Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Flash #1 - A Review

I wasn’t looking forward to The Flash #1. At all. This is because I don’t like Barry Allen. At all. I think bringing him back from the dead was a mistake and that making him the star of the all-new, revamped The Flash is an even bigger mistake. So perhaps anything I say about this book should be taken with a grain of salt.

But wait a moment - maybe I’m rushing to judgment? Maybe I should try harder to keep an open mind? After all, most of the reasons I dislike the character are based on past continuity. Maybe the stogy old hypocrite who annoyed me in The Fall of Green Arrow will be a changed man? Maybe the self-centered jackass whose mommy issues nearly destroyed all reality in Flashpoint will be less of a whiny man-child? Perhaps Barry Allen will be reborn as a younger, hipper more modern hero?

Sadly, about the only thing that has changed is that Barry Allen has now loosened up enough to go out on dates without a tie. He’s also going out on dates, his marriage to Iris West having gone the way of parachute pants and Disco.

On the bright side, Iris West – long the perfect smiling Stepford Wife – has finally been given a personality. True, it is the personality of Lois Lane – but at least it’s a good personality, if not totally original. There’s a Betty & Veronica-style love-triangle, with Iris in the Veronica role. Who is the Betty? Patty - one of Barry’s fellow CSI officers.


The issue wastes no time on origin stories or details save for a two-page splash that gives us Barry Allen’s origins. The plot of this first issue is standard stuff for The Flash. Bad guys show up to steal something. Barry disappears. The Flash appears and chases the bad guys. The Flash runs off. Barry shows up again. And nobody seems to notice Barry was gone. The only original twist in Francis Manapul’s and Brian Buccellato’s script is the revelation that The Flash may have accidentally killed someone but even this turns out to be a red-herring as Barry discovers a new villain who is also a ghost from his past…

The artwork by Francis Manapul – with Brian Buccellato on colors – is competent but ultimately as pedestrian as the script. I expect a Flash comic to move and this comic – for all the pretty lightning – is surprisingly static. There’s barely any Flash in it at all and there’s only so much one can do to make scenes in offices and museums where talking heads talk to other talking heads interesting.

I wasn’t expecting much of this book and I wasn’t surprised. I don’t hate Barry Allen anymore – now I’m just bored by him. This isn’t really all that bad of a comic but neither is it as good as it should be with the talent involved. It’s strictly average, with a standard script and artwork that is merely competent. Perhaps Barry Allen fans will be pleased by this book but I wasn’t.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Justice League Dark #1 - A Review


I’m probably one of the few who didn’t blanch when it was announced that one of the New 52 titles would be a Justice League book featuring John Constantine. It sounds like a joke but the case for why such a move would be necessary was made years ago by the late and lamented Unca Cheeks on his gloriously mad website. So it was ironically, with a good deal of hope and optimism, that I opened up Justice League Dark #1.
Most of the issue is told from the perspective of fortune teller Madame Xanadu., whose visions keep showing her a woman named June Moone – an ordinary woman who is bound to a spirit of wild magic known as The Enchantress. As three members of the Justice League barely escape with their lives after trying to confront The Enchantress, Xanadu has an epiphany and realizes that a diverse group of people with unique magical talents will be needed to stop The Enchantress and save the innocent soul of June Moone. In order of appearance, they are...

Shade The Changing Man – guardian of the M-Vest;. a garment that allows the wearer to change reality, even as they themselves risk being warped by it.

Zatanna – the Justice League’s magic expert, who casts spells through the use of backwards-spoken words.
John Constantine – a con-man whose talent for getting into and out of trouble may be the greatest magic he has.
Deadman – A selfish man in life, trapeze artist Boston Brand was cursed in death to walk the world until he helped enough people to earn his final rest.

Peter Milligan’s script puts us in the thick of it and sets the stakes high early on. It is ironic that our first glimpse of the new Justice League – at least, our first glimpse as they will be – should come in this book where they are so clearly out of their element. He does a good job of introducing us to just how serious a threat The Enchantress is.
Sadly, the our main cast isn’t as well established. We learn quite a bit about Madame Xanadu, Zatanna and Shade The Changing Man but John Constantine’s appearance is limited to one page. Yet even he fairs better than Deadman, who doesn’t get so much as a line of dialogue or an internal monologue to describe himself! While Deadman’s background was extensively covered in last week’s DC Universe Presents #1, it seems a bit of a gamble to presume that readers of this book would have read that book already.

