Comics Worth Reading » Superhero Reviews Independent Opinions on Comics of All Kinds Sun, 01 Mar 2015 22:36:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Teen Titans: Earth One Sat, 29 Nov 2014 15:17:15 +0000 I’m not sure I’ve read any of the previous Earth One volumes. Started in 2009, the label reworks well-known names — Superman and Batman most prominently — for the bookstore market, featuring original stories published in hardcover.

However, like most relaunches, the story makes most sense if you already know the brand. The odd mix of abilities demonstrated here — dirt control (Terra), shape-shifting (Chameleon), body invasion by organic metal (Cyborg), Native American mysticism (Raven) — don’t stem organically from the premise — evil scientist organization experimenting on captured alien. These power sets exist because they’re from the … well, not original Teen Titans, those were superhero sidekicks, but from the most famous Pérez/Wolfman era.

Like most series launches — the book is optimistically labeled Volume One — this is an origin story, a gathering of the troops to make a team. They’re all high schoolers together in Oregon — Tara (Terra, earth mover), Gar (Chameleon, changes shape into green animals), Vic (Cyborg, part living metal), Joey (Jericho, spoiler) — with the exception of Raven, who lives with her grandfather on a reservation in New Mexico. She was the standout character to me, and I’d have liked to have seen more from her than simply being used as a deus ex machina.

Raven seemed to have the most potential, with a well-thought-out reworking (if a bit stereotypical). Originally, she was the daughter of a demon god. Here, while all the kids have parent problems, she has a reliable guardian and is the one whose origin is most changed from the previous, since she’s now a Navajo shaman who has visions. Plus, the Dodsons’ art makes her lovely while maintaining her air of mystery. They’re a good choice for a book about superhero teens, telling the story clearly and attractively.

Writer Jeff Lemire does a good job making these modern-day teens believable, since they spend most of their time grumpy and disaffected. I never bought Tara and Victor as a couple, though, since that seemed too convenient and there’s no chemistry between them. All the kids have very similar voices, too. If you took the dialogue by itself, it would be difficult to know which one was saying what.

The parents are callbacks to the original. Gar’s parents were Steve and Richard, while Tara’s mother was Rita, who drinks to avoid the knowledge of what they’re doing to the kids. Joey’s father turns into yet another Titans reference later on, while Vic’s mother, Dr. Stone, is the stereotypical mad scientist experimenting on her kid.

The book has pacing issues. For example, I quibble with the opening. You have to get through six pages of muddled images, intercut with an equal number of black panels, captioned in an alien language to set up the premise, which we’re all familiar with from numerous other stories. I’d rather have started with the kids. And the book reaches a natural stopping point, with the team beginning to form, but like so many superhero stories, it’s clearly intended to continue, with many open questions.

It’s a weird mix, more realistic characterization in what boils down to a 50s movie plot. It’s a decent read, if very familiar, but somewhat unsatisfying in that we don’t know whether or when we’ll see more. And if we do, one slim story a year requires a lot of patience for what should be a pulpy adventure read. Still, it’s true to the feeling of the famous New Teen Titans while modernizing the threat that brings them together and cutting the ties to the rest of the DC universe. No superhero sidekicks or second generations here, just kids coming to terms with abilities they didn’t want.

J. Caleb Mozzocco points out that this reads like a TV pilot, and a single-volume introduction is a good way to get media interest, but one wonders how well that would work when the Teen Titans are already so well known, in different roles, as a cartoon. But for those disgusted by the current DCU, with its poor writing, bloodthirsty tone, and gory, hard-to-read art, this is a decent alternative. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration Sat, 01 Nov 2014 16:00:30 +0000 I had a blast reading the Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration anniversary special.

Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration cover

It wasn’t the stories — although the publisher did a good job of mixing tales and creators, with some of their biggest names participating — but the one-page gag inserts that were my favorite. Under the umbrella title of “Marvel Comics We Never Made”, these pages demonstrate a sense of humor about the company history and characters. They’re all written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by selected artists, based on the subject matter.

But first, the tales. The book opens with an overview of key characters of the Marvel universe by James Robinson and Chris Samnee. It isn’t a story, but a check-in of what everyone was doing when the soon-to-be Fantastic Four went to space. It’s something of a trivia game, since you have to know the characters to get the references, but for those who do, it’s a welcome reassurance of the interconnections that have always been Marvel’s strength, if a bit self-congratulatory. (I had KC explain some of them to me, since I didn’t recognize Namor. And I’m guessing that the Sam kid is maybe Nova?) Samnee does a great job with the tones and backgrounds of all these heroes.

One of the selling points of this oversized issue is a “lost story” by Stan Lee. His first story for Marvel was a text piece in Captain America Comics #3 in 1941. Now, they’ve turned it into a comic, illustrated by Bruce Timm. Captain America, in the guise of Steve Rogers, is hanging out in an Army camp with Bucky, “his young side-kick, the camp mascot”. It’s well-drawn for what it is, but it’s so old-fashioned in its approach and premise that if read today, without the historical importance, it’s laughable. The original two text pages are also included.

Bendis and Michael Gaydos bring back Alias, the Jessica Jones series, in a piece about seeking forgotten memories. An old woman, rescued by a fireman when the Human Torch first appeared, hires Jessica to find him, 75 years later. It’s very Bendis, with a ton of dialogue and narration, but the theme is touching.

