The White Tiger in "The Crew".
I couldn't be happier to see comics writer/editor Christopher Priest blogging again at his new web site. His old site at digital-priest.com is full of behind-the-scenes observations about the comic business and his time on Black Panther, Spider-Man, Justice League Task Force, and more. His recent post at the new blog about his short-lived Marvel series "The Crew", while not specifically about marketing comics to women, I think contains some lessons that apply to last week's Starfire and Catwoman controversies:
...in twelve years behind desks at Marvel and DC, what I saw from the sales force were white guys talking to white guys about selling to white guys. They were woefully inept at connecting to women or minorities, and, to my knowledge, have never developed strong relationships in black or Latino markets.
Priest's blog entry about The Crew is here, and there's a great new look back at his Black Panther series here. (And his old blog is full of Panther stuff too.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

DC NEW 52: FRANKENSTEIN - - before and after

 

FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN #1 – 3  (DC)  Jeff Lemire, writer. Art by Ibraim Roberson (Issue #1  + page 1-11 of Issue #2), Alex Massacci (page 12-20 of Issue #2)  and Andy Smith (Issue #3).

NOTE: This article starts out with my expression of displeasure on a certain issue.  If you would rather just read the review of these books, skip ahead to the sixth paragraph after the cover images . . . . . .

flash frank #1 flash frank #2 flash frank #3

If I understood the early press releases for FLASHPOINT correctly, it was intended to be the bridge between the old DC and the NEW 52 DC and give readers an early preview of what’s coming.  Perhaps I and other readers may have interpreted that news incorrectly.  I approached the events of some of the FLASHPOINT titles as if I was reading a prelude to THE NEW 52 and it got me excited for the bold changes I envisioned for the new series.  - - - Aquaman and Wonder Woman as world conquerors intent on making human civilization subservient to them! - - - An alternate and much older Batman with a somewhat different agenda and more brutal methods of operation!   Some of the publicity helped to fuel my intensity as well as keep me hanging onto those false hopes.  A good example is the article about FLASHPOINT that www.digitalspy.com  ran on July 7th, even referring to a USA TODAY interview:

“Flashpoint #3 has begun to hint at the genesis of DC Comics' 52 new ongoing titles.
The publisher's line-wide
September relaunch is due to spin out of the pages of the current event.
Flashpoint editor
Eddie Berganza told USA Today that it should start to become clear how some of the new titles will emerge from the storyline.
"They're starting to figure out where these 52 are coming from, and it's staring them right in the face with Flashpoint," he said.
"A lot of the concepts, a lot of the ideas, they're cropping up within the pages. You have a book called Frankenstein in the Flashpoint world, and guess what, we're doing Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. You'll see a couple of other background players start showing up that become more important as we go into September."

The hard reality is that FLASHPOINT is/was nothing more than an extended series of “ELSEWORLD” mini-plays. (This opinion is based on my limited exposure to FLASHPOINT - - just like THE NEW 52,   I sampled the FLASHPOINT titles  rather than read every book.  If  the entire body of work turns out to disprove my comments, I would welcome someone entering a counter-opinion here.)   Now, as far as I know DC never actually claimed anything else other than a transition point or interlude between old and new versions of their characters.  But the articles, interviews, and advance publicity sure implied a more direct connection - - at least it appeared that way to me from what I was reading.  That is deception - - a marketing method that I do not care for.  I would rather accept some exaggerated marketing claims than be deceived by  advertising that pretends there is more inside.  . . . . . . . . .

Okay, I just needed to get that off my chest.  It’s one of my personal “hot buttons” for things I dislike.  Plus, I’m still going to read more of these DC titles.  (It’s not like they are the first comic company to use some deceptive marketing. I’ll just stop now rather than name any more.)

Also, there is a lot more similarity between FLASHPOINT Frankenstein and THE NEW 52 Frankenstein than there is between the FLASHPOINT versions of Aquaman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their NEW 52 beginnings.  Unfortunately,  I think I prefer the FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN & THE CREATURES OF THE UNKNOWN to the NEW 52 version.

****************************

So, what happens in the FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN mini-series?

In an opening sequence that will remind some readers of the 1960’s thaw-out and revival of Captain America but is actually more in keeping with the actual events that occur in author Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN (subtitled THE MODERN PROMETHEUS) - - - U.S. soldiers in the frozen North Atlantic of World War II 1942 stumble across the now unfrozen form of the Frankenstein monster, who immediately takes their side against the Nazis and saves them from a deadly ambush.

The monster (who I’ll refer to as Frankenstein from this point forward) is recruited and joins Project M (for Monster) , the Army’s plan to create super soldiers that also evoke deep-seated fears in their adversaries.  Other members include  a Mer-woman (resembling the classic Universal movie icon Creature From The Black Lagoon), a Death’s Head vampire with bat wings, and a were-wolf.  They join forces with a commando group led by Lt. Shrieve who then invade Hitler’s bunker and end his evil empire.

An ungrateful Army then shuts down Project M and puts the members in a type of suspended animation – just in case they are ever needed again.  An unexplained disruption sixty-five year later revives Frankenstein and he ventures out with the other members to explore the modern world.  The Army soon discovers their disappearance and dispatches a fabled monster hunter who turns out to be the grand-daughter of Lt. Shrieve.  She reluctantly accepts the help of the Army’s robotic soldier.  During the pursuit the Project M members meet up with Frankenstein’s wife (now working for S.H.A.D.E).   No, it’s nothing like Elsa Lanchester in a fright-Afro (from Universal’s THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) but more like a character from JOHN CARTER OF MARS - -  a green-skinned four-armed pistol-toting mama.

In the process of flight and exploration the history of the project and some of its members is revealed. The monsters of Project M display more human heart and nobility than the Army that relentlessly pursues them, now with giant sized soldier robots.  Project M prevails, but not without casualties  and departures, and the series ends with Frankenstein, his wife, and newly reformed monster hunter Shrieve riding off into the sunset.

What did I like about it?

1) Frankenstein, as interpreted by Jeff Lemire, is a moralizing, philosophizing good Samaritan  with a nose for evil and an innate distrust and dislike of it. Many of his short comments are like mini-sermons on how to lead a decent life.  He can also be judgmental.  It’s a more serious tone similar to his depiction in the original novel  (it’s been many decades since I’ve read it). 

2) The other monstrous characters are also fleshed out and developed during the course of the mini-series and bear empathy if not sympathy.  I especially like Nina, and the secondary storyline of her discovery of her actual origins versus the manufactured (and equally dismaying) version.

3) This book has a somewhat dark aspect to it  (but not pitch black, just lots of dark gray) - - and artist Ibraim Roberson really helps depict that atmosphere.  I missed his little touches while reading the last issue-and-a-half of the series.

What didn’t I like?   No explanation yet of Frankenstein’s marriage. And, he never refers to her by name - - just “wife”.  She calls him “Frank “ or “Frankie”.  Other characters address her as “ma’am”.  Can’t anybody give her a name?  Annoying!

Love it, Like it, Neutral, Dislike it, Hate it?   Love it.  It has heart.