Newcomer artist Mikel Janin does an amazing job on this first issue. Avoiding the heavy inks and shadows that are the bread and butter of most Vertigo-toned series, he has left Justice League Dark looking brightly colored and well-defined, for the most part. This might seem an odd choice given the title but I think it works, giving everything the look of a standard superhero book that is slowly coming apart as the “dark” invades. If forced to make a comparison to another artist, I’d say that Janin’s style is reminiscent of Terry Dodson but without the heavy emphasis on cheesecake.
Despite some of the cast not being as well developed as others, I rather liked this book. Fans of Milligan’s previous Vertigo works (particularly Shade The Changing Man and Hellblazer) will want to check this one out, as will fans of the Shadowpact. I dare say that anybody who enjoys good modern-day urban fantasy will get a kick out of this series as well. I enjoyed it. And I’ll be back for more next month.

Doctor Who, Series 6 - Episode 12 - Closing Time

THE PLOT

With the date of his death fast approaching - from his perspective, at least - The Doctor takes one final trip in the TARDIS to check up on old-friends and companions. His last stop is the home of Craig Owens - The Doctor's former roomate - who is still together with long-time crush Sophie and all alone with their baby for the first time. The Doctor only plans to stay for a long enough to say hello... but then he notices something strange. What follows is an investigation into a nearby department store, where the lights are flickering, people are disappearing and strange silver rat creatures roam the shop floors virtually unnoticed.


THE GOOD PARTS

* Craig's one of the best characters to come out of the time of The 11th Doctor and it's good to see him again. More, it's good to see that things with him and Sophie did work out.

* The Doctor's scenes talking with Alfie - sorry, Stormageddon - Dark Lord Of All - are quite funny and it's nice to see that his ability to talk to babies wasn't a one-off gag.

* Is there a stipulation that every episode must feature at least one scene of Matt Smith being charming while dealing with a group of children? I don't know... but the brief scenes where he's playing in the toy department and his farewell to the children in the street before going to face his death are magical.


THE PROBLEMS

* It's never fully explained just how The Doctor has managed to integrate himself into the staff of the store. At first I thought his name-tag was made of the same stuff as psychic paper, making people see whatever they wanted to see but it looks more like The Doctor was using the same psychic whammy he used to calm down Little Stormageddon.

* It doesn't really matter in the end what the trick is, save that one wonders why The Doctor hasn't used it in the past when he needed to blend in somewhere or convince someone of his bona fides. Perhaps he picked it up between this episode and the last (he could have traveled for a longer time than indicated after dropping off Rory & Amy) but it would have been nice if he'd said "New trick I learned after I last saw you, Craig..."

* Granting that The Sonic Screwdriver is the biggest McGuffin in the universe, it's hard to believe it can turn a baby mobile into a miniature planetarium projector with the push of one button. I don't think there's an App for that.

* Even with their new and improved appearance, The Cybermats are still crap monsters.

* Even The Doctor seems embarrassed by how he ultimately defeats The Cybermen with Love.

THE FINAL VERDICT

It's cute and it doesn't take itself too seriously but this is still strictly an average episode. The only thing that makes it work is the charisma of Matt Smith and James Corden, who turn in a pair of amazing performances. It is to their credit that they make the random bits of comedy and pathos far greater than the rather weak plot based around yet another Cyberman invasion.

Batman #1 - A Review

One might think it unnecessary to devote an entire issue to establishing the world of Batman – arguably the most famous superhero in the world. One might think that but one would be wrong, for Batman’s popularity was born of variety and an endless myriad of parallel universes with differing details. And while some things never change, the status quo of Batman has never been more uncertain.

Things certainly seem topsy-turvy as the issue opens with Batman quelling a riot at Arkham Asylum, apparently assisted by The Joker! But all is not what it appears to be and after reporting in with Commissioner James Gordon, Batman is off to a gala as Bruce Wayne. Accompanied by his three sons, Bruce delivers a speech about his plans for improving Gotham City. But the night is cut short as the Bat-Signal is sighted and Batman is dispatched to a crime scene where a warning has been left regarding an assassin coming for Bruce Wayne…

Scott Snyder’s script grabs the reader at the beginning and doesn’t let go until the final page. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot but it never feels rushed or confusing. Indeed, Snyder masterfully introduces the reader to those characters well-known outside of the comics’ world (for instance, Dick Grayson and Commissioner Gordon) and more obscure characters such as Detective Harvey Bullock and Bruce’s son Damien Wayne. And the mystery revealed in the final pages – which also seems to be the mystery at the heart of Nightwing #1 – is perhaps the most shocking final page thus far in all of the New 52 revamps.

Greg Capullo is a newcomer to DC Comics but you’d never know it from these pencils. Perhaps best known for his work on Spawn, his style is a perfect match for the dark world of Gotham City. His Arkham inmates look like they just emerged from the pages of a Dick Tracy comic without looking cartoony. His Joker is particularly praiseworthy, looking like a perfect fusion of Heath Ledger and Tim Sale. The backgrounds are also amazing with suitably gothic architecture on each page. These pencils are perfectly completed by the inks of Jonathan Glapion, who manages to make everything look dark without soaking the page in black.