I skipped the Spider-Man story by Tom DeFalco and Stan Goldberg because I’ve concluded I just don’t like the character. There’s also a Wolverine piece by Len Wein and Paul Gulacy in which he has visions while visiting Australia. It sums up the character, but since anyone reading this likely knows all his key moments and villains, I’m guessing the point is “we’re all in this together, remember this and that.”

Here are my favorites of the pinups. “Squirrel Girl”, romance style, is drawn by Maris Wicks. “The Portland Avengers”, as you might guess from the grouping, is by Kevin Maguire and Marte Gracia. “Groot” is by Francesco Francavilla, whom I’m developing a real appreciation for. Others make fun of kid Avenger covers, corporate-driven tie-ins, making kid characters dark, and the wishes of X-Men fandom. There are also a few text pieces, “Forgotten Heroes of the Golden Age”, “Marvel’s Black Superheroes”, and “Marvel Reflecting the Real World”, plus an “In Memoriam” page listing lots of people who worked for the company who are no longer with us.

Squirrel Girl by Maris WicksThe Portland Avengers by Kevin Maguire and Marte GraciaGroot by Francesco Francavilla

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Spinner Rack: Superheroes — Action, Grayson, and X-Factor Sun, 07 Sep 2014 19:31:49 +0000 Action Comics: Futures End #1

Action Comics: Futures End #1 cover

written by Sholly Fisch
art by Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes
DC Comics, $2.99

I normally read Sholly Fisch’s stories in the kids’ books, because I find “proper” DC too dark and grim, but I’m glad I randomly tried this stand-alone one-shot. Action Comics: Futures End #1 uses an ancient (in fandom terms) concept to show us what Superman really means to people.

If the phrase “sand Superman” doesn’t mean anything to you, you aren’t alone. It was how Denny O’Neil and Curt Swan “introduced the Bronze Age-era Superman“, back in 1971’s Superman #233 (at 15 cents for the issue!). The sand creature sapped Superman’s power (making him more reasonable to write about, for the “more realistic” storytelling style aimed for) at the same time all Kryptonite was converted to iron and Clark Kent moved from newspapers to TV.

Imagine my surprise to see, in this issue, a Superman-like being made of sand helping others. In five years, as required by the Futures End tag, the new 52 Clark Kent will have given up his Superman career to work at farming the desert. It seems hopeless, yet he has to try. Meanwhile, there are still people who need Superman’s help: a suicidal woman, an abused child, a wannabe criminal.

This isn’t a new idea, but Fisch gives it a clever twist — each of the victims sees how one of Superman’s powers could help them, but how they are limited without the others. Clark learns how he’s an inspiration to others, a role bigger than his own worries. And it’s a pleasure to see a Superman story that actually talks about hope and sacrifice and kindness to others.

Grayson: Futures End #1

Grayson: Futures End #1 cover

written by Tom King
co-plotted by Tim Seeley
art by Stephen Mooney
DC Comics, $2.99

It’s a gimmick, but an effective one, and best of all, you don’t need to know or care about the Futures End crossover to appreciate it.

The entire issue is told backwards. Each page jumps the reader back to the previous significant event, so you won’t be sure what’s going on until after your first read through. I then promptly read it again, backwards.

As required by the tie-in, Grayson: Futures End #1 opens five years in the future, showing us where Dick Grayson winds up. Before that, he and Helena, another version of the Huntress, are lovers and heroes of the reunited Eurasia, recognized by their leader, the former KGBeast. They’ve teamed up to fight parademons, and although there’s no space to explore the concept in detail, there is at least a nod to the question of what happens after the big bad enemy is gone. There’s also a theme of looking at how far we’re willing to go for those we love.

The whole issue, because so much happens in such limited space, reads like Cliff’s Notes to a graphic novel, but it’s a nice change from the usual. Also does a nice job of tying everything together and coming full circle in the end.

All-New X-Factor #13

All-New X-Factor #13 cover

written by Peter David
art by Pop Mhan
Marvel Comics, $3.99 US

After finishing a satisfactory superhero story arc, I get nervous checking in on the next issue, since you never know what might have changed. It’s true, All-New X-Factor #13 has a different artist, but it works, in keeping with the style of the previous.

More importantly, the characters are consistent, even as we learn new things about them this issue. (Well, maybe some of these relationships aren’t new to long-time Marvel readers, but for me, who never followed this cast closely before, they read as significant revelations.) Lorna’s loyal to keeping the troublesome Quicksilver, her brother, on the team, even as he’s getting to better know his daughter, Luna.

David knows how to write believable kids (having raised some himself), which comes through in the interactions between Luna and her father and her new friend Georgia (from the previous storyline). He’s also great with humor, often stemming from the overly literal, which is proudly on display as Warlock tries to ask fellow robot Danger out. Woo, that does not go well, but it’s hugely fun to watch.

The main physical conflict here comes when one of the Inhumans comes to retrieve Luna, since she left without telling her mother, one of their group. Watching a custody discussion play out among superhumans is odd but entertaining, particularly when it’s set at Colonial Williamsburg. Of course punching each other comes before the actual sharing of facts and decisions, although the resolution is satisfactory on both levels.

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Scooby-Doo Team-Up #6 Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:56:09 +0000 I never envisioned a world where my favorite DC comic would be something called Scooby-Doo Team-Up, but each issue provides fun adventure and laugh-out-loud moments.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #6 cover

This time, the gang is visiting the Hall of Justice, which, as Batman puts it, “seems to be” haunted. The ghosts have kidnapped Superman, which means the Super Friends need the kids to investigate while the heroes “protect people from crime and natural disasters as usual.” I love that writer Sholly Fisch bothers to come up with a plausible explanation for why these superheroes need help from a gang of teens. I also love Robin’s dry lines, particularly when commenting on Wonderdog.