***********************************

FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E.  #1  (DC)  Jeff Lemire, writer. Alberto Ponticelli, artist.

frankenshade #1

Same writer.  Same main character.  Different style and tone, more light-hearted in nature and slightly humorous where the former series was more serious and darker.  New artist, with an equally pleasing style (and quite different from Roberson).

So, what happens in Issue #1?

This opens with a quiet, pastoral scene that could have been a page taken from Lemire’s epic ESSEX COUNTY TRILOGY - - an elderly man and dog fishing with his grandson at a small lake.  Turn the page and watch it get bloody as the monsters show up shortly afterward.  An invasive swarm of giant monsters decimates a small Washington State  town and threatens the few surviving residents.

S.H.A.D.E.  (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive) is asked to form a rescue mission, led by agent Frankenstein, returning characters Dr Nina Mazursky (amphibian), Warren Griffith (were-wolf), Vincent Velcoro (vampire) and newcomer medical officer Khalis (mummy).  Frankenstein has extra motivation in that his wife (still no name) was part of the first aborted rescue mission, now missing.

The members of S.H.A.D.E. fight their way through wave after wave of monsters and make their way to a stronghold where the remaining residents are hiding – only to find out they are all children  (plus a church lady who resembles a wacky Aunt May).

What did I like about it?

1) The cool inventive headquarters of S.H.A.D.E. - - a vast complex much larger than the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier that inhabits a 3-inch globe that floats around, made possible by “a hybrid of teleportation and shrink technology.”  In a nice aside to the DC universe , this “ant farm” was designed by scientist Ray Palmer (Atom).  I can imagine some good future storylines that occur when the teleportation and/or shrink tech start to malfunction. 

2) The Frankenstein character remains the moralizing, sermonizing humanitarian of the FLASHPOINT: FRANKENSTEIN mini-series and also maintains his distrust and dislike of technology.

3) The art style has nice touches, and reminds me of the better art seen in the Marvel monster books that preceded their super-hero titles back in the early 1960’s.  A little Kirby, a little Ditko, a little Walt Simonson, a little hybrid of influences  - - nice blend of styles.

What didn’t I like?

1) New character Father Time, whose exact role has yet to be fully defined.  He/she’s apparently in charge of S.H.A.D.E. and needs to generate a new body every so often. This particular time it’s a pig-tailed little girl with a raccoon mask.  Talks like a know-it-all scientist, with body language and expressions you would expect from a little girl.  This character annoys me. Brainy kids don’t always work.  I would have thought Lemire could pull this off - -  but I have no warmth for this character.

2)  Please, just  name the wife of Frankenstein, will you?

What’s my general rating/feeling for this book?

My reservations aren’t enough to off-set what I like about this.  I like this book.  I think most readers would have fun with it.  I’m interested to see where Lemire takes it from here.  Although, if I could only read one of his DC books - - it would be ANIMAL MAN, no contest.

Comics I Read: DC New 52 Week 3


Only twelve books this week because Justice League is a Week 3 book and it was released early. Several of my favorite artists had books out this week, so say what you will about this week's titles -- and there's a lot to say about some -- for me based just on overall art quality this was the best New 52 week yet.

Batman #1: Best overall book of the week. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo sold me on this in Baltimore, as I've mentioned before, but it was better than even I was expecting. There's a sense of humor in the writing that I didn't anticipate -- Snyder was really intense in person -- and Capullo really knocked it out of the park with the art. I assume it's not a coincidence that the ending of this issue is similar to Nightwing's, although neither ending quite makes sense if the other one comes first so maybe not.

Birds of Prey #1: Putting aside how much I miss the previous version, I thought this was a pretty good start. With Babs out of the picture (for now), it makes sense that Dinah is the one putting the team together. I have mixed feelings about Starling: it's good to have new female characters, but it feels odd that Black Canary has a new best friend. (So far, I still prefer Swierczynski's novels to his comics. I highly recommend his current book, "Fun and Games".)

Blue Beetle #1: For arguably one of the most mainstream recognized characters, thanks to TV appearances on Smallville and The Brave and the Bold, a fresh start. It's not a reboot in the sense that Beetle is still Jaime Reyes attached to an alien scarab, but we're starting over at the beginning. (And it's questionable whether there have been any previous Blue Beetles, which is probably for the best.) Tony Bedard makes an interesting choice by revealing the alien origins of the scarab, which is something the original series waited a long time for, right at the top. The other half of the issue introduces us to Jaime and his friends & family before his first encounter with the scarab. It's easily as good as the original series so far, and in another week I might say that Ig Guara (yes, the "Pet Avengers" artist) delivered the best-looking book but the competition was really tough in this week's batch.

Captain Atom #1: I liked J.T. Krul's new take on Captain Atom much better than his Green Arrow. He pretty much completely reinvents the characters powers: the old version was a man in a crunchy candy shell, and this one seems like more of a pure energy being with some Firestorm-like powers. (Given the ending to this issue, that may change.) The story flowed really well, although I didn't get the timer motif at all, and I'm interested to know more. I loved Freddie Williams' new character design, and the look of the book overall.

Catwoman #1: This started well, with some fun scenes and dialogue by Judd Winick and great art by Guillem March. Then about halfway through she suddenly gets very violent, which shouldn't be Selina's thing, and then Batman shows up and things get, um, inappropriately sexy. I'm not against sex in comics done well -- for f--k's sake, the characters in Secret Six used to jump into bed all the time, and see also these pages from the Wolfman/Perez Titans -- but the scenes here were just ugly and icky. (Made worse IMO by the fact that Selina & Bruce don't know each others identities anymore.) As retailer Brian Hibbs said in his review
"...let’s deal with the sex thing first: I don’t care if Bruce and Selina have sex… and I generally expect that they do quite often. I don’t really need to see it, though, and if I do, I really don’t need to see it in all of it’s stroky, frotagey, half-costumed glory...But here you go: would DC editorial EVER let the reverse of that scene happen in a comic book featuring Batman’s name on the cover? Especially in the first issue of a major repositioning? And since that answer is almost certainly “no”, this automatically becomes an inappropriate scene."
Here are some examples of this kind of thing done better, and an analysis from Bleeding Cool's Andrew Wheeler who's more outraged than me -- I'm more bothered by the crudeness of the execution than the idea itself -- but still makes some good points. I'd buy a light caper book starring Selina like the first half of this book, but the second half really put me off.


DCU Presents #1: Not really sure what the point of doing this as an anthology title instead of a series of miniseries is, but I really liked the slight reinvention of Deadman as a means for Boston Brand to become a better person in the long run instead of just being obsessed with his killer. (I wonder if this is the take the proposed TV series is planning?) I honestly can't remember the last work of Paul Jenkins that I read ("Mythos" maybe?), but I liked his writing here more than in recent memory. As opposed to Eddy Barrows in Nightwing, Bernard Chang manages to pull off some inventive layouts here without being confusing.

Green Lantern Corps #1: Liked this. Guy and John Stewart make a good partnership, and I liked the looks at why they can't have civilian lives anymore. There's also a decent attempt at explaining how the Corps works for new readers. (But how are the rings automatically finding replacement Lanterns with Mogo gone? Or did that get resolved and I just forgot?)

