Saturday, May 31, 2008

Clipped on 5/29/08

ACTION COMICS #865 (DC) – 3 whiskers – There’s a lot of nostalgia here and for different ages of Superman fans. Me personally, I was treated to both the Toyman of the 70s and the one from the Bryne era. That’s cool and all but it didn’t really make for that fantastic of an issue. Basically, Geoff Johns tries to return Superman villain The Toyman to his original, well, not exactly “glory” but status quo, I guess. In a tidy done-in-one story, Toyman busts out of Arkham and kidnaps Jimmy Olsen to tell him the real story about all the various Toymans we’ve seen over the decades – they were robots, see, and Toyman is not the child murderer everyone thought he was. I applaud Johns for what he’s attempting but at times the attempt is all you can see in the story and when it comes right down to it, it’s debatable whether Toyman’s a bad guy you’d want to save. Again, it wasn’t a bad issue and Jesus Merino’s art is very good (he switches styles for the flashbacks – too cool), but you get the sense that it’s simply a biding-time measure until the upcoming Brainiac story arc. Extra credit for the Prankster's appearance and obsession with team-ups.

BATMAN #677 (DC) - 4 whiskers – I’m disturbed. Very, very disturbed. Everything in Batman’s world has been dynamited, devastated, and I’m lost. This isn’t actually a bad thing – it’s just disturbing. Grant Morrison has me exactly where he wants me and I’ll admit it: my concern for the character just went through the roof. And I need to make this clear – this demolition is done well, written well, drawn well, constructed well, but as a story its like a knife in the gut. When I was done reading this issue, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was nervous, anxiety-ridden, confused. Never before have I “connected” with Batman, felt I knew what he was going through. I wanted to scream at the pages for him to get out – get out! Get Out! Run! You can’t fight this! They’re crawling under your skin, into your bloodstream, towards your brain…and Alfred. Good God, Alfred. No, no, no. Morrison, you got me. How can Bruce come back from this? You committed the one act that pisses me off the most concerning Batman: people discovering his identity. That’s sacrosanct to me, and now, goons that just work for the villains know! You’ve got me, got me, I’m lost, lost, no rudder, no moorings, drifting, drifting – until next issue.

FINAL CRISIS #1 (DC) – My review at

GREEN LANTERN #31 (DC) – 3 ½ whiskers – Here’s the thing: did we need a re-telling of Green Lantern’s origin? Oh, it’s good, and as solid as any of Geoff John’s issues of this series, but while I read it, same as last issue, I can’t help but wonder why we were going over this ground again. Maybe I’m just not that big of a GL fan and maybe there are tons of new revelations here – I don’t know, truly. But, as with most any issue of this book, it’s crafted well and that in itself is a reason to pick it up. Johns somehow attracts the best artists for his books and GL is no omission. Ivan Reis’ visuals are incredibly pleasing and oh-so professional that they’re worth the price of admission. I just hope that when “Secret Origin” is wrapped up, that it’s a long, long time before another re-telling of this story comes up again.

GIANT-SIZE ASTONISHING X-MEN #1 (Marvel) – 3 ½ whiskers – This series brought me back to the X-Men after about fifteen years or so and has held my interest throughout. I know enough about the team to enjoy the stories but I’m not their hugest fan. There could be things here that have pissed off the diehard X-fans but I can’t worry about that. I’m also not a subscriber to the cults of personality that swirl around such writers as Joss Whedon so I feel like I can judge the book on its own merits. It was pretty good. I felt the tension, was surprised at which character made the big sacrifice, and think that as a wrap-up, I’ve read worse. Whedon had his little character bits like he’s had all along in the series and those were good, although by this time they stress cracks are showing a bit. I’ve given this series a lot of leeway for being late, something I haven’t done with other such series, but I do have to state that as nice as John Cassaday’s art here was very nice, there were also many pages of obviously rushed work. It was as if he jumped around, drawing all the cool stuff first and then dragged his heels on the quite stuff until it was way too late. The guy’s done better. In all, I judge this ending by how much I’ll miss the characters and the situations. I won’t be continuing on as the series does – but I will miss my semi-regular dose of Whedon’s X-Men.