Even better is what they do with the kids — they dress them up as those well-known junior super heroes, Wendy, Marvel, Zan, and Jayna. The art by Dario Brizuela is wonderful, portraying these characters in classic fashion, instantly recognizable to young and old. There’s a surprise guest star that I was thrilled to see, and a plot full of imagination that continues with exciting revelations. Every page turn was an enjoyable new surprise, and it makes me so happy to be able to laugh so much while I’m reading an action comic.

This is a great week for DC comics for all-ages readers, with it also seeing the release of Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse #4, with the little heroes voyaging to Atlantis for lots of water fun, and Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet #4, marred only by the inclusion of inappropriate Dynamite title ads.

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The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 Preview and Review Sat, 30 Aug 2014 16:47:19 +0000 I’ve been looking for an entry point into Valiant’s titles, given how confusing I find their company foundation stones of reusing characters I never knew and lots of crossovers. The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1, next week’s launch of a five-issue miniseries, was much friendlier to me. Plus, I appreciated seeing a female lead (where a big deal isn’t made of her gender) written by a woman, Jen Van Meter.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 cover

Cover by Travel Foreman

Although a first issue, there are still references to events that have gone before. Our title character, Shan Fong (Dr. Mirage), has a departed husband she’s searching for. She can communicate with the dead, but for an unknown reason, not him. This provides a tragic undercurrent, as she can reassure other widows but not herself. In the meantime, she’s been asked to help a former military occult investigator with a curse left over from his secret past. Although that’s the main plot driving the story, I wanted to hear more about Shan’s past than this more-standard-style conflict.

I wasn’t sure, at times, if the references to past events were authorial-created background or occurrences from past comics I haven’t read, which made me a little uncertain. I would have appreciated a text page with some of the history of the character and goals for this version, but I guess that’s easily found on the internet. (Actually, that made it worse, since now I want to know what happened to Hwen’s first wife Carmen.) I think this is a reboot, although this isn’t Shan’s first appearance in modern Valiant continuity; that took place in Shadowman #5 last year.

I wish the art by Roberto de la Torre was as polished as the writing. I’m not a fan of this sketchy-looking art style, as though the artist didn’t get a chance to solidify his lines and the work was reproduced from draft pencils. I liked the unfinished look for the ghosts, but at times, I found it difficult to differentiate between the spirits and the living people. (There are preview pages at the publisher’s website that show some of what I’m referring to.) Don’t get me wrong, though, this is more a taste preference than a criticism.

Less a matter of taste is my wish that there had been more story meat here. Given the high prices of comic issues, for me to invest in a miniseries requires each issue must make me want to read more now. Otherwise, it’s more sensible to wait for the inevitable collection. Unfortunately, we get the premise established — that Shan is willing to risk a dodgy-sounding job and client because she’s seeking her dead husband — and not much more. I like what we know of the character, but I wish the overall package had felt more substantial. Still, I’m curious enough — and have enough faith in Van Meter — to read issue #2.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 is out next Wednesday. The publisher, in addition to providing an advance digital review copy, also supplied this substantial preview.

The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 1The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 2The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 3The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 4The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 5The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 6The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 7The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 8The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 9The Death-Defying Dr. Mirage #1 page 10

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All-New X-Factor #7-12: Change of Decay Sun, 24 Aug 2014 16:48:04 +0000 When you’ve been reading superhero comics for decades, many of them start blurring together. It’s easy for creators and readers to settle for the usual supervillain challenges, where costumed, powered characters duke it out without much real-world connection. But after a while, when you’ve read more than your share of those stories, it all becomes familiar and boring.

All-New X-Factor #7 cover

That’s why I was so surprised and pleased to see what Peter David was doing with the recent run of All-New X-Factor, beginning in issue #7 and running through the latest #12.

The X-Factor team — made up of leader Polaris, carefree Gambit (who for some reason is usually surrounded by cats), prickly Quicksilver, the robot Danger, Cypher (Doug Ramsey), and the alien robot Warlock — has gained corporate backing. They come across a video blog by the teenaged Georgia about how depressed she is about being home schooled and unable to see anyone. Her father runs an ultra-conservative news network that’s also anti-mutant, and his home is a desert bunker. The team debates whether they should “rescue” Georgia and how much their dislike of her father might be affecting their decision.

This is fascinating, a premise with the possibility of true heroism but reaching far beyond the usual costumed good guy/bad guy violent dispute. David tackles universal themes, such as parent/child struggles during adolescence, with complex dialogue and detailed characterization. If a teenager wants out, how bad does the situation have to be for others to get involved? How much absolute power should a father have over his offspring? Does it matter if his ideas are bigoted and repellent? These are questions that have direct relation to the modern world, even outside the exaggerated superhero universe.

All-New X-Factor #9 cover

Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art has a nicely European flavor that’s not afraid of detail or expression. His thin lines aren’t smooth or clean; they’ve got plenty of angles and edges, which feels more real-world. Plus, the covers, by Kris Anka and Jared Fletcher, are so distinctive and eye-catching, very nicely designed.

The father’s militarization of his home allows for a certain amount of action and suspense, particularly once things quickly escalate out of control, but what kept me reading these issues was how real Georgia felt. She doesn’t realize what she’s caused, having a teenager’s self-obsessed “whatever, it’s all ok now” attitude and no sense of consequence. Part of that is a naiveté caused by her solitude. As the story progresses, we learn more about why dad has the two of them (and a private army) in such a secluded location.