Legion of Super-Heroes #1: This is pretty much the same book as before, so you already know if you like it or not. Which is fortunate, because they're not exactly inviting new readers. (The ending depends on knowing what a Daxamite is, for instance, although I suppose technically you could figure that out from Mon-El's ID caption.) There's a bit of a gap between the last volume and this one, during which the (unseen) events that led to Legion Lost happened -- from the 31st century POV, it seems that the Lost Legionnaires are presumed dead and time travel is broken -- and some of the Legion Academy graduates from the Adventure series have joined. Adding the younger characters is a smart choice, letting Paul Levitz do both youth-oriented stuff and still draw on the long history of the Legion. (But again with the "Flashpoint effect"...how could they possibly know that name?)

Nightwing #1: Very good. Feels very much like the old series, with the addition of the lessons Dick learned from being Batman. Bringing in his old circus for contrast with his new life was smart, and fleshes out Dick's past some more for new readers. I still think the costume with the blue highlights looks way better than this red one, and Nightwing is a little more brutal than I would like, and sometimes Eddy Barrows' page layouts are a little confusing, but these are minor complaints.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1: I liked this more than I expected to, sort of. Scott Lobdell writes Jason Todd and Roy Harper with an easy and fun chemistry ("The only reason I’m here is ’cause if anything happens to you–that would make me the worst former sidekick ever."). Even though the exposition slows things down a lot in the middle, I'm interested in what happens next. I could live without the ditzy sexpot characterization of Starfire, however. (Though I am thrilled I got to use the word "sexpot" in a sentence.) Laura Hudson did an impassioned critique of that aspect of this book and Catwoman at Comics Alliance, which again is way more intense than my opinion but still worth considering. Kenneth Rocafort is a favorite of mine, and he contributes another great-looking book to this week's stack.

Supergirl #1: Very much a first chapter, but I like what we see of Kara so far. It's a nice touch that she doesn't know English yet, and the bit where her new super-hearing lets her hear bits of dialogue from some of the other #1 issues was clever. (I guess we're off the notion that Kryptonian powers take a long time to build up under a yellow sun, because Kara's are in full force almost immediately. I can hear John Byrne shaking his fist from here.) Thanks to Mahmud A. Asrar, this is probably the third best-looking book in a week with extremely high art standards.

Wonder Woman #1: The great Cliff Chiang delivered the best-looking book of the week. (But not by much, Mahmud A. Asrar's Supergirl and Greg Capullo's Batman also look terrific.) I wasn't that engaged with the story until Diana showed up, and then I felt the book really came alive. Otherwise, not much to add to Mike's review. This one's a keeper. That said, retailer Hibbs makes the point that if you wanted to hand this book to an 8-year old girl -- and there's an argument to be made that you should be able to do that (with Supergirl too) -- it's a little too graphicly violent for that.

I'll get back to more writing about Marvel next month, but I can't resist mentioning not only how well Mark Waid has rehabilitated Daredevil but that with #4 he's somehow for the first time made it a compelling legal drama as well as a superhero drama. (Not to mention the artistic genius of Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.) Easily my favorite Marvel book at the moment, and that's saying a lot.

I also wanted to love IDW's Star Trek #1, the first original series following the characters from the J.J. Abrams reboot movie. (A similar situation to the DC New 52, now that I think about it.) But they inexplicably decided to adapt the second original 60's Star Trek TV pilot as their first story, which I think is such an astonishingly bad idea that I can hardly process it. I kept thinking they were going to throw in some clever twist, but it basically follows the original script like a slow-motion train wreck. Have whatever opinion you want about the new DC books, but at least they didn't do scene-for-scene remakes of 1930's Action #1 & Detective #27.

As usual, only one DC book that violently disagreed with me this week, although I probably won't wind up following some of the marginal ones. Liked best this week: Batman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Blue Beetle. Most looking forward to next week: All-Star Western, Aquaman, Flash, Firestorm.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

DC NEW 52: DETECTIVE COMICS #1

DETECTIVE COMICS #1  (DC)  Written and drawn by Tony Salvador Daniel.  Inks: Ryan Winn.  Colors: Tomeu Morey. Lettering: Jared K. Fletcher.  Cover: Tony Salvador Daniel.

detective-comics-1

My problem is that I’ve read enough Batman stories for a lifetime. I’ve been reading Batman stories for so long that it takes a lot more than a good story and good art to interest me - - it takes a hook or a different spin on things.  So, I’ve been  attracted to BATMAN AND SON; BATMAN R.I.P; BATMAN AND ROBIN; THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE, and BATMAN INC. because of those hooks and spins.  I appreciate the fine work that Tony Daniel has done on the pre-New 52 BATMAN but didn’t pay much attention to it.  It was good story-telling and good art – but no hook  (at least for me). 

What I’m trying to convey is that if you haven’t gotten enough Batman in your system yet, you will most likely appreciate DETECTIVE COMICS #1 and I encourage you to check it out.  If you ( like me), have read so many Batman tales that you can no longer imagine what that number is - - then you will probably finish reading DETECTIVE COMICS #1  and let out a large yawn.   The story is good.  The art is better.  But I feel like I’ve been here before, and not sure I’m coming back even though this issue ends with a shocking surprise. 

As noted in my other reviews, if you read beyond this point before you read DETECTIVE COMICS #1  you may encounter spoilers. 

So, what happens in Issue #1?

The Joker’s annual trail of dead bodies takes a different and grisly turn when corpses of various suspected “friends” of the Joker turn up mutilated, with “organs removed. So were parts of their faces.” (Fortunately, this is summarized in captions rather than depicted - - lest you think this has become a dark horror book.)  The Joker is the #1 suspect, of course, and through his detective skills Batman uncovers his location and captures him after a nice and brutal fight.  While incarcerated at Arkham Asylum, the Joker is visited by “Dollmaker”, who he willingly allows to cut away his face.  (Pardon me for seeming a little jaded, but I don’t feel the “makeover” that is hinted at on the last page will be permanent.  And others, including Jeff at BC Refugees, also suspect the same thing.)

What did I like about Issue #1?

1) I’m already a fan of Tony Daniel's art style, and I see some changes here worthy of attention.  Perhaps that is why he is listed in the credits as Tony Salvador Daniel - - to help establish the moment when he made these changes.  I also suspect the rest of the art team (inks, colors, letters) are helping to make that differentiation. There are larger panels and even full pages where Daniel apparently wants to be a little more expressive or elaborate more on the background details or scenery.  Also, there are more small panels than I am used to seeing in his work - - sometimes as many as 9-12 per page.  The contrast keeps things interesting.

2) More on the artistic touches:  I like the way that, beginning with the impressionistic cover, Daniel introduces small elements of the Dollmaker as the story moves along.   There’s also a neat page featuring Batman and Commissioner Gordon in a facial profile of Gordon’s left side and Batman’s right side in panels so small and close together that it looks like a composite. 

What didn’t I like?

There is actually nothing in particular that disturbs me about this book - -  it’s just the “same old, same old” feeling I get when I read it that makes me feel weary.  I prefer to feel excited and stimulated when I finish a book.

Do I love, like, dislike, or hate this book?

