Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Comics I Read: The Ray (4-issue miniseries)

It starts as something familiar: twenty-something Lucien Gates gets zapped with a particle beam and gains light-based powers. In some ways it reminds me of the first series of the new Blue Beetle, with a lot of focus on Lucien's personal life. He's a Korean-American adoptee with an Indian girlfriend and an African-American best friend. At first it feels a little out of DC's "We got yer diversity right here, whatcha complainin' about" playbook -- you can almost picture Dan Didio checking boxes -- but it works because writers Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti's characters are engaging and the always-reliable Jamal Igle supplies the heart. But what really makes this series rise above the New 52 baseline is a new spin on the superhero ideal.

It's set up in #1 with Lucien's hippie upbringing and use of yoga to control his powers, but it isn't until nearly the end of the series that Palmiotti & Grey clearly articulate the series' genius idea: The Ray's the self-empowerment superhero. He doesn't want to beat people up, he just wants you to be better. (To people he rescues: "You...stay at the office way too late at night. You should spend more time with family and friends.")

Unfortunately, it leads to the kind of do-over ending in #4 that usually makes me grind my teeth. I'm not in love with it here either, but it does sort of work because of Lucien's belief that you can do anything with your life. I'm willing to forgive because there's something going on here that I've never seen before. If they're going to keep exploring this theme, then I'd love to see a followup mini or ongoing series by this team.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What’s new tomorrow? - - - - SAUCER COUNTRY

 

I liked what I saw of this in the short preview in VERTIGO COMICS latest free sampler, but didn’t feel it was enough to get a real feel for the title or write a review about it.

The good people at UNDER THE RADAR magazine  (my favorite publication for indie rock music) must have received an advance copy  (hey DC, how about a little love for the BC Refugees?)  and wrote a nice review of the book which you can see here . . . .

http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/saucer_country_1/

I’m thinking very seriously about picking this up tomorrow.  (I know, some of you will wait for the eventual trade  -- but I’m always afraid if the first issues don’t sell enough then the trades don’t ever get published or get delayed longer than I care to wait.)

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Friday, March 16, 2012

DC NEW 52: SUPERGIRL

 

SUPERGIRL #1 – 6  (DC COMICS)  Michael Green & Mike Johnson, writers.  Mahmud Asrar, penciller #1, 2, 4, 5, 6.  Mahmud Asrar & Bill Reinhold, artists #3. Dan Green with Mahmud Asrar, inkers #1. Dan Green, inker #2.  Dave McCaig, colorist #1, 2, 4, 5, 6.  Paul Mounts, colorist #3.  John J. Hill, letterer #1 + 2. Rob Leigh, letterer #3, 4, 5, 6.

What appealed to me the most after sampling the first issue of SUPERGIRL in the DC NEW 52 era was its simplicity. 

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Issue #1 contains a very fast-reading basic introduction to the character that leaves most of the questions unanswered.  It’s a great starting point for someone brand new to SUPERGIRL (I can envision a curious newcomer or two) as well as a new beginning for those already familiar with this character.  Everybody is going to learn what’s going on and why at the same time that Kara/Supergirl does. 

Writers Green & Johnson keep it short and sweet in Issue #1, not cluttering up the story with any background details.  Teenage Kara just crashed on Earth, landing in Siberia wearing an outfit she doesn’t recall and also with no memory of recent events.  Before she can thoroughly examine her new surroundings she is pursued by an armor clad squad intent on capture.  Artist Asrar has a big-panel style that suits the fast moving story well and also keeps his work uncluttered with background detail.  I like the way he depicts the action in the fighting and pursuit scenes.  His work is not going to amaze anyone, but somehow the simplistic art and simplistic story work together to make a greater whole.

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Even though Kara is “lost, confused, alone . . . . all just different ways of saying . . . I’m scared” she learns of her powers quickly and doesn’t hesitate to use them.  Because of this state of confusion, she mistrusts and doubts all information and answers Superman’s statement  (that he’s her cousin) with a right hook that knocks him through three large trees.  What ensues is a major slugfest that is very entertaining.  It happens in Issue #2.  