IMMORTAL IRON FIST #15 (Marvel) – 4 whiskers – this has been one heckuva enjoyable series but its drawing to a close. Matt Fraction, without co-writer Ed Brubaker, delivers another tale from The Book of the Iron Fist, a kind of “times past” series-within-the-series that’s been a nice blend of history, fable, mythology, and drama. This issue is continuation of the story of Iron Fist Bei Bang-Wen, from 1860, the first part of which was several issues ago. Bei’s an interesting character with a death-wish who meets up with a fellow “super hero” from India and together they act out a morality play. Fraction’s narrative runs the gamut from history lesson to humor to dream-like state. I especially envy his ability to insert a funny line into the drama that is at once humorous but also strangely appropriate and truthful. It’s a good issue and I for one am really going to regret when Fraction’s (and Brubaker’s) run on the series is done.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Clipped on 5/21/08

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #13 (DC) – 3 ½ whiskers – When one is presented with a commonplace story such as in this issue, one needs to look for character bits for entertainment. At least, that’s how I look at it. Samuroids aside, I couldn’t have asked for a better DC team: my favorite all-time hero (Batman) paired with my favorite Flash (Jay Garrick) for a fun but standard plot. The fun is the interaction between the two men and Waid’s knack for zeroing in on truisms with just a line or two. The price of admission for me was worth it for the familiarity Bruce affords Jay with his identity and exposure to the Batcave, and a quiet yet revealing (and one-sided) discussion of heirs and legacies. This is how I like team-ups between the old guard and the middle guard; somewhat warm, somewhat prickly, all together respectful. And having Jerry Ordway draw it doesn’t hurt the eyes too much, either. Extra points for the post-52 use of T.O. Morrow.

COUNTDOWN TO MYSTERY #8 (DC) – 3 whiskers – I feel sorry in a way for Matthew Sturges, as he’s had to take a back seat to Steve Gerber, and now the ghost of Steve Gerber, for eight issues. The Spectre story has been hit and miss but I’m going to call this wrap-up a hit as it held my interest and piqued my interest to hear more about Crispus Allen’s future. On the Dr. Fate front, I’ve enjoyed Gerber’s re-imagining of the character, but felt that he’d hit a speed bump by what I perceived as a shift away from Kent and to Maddy. The four-vision coda by Waid, Evanier, Simone, and Beechen was lacking somehow but alas, how could it have been otherwise, really? It lacked Gerber, of course, and though we were promised four different writers’ visions of how Gerber would have ended the story, what we got was four tributes to Gerber. That’s not a bad thing, not at all, but it is an all-together different thing. Now I just want to know if this version of Fate will be left to lie fallow or if someone will actually run with it.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #21(DC) – 4 whiskers – What I found really interesting about this first permutation of DC’s “Sightings” sub-brand is that someone else other than Grant Morrison was allowed the first real use of Libra in a regular title. This is really two separate stories, following the Big Three through a conversation in the Star Chamber, err, excuse me, “Lounge”, and the return of an old Silver Age Martian Manhunter baddie, the unfortunately-named Human Flame. I credit the conversation part with being “just” a conversation and holding my interest at the same time. In a way, its commercial for the upcoming TRINITY weekly, but the characterization is rich. The Human Flame’s story was also engaging I gotta tell you: the ability to so deliciously skewer stupid-ass Lex Luthor with one, single sentence puts the Flame way high on my list. Always nice to see Carlos Pacheco on a book, too.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA #15 (DC) – 4 whiskers – After some criticism for walking-and-talking too much on the book, Geoff Johns gives us two issues in a row that are basically slugfests. But when the sluggers are the JSA and the sluggee is Gog, it’s a tasty tussle. Somehow artist Dale Eaglesham is able to hold things together and actually makes sense out of all the brouhaha AND infuse the art with beaucoup d’art. Everybody gets their shot at Gog and what shots they are; some of it, heck, most of it, looks like it hurts. I was worried that the Kingdom Come characters would take over this title but the JSAers manage to rise to the top and show us that they too classify as “heavy-hitters.” And that wow-ee-wow turn-the-book last page(s)! And that what’s-become-a-tradition teaser page! JSA is and has long been one of the most consistently-good DC titles since 1999.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #560 (Marvel) – 4 whiskers – Its getting pretty embarrassing for me to keep saying how much I love “Brand New Day”, but – its true. Things didn’t click quite as much this issue as they did last time but ASM is still one of the very best super hero books on the stands. A few words about Paper Doll: the “obsessive fan becomes murderer” is nothing new but PD’s infinite amount of creepiness more than makes up for the cliché. I hope she has some staying power. I loved the whole battle in the art gallery and Spidey’s line about the art speaking to him was tops. I also dug Marcos Martin’s drawing of Edith’s autopsy (so sue me!). The downside here is a bit too much humor, just a bit, and my concern that Peter’s jump into paparazzo-hood is a bit too pat; I think it should be bothering him a lot more than it seems to be. I’m also pretty sure everyone saw the MJ bit coming a mile away and frankly, I don’t think this book needs her – or at least not right now. Oh, and a point off for having the two week break come in the middle of a story arc. Not cool.