How about neutral, or indifferent?  I’ll have to add that category for future reviews of The DC New 52.  The story isn’t bad - - it just doesn’t grab my attention.  The art is much better, but isn’t enough to make me even want to pick up Issue #2.  I remain locked into “Mike’s DC10.”

Here’s a quick update on what I’ve reviewed so far, in order of how much I liked them:

1. ANIMAL MAN

2. WONDER WOMAN

3. JUSTICE LEAGUE

4.  DETECTIVE COMICS

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DC NEW 52: WONDER WOMAN #1

WONDER WOMAN #1  (DC)  “The Visitation” = Brian Azzarello, writer.  Cliff Chiang, artist & cover.  Matthew Wilson, colorist.  Jared K. Fletcher, letters. 

WONDER WOMAN was not one of the NEW 52 books that I selected to follow (at least for the first 3 issues).  “MIKE’S DC9” (I fly in style) were intended to be ACTION COMICS, ANIMAL MAN, AQUAMAN, BATMAN, BATMAN & ROBIN, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT, BATWOMAN, FRANKENSTEIN:AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E., and JUSTICE LEAGUE.

When I looked through the PREVIEWS guide for September 2011 releases, I decided not to pick up WONDER WOMAN.  While I appreciate and admire the skills of writer Brian Azzarello, it was the art that persuaded me to pass by this book.  The cover art and sample pages just didn’t look that great to me, and I thought it might take away from the overall enjoyment of the book and possibly hinder the storytelling properties. (Bad art has been known to depreciate a good story before, you know.)  It was an impulse decision, which usually turn out to be right at least 50% of the time.

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Time passes by.  Many comics reviewers are expecting  WONDER WOMAN to be one of the better NEW 52  books , and reverse buyers’ remorse sets in.  So, while I was visiting Captain Blue Hen Comics today I looked through the pages of WONDER WOMAN #1, scanned it , and put it back on the new releases shelf.  After browsing through the store some more, I picked it up and scanned it a second time, only to put it back again.  After I completed my purchase and was leaving the store I noticed a display case with a statue of Wonder Woman in front of the cover to the issue. The sign says  = buy a copy of this and win a chance to get this! . . . . .   I went back to the new release shelves, and for the third time picked up WONDER WOMAN #1 - - but this time I bought it. Impulsive. Or destiny calling.

Glad I did.  I really like this book!  = love the story, love the art.  Are you ready for “MIKE’S DC10”? (Still taking to the skies).  You may stop reading here if you have been convinced to pick up your own copy. Beyond this point there may be spoilers.

So, what happens in Issue #1?

Wonder Woman (sleeping in a London hotel room - - that needs explained) gets recruited to rescue and protect an Earth woman from mythic assassins who want to kill her because she is pregnant with a special child.  (Seems like Zeus really likes one-night stands on Earth).   A secondary storyline involves a well-dressed, dark-skinned man with what looks like latent energy lurking inside where his eyeballs should be as well as an energy filled mouth rather than teeth.  For some reason, that doesn’t seem to frighten the three female escorts he serves champagne to - - at least not until his inflammatory powers manifest.  At first I thought it was a typo when he referred to himself as “the sun of a king.”   I get it now.  Based on the prophesy he hears, he obviously has a high-powered father that may be connected to others in this story - - we’ll see.   Lastly, the whereabouts of Zeus are unknown. The oracles hint that he doesn’t exist . . . . yet.

What did I like about Issue #1?

1) I especially like the way this book opens up and appreciate the pacing and the way Azzarello builds suspense quickly.  The first two pages made me apprehensive and then it cuts away to another scene and leaves the reader hanging in anticipation.  The next scene does the same thing = creates apprehension and suspense and then cuts away to a third scene employing the same progression yet again until the last two events overlap in violent action.  Whew!  I was completely hooked by the time I got to Page 8!

2) It didn’t take long to get comfortable with the art style that Cliff Chiang employs here.  If I had to compare it, I’d say it seems like a blend of classic Don Heck with flavoring by Alex Maleev. 

3) I like the air of mystery throughout the entire book, with many details left unexplained.  Based on some of the characters seen so far, it seems as if Azzarello is going to be exploring the darker side of Greek mythology.  Hermes is depicted as a rather ghostly, alien-looking messenger/courier rather than the sleek, handsome wing-footed athlete we normally see in comics.  The centaurs seen crashing the Virginia cabin are also more monstrous in appearance and aggressive rather than regal looking and noble.  Also appreciated is the nod to Shakespeare’s MacBeth with a scene that reminds of the prophesying three witches (except it occurs in modern times - those are three fine bitches - and that’s not MacBeth asking for the fortune-telling).

4) The art is not afraid to reflect the brutal/hostile/dark nature of the story.  There are some images in here that might disturb very young readers (decapitated horses, etc.)

What didn’t I like?

1) This is pretty minor and doesn’t bother me because I like the stories of THE NEW 52 so far. Every book is continued to the next issue.  I think I remember reading that DC intended to give readers all the bang for their buck with complete issue stories rather than extended arcs and crossovers.  I’m going to overlook that for now, realizing that they need to introduce characters, and create enough conflict in the first issue to bring the reader back a month later.  None of the books so far have been origin stories - - which actually read better when they occur a couple issues into a new series.  Hopefully, these opening arcs will be short  and the origins will follow.  Then maybe we’ll see the complete-in-one-telling stories appear.

Do I love, like, dislike, or hate this book?

I’m actually loving this book, which says a lot because I have never been very fond of Wonder Woman before.  Most stories left me with a “nice, but so what?”  attitude.  I think the difference here is that Azzarello is putting mystery and suspense into the mix and it makes for a much better read.  It’s also darker, which along with the aggressive, in-charge Wonder Woman from the 3-issue Flashpoint mini-series have totally changed my impression of this character.  I’m interested now.

Monday, September 19, 2011

PREVIEWS: What’s new for Wednesday, September 21, 2011?

 

PLANET OF THE APES #6  (BOOM! Studios)  “The Devil’s Pawn: Part 2”  Daryl Gregory, writer. Carlos Magno, art.

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If you’re getting curious about this book and wondering when is the best time to jump in and check it out - - it’s anytime.  Right now is fine.  Anyone with even just a basic familiarity with the Planet Of The Apes universe can quickly pick up on what is happening here and follow the new storyline.  And the script is definitely worthwhile - - as I read I keep being reminded of recent events and seeing the parallels to what is happening here (humans being given rocket launchers and other armaments from a secretive religious cult). 

Revolt and rebellion have broken out following the assassination of the orangutan Lawgiver in Issue #1.  Apes are enforcing a curfew and herding captured humans into “Retraining Camps” to return them to the workforce as useful laborers (or discard them). Various elements in the human  city/slum of  “Skintown” are plotting revenge for the death of Chaika, who became a martyr after attaching a bomb to herself.  Her father Bako, a rebel leader 18 years earlier before the truce between humans and apes was signed, works hard to develop a new cadre of rebels to fight for independence.  And Sullivan, the current mayor of Skintown, forms an uneasy alliance with the strange holy men, led by Kale.   The art work on this book is magnificent, particularly the scenes retelling the bloody battle of Delphi during the last struggle for freedom years earlier.  Keep your eyes on artist Carlos Magno. 