Asrar gets an assist in Issue #3 from Bill Reinhold and the art improves.  Colorist Paul Mounts also enhances the backgrounds with a wash of colors and this improves the overall look of the book as well.  I’m warming up to this title.  Issues #3 and #4 also introduce Simon Tycho, who could become a major protagonist in SUPERGIRL and serve the same function that Lex Luthor does in SUPERMAN as his main nemesis. Tycho entices Kara to enter his orbiting headquarters and then subjects her to various trials in order to measure her strengths and limitations.  Tycho thinks he can use the sunstone (message storage device) he retrieved from the escape pod to manipulate and control Kara, and he pays dearly for his error.  Kara doesn’t fully understand her powers yet and can’t always control the amount of damage.  Tycho is defeated, but I expect his return soon.  He did obtain something of use from Kara and comes out of this with a minor victory.  Quite the optimist, this Tycho.  That makes me like and dislike him at the same time.

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Supergirl does manage to find her way home to Argo City in Issue #5 but nothing is the same. She finds a way to retrieve a message from the sunstone and learns what happened during her three days of memory loss.  What has changed are some nice improvements in the art.  I love the two-page opener and the later confrontations with alien “world-killer”  Reign.  Reign has a connection to Krypton as well and is there to also try and find answers. 

Issue #6 opens with a nice flashback scene from Kara’s combat training on Krypton.  In these shot glimpses of her past life we learn a little more about her character and history.  Kara has to return to Earth to try and stop Reign.  The battle is only beginning as the story ends.  I’ve got to see what’s next in Issue #7.

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MY BACK STORY:  I never gave this title a second thought when I was making my initial choices as to which DC NEW 52 titles I would explore.  If not for my regular visits to comic stores I would have missed a lot.  I’m a creature of impulse and good cover art on a #1 issue will entice me to flip through it.  I usually pick it up and give it a chance.  I have to admit that DC has made a very favorable impression on me.  There are very few NEW 52 impulse pick-ups that I didn’t enjoy, and many of them have become regular readings (at least for now). 

I credit some savvy store promotion for pointing me in the direction of SUPERGIRL.  On February 29, CAPTAIN BLUE HEN COMICS in Newark DE (my regular stop) was celebrating the birthday of Superman.  Any Superman-related title was selling for $2.29 that day.   I’d only been reading ACTION COMICS.  I knew that the creative team on SUPERMAN was about to change, so I avoided that. Also, I’m still mourning the end of Jeff Lemire’s  SUPERBOY issues, so I’m not checking out the new version because I remain loyal.  After a few favorable comments from owner Joe Murray,  I bought Issue #1 of SUPERGIRL.   I was impressed enough to come back later and purchase Issue #2-3.  Which led to another return trip to get Issue #4, 5, 6.

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The point of my mentioning this is that there is still so much value in patronizing local comic book stores. In addition to making these kinds of finds, I also enjoy the chance to “talk shop” and talk comics with store staff and occasionally strike up a conversation with like-minded customers.  You don’t get that kind of warm and fuzzy feeling if you order your books online.  ‘Nuff said. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Books I Read: John Carter of Mars

Disney's John Carter is in theaters now, and before I see it I thought I'd tour you through the similarly named tie-in books. (Except for the Dynamite comics, which Mike has covered here before, and which may not survive the ERB estate lawsuit anyway.)

John Carter: The Movie Novelization is by former Vertigo editor Stuart Moore, who also wrote "Namor" for Marvel and "Firestorm" for DC. I'm saving it until after the movie, but I generally enjoy Moore's work so I think it'll be good. The reason I bought this book early is that it's a trade paperback with a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel "A Princess of Mars", which I wanted to read before the movie. I didn't love the ERB novel as much as my friends who read it when they were kids, but I did enjoy it enough to want to read more. I don't know if I'll get through all 10 other books, but I'll try the next two. Sometimes when you go back and read the originator of something after reading all the things that imitated it or were inspired by it, the original seems cliche. (For instance, I couldn't make it through William Gibson's "Neuromancer" because I had already read many other cyberpunk novels.) That didn't happen to me too much here. The book starts a little slow and the language is a little archaic (though not as much as you'd expect for a 100-year old novel), but by the end I was thoroughly engaged. Disney has also issued collections of the other books in the series but according to an Amazon review they don't include Burroughs' introductions, which are part of the fun. The original novels are in the public domain now, so you shouldn't have a problem finding other editions in print or online.