The character of Danger is new to me, but I really like such a straight-talking robot. My understanding is that she’s the former danger room computer turned walking personality. She feels at times like a modern incarnation of Marvin the Paranoid Android, but her plain expression of observations others have likely made at times reads as sarcastic. For example, when someone asks about what the school for mutants trains its students to do, Danger replies, “To fight evil mutants. And risk your life and possibly die. Sometimes repeatedly.” It doesn’t sound like such a great choice when put that way, but one can’t argue with the truth of it.

All-New X-Factor #10

Peter David does amazing work with outsider characters of this type, allowing comments on the overall dynamic that make the book more friendly to someone who hasn’t been living with the rest of the cast and other mutants for years. Danger reminds me of the previous great work he did with Layla Miller, an omniscient girl created as a crossover plot device to whom David gave real personality and purpose in the previous run of this series.

It amazes me that, at this point in the fifty-year history of the mutants in Marvel comics, that someone can come up with something new to say about the problem, but by exploring in depth what it means to have a child who’s part of a tribe you despise, David has made the conflict fresh. It helps that he’s layered on the fraught complications of money, media, and power. I’m also very thankful that David, as the story progresses, remember that this child had a mother. So many stories about family struggles in the superhero comic genre act as though the father was the only important parent, as though his decisions are what the child is shaped by and/or rebels against, but remember, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” The mother is as or more important in most people’s lives.

Over the six issues that make up this story, David continues throwing curveballs and cliffhangers at the reader, following up previous hints that turn the story in new directions that continue building the theme. Plus, there’s his trademark humor, livening up the fight sequences, as well as a good dollop of soap opera. Poor Warlock, as everyone asks if the human characters are doing ok but don’t seem to care about his wellbeing. And poor Gambit, who gets left behind as part of a grudge.

The final, epilogue issue of this storyline, #12, gives the team a press conference and returns to the question of superheroes being proactive instead of reactive. The team took initiative, which started this whole sprawling conflict encounter, but it seems that that’s not going to be used as evidence that they should have waited for the fight to come to them. I’m glad. Continuing down this path, of seeking out ways to take positive action to make the world better, is a neat approach and a great way to set the team apart. Helps live up to the “all-new” branding, too. I’m eagerly looking forward to more. These issues will be available in a collection, All-New X-Factor Volume 2: Change of Decay, at the end of October.

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I’d Like to See More of Radiance, From the Invaders Tue, 15 Jul 2014 23:08:48 +0000 I’ve decided to catch up on my Marvel reading. I have a 120-comic backlog, since I haven’t read any since March, which was before the launch of the new series people are recommending (such as Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk). (Before you ask, I just got busy with other things.)

All-New Invaders #7 cover by Mukesh Singh

All-New Invaders #7 cover by Mukesh Singh

Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to discover, in my first batch (proceeding alphabetically), a cool new character I hope to see more of. Radiance first appeared in All-New Invaders #6, out last month, with a followup in last week’s All-New Invaders #7. That’s her on the cover. (Ignore the grimacing heads, which correspond to nothing in the issue. Also ignore the “Original Sin” tie-in banner, since it’s just a gimmick to provide a reason for her flashbacks.)

The setup is this: Jim Hammond is the original Human Torch, from the 1940s. After having his quiet small-town life interrupted by a giant monster, he became a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. He’s already the kind of character I have sympathy for, an everyday guy who’s drawn into doing the right thing. It wouldn’t be his first choice, but he feels an obligation to help because he can, and his motivation — to live happily, once he can retire — is an approachable and sympathetic one. All this was in prior issues, which mostly turned into a big bash-em-up, so I’m not talking more about that.

Back to Radiance, or as she is known in Japan, Supreme Radiant Friend (following the Grant Morrison-style “I don’t know if this is fond appropriation or borderline racist allusion” Asian naming structure). This is comics, so she has a martial-arts-style sash, a color scheme and icon vaguely reminiscent of her country’s flag, and weird patches of exposed skin, as shown here inside the issue.

Radiance panel by Mark Laming

This is all written by James Robinson and illustrated by Mark Laming, whose drawings of her, as seen above, are more typically superheroic than that kawaii cover. Her powers are light-based, and although she’s compared at one point to Dazzler, it’s clear that Radiance, Ryoko Sabuki, isn’t a mutant, and in power, she’s closer to Monica Rambeau, with energy blasts. It’s very visual, and not the typical “let the girl stand back and think at them” kind of ability.

Ryoko is also the granddaughter of Golden Girl, who (we’re told here) hung out with the Kid Commandos during World War II. I don’t know enough Marvel history to know if that’s a retcon or not, but I like the generational connection. That sparks (heh) this story, as the Original Sin Ryoko discovers has to do with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and the original Invaders’ possible connection. There are plenty of flashbacks as we learn what happened then and now with the teams. Plus, we get to see Spitfire, whom I’ve always liked. There’s something about a titled lady becoming a superhero for the good of the country that’s very British.

More significantly, although it’s hampered by being part of a superhero comic that requires big images and lots of action, there’s an interesting attempt to tackle the question of how to look at some actions during World War II. The US did some horrible things during that time, and retrospective analysis requires an understanding of good motives potentially leading to disaster, as plays out on a smaller scale here.

It looks like next issue, All-New Invaders #8, is back to all the boys fighting monsters, so I doubt I’ll follow this series, but I wanted to go public about wanting to see Radiance again.

