Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Because You Demanded It!

We’re going to take a brief break from the Hellblazer Guide, kids. This is partly because even I can only write about John Constantine for so long and partly because some of you folks out there asked me to take a break because you missed my reviews over the last two months.

Two months? Yes. Two months since I did any quick reviews. It was a shock to me too.

My, how time flies when you’re staring into the maw of Hell.

Just remember, what follows is all...

Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns and Richard Donner;
Art: Adam Kubert

I don’t care if it doesn’t neatly fit into continuity.

I don’t care if this is just salvaged from the remains of “What Might Have Been Superman 3”

I don’t even care that Jimmy Olsen and Perry White have been reduced to being parodies of themselves in the one brief scene we do see them in or that Zod and company appear to have gotten matching outfits from Foot Locker of the Phantom Zone.

The simple truth is that this story is one of the most interesting, most exciting and just plain COOL stories to be told with the Man of Steel in more years than I care to think about.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke
Art: Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone

I haven’t read a book that was quite this fun in forever!

The police commissioners of both Gotham and Central City attend a police convention in Hawaii as The Joker, The Octopus and a gathering of the Rogues Galleries of both Batman and The Spirit gather to have a vacation and blow up the hotel after they leave. And of course it falls to the two respective masked detectives to save the day.

The plot is pretty basic stuff but the execution is anything but. The love for the characters is evident in the script and Loeb and Cooke manage the rather neat feat of balancing the sillier Spirit character with the darker Batman without it seeming the least bit unnatural. And the artwork is picture-perfect, looking like something the old master Eisner might have drawn himself.

Cooke has a monthly Spirit title coming out in 2007. If this is any indication of what we have in store, then you can sign me up now. And I’m sure that Will Eisner is looking down from his big drawing table in the sky right now and smiling, knowing that his legacy is in good hands.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Gail Simone
Art: Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood and Paulo Sequiera and Robin Riggs

If you had told me that an enjoyable, worth-while title could be made out of Birds of Prey with the absence of Black Canary... well, I still probably would have believed it after I asked “Is Gail Simone still going to be writing it?”

The first thing I noticed about the recent #100 issue wasn’t the story though. It was the art. Specifically, how with the range of female characters that we see in the opening pages that all of them were shown to have realistic body-types with no uber-cleavage even on the characters where it would be expected. Indeed, the only character who looked “off” in any respect was Power Girl, who looked more like a female bodybuilder and less like Darlene Kurtis after some weight training. Still, Kudos are to be given to new artist Nicola Scott. Or whatever kind of candybar she likes. ;)

I won’t spoil who the new Birds team is except to say that there will be a lot of happy fanboys who were worried about their favorite heroine finding a place after her cult title got canceled. Suffice it to say, another one of them made a big impression on me.

But for me, the back-up story with Dinah Lance getting ready to move was the real treat. Not just because it finally ironed out some questions regarding her background in the wake of New Earth but also because it has opened the door to a reigniting of the Black Canary/Green Arrow romance. Way to make me squeal like a teenage girl, Gail.

Grade: A

Company Name: Dark Horse Comics
Writers: Tim Truman
Art: Cary Nord

I had to double-take when I looked at the credits page of this book. You see, I knew that Tim Truman was scheduled to take over the writing duties on this title at some point. I just didn’t know it had been two months ago!

Truman has effortlessly and seamlessly taken Kurt Busiek’s place as author of this book and I honestly hadn’t noticed any change in the tone, action or dialogue. Indeed, I doubt I would have ever noticed the writer had changed unless I’d looked at the title page so I’d know who to credit as I wrote this review. Such is Truman’s prowess as an author and his knowledge of the character.

Of course Cary Nord’s pencils are as sharp as ever, so I need not say much about the art. What I do need to say is that this is still easily the best fantasy book on the market.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Chuck Dixon
Art: Derec Donovan

The biggest problem with this issue is that there isn’t enough Connor Hawke.

After seeing him shunted to the background so much in the current Green Arrow title, I had hoped we’d come in to the middle of a big action scene – not a three page nightmare followed by a brief scene of Connor talking to a mook about an archery contest.

And then we spend half the issue going over a list of other mooks who are going into the same contest. Doubtlessly we DO need an introduction to all these people at some point but I can see this being a little off-putting to newer readers who don’t learn much about Connor other than he’s living in a monastery, he has father issues and he’s an archer/martial artist.