SAMURAI’S BLOOD #4 of 6  (Image / Benaroya)  Owen Wiseman, story.  Nam Kim, Matthew Dalton & Sakti Yomono, art.  Jo Chen, cover. 

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Every issue of Samurai’s Blood, writer Owen Wiseman relates different aspects of the samurai credo in the caption boxes - - little words of wisdom that the story and art then elaborate on and serve as an example of the meaning of the messages. 

The trio of young friends who fled the massacre of their clan in order to later exact revenge have been changed internally and externally in profound ways since their initial departure.  In this issue, Wiseman unfolds a multi-layered story of the continuing efforts to free Mayuko from enforced prostitution as a geisha-girl.   Katashi, the strong and proud companion with the closest ties to true samurai lifestyle, has gained some renown in organized street fights/mortal combat (using a false name to hide his identity) and ties to use his newly gained power and influence to  buy Mayuko’s freedom.  Her brother Daigan, who has assumed the role of leader, arranges a fight between Katashi and a legendary warrior with her release as reward for victory (and death to the loser).   This issue’s story revolves around the concepts of “love” and “betrayal”  - - seeming two sides of the same coin - - and drives its points home in example after example as each character loses their innocence and integrity.

Very powerful stuff.  The curious reader could also easily pick up any issue of this series without starting at the beginning and immediately immerse themselves in this beautifully detailed world.

 

OTHER BOOKS WORTH A LOOK THIS WEEK:   BATMAN #1 (DC);  CAPTAIN AMERICA #3, DAREDEVIL #4 (Marvel);  DAMAGED #2 (Radical); GAME OF THRONES #1 (Dynamite); RED WING #3 , WITCHDOCTOR #3 (Image); SIMPSON TREEHOUSE OF HORROR #17 (Bongo); SOLDIER ZERO #12,  (BOOM!)

Comics I Read: DC New 52 Week 2


Batman and Robin #1: I loved the reverse dynamic duo where Robin (Damian) was the serious one and Batman (Dick) was light-hearted, and I frankly wasn't sure it would work with Robin (still Damian) being serious and Batman (Bruce) being even more serious. But Bruce's experiences lately have lightened him a little, and Damian is as stubbornly unsentimental as ever (Damian: "You can't just build a boat and hope darkness magically sails away in it." Bruce: "Why not? It's my boat.") so it still works. A good first outing, and I'm excited for the future of this partnership.

Batwoman #1: Based on the zero issue, I knew this would still be awesome and it is. No rebooting at all here, with the possible exception of a reference to Renee Montoya as a cop (which doesn't preclude her from still being The Question). Loved the bit about Kate training her cousin, even making her give up her Flamebird identity. ("You don't need that garish costume...you need a uniform.") I still wish Greg Rucka was involved -- be sure to read this great interview about his current work -- but I'll go out on a limb, without having seen half of the new 52, and say that this is still the best book DC publishes.

Deathstroke #1: Meh. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, but it's not that interesting either. I didn't sympathize with Slade enough or find his personality fascinating enough to want to read more about him.

Demon Knights #1: Whew. After Stormwatch, I was worried, but I absolutely loved this. Loved the new spins on old characters (especially the Shining Knight) and the beautiful art by Diogenes Neves. Highly recommended.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1: If you liked Jeff Lemire's "Flashpoint" version of this character, you'll like this too. I actually find Frankenstein way more interesting than the rest of his Creature Commandos, but we've barely gotten to know them yet (in this reality, anyway) so that may change. The rest of the S.H.A.D.E. stuff, including the classic DC character who built their headquarters, was cool and fun.

Grifter #1: Reinvents the alien invasion from the original WildC.A.T.S. series as a (to coin a phrase) secret invasion that only Cole Cash is aware of. Unfortunately, that leaves us with a Grifter who's a lot less confident, and therefore less fun to watch, than the version we're used to. (But I still haven't gotten over the cancellation of WildCATS 3.0, so don't mind me.) I'm interested enough to see where this goes for a while.

Green Lantern #1: I was concerned that this would be impenetrable to the new reader, but Johns does a good job at dispensing everything you need to know as he goes along without retelling everything that's happened since "Rebirth". I liked how both Hal's and Sinestro's lives are miserable, and I look forward to seeing how they work together to fix things. Doug Mahnke's art is, as always, great. (Even on the Earthbound scenes, which he hasn't had to draw in this book for a while.)

Legion Lost #1: Wow. A lot happens really fast in this issue. I liked it a lot: the mix of characters is great and Pete Woods' art is always awesome. (Loved his new designs for the lost Legionnaires.) There's no knowledge of the Legion required, but whether new readers will find this intriguing or just confusing I can't tell because I'm too close to it. Either way, you at least get your money's worth for 20 pages. (Nitpicky question: How does Wildfire know to use the term "Flashpoint"? Did he read the comic?)

Mister Terrific #1: I wanted to like this way more than I did, but the twist at the end implies that maybe we haven't gotten to see the real Michael Holt yet. I don't hate it or anything, but this hasn't hooked me yet.

Red Lanterns #1: So, Atrocitus is now basically the Spectre (or Ghost Rider, if you prefer) without the "of God" part. That could work. Impressive art from Ed Benes, showing 180 degrees difference from his recent "Birds of Prey" issues. (Nobody in this book is attractive.)

Resurrection Man #1: I don't remember the plot of the original series that well, but I think this version has more of a supernatural spin on it. Because Mitch's soul is infinitely resurrectible, it's apparently prized by both the forces of heaven and hell. This direction is a good choice, I think, given that there'll be a lot of other books doing superhero stuff. Abnett & Lanning turn in solid work as usual.

Suicide Squad #1: Relentlessly drab and awful, without any of the wit or sophistication of John Ostrander or Gail Simone. King Shark is still awesome, and a shark, but Amanda Waller is now a young Angela Bassett. (How can skinny Amanda be nicknamed "The Wall"? It just doesn't work. Read more about Waller's unique place in comics in this excellent "DC Women Kicking Ass" post.) And for some reason the prison is now called "Belle Reeve", which doesn't make any sense, instead of "Belle Reve". (It's repeated more than once, so if it's a proofreading error it's a big one.) Cross the street to avoid this one.

Superboy #1: CBR ran an interesting experiment last week where they gave some of the new #1s to people who don't read comics and got their opinions. Almost unanimously, they said they wished the new books had started with origins instead of dropping into the middle of the stories. (Except for Action and Detective, because everyone on the planet knows who Superman and Batman are.) If you feel that way, this is the book for you, as it starts with Superboy still in a test tube. It's too early to tell if his personality will end up more on the fun side or the angsty side, but Scott Lobdell's plot and dialogue are clever with some interesting names in the supporting cast so far. I wish Eric Canete, who drew the hauntingly beautiful cover, could have drawn the inside too, but I did like R.J. Silva's work quite a bit. Fair warning, though: it looks like this book will be tied in pretty closely with Teen Titans.

(And, on the other side of the aisle, the Odin/Steve Rogers scenes in Fear Itself #6 are worth the price of admission for the whole series so far. Brilliant.)