Easily the best of the Batman books to emerge from the New 52 line-up, this is a must-read! The artwork is shadowy and atmospheric without being obscured in darkness. The script manages to move fast enough to keep experienced readers interested while still explaining everything for the new readers. If you’re a Bat-Fan looking for a good first comic book to start with, this is the one!

Nightwing #1 - A Review

Nightwing was one of the first titles I read when I was just getting into comics. With a memorable supporting cast and energetic artwork it remains a favorite of mine to this day. As such, you can imagine my joy when I heard that Dick Grayson would be getting his own book again as part of The New 52 revamp and my eagerness to see if this new title lived up to the original.

We start in the thick of the action, watching Dick Grayson – back to his old codename of Nightwing but with a slightly modified costume – as he acrobatically dispenses some street justice. Noticing that Haly’s Circus – the one he was a part of before his parents’ deaths – is in town, he drops in to touch base with his old circus friends and reacquaints himself with Raya – an attractive redhead acrobat. He is on his way home, thinking happy thoughts, when he is suddenly attacked by a masked man.who is after Dick Grayson – not Nightwing – for completely unbelievable reasons…

Given my opinions on Deathstroke #1, you can imagine my dread when I realized that the author of this new Nightwing book is Kyle Higgins, who I was less than kind towards last week. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that I enjoyed most of what I saw here. True, a part of me is disappointed that Dick has apparently not been keeping tabs on his former home, it having been said in the previous Nightwing book that Dick thought of the people he grew up with in the circus as family. But Higgins perfectly captures Dick’s cheerful personality and sly humor. The action scenes are well-blocked and the mystery brought up in the final pages - which seems to match up with the same mystery revealed on the last page of Batman #1 – is an engaging one.

Artist Eddy Barrows proves every bit the equal of Scott McDaniel. The early part of the issue is filled with a series of two-page spreads, which show the full range of Nightwing’s acrobatic motion. The action flows well from panel to panel and the character design is good, with every character having a distinct look.

All in all, I was pleased with this issue. I’m not yet ready to declare Higgins and Barrows the Dixon and McDaniel of the Modern Age but this is a good title with a solid story and amazing artwork. Give it a try.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blue Beetle #1 - A Review

Blue Beetle was a quirky little title that managed to survive despite a continual threat of cancellation. The adventures of Jamie Reyes developed a small but loyal following as it also gained critical acclaim. Through three years and three regular writers, the book endured – continuing on as a back-up feature in Booster Gold until relatively recently. Now, the book has returned with everything reportedly back at square one, ready to be discovered by a whole new audience – new readers and those who failed to jump on the bandwagon before.

The issue opens in deep space, long ago, where we are quickly introduced to The Reach – an evil alien empire that conquers worlds through the use of strange scarab-shaped devices that latch onto a person and turn them into an uncontrollable living weapon. Once the world is sufficiently weakened, The Reach move in and claim the spoils. Cut to Earth, now, where El Paso teenager Jamie Reyes is suffering the usual teenage troubles – getting bullied and trying to convince his parents to let him go to parties they don’t want him going to. After sneaking out with his drop-out friend Paco, they run into a super-villain gang and Jamie soon finds himself bonding to the item they were stealing – one of The Reach’s scarabs.


Tony Bedard is a good writer but he seems to be out of his element here. Not surprisingly, given his background writing Green Lantern Corps, REBELS and other space opera series, the best part of the book is the early scenes in which he quickly and simply explains what “the blue beetle” is, who created it and how they use it. It is the later scenes on Earth where the book suffers, with Jamie lacking the spirit he had in his original series. The supporting cast is set up, though we don’t see any of them save Jamie’s friend Paco for more than one page. Worse, much of the characters’ personality seems to have been replaced with random Spanglish dialogue. Perhaps the most distressing thing about the text is the interview in the back, where Bedard reveals a major change to the book – nobody in Jamie’s supporting cast is going to be aware of his dual identity.

To be quite blunt, this is a big mistake. Part of the reason for the original series’ appeal was that it defied the conventions of teen hero comics. Jamie’s parents knew from the beginning about his powers and were supportive of his decision to try and use those powers to help people. This was not only an original development but it also inspired some wonderful scenes, like Jamie asking permission to go out and save people in the same way that an ordinary teenager would ask to borrow the car. I fear that this change will turn Jamie Reyes into yet another Peter Parker wannabe.

Thankfully, whatever reservations I have about the writing, I cannot deny that the artwork is wonderful. Ig Guara & Ruy Jose prove equally adept at conveying the depths of deep space and the weird beauty of alien worlds as they are at portraying the gritty streets of El Paso and the details of high-school life. It is a rare art team that can manage to depict the majestic and the mundane with equal skill but Guara and Jose manage it.