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Scooby-Doo Team-Up #5 Featuring Wonder Woman Sun, 13 Jul 2014 22:17:57 +0000 Scooby-Doo Team-Up #5 cover

I’m not going to argue that all superhero comics should be for kids, although I think the majority of them work best if they are all-age-friendly. However, I do think it’s a shame that certain heroes that kids love aren’t able to be read by them in current comics, given the emphasis on violence and blood and depravity.

One of the most obvious in that category is Wonder Woman, the superpowered princess from an island of Amazons. Little girls love her, but they can’t find comics with her in them. Until now. This issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up features the gang going to Paradise Island, where Daphne and Velma learn to ride Kangas and train to be Amazons. They’ve all been invited to help Wonder Woman solve a mystery involving attacks by mystical monsters, although Shaggy and Fred have to stay on the Invisible Jet, since men can’t touch the island without the women losing “their power and immortality.”

I have no idea how writer Sholly Fisch and artist Dario Brizuela knew this would work, but it does. The image of Wonder Woman used is similar to her Super Friends appearance, although simplified into almost an Adventures-style animated look. The reference gags, although unnecessary to the story, continue to tickle me, as in this panel where Scooby is sent off by the boys to find out what the girls are up to.

Scooby-Doo Team-Up #5 panel

Yes, that’s the most infamous line from the Wonder Woman TV show theme song, done in that bizarre Scooby dialect. On the next page, it’s even better, as he comes across the women fighting a minotaur and bursts out with “Rufferin’ Raphro!”

The story incorporates the best of both properties, with the kids solving the mystery (kind of by accident, as is typical), Daphne and Velma praised for their skills and bravery, and lots of adventuring by the Amazing Amazon. There are a lot of good lessons and surprising twists as everyone works together. It’s a pleasure to see the world’s best-known super-heroine presented in a way everyone can enjoy.

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Rai #1 Fri, 04 Jul 2014 23:58:34 +0000 Rai #1 cover

I wanted to like Rai #1 more than I did. It had a lot of hooks I found interesting — including a far-future setting, with some clever tech ideas, an intriguing premise, and a sympathetic young woman — but the cold precision of Clayton Crain’s art turned me off.

Don’t get me wrong, the images are lovely, but they’re so static, I’m pushed away from them. I’m guessing that they’re digitally painted, and to my eyes, there’s no sense of motion. It felt like looking at a set of trading cards instead of reading a comic. Much of it is also murky. They’re trying to capture a future noir feel — think Blade Runner — with rain in an undercity, but I found it difficult to make out the art, so I found myself reading only the many captions.

Anyway, plot-wise, it’s the year 4001, and there hasn’t been a murder for a thousand years… until now. Our narrator has a paper fetish and a wish to see Rai, the hero and protector of Japan, and this outrageous event will make that possible. There’s lots of explanation by writer Matt Kindt, setting up the technology and the background, so this first issue can feel a little like work instead of entertainment. It’s helpful to someone, like me, who’s never read Valiant comics before, to know about Rai’s background, but it’s also a bit labored.

Rai is guided by Father, an AI keeping society working, so the bigger plot winds up being a conspiracy about what Father’s real movies are. What secrets is he keeping? It’s a valid question, but that kind of paranoia, that kind of cultural distrust, is tiresome to me. It would be more refreshing, I think, to see a future society that’s working well, one that would give us hope for things getting better. However, now I’m wishing the book into something other than what it is just to suit my tastes. Along similar lines, others may find the slick art well-suited to a future-tech story.

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KC Praises Jason Aaron Thu, 19 Jun 2014 21:01:12 +0000 In KC’s latest Westfield column, he talks about why he likes Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men, now available in a comprehensive omnibus. I’d forgotten how much fun that series was — clearly, I need to reread it. KC also talks about some of Aaron’s other writing work, in case you’d like to read more.

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I’m Going to Miss the Movement Fri, 30 May 2014 12:43:12 +0000 The last issue of The Movement was #12, out May 7. Yes, I’m late talking about it, and yes, I’m part of the problem, since I didn’t draw attention to it while it was running. But now that it’s over, I’m realizing the void it left.

The Movement #12 cover

This came home to me reading the “final issues” of a couple of more standard DC titles this week. I thought the last issue of a series might wrap something up, but Suicide Squad #30 instead sets up a whole new status quo and ends with a plug for the coming New Suicide Squad #1. That’s not an ending, that’s a promotional effort. It’s a hamster wheel of the same old ideas, a problem rampant across the company’s line. The Movement was contrast, new characters and new concepts, which is probably why it failed — superhero readers are uncomfortable without their nostalgia hooks.

The Movement was a group of the down-trodden, poor kids trying to survive in an uncaring city, a throwback to superpowered characters standing up for those who couldn’t defend themselves. Given how many decades superheroes have been subsumed into supporting authority, it was shocking to see them taking on cops early in the series (even though these particular police officers were abusive and corrupt).

I know I’m defining them as what they’re not, but what they were were well-written by Gail Simone, who has an affinity for fringe characters, weirdos that are still consistent and understandable. Freddie Williams’ art was detailed and grungy, putting the reader in the environment of back alleys and city tunnels. This was a series about young people defining their own way in the world. Most of the abilities weren’t outright gifts but oddities, a mixed blessing that had to be accepted and come to terms with. Mouse communicated with rats and vermin and had become almost one of them, making him difficult to be around. Burden was raised in a devout fundamentalist family, which made his transformation into what appeared to be a demon psychologically destructive to him. Virtue’s father was killed by cops after being told she was dead to protect him from her abilities. (A wild twist on the usual orphan superhero.)