In other New 52 news, we have our first (I think) writer casualty: John Rozum has quit Static Shock. His carefully worded statement says he wasn't fired, and that it wasn't a problem with DC or with Static the character (whatever that means). What does that leave? A conflict with Scott McDaniel (who has a writing credit on issue #1) maybe? This was one of my favorites of the relaunch titles and Rozum is a terrific writer, so I'm very disappointed. If it was an issue with this specific assignment, and not something Milestone-related, then hopefully we'll see the return of "Xombi" soon.

Again this week only one serious dud in the DC bunch, which is a pretty good track record so far. Favorites this week: Batwoman, Demon Knights, Superboy, Batman & Robin. Week 3 DC titles I'm most looking forward to: Nightwing, Legion of Super-Heroes, Supergirl, Wonder Woman.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Comics I Read: Flashpoint & DC New 52 Week 1


If you had asked me before #5 shipped whether I thought Flashpoint overall would be satisfying, I would have said no because even though Barry Allen was at the center of it, it didn't seem like the next step in his story. But the twist at the beginning of #5 rectifies that, although it does violate the rules Johns set up for Booster Gold & Reverse-Flash about how changes to the past can be made. (And it's a bit convenient that the timeline shattered in exactly the way one would deliberately manipulate it to take out all the major players, though Thawne tries to explain that too.) I loved that Kal-El saved the day (sort of), and the scenes between Barry and Batman (BOTH Batmen) were terrific.  I did, however, think it was a bit of a cheap stunt to make the "explanation" of the birth of the new timeline mostly a setup for future stories. (The hooded woman from the double-page spread is in the background of all the new #1s.) But overall, I consider the main series a success. (But see Brian Hibbs' review which I agree with a lot of.) The tie-ins, not so much.

The tie-ins, for the most part, seemed to be exercises in "give a familiar character the worst life possible and then brutally murder them" which got repetitive after a while. Series I did enjoy included "Kid Flash Lost" (by far my favorite), "Project Superman", "Batman: Knight of Vengeance" (sick and wrong in the best possible way), "Outsider", "Lois Lane & the Resistance" (mainly because it was nice to see her name in a title), "World of Flashpoint", "Frankenstein" and the Aquaman & Wonder Woman series which, while relentlessly depressing, at least nicely filled in the backstory of the Flashpoint Earth.

Justice League #1: It’s a good comic for what it is – the art is terrific and some of the Batman/GL scenes are great – but what it isn’t is a comic with the Justice League in it. Not yet, anyway. I think a slow burn is appropriate sometimes, but not for the first book of a universe relaunch. I like that Johns is trying to put this story together carefully, and I think it's a smart decision to show Cyborg's new origin, but I wish he had at least started with some cool scenes of the League and then flashed back to their first meetings. This isn't a case IMO where it's OK to say "it'll read well in the collection" because there won't be a collection until May. On the other hand, this book had the whole weight of relaunch expectations on it so maybe it was impossible for it to be satisfying.

Action Comics #1: This is so different that I'm still processing it a little bit. When John Byrne rebooted the franchise 25 years ago, we all said "F--- yeah that's the Superman we remember". (Except we didn't say "F--- yeah" because that hadn't been invented yet.) But this Superman is one we've never seen before. Still, I'm pretty sure I like it and I definitely want to see more. One of the most grounded Grant Morrison comics in a long time, for those of you who sometimes get headaches from his work. I also think Rags Morales' art really suits the down-to-earthiness of the story really well, which makes me worry a little about the substitution of Brent Anderson for parts of #2-3. Not that Brent's art won't be great, because he's awesome, but it just seems too early to change the look.

Animal Man #1: Great. Loved the family stuff and the digs at celebrity culture, and from the ending it looks like there's an interesting horror aspect coming in. Not much to add to Mike's review.

Batgirl #1: Holds up very well under the weight of high expectations. I'm not in love with new Babs yet in the same way I was with "Birds of Prey" Babs, but I already like her a lot and the rest will come with time, I'm sure. The stuff about her time in the wheelchair feels very authentic, and I already am warming up to her more after a second reading.

Batwing #1: Better than I expected. I like that it's set in urban Africa instead of cliche jungle Africa, and I think maybe it's the first ongoing DC title with an all-black cast? (Except for a couple of brief Batman cameos I could have lived without.) The ending kind of kicks over the table, so it's hard to say yet what the supporting cast will be like.

Detective Comics #1: For a book that's supposed to be set in a nearly unchanged version of familiar continuity, this sure felt like it was set in the past to me with stuff like GCPD openly firing on Batman and Batman not seeming to have much experience with the Joker. The controversial ending definitely has shock value, but I rolled my eyes at it because there's little chance it'll stick even at the "new" DC. Not bad, but my least favorite of the week 1 books. (But I wasn't a huge fan of Tony Daniels' Batman before, so your mileage may vary.)

Green Arrow #1: Good. Certainly better than the post-Brightest Day issues, though that's not saying much. I like the new spin on what Ollie stands for, but with all the gadgets and the money and the high-tech support system they're going to have to work harder at justifying what makes Green Arrow different from Batman.

Hawk & Dove #1: I liked this. I was a big fan of Sterling Gates' Supergirl, and I like his writing here too. I'm not sure Deadman needs to be in this book, other than as someone for Dove to talk to, but hopefully that will become clear eventually. Suffers a little from being exposition-heavy -- and I wish he had left out the reference to Crisis -- but again that should get better over time. Rob Liefeld's art has never been to my taste, but on the other hand I've never felt he deserves all the personal attacks he gets over it either. His work here still isn't my thing, but it's the best I've seen him do in years -- way better than those "Teen Titans" issues he did a while back -- and I think it suits the book well. My only issue with the art is that the new avatar on the last page (Gates says it's not Kestrel) is too similar-looking to Hawk, which confused me at first. (To be fair, it could be a coloring issue as well.)

Justice League International #1: A good start. I like the reasons for the team to exist, and for the members that were chosen (especially Batman.) I would have liked the "real" League to be a little more established before starting this book, but that's OK.

Men of War #1: War books aren't really my thing (although the modern-day setting helps) but this is a very good one and I think people that like this kind of thing will love it.

OMAC #1: Not sure what Dan Didio is contributing here, since the finished product reads like it came straight out of Keith Giffen's brain. Pure Kirby kraziness and I loved it.

Static Shock #1: Nearly perfect, and one of my favorites this week. Rozum & McDaniel capture the spirit of the original series perfectly, and I was thrilled to see Virgil's family (people only familiar with the cartoon will be surprised to see his mom) and another Milestone hero for the first time in a while.

Stormwatch #1: Unfortunately, I don't remember a lot of this a couple of days after I read it so I guess I'm not hooked yet. But Paul Cornell has earned a lot of trust, so I'll be sticking around for a while. I did like the idea of the Stormwatches throughout history, and how they seem to be related to the team in Cornell's "Demon Knights."

Swamp Thing #1: Other than the fact that I don't understand why Alec Holland and Swamp Thing are still separate when the whole point of "Brightest Day" was to merge them, I thought this was a good start. Again, similar to Justice League, I would have preferred to see more Swamp Thing. But Scott Snyder sold me on his long-term plan for the book at Baltimore, and Yanick Paquette's art is gorgeous.