I find myself reluctant to recommend this book or condemn it. It’s a bit hard to gauge as our hero has yet to become a hero. Personally, I am worried about the direction this book seems to be heading and the leisurely pace of the decompressed storytelling which fails to generate much excitement. Still, the artwork is good and Bedard has surprised me before so I will merely suggest we wait and see what happens next time.

The Best Response I've Seen Thus Far To The Sexism Of The Past Week

SOURCE: A Response from a Female Comic Book Fan

Monday, September 26, 2011

Catwoman #1 - A Review

In my efforts to review all of the New 52 titles, I have tried my best to go into each title with untainted opinions. I struggled to put aside all my previous preconceptions about writers, artists and characters whom I haven’t enjoyed in the past. I also tried to avoid reading any other reviewer’s work until I had read the books for myself. No book tested my resolve in this matter more than Catwoman #1 and – I must admit – I am amazed that it has fallen to me to point this out...

You have all been played!

Blasted by many critics as misogynistic and shallow, Catwoman #1 is actually a brilliant parody of “bad-girl” books. But like most great parodists, Judd Winick and Guillem March’s work has been mistaken for that which it means to mock. This is unfortunate but inevitable given the history of the literary world. A failure to distinguish between parody and the art being parodied led to the satirical novel Naked Came The Stranger being embraced by the romance novel fans it was meant to alienate. And we all know how Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal briefly made Irish babies legal game animals in Great Britain for a certain number of years.

The issue opens with a gloriously over the top scene in which Catwoman is forced to flee her apartment, half-dressed and with numerous kittens thrown into an unsecured cage. She just barely escapes before the building is blown up and turns to her fence – an ex showgirl named Lola – for a place to stay and another job. Set up to spy on a meeting of Russian gangsters, Selina takes time out for some personal revenge only for her cover to get blown and things going very badly. The issue ends on a romantic note, with Selina being confronted by Batman on some matter of business which quickly turns to pleasure.

Winick’s script is a masterstroke of satire, not seen in the comic book world since the early days of Frank Miller & Jim Lee’s All-Star Batman & Robin. Indeed, the very last page of the issue is a sly wink and a nod to Winick’s creative predecessor, with Catwoman’s note regarding having sex with their costumes mostly on being a clear tribute to that work and the scene where Batman has sexy costumed sex with Black Canary.

We haven’t seen comedy like this come from Winick’s pen since the days of The Adventures of Barry Ween and thank goodness it is back!

Of course this book is all in good fun, but Winick showcases his technical proficiency as a writer as well. To give away one bit of clever foreshadowing that might be lost on some readers, Selina notes as she leaves her apartment that the men chasing her “won’t find anything except bras, books, wine and cat food.” One might wonder why Selina specifies bras, rather than saying “underwear” or “lingerie”. This becomes clear on the last page when it is revealed that Selina clearly isn’t wearing any panties under her costume, suggesting – on reflection of the earlier text - that Selina doesn’t own any. This also showcases her strength and independence in a subtle fashion, showing that she will not be contained by the conventions of modern society.

Winick has found the perfect partner in crime in artist Guillem March, who matches him in the comedy department, slipping clever comedic cues into every panel of this book. Consider the first page, in which we see Catwoman cramming kittens into a cramped kitty cage. Would Selina Kyle ever own a cat cage? Of course not! Would she ever endanger or discomfort kittens in the manner we see her doing so here? Certainly not! But what some see as a sign of poor planning is actually a subtle cue that we are not meant to take this book seriously at all. The following pages continue this brilliant visual satire, focusing upon Selina’s breasts, buttocks and comically oversized thighs – all drawn in the bad-girl book tradition, with the readers not even getting a look at her face until the third page.

Ignore the slings and arrows of those who need the joke explained to them. Viewed with the right attitude, this book is hilarious. So consider what I’ve said here and I think you’ll know what to expect from Catwoman #1 and its’ creative team in the future.

Birds of Prey #1 - A Review

Birds of Prey #1 was a book I simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded. I dreaded it because – as a devout fan of Gail Simone – I was sad to see her leaving the book that she is probably the most famous for writing, especially after having returned to writing it just barely over a year ago. But as a Black Canary fan, who was intensely curious as to what the status quo of her background would be post-Revamp, I was still looking forward to it and hoping that DC Comics newcomer and experienced mystery writer Duane Swierczynski would do the character justice.

We start in the thick of it, with two of the titular “Birds” – Black Canary and Starling - acting to protect an investigative reporter who has been spying on the pair of them. It seems he was brought in to expose The Birds but was reluctant to publish without hard evidence – an attitude that his source responded to with ninjas in chameleon armor. A flashback reveals that Black Canary is wanted for a murder she didn’t commit and that she’s out to form a covert team of crime-fighters. Rejected by a newly mobile Barbara Gordon, Babs does see fit to give Dinah a list of potential candidates, including the swordswoman Katana. But before Dinah can investigate that, she’ll have to get herself, Starling and the reporter out of the fire.