The art stuffers a bit from being overly shadowed, looking like a muddier version of Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy. Still, give the coloring team credit – they DID remember that Connor isn’t Caucasian, which is more than we’ve gotten from anyone else in some time. I’ll keep going through the next issue (Dixon does have five more to play with, after all) but things had better heat up fast.

Grade: C

Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writers: Ed Brubaker
Art: Sean Phillips

I told you all some weeks back that I got to meet Ed Brubaker at Wizard World. What I didn’t tell you was the good news/bad news Ed gave me. The good news is that he reads this column. The bad news is that he wondering “Why haven’t you written about my work lately?” In specific, he asked “Why haven’t you read Criminal yet?”

The answer to both questions was simple. In the case of the former, I’ve never been a big Captain America fan and I didn’t really have much to say about his Daredevil run past “This is way better than Bendis ever was!” I do try not to repeat myself. And in the case of the latter, my comic shop kept selling out of it before I could get a copy. I’m still waiting for them to get a restock on the second issue, but I was finally able to get a hold of the complete first issue. And oh baby, what a first issue!

The plot is the stuff of a thousand heist novels and films, but Brubaker turns the clichés on their heads with some amazing and unique characterization. Career criminal Leo is an amazing anti-hero – a smart (for once) crook who is primarily concerned with looking out for Number One, but still looks after an increasingly senile ex-con named Ivan and allows himself to be talked into a questionable job offered to him by bent-cop Seymour by the needy wife of an ex-partner in crime.

All of this is beautifully and darkly illustrated by Sean Phillips, who I’ve said plenty of nice things about recently in Part Three of my Hellblazer Episode Guide. But I’ll say it again – when it comes to depicting gritty, life on the street amongst the common folk in an illustrated novel, for my money there is nobody finer than Sean Phillips.

Trust me – you don’t want to miss out on this title. It’d be a real crime.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Royal McGraw
Art: Marcos Marz and Luciana del Negro

How soon until we get Paul Dini back?

Don’t get me wrong. This story isn’t that bad by a long-shot. But the Starman fan in me weeps that they couldn’t just create a new Doctor Phosphorus instead of bringing back the old one. Lab accidents happen all the time! Still, give them points for acknowledging my favorite series of all time even if they did sort of undercut Ted Knight’s attempt to finally stop the villain who would have killed him. This story is a good one and the art suitably electric.

Grade: C

Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writers: Bill Willingham
Art: Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha and Inaki Miranda

The book’s been a little more low-key than usual of late, with The Adversary’s forces plotting how to best invade the mundane world. Still, the lack of high-paced action has not made this title any less enjoyable. Willingham has shown that he is still capable of surprising us all with a series of small, short epilogues that show us some simple day-to-day scenes involving Fables we have not seen before. And Buckingham’s pencils still astonish after nearly five years of publication. Every issue of this book is a wonder to behold. But it is no wonder that this book has secured as many Eisner awards as it has.

Grade: A

Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writers: Bill Willingham
Art: Various

If you’re looking for a present for a reluctant reader of comics, I can think of no better title to recommend this Holiday Season than 1001 Nights of Snowfall. Similar to Neil Gaiman’s Endless Nights, this collection of stories does not require any familiarity with the series that inspired it. Different artists contribute their talents to illustrating Willingham’s stories in an effect that creates an unadulterated treat.

Fans of the monthly Fables book will no doubt be amused by the origin stories of some of their favorite characters which are revealed here. My personal favorite was the sad tale of The Frog Prince, who I had always thought of as an entirely comedic figure in the series - until now.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Geoff Johns
Art: Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert

Judging by the Comics Nexus Forums, I’m the only one who is currently enjoying this title. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about the story dragging on certain plot points and I’ll admit that things have been a little slow to take off.

But as of issues #14 and #15, the pieces are starting to come together as we see the plot points regarding...

- Hal’s missing year
- Hal’s comrade in arms Cowgirl
- The new Global Guardians
- The new Rocket Reds
- The bounty hunters going after Green Lanterns
- The new Sinestro Corps

Take it from one who slogged through the early issues of Johns’ Hawkman – this will pass. Like Hawkman, this book is like one big set of dominos. It takes a while to set up, but once everything gets moving, it’s quite a sight.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writers: Ron Marz
Art: Greg Tocchini and Jay Leisten

TO: DC Editorial
FROM: Matt Morrison
RE: Ion

I know this is only supposed to be a 12-issue maxi-series... but can we PLEASE make this a regular series? Or at least keep Ron Marz around to keep writing Kyle stories somewhere?