This final issue opens with a mission statement from Virtue, the group’s leader, about the need for compassion and helping others in an increasingly selfish society. These outcasts bonded together and wanted to expand their aid and community, but they weren’t old or rich or acceptable enough to be listened to. These are the kinds of stories we need to be telling to attract younger, diverse readers to superhero comics, but the older white guys who run and read the genre likely didn’t have enough extra in the budget to try or stick with it. It wasn’t a fun, comfortable read, but a challenging one.

As I said, I’m part of the problem, because I enjoyed it, but I didn’t care enough about any superheroes any more to plug it or get emotionally involved. (One suspects, with new titles like this, that one shouldn’t get too attached, a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Perhaps that’s what’s happened to those who would appreciate this kind of story — they’ve moved on. After too many years of neglect, being ignored, and abuse from those who make superhero comics, other genres provide more excitement and entertainment without the psychic baggage.

I appreciate Gail Simone for trying to redeem the type — although that’s likely too pretentious a statement and heavy a burden for any one creator — but perhaps the genre is beyond worthwhile redemption at this point. With the big companies continuing to increase emphasis on crossovers and market flooding, these small, exciting titles can’t exist for long. Doing a book like this for DC means more people will try it, but the liabilities — including not being able to try these characters elsewhere — outweigh the potential positives.

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Batman 66 #11 / Digital #31-33 a Riot of TV Show Nostalgia Tue, 27 May 2014 12:36:51 +0000 The latest issue of Batman ’66 pulls out all the stops with just about everyone from the TV show making an appearance.

Batman 66 #11 cover

Writer Jeff Parker dreams up a ridiculous premise, with Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Chief O’Hara attending “Pageant Night” at the local insane asylum, where Catwoman, the Joker, King Tut, the Siren, and False Face — who impersonates other criminals — are showing off their talent acts. The undercover crimefighters are accompanied by Commissioner and Barbara Gordon and hosted by Dr. Quinn. Yes, it’s the implied introduction of Harley Quinn to the Batman ’66 universe, although she doesn’t put on a costume.

Of course, there’s an attempted breakout, using a device that induces laughter, which calls Batman, Robin, and Batgirl into action. This Catwoman/Joker teamup story, which includes a whole bunch of characters, even with several of them as cameos, is the kind of thing that comics can do so much more easily than any other medium. Plus, I can’t say enough about Jonathan Case’s art, from the accurate likenesses (which are never stiff) to the super-saturated colors, which capture the pop art feel of the original show beautifully.

I compared this print issue to the equivalent digital releases, since this story first appeared in that format. It ran as installments #31-33 of the digital first Batman ’66, and I am surprised to say that it’s even better in that fashion. It’s one of the “DC Squared” titles, which means instead of just stringing together a series of images, the digital comic has been enhanced with transition effects. So many of these details can’t be captured on the printed page, at least not in the comparatively short page count. For example, the first chapter (of the three) includes 100 screens instead of the usual 20 or so. It allows for emphasis effects, such as this “page” with its psychedelic coloring.

Batman 66 #31 panels

Scene changes slide in, dialogue balloons and panels appear in sequence, colors change to draw the reader’s attention, surprises are revealed, and characters react through head turns and expression changes. It’s not animation, thank goodness, but it is an enjoyable experience worth checking out on your tablet. (I tried to watch it in my web browser, and it locked up.)

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I Like Funny Superhero Comics: A+X #17 Sat, 22 Feb 2014 16:14:55 +0000 A+X #17 cover

The A+Xseries is a great concept — an anthology with stand-alone stories that team up an X-Men character with an Avengers member. Because it’s mostly one-offs, different creators can contribute, and the variety of story types are more diverse than you usually see have been included. Plus, the character choices can be wacky, as here, in A+X #17, “Iron Man + Broo” by Jeff Loveness and Paco Diaz, with a super-intelligent alien kid excited about interning with grumpy Tony Stark.

Unfortunately, while each issue used to have two stories, now, one of them is a standard superhero action seralization, “Captain America + Cyclops” by Gerry Duggan, David Yardin, Cam Smith, and Terry Pallot. I don’t care much for it, so the series has become much less of a must-read for me (since half of it I ignore).

Anyway, I enjoyed the first story, and here’s a page with gags that show why. Particularly the Thor crack. Superhero comics should have more humor, since they’re inherently ludicrous, and the light-hearted ones are my favorite. It shouldn’t surprise me that this was funny, since writer Jeff Loveness works for the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show.

A+X #17 page by Jeff Loveness and Paco Diaz

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Avengers Annual #1 Tue, 07 Jan 2014 01:23:12 +0000 I like Christmas stories. It’s nice to be reminded of the positive elements of the holiday, of good feelings and helping others. (Which is why superheroes are well-suited for Christmas.) It’s particularly nice when someone does a great job with the genre, capturing the high points of the season in a fresh way, creating a feeling of goodwill without descending to cliche’.

Avengers Annual #1 cover

Kathryn Immonen succeeds in that way, telling a funny, suspenseful, action-packed Avengers story in this Annual. Shang-Chi is leading a student field trip through the team headquarters, where the kids get lessons from Tony Stark, Captain America, Dr. Banner, and the Black Widow, each in their own unique style. Their banter is sparkling, entertaining and creative. Then the team members set out to spend the holidays in their own individual ways.