Previous readers of Birds of Prey will no doubt be disappointed at how little there is regarding the team history… or if indeed they still have a history! The flashback indicates that Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance clearly have some kind of previous working relationship but there is nothing to suggest that Babs was ever Oracle or the depth of friendship the characters shared previously. The news that Dinah Lance is a wanted murderer is somewhat less surprising (she was framed for murder and a wanted fugitive in Gail Simone’s BoP last year) but again – no details of just who she is supposed to have killed and why are forthcoming.

Thankfully, Black Canary is as tough as ever. Whatever else may have changed in her background, Dinah Lance is still a lady who can kick your ass and look good doing it. Starling is a little more of a cipher, her only character traits thus far being an apparent Catholic girl and of good enough character to worry about destroying a church while having no trouble gunning down ninjas. She’s no Huntress but it’s an interesting hook.

Jesus Saiz calmed my other fears about this book and what it might become. In a week where debate over the sexualization of superheroines has taken front and center in the reviews of many a comics-reading pundit, Diaz has gone unmentioned and unpraised. He draws beautiful women but he does not ever sacrifice action or story for the sake of a poster pose.


Should you read this book? If you’re a fan of good stories about truly strong women, you’ll like it. Should fans of the old Birds of Prey series read it? Provided you are patient about receiving answers to your questions and can hold your tongue about how much better it was a year ago, yes. I miss Huntress. I miss Misfit. I especially miss Zinda! But it isn’t fair to judge this book for being what it isn’t. Taken for what it is, it’s a damn fine read.

Captain Atom #1 - A Review

Captain Atom is perhaps the strangest character to receive a solo book in the New 52 line-up. One of the many characters Steve Ditko co-created for Charlton Comics after his departure from Marvel, DC Comics picked up the rights to the whole stable of Charlton heroes in the early 1980s. And yet, despite being a frequent member of the Justice League and having appeared in a number of DC’s animated works, the good Captain is probably better remembered as the inspiration for Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen than he is for his own exploits.

This comic starts right in the middle of the action, as we join Captain Atom fighting some man in an armored suit. We learn that apart from having the power to absorb and release energy, Captain Atom also has a newly discovered power to disassemble the bonds between atoms. However, using this power seems to cause his own body to start coming apart and he is encouraged to take a break from the heroics. This suggestion is ignored as a volcano opens up in the heart of downtown New York City and a nearby nuclear reactor threatens to go critical.


J.T. Krul’s script is full of action but little else. Krul does little to develop Captain Atom as a character, past establishing him as a natural hero who will risk his life to save others. We never learn his real name or how he gained his powers, past some vague mention of an accident. The supporting cast is only slightly more developed, with two scientists belonging to a group called The Continuum – a young prodigy and a wheelchair-bound old pro – helping Captain Atom to understand his new powers while monitoring his condition.


The artwork by Freddie Williams II is uninspired and inconsistent. This is one of the few books I’ve ever seen which is both underinked and overinked – frequently on the same page. As a man made of living energy Captain Atom himself looks appropriately insubstantial but there are points where – thanks to the color palette used – he can barely be distinguished from the background.


All in all, this book was a disappointment. J.T. Krul has written some good books in the past but I don’t think this is one of them. I’m hard-pressed to believe that the writer who did so much to develop the personality of Oliver Queen in Green Arrow could write something this generic and bland. Captain Atom may as well be Captain Planet for all the personality he possesses here. Maybe this will build to something bigger. But if it does, I won’t be around to see it.

DC Universe Presents #1 - A Review

DC Universe Presents marks the return of the classic comics anthology. DC Comics boasts one of – if not the largest – stables of fictional characters in existence and it’s gratifying to see that with all of the old favorites boasting multiple titles in the Revamp that they would devote a single title toward shining a spotlight on obscure heroes. This #1 issue – reportedly the first of a three part storyline – is devoted to Deadman.

The script primarily focuses upon the life and death of Boston Brand – a trapeze artist shot down in mid-swing. His soul snared from oblivion by the deity Rama, who offers Boston a chance to better his position in the afterlife by helping the unfortunates he ignored while alive. He wanders the earth now, following a magical instinct that takes him where he needs to be, using his power of possession to take people over and help them when they most need it. At about the midway point, Brand begins to speak of his current assignment – a disabled American soldier – and his confusion as to what he is meant to do in this case.

Paul Jenkins has been one of my favorite writers for a long time and – in my opinion – is one of the most criminally underrated authors in the comic book industry. His script introduces the concept of Deadman masterfully and moves at a quick pace through the various lives Boston has helped improve in the past. The one flaw with the story is that we see nothing of Boston’s life before his death so we don’t have any evidence apart from his own word – and that of a medium he once knew that he tries to speak to - that he really was enough of a jerk to deserve being cursed with undeath. We are told he was but there’s nothing that really shows it to us.