With the exception of Detective, I say so far so good. Week 2 books I'm most looking forward to: Batwoman, Demon Knights, Legion Lost, Mr. Terrific.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PREVIEWS 2: What’s new in TPBs for Wednesday, 9/14/2011 ?

DRIVER FOR THE DEAD  (Radical)  Written and Created by John Heffernan.  Pencils and Inks by Leonardo Manco.  Paints by Kinsun Loh & Jerry Choo.  Lettering by Todd Klein.  Reprints Driver For The Dead #1 - 3 mini-series.  July 2010 – January 2011.

Even though the business model for Radical is to use comics to develop movie properties Driver 1(the comics act as storyboards for proposed films) – they continue to offer fascinating stories beyond the conventional superhero fare (dark western, modern western, science-fiction, fantasy, horror, crime) and put a lot of effort into the books they publish.  It definitely shows, and there is no better example to make that point than DRIVER FOR THE DEAD. 

The first thing that will make your eyes widen in wonderment is the incredible art, inks and colors of this book - - it’s almost like looking at photographs because the images and details are that sharp.  If you are a fan of the work of Leonardo Manco, you will want to pick up this book for this reason only - -  it is the best work that I have ever seen from him.  I’ve always admired his art  but on DRIVER FOR THE DEAD he seems to take it to another level.

Writer John Heffernan is equal to the task.  DRIVER FOR THE DEAD is a scary book, well-grounded in the voodoo of the New Orleans area and chock full of fascinating and grisly details of the various legends, including the infamous Marie Laveau.  Heffernan’s fictional characters are equally developed and as the story progresses, he reveals more of their background and history.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would love to see it developed for movies.

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In an extended opening scene in Issue #1, voodoo priest and healer Moses Freeman (who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Morgan Freeman) is called to assist a family of new residents to Shreveport, LA whose only son seems possessed by demons. Freeman’s mannerisms and matter-of-fact manner as he goes about his business make him a fascinating character in his own right. Too bad he dies while performing the exorcism.  And that leads into the reason for the involvement of Alabaster Graves and his custom hearse – Black Betty – to transport Freeman’s body to his final resting place.

Getting the transport accomplished will be no simple matter. A local necromancer named Fallow and his legion of resurrected zombies want to get access to Freeman’s body.  It will increase Fallow’s strength immensely, as he has been murdering local mystics and attaching their body parts (hands, eyes and tongues) to himself and thereby assuming their powers.  Driver 3Fallow is very creepy and depraved and is one of the best evil protagonists to be created in comics.  Before the series ends, we learn of his grisly origins, as well as more background on Marie Laveau and the connection between her, Fallow, Alabaster Graves, Moses Freeman, and his surviving grand-daughter.  Along the way Graves has an encounter with another creature steeped in New Orleans lore - - Loup Garoux, the giant werewolf. 

 

If you are a fan of John Constantine/Hellblazer and horror with a dash of humor for good measure, you will want to read this book.  Highly recommended, and a favorite of mine.

And, if you’re inclined to go along with my recommendations - - also pick up a copy of MORIARTY TPB tomorrow, which is when I hope to finish and post my review of it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

PREVIEWS 1: What’s new in TPBs for Wednesday, 9/14/2011?

 

BLUE ESTATE : VOLUME 1  (Image) Story by Viktor Kalvachev & Andrew Osborne.  Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Robert Valley & Paul Maybury.  $12.99.  120 pages.  Reprints Issues #1-4 of Blue Estate plus bonus material.  Created by Viktor Kalvachev & Kosta Yanev.  Cover, colors and design by Viktor Kalvachev.

DISCLAIMER #1) If you do not consider yourself a “mature adult“ - - STOP READING THIS RIGHT NOW!  If you can be described as “young and impressionable”  - - THEN DON”T READ ANY PARTS OF  THIS ENTIRE REVIEW OR ANY OF THE NEXT ARTICLE I POST  I am not accountable and cannot be held responsible if you fit those categories and persist in reading further.  There are plenty of high quality comics available geared to your level that you should be exploring.  Please give them a chance.   

ENDORSEMENT #1)  After a hard day of work coupled with this age of uncertainty we live in (inefficient government, global terrorism, financial collapse, environmental catastrophes) many of us relive that stress by reading or watching popular entertainment depicting someone having a worse day than us, some poor unfortunates stuck in a situation far more stressful and dire (and quite often with fatal consequences)  than anything that we could ever envision in the confines of our everyday world.  It helps keep mature adults grounded and less likely to turn berserker. (At least, that’s how it works for me.)                                                                                                                                                                                   

DISCLAIMER #2)  If you can’t agree with any of that,  don’t like contemporary entertainment that steps outside the comfort zone, or consider my opinions to be heresy - - then QUIT READING THIS!  That way we may still stay friends.       

ENDORSEMENT #2)  “Similar but different.”  Those three words are the best way and the quickest way I can describe to you why you should  be reading  BLUE ESTATE.  In comics, similar but different than 100 BULLETS, SCALPED, SIN CITY, CRIMINAL and GREEK STREET.  In movies, similar but different than PULP FICTION and SNATCH.  On television, similar but different than BREAKING BAD and DEXTER. In fiction similar but different than the works of author Charlie Huston. 

 DISCLAIMER #3/ENDORSEMENT #3)  Frequent readers of this blog site are aware that I am an advocate of continuing to purchase monthly titles rather than waiting for the (hopefully) inevitable collection.  I fear that some quality titles may not attain enough sales numbers to persuade the financial people controlling the parent company to incur more costs by publishing a trade edition.  I also believe that everyone needs to support and visit local comic shops on a regular basis, and picking up some monthly titles is a good reason to do so.  In spite of that, BLUE ESTATE is a work best appreciated at one reading because 1) there’s too much going on to keep track of all the subplots and various characters and 2) the finer qualities of this work are better appreciated when examined in a long, single dose. 

BlueEstate_Vol1_Cover

The publicity material and trade ads for BLUE ESTATE make an effort to describe the basic premise of the series, but comes up short:

“It all starts with a low-rent private eye trying (and failing) to escape the long shadow of his respected cop father. But a chance encounter with a B-list action star on the mean streets of Hollywood drags the wannabe gumshoe into a world of strippers, mobsters...and the wildest (and only!) case of his career! See who lives, who dies, and who gets the Tiger Blood knocked outta them in the first four issues of the fast, funny smash hit new crime series from Image Comics! “

That is just a small part of what Blue Estate is about.  There are a wide variety of characters, all with flaws and interesting backgrounds.  I’m not going to detail any of them here - - but I may write about this book some more at another time.   Issue #5 (the latest release, not part of the Volume 1 TPB) does a better and more revealing  job of summarizing the story so far in a page one re-cap.