FANTASTIC FOUR #557 (Marvel) – 3 ½ whiskers – The Millar-Hitch FF has been a bit of bumpy ride for me but this issue, the wrap-up of the “World’s Greatest” storyline was definitely more palatable. Again, it’s not so much what happens in the story as the characterization. Anyone who writes a good Reed Richards is a-okay in my book and Millar gives him that necessary balance between nerd and swashbuckler that Reed needs. I appreciated the nods to the current pro/ant-Registration status quo of the Marvel Universe (made it feel like it was actually part of the MU) and I got a kick at how “easy” it was for Reed to beat CAP – all on an educated guess. Alyssa Moy got exactly what she deserved, in lieu of being hauled off to prison, Reed and Sue got more than they deserved (wonderful dinner scene), Ben is basically running in place, and sadly, Johnny has been devolved to an insufferable, shallow, cartoon of his real self. Bryan Hitch’s art has been…rough for me. After much soul-searching I’ve come to the conclusion that his expressions are often wrong for the scene and he uses way, way too much photo-reference. In all, I’m going to stick around and see what’s up with ol’ Doomsie, though.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Clipped on 5/14/08

Big week for books. Let's get right to it --

BATMAN #676 (DC) – 3 ½ whiskers – “Batman R.I.P.” begins in earnest. For the most part I’ve been enjoying Grant Morrison’s tenure on BATMAN and his increased use of Bruce Wayne, the most forgotten part of the Bat-mythos, in my opinion. I’ve read this issue about a dozen times now and still feel like I’m absorbing it all. Here’s what I think at this point: Jezebel Jet isn’t yet a character that’s worthy of our time – or Bruce’s, for that matter. It’s like the members of the Black Glove; they’re visually intriguing and I can see the potential but they’ve got a long way to go to deserve being the villains that bring down the Batman. We barely know Jezebel and I’m just not feeling the weight of the romance. Why should I care that this is the woman that may finally tear down the last defenses of the Bat? Not saying Morrison won’t tell us but we seem to be pretty far along in the relationship and I simply don’t feel it in my gut yet. I dug Alfred’s monologue about Bruce very much and the feeling of dread I have for Bruce is becoming all-too palpable, but I need a bit more information. And the Joker stuff is way too weird – even for the Joker.

BOOSTER GOLD #9 (DC) – 2 ½ whiskers – When Geoff Johns is done with this book, I’m done, too. I liked the first few issues and had high hopes for it but by this issue I feel like I’m slogging through it and not getting my money’s worth. This whole rehash of the Maxwell Lord/OMAC magilla is tepid at best and I’m just not seeing the point. Not being the biggest fan of time travelers-change-history stores I guess I’m just not the intended audience here. The book looks nice and it’s competently written but overall this issue hammered home my fairly pervasive boredom with the entire story arc. Booster, I made it all the way through your original series; can’t say the same for this one, bud.

FINAL CRISIS SKETCHBOOK #1 (DC) – 3 whiskers – See, now, I like these kinds of books. I’m a sucker for all this behind-the-scenes stuff, ‘because I like to see the footprints of the creative team, see the pencil marks and the false starts and the creative process. In some ways I was surprised that they revealed as much as they did about the FINAL CRISIS characters here but the more I thought about it, things like the Forever People and these crazy-ass Japanese heroes will probably only play minor parts in the series. I approached the revelation of the New Gods’ new incarnation with trepidation (I’m a huge Kirby fan and changing his work doesn’t sit well with me) but I found that basically the characters are intrinsically the same, despite their “updated” looks. Morrison and Jones’ notes do show some reverence for the source material and I enjoyed getting in their heads for a bit. I think I may like Big Science Action and Super Young Team as much as I liked the Great Ten: they look annoying as all get-out but the fun kind of annoying! So, the Sketchbook is pretty much what you would expect from these kinds of things and in that I felt as I got my $2.99’s worth – besides, immersing oneself in an event isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the whole-cloth experience can be rewarding on many levels. Btw – does the #1 on the cover and in the indicia denote more Final Crisis Sketchbooks on the way?