John Carter: A Princess of Mars is Marvel's adaptation of the original novel (not the movie). Writer Roger Langridge ("Snarked!", "Muppets", "Thor: The Mighty Avenger") does a great job hitting the high points of the book in only five issues space, and he modernizes the dialogue a little bit. Filipe Andrade's stylized art (think Bruce Timm) is great, and I'm glad Marvel chose this style for their adaptations -- "Tale of Sand"'s Ramon Perez is drawing the next one -- rather than a more realistic one, which has been done before. My complaint, as usual, is the undersized trade. I don't think the reduction in size serves Andrade's art well, and the coloring seems darker to me than the original issues. Seek out the individual comics if you can, but the trade is still pretty darn good.

John Carter: World of Mars is Marvel/Disney's official prequel to the film, written by John Carter superfan Peter David, and drawn by Luke Ross. There's a problem writing a prequel, of course, because John Carter is firmly on Earth before the movie starts and that's not too interesting. (It's not "John Carter of Virginia", after all.) David solves this by having Carter appear in a framing sequence and narrate the story from somewhere in the future. The story, as told to Carter by Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas, shows Thoris and Tarkas in separate stories that intersect even though they don't know that. (Until Carter tells them after he tells us, I guess.) It's very well done and I think will get readers even more excited about the film. Luke Ross' art matches the look of the movie perfectly, and there's a nice section of some of his line art accompanied by the script to #1 in the back. (It's a regular-sized trade, so I recommend this over the individual issues because it's cheaper.)

John Carter, Warlord of Mars Omnibus collects 28 issues (plus annuals) of Marvel's 1970s take on the characters under a new Alan Davis cover. I'm not all the way through it yet, but I was really happy to learn that, rather than yet another adaptation of the novels, these are original stories set during the gaps in "Princess of Mars". This gives the reader the chance to discover Barsoom as John Carter does, which is really refreshing. Words are by Marv Wolfman and art is by the great Gil Kane and equally-great Dave Cockrum. It's also a great joy to discover work by Kane & Cockrum that I've never seen before. Oddly enough, Dark Horse also seems to have a reprint of these issues. I would stick to the Marvel edition, but there are reprints of DC's John Carter title and some earlier work by Jesse March at that link. I'm interested in those books too, but I want to finish this one first.

The Art of John Carter is a book of design artwork from the movie, similar to the ones issued last year for Thor and Captain America. These are usually great, but I'm saving this one to look at after I see the film.

Under the Moons of Mars (New Adventures on Barsoom) is a collection of new John Carter short stories by such authors as Chris Claremont, Joe R. Lansdale, and Jonathan Mayberry with spot illustrations by Mike Kaluta, Charles Vess and others. I'm saving it until after I've read more of the original novels because there are probably references that I'll miss otherwise. The same publisher also has a trade of the first three ERB novels, but I'm not sure if it has the Burroughs introductions because someone bought it off the shelf at The Comic Book Shop last weekend before I could take a look at it!

I hope that helped you find something you might enjoy reading, whether or not you plan to see the film, and I'll be back with a movie review soon.

DC NEW 52: ALL STAR mebbee gittin’ a mite tarnished

 

As I continue to explore the DC NEW 52 universe, I’ll follow up on some series that I reviewed earlier - - to see if they still remain worthwhile and/or exciting reading.

ALL STAR WESTERN #4 – 6  (DC Comics)  Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, Writers.  Moritat, Artist. Gabriel Bautista, Colorist.  Rob Leigh, Letterer.

          These issues contain the second story arc (“Gotham Underground”) of the New 52 version of Jonah Hex, Civil War veteran and bounty hunter with a heart.  It’s a good storyline, but one that may seem familiar (abducted children forced into grueling labor in a dangerous and unhealthy environment).  I was much more interested in the secret society of wealthy businessmen trying to run Gotham that was introduced in the first story arc.  ( I have a feeling they will return in a future adventure). For that and other reasons, I was left wanting a little more from this book after finishing these issues.   However,  some good writing and good art  (most of the time) are enough to keep me moving forward with the next few issues. 