The trade paperback edition has many worthwhile bonus features including some artist sketches, concepts, and even clay models of the characters.  There are several examples of pages in progress so you can better appreciate the inking and color details, etc. My favorite bonus feature is the preface page that was added.  In a very clever preamble “Bruce Maddox”, one of the wildly arrogant and faux spiritual characters a.k.a action film actor/director writes about “HOW TO READ BLUE ESTATE”.  What we get is a very good indication of the humorous and cynical tone and intent of this book.   After a very flowery and mystical description of the state one must enter to best appreciate this work, Maddox then goes on to denounce comics as “non-Zen” and beneath notice.  

His concluding summary of the book is also pretty spot-on: 

  • “Visualize serenity.”
  • “Now visualize the exact opposite of serenity: a high-octane adrenaline shot of comic violence, violent comedy, tangled alliances, mistaken identities, desperate heroes, ruthless villains and maximum firepower.”
  • “You are now in the BLUE ESTATE state of mind.”

The art is very good and creative in its depiction of the wild events of the storyline.

The covers are singular works of art, poster worthy.

Like those works I mentioned above, BLUE ESTATE can be a guilty pleasure for many of us - - and a sure-fire stress-buster.  I’m reminded of the work of David Lapham, a writer I admire for his ability to vividly depict some of the more depraved and sleazy aspects of modern civilization while still keeping the reader distant yet empathetic with the characters.  I’ve said before that I’m delighted and disgusted at the same time while reading Lapham, and often feel like I need to take a shower afterwards.  I’m getting the same feeling for BLUE ESTATE.

BLUE ESTATE has a website at www.BlueEstateComic.com and is one of several comics out there  (indie and mainstream) to take advantage of the benefits of social networking to help market and attain exposure for individual works.   You can follow characters from BLUE ESTATE on TWITTER, where they frequently post comments.  Some of the funnier ones are reprinted in the back pages of Volume 1.

Trust me.  Pick up this book.

NEXT: OTHER TRADE PAPERBACK EDITIONS WORTH CHECKING OUT THIS WEDNESDAY:  DRIVER FOR THE DEAD  (Radical);  and MORIARTY (Image).  I would review this next one as well, but I haven’t seen it yet = CROSSED VOLUME 2: FAMILY VALUES (Avatar)  - take the twisted ideas of CROSSED: VOLUME 1 by Garth Ennis, and let David Lapham script the sequel. Need I say more?

OTHER BOOKS WORTH CHECKING OUT THIS WEDNESDAY:  (and most of these suitable for all audiences ) = = = BATMAN AND ROBIN #1 , BATWOMAN #1, FRANKENSTEIN- AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #1 (all DC);  DAREDEVIL #3, FEAR ITSELF #6 (both Marvel); CRIMINAL MACABRE: NO PEACE FOR DEAD MEN one-shot, TUROK SON OF STONE #3 (both Dark Horse);  FLY #4 (Zenoscope); HELLRAISER #5,  STARBORN #10 (both BOOM!);  and  SHERLOCK HOLMES YEAR ONE #6 (Dynamite).

Friday, September 9, 2011

DC NEW 52: ANIMAL MAN #1

 

ANIMAL MAN #1  “The Hunt, Part One: Warning From The Red”  (DC Comics, September 2011)  Story: Jeff Lemire.  Pencils & Cover:  Travel Foreman.  Inks:  Travel Foreman and Dan Green.  Interior & Cover Colors: Lovern Kindzierski.  Letters:  Jared K. Fletcher.

animal man new

I expected to be pleasantly surprised by this book, and I was!   Unlike JUSTICE LEAGUE #1,   I approached ANIMAL MAN with no expectations and no previously obtained perceptions.

  I must confess that, despite the presence of Grant Morrison and other great writers and artists,  I never paid any attention to  ANIMAL MAN, Volume 1.  I did pick up the very first issue (and still have it);  but it didn’t leave a lasting impression and didn’t motivate me to explore any further.  In defense of that title, it did have a successful run from 1988 to 1995 that lasted 89 issues.   Aside from a brief appearance in other DC titles from time to time, the only other major work featuring this character was the 6-issue mini-series LAST DAYS OF ANIMAL MAN from 2009.  I don’t even remember seeing that on the new issue stands of my local comic shop.

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However,  I’m  already awaiting the next issue of ANIMAL MAN, Volume 2.  Writer Jeff Lemire introduces a very different and intriguing mystery in the opening chapter.  While he hints at what may be occurring to hero Buddy Baker’s family-oriented world, Lemire doesn’t elaborate or show his hand yet.  That should engage most of the readers who pick up this book, and bring them back for at least one more round.

NOTE:  Do not - - - DO NOT! - - - read any further in this review if you have not read your copy of ANIMAL MAN #1 yet!  Instead, pick it up and read it now.  I’ll wait for you. 

So, what happens in Issue #1?

1) Superhero / Actor / Activist Buddy Baker has just completed acting in an independent film, his first major character role (about an aging super-hero).  He’s gained some renown as an animal rights activist and only occasionally reverts to protecting the world from crime, etc. as ANIMAL MAN (in a more contemporary uniform that the previous goggles and jacket - - see cover image from Volume 1). He no longer wears the costume on a regular basis, just when he feels needed.  He’s also an  inspiration to many youth, and has his image featured on a popular tee-shirt and posters. All this background information is revealed in a clever page one magazine article where Baker is interviewed.

Animal Man mini

2) Prompted by some words from wife Ellen and later his son’s eagerness for Dad to get involved in a local  hospital crisis, Buddy puts on his new costume and saves a group of children being held hostage by a disturbed father.  It’s an opportunity to display his powers and skills for new readers, that include some unexpected consequences - - bleeding from the eyes.  

3) Later that night, Buddy has a very disturbing dream involving a river of blood and “The Hunters Three”.  When he awakens, he learns that some of the dream may be real, including his young daughter’s possibly inheriting some of his abilities, but in a weird twisted way.

What did I like about Issue #1?   

1)  The everyday human element that runs throughout this issue.  Lemire has great skills here and writes ANIMAL MAN as if this could happen to anybody.  Buddy Baker is a family man, with regular worries and concerns.  He’s far from self-assured and seeks (and often gets) reinforcement and support from his family.   This title may just help me forget that Jeff Lemire is no longer writing SUPERBOY (which I really miss.) 

2) The art of Travel Foreman.  Rather than compare Foreman to other artists (I can think of a few) I’m just going to say that he (assuming that Travel is a male name) has a different style than normally seen in super-hero books, and I find it refreshing.  I love the little details, facial expressions, and body language that he employs.  His panel placement is different and not predictable, as well as the effective use of white space and panels without borders on all four sides.   The more I look at this, the more I enjoy it.  His best work this issue is the dream sequence, enhanced by the colorist’s use of just black, shades of gray and the occasional red (which really pops off the page!) 

3) It appears to be a non-conventional tale involving elements of mystery and horror that just happens to take place in a super-hero universe.  When that is done properly, it goes down much smoother than another super-hero versus super-villain rehash.

What didn’t I like?

1) That I had to pay for this book (like most of what I read) and DC didn’t send me any review copies. Hey DC, how about a little recognition for the BC Refugees?   Seriously, I can’t find a single thing that isn’t right with ANIMAL MAN #1.

Do I absolutely love this book?  Too soon to tell for certain, but I’m getting warm and fuzzy feelings.