Best of all is the new character Zamira. She’s got a unique power — the ability to make duplicates that mimic other people — and thankfully, she’s not white and blonde. She stays behind in the HQ, and since she’s nervous to be sneaking around, her power goes into overdrive. (“When I get anxious, the voices in my head come out!”) Combined with Tony’s idea to goof around with the verbal command system, the result is wonderful.

Art is by David LaFuente, who does a great job with both the quiet character moments and the bigger superhero elements. His teen-girl versions of the heroes are particularly fun.

The classic cast and no involvement of weird continuity elements makes this a timeless read, one I’ll be happy to revisit seasonally. It’s even got inspiring, heroic messages, such as Black Widow’s summation: “You think you’re the only one who ever had to figure out how to turn a liability into an asset? That’s the entire history of super heroing… Heroes fix their own problems.”

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Why Mark Waid Doesn’t Work at DC: Thoughts on Daredevil #34 Thu, 26 Dec 2013 15:23:40 +0000 That’s a snarky headline, but I was really struck by this page from Daredevil #34, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Javier Rodriguez.

Daredevil #34 page by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez

With five words — “Then I get over it” — Waid sums up the essential optimism that should be evident in superhero stories but has often been lost. (Particularly in titles from DC, which seem geared to wallowing in as much blood and sadness as they can get away with.) I don’t believe he’s making light of mental struggles; instead, I think he’s demonstrating a determination of attitude to work to make things better. It’s also a statement of what distinguishes Waid’s Daredevil from some of the runs in the past, which seemed to be about how many terrible things could be done to the character.

What follows Daredevil’s change of heart are some wonderful scenes with Kirsten McDuffie, the attorney he has an on-again, off-again flirtation with, which allows for some terrific banter. I’m really going to miss this title after it ends and relaunches at a higher price for a marketing stunt. I don’t *know* that it’s going to come back different, but I wish good work could just continue as it is.

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KC Reviews Silver Age Teen Titans Archives Volume 2 as Nick Cardy Tribute Wed, 13 Nov 2013 20:43:19 +0000 The Silver Age Teen Titans Archives Volume 2 cover
Silver Age Teen Titans
Archives Volume 2

The Silver Age Teen Titans Archives Volume 2, out today in comic shops, has a bunch of great Nick Cardy art in it, including some of his most creative and iconic covers. At his Westfield column today, KC points out some of them and talks about what made them so great. He also tells the story of the missing issue, redrawn in a rush by Neal Adams.

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The She-Hulk Diaries Mon, 23 Sep 2013 02:15:29 +0000 The She-Hulk Diaries is fun, frothy, chick lit in the diary format made popular by Bridget Jones.

Jennifer Walters keeps a journal about being the one left cleaning up after a party-girl celeb-chasing thoughtless roommate. Only the roomie is her alternate personality, She-Hulk, and they share the same body, not just the same living space.

“Shulky” and her lack of accountability are responsible for Jen needing to look for a job. Most of the law firms in town have spent too much money on her alter-ego to keep her employed. Even the other superheroes find She-Hulk’s antics and hard partying tiring. Plus, her wardrobe keeps getting destroyed. She finally resorts to going to a specialty tailor (who mostly works with strippers) to put breakaway seams in her suits. (Clever!)

The dialogue is realistic and snappy, and I love the food details. The supporting cast is great. There’s Ruth, a chirpy, cheerful Avengers Mansion admin; Dahlia, Jen’s college roommate and hairdresser; Amy, fellow gamer; and Nelson, the nervous dentist. I also enjoyed the cracks about Tony Stark, former date, including how he keeps from leaving unexpected packages behind when he sleeps around. (He “invented microscopic nanobots to retrieve wayward sperm”.)

The new love interest is Ellis Tesla, physics geek and rock band lead singer. He’s dreamy, in part because he reminds me of Buckaroo Banzai. He was Jen’s great “college crush who got away”, only now, he’s the son of the managing partner at her new law firm as well. And he’s engaged to the blonde attorney who thinks she’s top dog.

It’s a quick read, and it makes most sense if you’re familiar with the She-Hulk comic run written by Dan Slott in the middle of the last decade. There are a lot of similarities, from the legal office setting to the sense of humor. In fact, one of the law firms in this book has the same name (Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg & Holliway) as in that comic.

The approach of not writing She-Hulk very much, mostly writing about her effects on others, is a good way of keeping the focus on Jen. That keeps her relatable as well, as we all have people in our lives that we have to put up with and clean up after. We may not choose them, but we’re stuck with them, because they’re family.

By the way, I’d love to see this as a fresh take on a superhero movie or TV show. I haven’t seen female heroes done this entertainingly since The Middleman. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Rogue Touch Sun, 22 Sep 2013 18:08:34 +0000 I was cynical when the Marvel novels were announced, but Rogue Touch isn’t a bad read for a teen paranormal romance. I recommend removing your preconceptions going in, though, since it has little to do with the version of the character you might know.

It’s a literal take on adolescent alienation. Like any teen, Anna Marie longs to belong, to touch and be touched by others, but her condition prevents it.

The details make the book, with cogent observations about growing up poor in the South. Christine Woodward (a pseudonym for Nina de Gramont, which sounds as though it should be the other way around) does a great job making the reader feel how hard it would be to cover all your skin in a Mississippi summer or find a night job where people won’t touch you or remark on your wardrobe.