all star 4                    all star 5

          The art by Moritat can be so interesting, as seen in the opening pages of Issue #4 where writers Gray & Palmiotti let the panels tell the story of how Jonah Hex tracked down the three Trapp brothers during a rain shower. There is some nice creative touches, such as the bloody surprise occurring off-panel and just the blood spurting into the next panel - - and the full page with Hex ambushing the last brother. The expressions and wrinkles on the face of Jasper Trapp indicate fear, regrets, anger and submission all at the same time.  As great as that illustration is, the art on other pages is downright sloppy and lazy.  Moritat has an interesting and creative way of depicting Gotham cityscapes and sewers. Yet, when he gets a two-page spread with an open panorama as Hex and Dr. Arkham (the able narrator) discover the slaves laboring in the underground mine - - Moritat gets lazy and resorts to drawing what essentially amounts to stick figures.   It’s this inconsistency in the art throughout this story arc that makes me contemplate dropping this book of my monthly list.

During their efforts to free the abducted children and find the sole wealthy child whose father has offered a generous reward for recovery, Hex and Arkham discover the underground catacombs that would in later years become the Bat Cave.  There is a sub-plot involving a tribe of savage cavern dwellers (and another full page discovery panel that could have been so much better had Moritat not been so sloppy in drawing it) that seems a little bit like unnecessary filler to me. (Half an issue of it).  It does lead to the discovery of a famous estate.   Moritat redeems himself in detailing the battle that concludes Issue #6.  There is a surprise twist at the end of this storyline (that I saw coming, and I suspect others may as well).  I did like the nice tribute to Scott Snyder – as there are three observant owls watching the events inside Wayne manor.  The story then segues into the opening of the next story arc that will take Hex out of Gotham and into New Orleans where he will join up with the team of Nighthawk and Cinnamon (who he apparently is familiar with).  This story line will determine whether or not I hang around any longer.

all star 6

Back-up story features The Barbary Ghost by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Phil Winslade.   It’s a short and sweet tale of western revenge with good art.  I was bored by it because it seemed so formulaic despite the main character being a young Asian woman.  Western literature is just full of tales of revenge like this.  I guess I’m just jaded because I’ve read so much before.  I haven’t liked either of the back-up features in ALL STAR WESTERN so far, unlike the great work being done in the short stories in ACTION COMICS.  I would rather read an extended Jonah Hex story for the extra dollar - - or just reduce the size and price of this book to $2.99.

Considering all the super-hero books from DC that I’m currently juggling with my monthly reading - - I thought that ALL STAR WESTERN would be a welcome breath of fresh air.  I’m not feeling it lately.  Maybe it’s too stuffy in here, and Palmiotti and Gray just need to crack open the window a  little more.  I’ll be watching.

Friday, March 9, 2012

DC NEW 52: Back in ACTION

 

ACTION COMICS  was one of my early picks of NEW 52 books to follow.  The combination of writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales seemed like a great duo to breathe some fresh life into Superman.  They didn’t disappoint , and I am now well beyond my initial three-issue test drive and loving it.  I find this early “people’s hero” Superman in blue jeans and work boots to be far more interesting than the latter-day current Geoff Johns version in JUSTICE LEAGUE.  I’m hoping that ACTION COMICS takes its’ sweet old time catching up to the rest of the NEW 52 universe - - I’m in no hurry to leave!

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The lead story in Issue #4 continues with the alien virus-like invasion of technology and machinery on Earth that is being morphed into the Terminauts.  While their mission seems to be to identify and  preserve “significant artifacts” for the Collector Of Worlds they leave a ton of destruction and chaos in their wake.  Superman is more powerful, but is greatly out-numbered.  Just as John Corben dons the anti-Superman “Metal-Zero” armor it becomes possessed by the   aliens and Corben succumbs to their control.  Lex Luthor is portrayed as a whimpering coward, now on the run like most of the populace, and constantly beseeching some unidentified extra-terrestrial to remember their “bargain” and spare him.  It’s a nice little spin on this character.  Just like Morrison’s Superman doesn’t appear to be undefeatable - - I also like that Lex is not so supremely confident and always working his master plan. They both seem to be works in progress. 

  John Henry Irons later returns in his Steel suit to assist Superman.  While all this is going on a large chunk of Metropolis is scooped up by the Collector - - perhaps to be bottled up for further study (similar to the Krypton city of Kandor).  That chunk of the city contains several prominent citizens, including Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.   This storyline goes on a short hiatus and will return in Issue #7. 