Former Wonder Woman artist Bernard Chang handles the art duties and shows why he’s a popular artist in and outside of the industry. There’s a good solid line of visual storytelling going from page to page, making the reading of the book intuitive despite some odd panel placements. And I love neat little visual pun in that Rama – an avatar of the god Vishnu – looks somewhat like one of the blue-skinned cat people of the film Avatar. Maybe I’m reading too much into the art but I thought it was amusing!

All in all, this isn’t a bad book but it’s really not something I plan to keep reading. The script is good, though we could use more showing and less telling. The art isn’t bad at all. Really, the only reason I don’t want to pick up issue #2 is that I really don’t find Deadman to be all that interesting of a character. That's no fault of the creative team - it's just personal taste. But if you've never read a Deadman story before, check this one out. It might be your cup of tea.

Green Lantern Corps #1 - A Review

Green Lantern Corps is another ‘New 52’ title that hasn’t been Revamped so much as it has been Renumbered. One might also call this book a Returning, as long-time GLC scribe Peter Tomasi returns to write it. Also Returning is GLC main-stay Guy Gardner – most recently seen headlining the Emerald Warriors series.

Following the aftermath of the War Of The Green Lanterns, both Guy Gardner and John Stewart – Green Lanterns and Earthlings – try to build something more stable. Stewart does this literally, returning to Earth to ply his trade as an architect while Gardner seeks work as a teacher and football coach. As the two discuss the recent changes in their lives, they are summoned back to the planet Oa and charged with the investigation of a series of murders. The issue concludes with the two senior Lanterns and their hand-picked team arriving on the scene of the crime only to find an abattoir’s worth of gore waiting for them.

Tomasi’s script is heavy on characterization and light on plot but that’s just what we need for this first issue. Presuming that the reader is probably familiar with what a Green Lantern ring can do but not so familiar with any Green Lanterns apart from Hal Jordan is a smart gamble given the recently release of the Green Lantern movie and Tomasi doesn’t waste time establishing Guy and John for new readers. Gardner is depicted true to form as a man’s man and guy’s guy – confident, enthusiastic and good-hearted but not the best when it comes to thinking things through. Stewart is depicted as more of a thinker but also as a man of principle, integrity and – when needed – action. We don’t get much analysis of the alien Lanterns but – knowing Tomasi’s past record – I’m sure that will come with the next issue.

The artwork by Fernando Pasarin is a good match for this title. Though he gets little chance in this issue to draw creative constructs (the standard by which I judge all Green Lantern artists), what few scenes do feature such constructs look good. The alien creatures are suitably interesting to look at and the storytelling from panel to panel flows well. Be warned though – this book is just as gory as a lot of DC’s newer horror titles, with scenes depicting a decapitation and a woman being cut neatly in half.

My opinion may be biased as a brazen Green Lantern fanboy but I think this is one of the best books to come out of the revamp so far. Tomasi doesn’t fix what isn’t broken and introduces us to the two main Earthling characters with ease. Pasarin’s style suits itself well to the scope and story this sort of book requires. All in all, a must read.

Supergirl #1 - A Review

It began with a simple concept - “a teenage girl with Superman’s powers”. But despite her derivative origins, Supergirl has become so much more to comic fans around the world. Her popularity was such that she returned from a supposedly permanent death in Crisis On Infinite Earths. She survived a series of confusing revamps regarding her origins and powers throughout the 1990s. In the early 21st century, she was resurrected and subjected to another series of confusing revamps at the hands of numerous writers, who couldn’t decide if she was a hero or a villain. And yet Supergirl endures – an icon.

Writers Michael Green & Mike Johnson wisely avoid all this baggage in this first issue of Supergirl, offering us a story that is as elegant in its’ simplicity and strength as Supergirl herself. The issue consists of one long action sequence, wherein a newly awakened Kara Zor-El emerges from a meteorite that crashed in the Siberian wasteland only to be confronted by a series of mech-suit clad soldiers. To their mutual horror, Kara’s powers manifest immediately, growing stronger as Earth’s yellow sun peeks from behind the clouds. This leaves Kara in the nightmarish situation of being in a strange world with her own body rebelling against her as strange men try to kill her.

Green and Johnson instantly turn Kara into a sympathetic and relatable figure, with the entire story being told from her perspective. Through Kara’s internal monologue, we see that she is logical, assuming at first that she’s in a dream since Krypton hasn’t seen snow since she was very young. We know that she is intelligent, quickly figuring out both that she is on another planet. And judging by her thoughts about her mother being upset about her sneaking out in an outfit she’s not old enough to be wearing, she’s a typical teenager. The action of the issue flows well, slowly revealing Kara’s powers to the reader as she learns of them herself.