Maybe it’s nostalgia as Kyle was the character who got me into comics in the first place. Maybe it’s the delays on the main Green Lantern title. Maybe it’s because they finally explained Kyle’s powers a little better and allowed him to have a life on Earth again. But whatever this reason, despite some erratic artwork, this title has found it’s way into my heart.

And the most recent issue, where Kyle has to fight a battle without his powers and tries to set an example as a warrior for peace instead of just fighting his way through hordes of minions – that’s something I haven’t seen in a Kyle Rayner story in forever. And I’m glad I got to see it again.

And lets give Kyle props for being the first hero in recent memory who had a naked, hot, willing and “it looks like the parts are compatible” alien warrior maiden ready to offer herself to him... and he turned her down.

Grade: B

Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writers: Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art: Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy

Give Willingham and Sturges credit for not being afraid to shy away from controversy. The most recent issue revealed the identity of kindly black-skinned caretaker Sam (a.k.a. Little Black Sambo) and I imagine that had they been less than subtle about it, there would have been a major outcry.

As it is, this is easily my favorite title published by Vertigo right now. What can I say? I have a soft spot for any tale of a hapless rogue who sometimes does the right thing by accident- Jack’s saving of the fairies and the convoluted means by which he concludes that Goldilocks is a spy for the enemy being key examples of this. And Akins and Peopy are worthy successors to expanding the Fables name in picture form.

Grade: A

Company Name: DC Comics
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Art: Ed Benes and Sandra Hope

Now THAT is how you put Black Canary in a fight scene!

I had been worried about the marginalization of Dinah in the wake of Infinite Crisis. She’s apparently no longer a JLA Founder according to new histories in 52 and Birds of Prey. She’s off of Birds of Prey as an active member. And our first view of her in this book was a shot from behind revealing that she’s lost the more sensible boy-shorts of her most recent costume in favor of the more classic bun-exposing bikini bottom. Given that, I had been worried that she would be reduced to an eye-candy role in the new JLA.

No such worries. Dinah still kicks much butt, even in her impractical outfits. And at least it wasn’t that hideous 80’s number with the headband they brought back. For that alone, I’m willing to give this book a little more time to hook me.

Grade: B

Company Name: Vertigo Comics
Writers: Brian K. Vaughn
Art: Niko Henrichon

My library recently got a copy of this new graphic novel in and I was asked to read it and make sure there was nothing inappropriate for the teenagers who get the most use out of our graphic novel section.

Getting paid to read quality graphic novels? Yes. Sometimes my job just plain rocks - And so does this story!

Imagine ‘The Lion King’ but with all the sex and violence of a National Geographic special left intact. That’s oversimplifying it a bit, but the sense of drama in the former is balanced against the realism of the latter in this story – the tale of four lions who escape from the Baghdad Zoo during the opening battles of Operation: Iraqi Liberation. Confused by the battle around them, they struggle to make their way to someplace better, oblivious to the conflict of the “keepers” around them.

Brian K. Vaughn wrote this so that’s pretty much an assurance of quality right there. And the art by Niko Henrichon (perhaps best known for Barnum!) offers a realistic look at the world of animals while still seeming somewhat unreal and fantastic. I recommend it for all libraries, public or personal.

Grade: A

Company Name: Marvel Comics
Writers: Stan Lee and Jeph Loeb
Art: Salvador Larroca and Ed McGuinness

When I first heard about the ‘Stan Lee Meets’ series, this was the one I was looking forward to the most. Simply put, having Stan the Man match his own bombastic attitude against the dramatic and powerful Dr. Doom – why, it practically writes itself! And in the case of the first story, in which Doctor Doom summons Stan Lee to him in order to find out how best to improve his image in the American Comic Book Industry, it almost does.

The second story by Jeph Loeb doesn’t do quite as well, with Stan barely having a presence in the story at all and a punch-line that is far too similar to some of the stories we have seen already. Still, the artwork is crisp and clear in both stories and you get a classic Stan Lee reprint in the bargain. Not a bad investment of your clams, at all.

Grade: B

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.


  1. I just read the first Doom story. It was amusing. Would have been better if Doom had disintegrated Stan at the end though. Doom would have done it!

  2. Hey, leaving Stan free to leave the castle... through the front gates as a rampaging mob of peasants is trying to storm the castle. THAT is what Doom would do!
    Why waste the charge on the disintergration ray when you can have your minions do the work for you?