The back-up story features a close-up of the battle between Steel and Metal-Zero as narrated by John Henry himself, ably written by Sholly Fisch and illustrated by Brad Walker.  My favorite line follows Iron’s brief description of his prototype and how when Lex Luthor got involved things went awry - -
“After all, as anyone can tell at a glance - - Lex Luther has never played the bongos.”   The version of the Steel  armor displayed here is much more interesting than the older DC version.  I also like the outcome where brains overtakes brawn and Steel prevails.

ACTION #6 AND #7 contain the INTERLUDE:ROCKET SONG story which contains a partial re-telling of Superman’s origin.  As many times as I have read this as related by various writers this still seemed fresh and contained a few surprises.  Grant Morrison writes the story here and Andy Kubert illustrates.  Before Jor-El and Lara placed baby Kal-El in a miniature rocket and sent it traveling towards Earth, they first attempted to escape Krypton’s destruction via the Phantom Zone.  The two page panel containing just the credits, a small caption and the image of Kal-El’s tiny ship rocketing out of Krypton’s atmosphere is inspiring and brings that “sense of wonder” back.  The discovery of the rocket by Johnathan and Martha Kent brings some newly added sentiment and put some real heart into the story.  How the Kents were able to maneuver past all the armed forces investigating the crash site is also explained.

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What a treat to have Andy Kubert working on ACTION COMICS !  His art is so dynamic and his character depiction brings an implied strength and commitment to purpose in these heroes.

There’s a flashback to events that occurred in Issue #2 that confirm the relationship between Superman and the “birth ship”. Another scenario occurs either in the past or future and is left deliberately vague by Morrison (I’m used to his doing this and have learned to be patient).  Who is narrating  the explanatory captions in this part of the book?  Could it be the ship? 

The back-up story in Issue #6 is ‘Baby Steps” written by Sholly Fisch with art by Chriscross.  It contains further insight into the early days of married life for Jonathan and Martha Kent and their struggles and efforts to establish a business and a family.   There is a line uttered by Martha to Jonathan as they begin their honeymoon that is absolutely priceless (and ironic).  It’s extremely memorable and touching but would spoil the surprise if I repeated it here.  (Look for it on page 2 of the story).  Martha says another line that seems touched by the hand of fate on the last page as well.  I loved this little story.  If you didn’t like the Kents as characters before now, you certainly will after reading this.  Highly recommended.

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As Issue #7 opens, we get a longer look at the Anti-Superman Army and learn of their methods. The art team, led by Kubert, does a fantastic job of illustrating this dark menace and establishing an element of threat and fear.  These “criminals” possess the K-minerals, salvaged from the intelligent ship that brought Kal-El to Earth and now in the care of the Legion Of Super-Heroes.  Past and future mesh together as Saturn Woman uses her telepathic powers to access Superman’s memory - - and we get more revealing insights into his youthful development under the guidance of Pa Kent.  All the threads of this storyline come together rapidly as the true meaning of each action is revealed and a satisfactory resolution follows. And in that resolution is another valuable lesson learned in the maturation of Superman.  I had to read this story once, put it down and then come back to it weeks later for a second, slower re-reading.  It was worth it.  This is an awesome two-part story.  As a bonus, it contains the first meeting and adventure with The Legion Of Super-Heroes in the NEW 52 world of Superman.

The back-up story, “Last Day” (also by Sholly Fisch and Chriscross) is another glimpse into the early life in Smallville.  It is equally touching.  There is so much “humanity” in this Superman. You’ll like it.

ACTION COMICS has been satisfying my need for a Superman series with depth and vitality.  Morrison and Morales (and Kubert) have taken a well-established, near invincible character and put some real heart into it.  Bravo.  I’m hanging in for more.

Friday, March 2, 2012

DC Nation on Cartoon Network


For those of you who missed it when I posted my initial review, the pilot of "Green Lantern: The Animated Series" reruns tomorrow (3/3) and next Saturday at 10am as part of Cartoon Network's DC Nation block. New episodes will follow, and new episodes of "Young Justice" start tomorrow along with shorts featuring Plastic Man, Teen Titans, "Super Best Friends Forever" (Wonder Girl, Supergirl, and Batgirl), Doom Patrol, Amethyst, Dr. Fate, and others.