The artwork for this book is top-notch all-around. Penciller Mahmud Asrar avoids the cheesecake that so many past Supergirl artists have indulged in. His Supergirl is cute without being sexualized, looking like a real teenage girl who hasn’t fully grown into her figure. This attention to detail is seen elsewhere, with some nice still-life shots of the Siberian wilderness to set the mood and in the armor worn by the soldiers trying to capture Kara. Asrar is assisted on the inks by Dan Green, whose work neatly separates the characters from the outstanding backgrounds. This separation also comes to play in the palette, with colorist Dave McCaig separating Kara from the dreary landscape with reds, blues and yellows that are not the least bit muted.

Part of the motivation for the DC Revamp was to create books that would appeal to a more diverse group of readers. Presumably DC Comics hoped to reach more young women with titles like this one. I can’t speak as to whether or not they will be successful but I personally enjoyed this book. The script establishes Supergirl as an intelligent young lady and it makes her relatable despite being from an alien world and trapped in a strange situation. The artwork is good and not at all exploitative. This book may not be the savior that brings more women into the comic book industry but it is a great read.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Red Hood And The Outlaws #1 - A Review

There’s an old saying that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. With that in mind, I have nothing to say about Red Hood & The Outlaws #1.

What?

...

Don’t look at me like that!

Oh, okay! Fine! I guess I do owe it to my readers to go into a little more detail than that.


After rescuing Roy “No Codename Given” Harper from a Quraci prison, Jason “Red Hood” Todd journeys to an island paradise with Roy in tow. As Roy enjoys the ample feminine charms of Jason’s other partner – the alien Starfire – Jason meets with a mysterious woman named Essence. Informed that some secret society he was once affiliated with called The All Caste has been destroyed by some other secret society called The Untitled, Jason leaves, alone, to go investigate.

Lobdell’s script is full of action but not much else. Nothing receives much, if any, development. The All Caste and The Untitled aren’t defined as anything other than “good group” and “bad group”. Jason Todd has no apparent motivation for helping Essence other than a vague obligation to her and he lacks any true motivation to help Roy at the start of the comic. We’re told that Roy became a soldier of fortune on Jason’s suggestion but nothing is said to explain why he’s following Jason’s lead to begin with or his current standing with Green Arrow. And Kori has no reason for hanging around with Jason and helping him with whatever he’s doing apart from having nothing better to do. She even says as much in the one page where we get to see things from her perspective!

Speaking of perspective, let’s talk about the artwork of Kenneth Rocafort for a second. Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance (who said everything about how stupid Starfire’s new personality is so I didn’t have to here.) pointed out how Kori seems to be eternally posing for an unseen photographer. She neglected to mention that the rest of the artwork is as equally posed and unnatural looking as Starfire’s bent spine. Starfire’s breast-size and hair-length also change from panel to panel but that’s just the tip of the artistic iceberg.

We are told on the first page that Roy is being held prisoner by the Quracian people he was fighting to help liberate. Explain then why the people we see escorting him out of his cell appear to be typical, crew-cut American soldiers? I could go into deeper detail about the places where the art and story don’t line up but I don’t want to waste any more time on this book, except to note how odd it is that Jason has a big red Bat-symbol on his chest when he’s supposedly trying to get away from his mentor, according to Lobdell.

Despite all this, I think what they’ve done – and failed to do – with Roy Harper is what annoys me the most about this comic. In the aftermath of Cry For Justice and Rise of Arsenal, which left thousands of Roy Harper fans enraged, DC Comics had a chance to redefine the character and start fresh. Sadly, they seem to have missed the point behind our outrage.

The fans weren’t upset because Roy lost his arm. They weren’t upset because he gave in to his drug addiction. They were upset because James Robinson, J.T. Krul and the editors behind them signed off on destroying one of the most unique characters in comics – a single father superhero trying to raise a daughter – for the sake of creating another mercenary anti-hero struggling to find something to live for. And now here we are. Roy Harper has his arm back. Roy Harper is not an addict anymore. But Roy Harper is still a mercenary anti-hero struggling to find something to live for. But hey – at least he’s getting laid now!

Wonder Woman #1 - A Review

Has any one character been subjected to revamping and reconsideration more than Wonder Woman in the past few years? I’m hard pressed to think of one if there is. Following Infinite Crisis, she was reinvented as an agent of the US Government with a secret identity. Just over a year ago, J. Michael Straczynski restarted the Wonder Woman mythos in the comics by turning Wonder Woman into a lost princess and child of prophecy. And the less said about David E. Kelly’s rejected Wonder Woman TV show, in which Diana was a CEO and superheroine who also posed as her own secretary, the better. And so we come to this – Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello & Cliff Chiang.

We start in the thick of things with monsters attacking a woman named Zola, who is saved by a mysterious man and then teleported by a magic key to Wonder Woman’s home in London. Following the key back to the woman’s home, Diana proceeds to do what Amazons do when facing monsters and discovers that the mysterious man was the god Hermes, who came to project Zola from the wrath of Hera. All of this is observed from a distance by a man who seems to be the sun god Apollo, as evidenced by granting three women the power of prophecy and his punishing introduction.