SUPERMAN #676 (DC) – 3 ½ whiskers – In some ways, I hated this issue…because it’s the kind of story that I wish I had the chance to write. Reading like a lost issue of DC COMICS PRESENTS, it tells a tale set in Superman’s early days at the Metropolis Marvel and showcases a team-up with Alan Scott, the original Golden Age Green Lantern. It’s standard stuff, told well, and looking visually nice, and the only real gripe I have with it is that I can’t believe for one moment that either Superman or GL would allow a bunch of strange guys in hazmat suits to waltz up and cart Grundy away with nary a question as to who they were or what exactly the hell they were doing with the monster. Alan even holds Superman back from doing this! Nope, that was definitely a sour note in an otherwise good story. Alas, it’s simply a fill-in before James Robinson takes over – and I for one can’t wait.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #559 (Marvel) – 5 whiskers – I’m a 100% unashamed fan of “Brand New Day” and though I’ve been lovin’ this book since the reboot, everything clicked for me this issue. Every. Thing. And it gets my perfect score. I find that Dan Slott seems to be the most-suited writer for AMAZING, doling out equal amount of action, pathos, and humor, and making it look breezy and easy. I normally can’t stand “hip urban” characters like Screwball, but Slott made me giddy with that chase, as well as with JJJ’s attempt at tai chi. Pete’s new job as a paparazzo is both troubling and engaging, perfect fodder for another aspect of the original comic book loser’s life. And Paperdoll? Brrr – creepy. And let us not forget the real pleasure here: Marcos Martin’s art. Hear me out – Martin is the true successor to Steve Ditko, in my opinion. And the guy knows how to draw it all, super heroes and mundanities alike. That was Ditko’s legacy and its Martin picking up the ball and running with it. I just love his Spider-Man to death; the best of the ASM BND artists, in my estimation. The Spidey team needs to take a huge bow and then forge ahead with this perfectly enjoyable periodical.

LAST DEFENDERS #3 (Marvel) – 3 whiskers – I’m trying real hard to like this book. It should be giving me a few kicks, an old Defenders fan like me, but unlike ASM its components are definitely not clicking yet. The parts are all there: Nighthawk, crazy memberships, crazy missions, even the return of Dr. Strange and Son of Satan – but these elements are not mixing overly well for my tastes. First, Nighthawk is being portrayed as an almost complete doofus and loser. He’s never been the most sterling example of a Marvel hero but Joe Casey has claimed that he loves the character and wants to show everyone how cool he can be. Despite a smidge of a move in the right direction this issue, its otherwise just ain’t happening. Its like it’s almost the Defenders, its almost coming together, there’s almost some of that old magic there…but not quite. Makes for a frustrating read, I gotta say. I’ve given Casey the benefit of the doubt for 3 issues but he’s only got 3 more to go – Joe, do something. Say something to make me care that this is the “Last” Defenders.

THE TWELVE #5 (Marvel) – 4 whiskers – One of my most favorite titles, THE TWELVE is an absorbing read every month. I will admit to being somewhat concerned after finishing #5 that nothing truly significant is happening yet in the lives of our timelost heroes but I then realized that that’s what its all about: their lives. If figure the first six issues are supposed to read “small” and the second half of the series will turn everything on its ear. This issue we have the story of the Witness and it was an interesting one to be sure. The surrealistic sight of that old man being struck by the bus is burned into my eyes forever. Dynamic Man is getting way out of hand (on purpose, I presume), the Blue Blade is pathetic, the Laughing Mask is even more pathetic (the shot of him being arrested is enough to make you bawl), and finally something is being done about Electro! All this good stuff and delineated by the wondrous Chris Weston means THE TWELVE is always a page-turner for me.