Anna Marie had previously been taken in by an aunt who thinks she’s evil. She feels obligated because the child is family, although the aunt hates Anna Marie’s parents for being rebellious. So Anna Marie has no one to turn to after she runs away, after she put her boyfriend Cody in a coma by kissing him.

She meets another weirdo at the welfare office, James (aka Touch), someone who clearly doesn’t know a lot about how the world works. The book takes an unexpected turn once James and Anna Marie go on the run together. James has his own secrets, and they drive most of the plot, turning the book into a science fiction road trip.

Unfortunately, there’s a significant lack of positive female roles in this book. Other than Anna Marie, there’s her unpleasant aunt, an exploitative boss, and an evil ex-wife. Cody’s mother, the only woman nice to Anna Marie, does swirl through her memories at times, but we don’t see enough of her to consider her more than a plot device, the ideal of what a wife and mother should be, taking care of the men in her life.

I’m not sure who’s going to most enjoy this. If you’re not already familiar with Rogue of the X-Men, you’re going to find the ending unsatisfying. If you are, the SF aspects may be off-putting, since it’s not typical for the character (nor is her behavior). Perhaps young women who enjoy genre mashup novels will find and appreciate this book. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Daredevil #31 a Perfect Superhero Comic Sat, 21 Sep 2013 18:00:45 +0000 Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are turning out what might be the perfect superhero comic.

Daredevil #31

Daredevil #31 has inspiration and hope in dealing with a real-world battle, as Foggy Nelson struggles with cancer treatment and finds a support group. There’s soap opera, as Matt Murdock copes with Kirsten McDuffie, former girlfriend, joining his law firm to help in Foggy’s absence. It’s a rare thing, these days, for a writer to handle the supporting cast so well — or heck, to even remember he has one, and that we care about the humans around the heroes as much as the costumed cast.

There’s humor, as we get to laugh at Matt’s complications in the situation. There’s heroics, as Daredevil uses his powers — but not too much, since Waid does an amazing job coming up with situations where they’d be limited. They’re not used as hand-waving “everything’s fine now” plot devices but abilities with their own limitations. Plus, Samnee draws the way Matt sees the world wonderfully, with visual tricks to remind us he’s different. I never would have realized an iPad would be useless to him, for example.

There’s even comment on a major issue of our time, as Matt and the others watch the verdict come in for a significant case. A rich white bigot has been acquitted of shooting a black teen with a life of promise ahead of him. Given the racism on trial, a mob forms, and it’s incited by a supervillain (because this is, ultimately, a superhero comic) to hunt down the jurors who came back with the “wrong” (but legal) verdict.

Superhero comics are terrific vehicles to play out “what if”s for current cultural issues, particularly when we feel injustice is being done, and this one’s a doozy. We can sympathize with wanting to punish those who let a murderer go free, but in this case, the involvement of a white supremacy group to rile up hatred through technological trickery adds so many other levels of questions. Should we trust what we see on TV? How far should vigilantism go? Does the motivation behind the drive for justice matter?

The skill comes in blending all of these elements, all part of the best superhero titles of the past, in fresh, balanced ways and with well-done artistic storytelling. It’s a terrific read with a “gotta have the next issue now” cliffhanger. Plus, these stories mean something more than a quick adrenaline hit. The level of artistry on display, verbally and visually, is heads above most of the other titles in the genre today (even if the cover has nothing to do with the contents).

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Goodbye, X-Factor — Series Ends With #262 Sat, 14 Sep 2013 11:37:24 +0000 Peter David’s run — and the title itself — ends on X-Factor with the recent #262.

I found the series an entertaining read, combining heroics with old-school soap operatic complications as a diverse group of characters tried to work together in a superhuman detective agency. I particularly liked the personalities David gave the cast. I didn’t talk much about the recent storylines, because once you get into demonic wars and such, it’s hard to identify a good starting point, and I liked the human-level interactions a lot more. But I’ll miss the title.

X-Factor #262 cover

David’s biggest accomplishment, I think, was making the walking plot device of Layla Miller, a girl who knew the future, someone to worry and care about. She started out really obnoxious, someone whose whole life was “I knew that would happen”, but became a well-rounded person with her own worries about how to handle that power. Her ability was even used for comedy at times, as the chain of events she foresaw could be Rube Goldberg-ian.

Why I wanted to note the title’s passing, though, was the ending of this final issue. Layla, now aged into adulthood through a trip to the future (I think), and Jamie Madrox (Multiple Man) have gotten married, and she finds herself pregnant, an event she didn’t foresee. Jamie, meanwhile, has been turned into a demon after the battles the team has faced. They’re hiding out on his family’s farm, but the law considers them trespassers, and the sheriff has arrived (with some big weapons) to arrest them.

So, lots of conflicts, and one issue really isn’t enough to deal with them all in depth, but David makes a good try. It’s the very last page that left me with warm, fuzzy feelings. It ends with Jamie and Layla catching up on what’s become of former team members and deciding to retire to raise their coming family together. Given how the Distinguished Competition is currently averring that no superhero can be married or have a happy personal life, I found it a refreshing change. As an adult reader, I want to see some characters that have optimism and a settled home life, not just perpetual teenagers.

The art, by Neil Edwards and Jay Leisten, is just the kind I like, with clean lines and character expressiveness that reminds me of Stuart Immonen’s work. It helps, when you’re dealing with fights that have personal components, to be able to read the characters’ faces emotionally. It’s also nice to enjoy looking at them.

There’s a key fact that’s not explained in this issue, by the way, and that’s that Siryn, who became Banshee, became a goddess back in issue #244. Wikipedia filled me in on that.

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