Surprisingly this first issue gives us little Wonder Woman, with the title character making her first appearance about halfway through the issue. Azzarello seems to be gambling that most people are familiar enough with the concept of Wonder Woman and that aside from some confirmation of core concepts that comes out of the narrative (she is still an Amazon, she still kicks ass, etc.) he doesn’t need to focus much on Diana’s character or personality. I believe this gamble paid off but I hope Diana gets more personal development in later issues. As it is, a reader is more likely to be in trouble if they don’t know their Greek mythology than they are if they’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic. I was able to guess who the woman in the cloak of peacock feathers was long before it was confirmed to be Hera but someone who isn’t a Greek Mythology geek might be lost during the opening scenes.


But if anyone does become lost reading this book, it certainly won’t be because of the artwork. Cliff Chiang is a wonderful visual storyteller whose work on Green Arrow/Black Canary was one of the few high-points of that series. The action flows naturally from panel to panel and Chiang’s high-action style lends itself well to Azzarello’s writing. Indeed, some panels would not look out of place on the side of a Grecian urn. My one complaint about the artwork is the coloring of our heroine is a bit strange at points, with Diana’s tan skin looking more red than brown. Indeed, she looks so red at times she looks more like Dejah Thoris, Warrior Princess of Mars than Diana, Warrior Princess of Themyscira.

Despite that, this book is definitely one of the best ones to come out of the New 52 thus far. It’s a must-read for all fans of Wonder Woman in specific, good action comics in general and Greek mythology in particular. I certainly plan to be picking it up in the future.

Legion Of Superheroes #1 - A Review

As regular readers are well aware, I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. But enthusiastic as I am about sharing my love of the show with others, I realize that the adventures of The Doctor can be difficult for a new viewer to get into. This point was driven home to me recently as I was talking with an actress friend whose exposure to the show was limited to three episodes that she watched while sick. Based on her description, I figured out that she was referring to Utopia, The Sound Of Drums and Last Of The Time Lords - the last three episodes of Series 3. Not that this meant a thing to her, though she said she could tell there was a lot going on and it seemed interesting… but there was so much she didn’t understand that insulated her from fully enjoying it.

Why do I mention this? Because I imagine the feeling she had watching those three episodes of Doctor Who is the exact same feeling that I had reading Legion of Superheroes #1. The problem being, of course, that there should be a world of difference between a three-part season finale and the first issue of a comic book.



Most of this issue focuses on two trainee Legion members – Dragonwing and Chemical Kid. They are sent on a mission with several more experienced Legion members to investigate a military outpost that has stopped reporting on The Dominators – an alien empire that has long been an enemy of The Legion. Scenes of other Legion members are interspersed into the main plot, where we learn that several members of the team resigned and that everyone is mourning the loss of someone named Oaa.

I said last week that reading Legion Lost was like walking into a theater in the middle of a bad play. Legion of Superheroes #1 inspires similar feelings of confusion but at least this time we have the traditional editor boxes giving us the names, codenames and powers of the various characters. Even ignoring those helpful notes, the quality level of Paul Levitz’s script is much higher. The action scenes are very well paced and Levitz does a good job conveying personal character traits in a short amount of time, with factoids like Dream Girl and Star Boy being a couple or Chemical Kid’s homosexuality being conveyed subtly, with very little expository text.

The artwork by Francis Portela matches the script for quality. Portela does a good job separating the various characters and giving them distinctive appearances apart from uniform design and hair-styles. The action is well-conveyed and the storytelling from panel to panel flows well. The only issue I had is that the effects used to convey Chameleon Boy’s shape-shifting are inconsistent. Early on, he changes to another form so smoothly it took me a while to realize that he had changed and that we were not looking at a new character. Yet in a later scene a series of lines around his body were used to convey the change before he morphed into some kind of insect. Even the cover-art depicts his powers functioning in a different way, the end of his arm caught in mid-shift from hand to some kind of gun!

Ultimately, the biggest problem with this book is that it assumes far more familiarity with The Legion of Superheroes franchise than a first issue should – particularly one published as part of a supposed company-wide revamp! Indeed, that point – and the fact that nothing about The Legion seems to have changed - may be the thing about this book that might interest those trying to solve the mystery of Flashpoint. If nothing else, this issue seems to offer some hint as to who the mysterious hooded woman is and what her motivations and powers are.

I imagine that long-time Legion fans will be pleased with this product but the rest of us will be left behind in the dust. I think DC would have been better off trying something similar to what Mark Waid did several years ago when he tried to revamp The Legion if they really wanted to attract new readers. This is a good comic but it’s a terrible first issue.