(I also still have 2 Dynamite and 1 Dark Horse books to review; will update soon!)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Clipped on 5/7/08

COUNTDOWN TO MYSTERY #7 (DC) – 3 ½ whiskers – The Eclipso half of this book has been hit or miss for me but this issue was a fairly solid hit. I felt happy at the heroes’ release from black diamond bondage and Bruce Gordon’s active role. It was also good to see the Spectre enter into one of his more old-fashioned brouhahas and I got a chuckle out of Eclipso’s oblique reference to the cover of SHOWCASE #61. Kudos also should go to Adam Beechen for picking up the late Steve Gerber’s plot for the Dr. Fate story and continuing with what I see as nary a bump. I just wish we could get back to Kent actually doing something again. Looks like he has one more issue for that.

DETECTIVE COMICS #844 (DC) – 4 whiskers – Forget all that schmazola about the Ventriloquist and her origins – it was longwinded – and let’s get to the heart of the matter: Bruce and Zatanna. Hate to be so dramatic but Dini made my heart hurt for Bruce. First it was that incredible conversation between Zee and Bruce last issue – one that I’d hoped for – and now this follow-up in #844. Wow. It’s a case of wanting it to happen yet knowing that it would mean the end of Batman, possibly for good. I wonder if and how this will play into Morrison’s “Batman R.I.P.”? Extra credit to Dini for tying Peyton’s back-story into the events of the original Ventriloquist’s demise.

THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT #1 (DC) – 3 whiskers – A good, solid beginning and a pace that never once let up. Al Barrionuevo’s art was pleasing and Bruce Jones' script was smooth and honestly, I think if people can get over the fact that it’s devoid of superheroes and can dig the plethora of DC’s war/historical characters, we might just have a sleeper hit on our hands. I’m imagining DC’s imagining this might go over well with “Lost” fans and I’m hoping they don’t stray too far into that territory, i.e., drag mysteries out to the point that no one gives a damn anymore. This is a twelve-issuer; they could sink this puppy of float it home. Overall, I’ll be sticking around, most likely.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #558 (Marvel) – 4 whiskers – I’m not ashamed to say I’m a huge fan of Brand New Day (didn’t read One More Day) and the consistency that Marvel has maintained on this series is incredible. Bob Gale’s proven to be adept at a rolling plot with interesting characters and enough action and humor to satisfy anyone. My one quibble with this issue is that we’ve reached a point where the humor is being laid on a bit too thick for my tastes. Gale writes a funny Spidey but he tends to insert one too many one-liners in Pete’s mouth which tends to undercut the drama, in my opinion. I think he’s going use up every funny line in his repertoire and a few issues from now Spidey’s going to risk being very unfunny. Barry Kitson’s art was very, very nice and I look forward to his return on the series.

AVENGERS/INVADERS #1 (Marvel) – 3 ½ whiskers – The wait is over and this much-heralded series finally begins. It was good. Very good, even. Not great-great, but I think it has the potential to get there. So far its fairly standard stuff but I’m guessing the sharp turns and dangerous curves are yet to come. I really got a kick out of the Invaders’ personalities and their immediate views of the “Nazi trick”. Now let’s get to the real meat-and-potatoes: the impact of the real Captain America in a time when he’s dead. Steve Sadowski’s art was a welcome sight and I have to say that perhaps this is how it was always meant to be published. Combined with the vibrant coloring of inLight Studios, Sad’s art gives this wonderful dream-like quality to the proceedings, one that I think sets this series a notch above others in visual terms. Welcome back, Canuck!

SECRET INVASION #2 (Marvel) – 2 ½ whiskers – Well, it’s no home-run – yet. In fact, I was pretty disappointed in this second issue. Why? Mostly because there were almost no “holy crap!” moments, the kind of moments you expect in one of these Marvel event-events, the kind we got like gumballs from a gumball machine in WORLD WAR HULK, for example. I really liked the whole Mockingbird thing; that was interesting and engaging, especially her comment about Cap. But some of Bendis’ dialogue is so clumsy here that it committed the unpardonable sin of taking me out of the story and making me reflect on its badness. What the hell is “I know you Skrulls are looking to start some. I know. And I wish I was a strong enough man to walk away from your disrespect…”? Huh? And they say the original 1970s Luke Cage rattled off bad “street-lingo”. Sheesh.