Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Heavy Lifting: DC Comics — The New 52 Omnibus

Getting back to DC's New 52, there's an interesting event element to the relaunch that is exemplified by the omnibus edition of DC Comics: The New 52.

This is a massive book — thicker than any comics collection I can think of. Even Dave Sim's Cerebus collections of Church and State, which was told in 60 or so issues, took two super-thick paperback volumes to tell. According to, which is selling the book for $89.99, it weighs 7.7 pounds! Dimensions are 11.3 x 7.4 x 2.8 inches, and 1,216 pages. Compare that to Cerebus: Church & State Vol. 2 at 630 pages and 1.8 pounds, and Marvel's The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 at 1,088 page and a whopping 8.8 pounds! 

This obviously indicates some advances in publishing technology, as it was only about 12 or so years ago that DC released a slipcased, hardcover edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths and said publicly that it was unlikely to be reprinted in that format because it was so difficult to manufacture so thick a volume. Of course, since then, there have been several reprintings of the series in different formats, including an Absolute edition.

I think this is a title that will not stay in print for a long time, because it's such a strange collection. There's no complete story here. It is simply a snapshot of this crucial month in which DC relaunched all its titles. That may make this in time a particularly pricey collector's item, though at $150 new it's already pretty pricey. 

The presentation on this book is nice, though it is so thick that copy and panels near the spine can be hard to read. I recall no double-page spreads in these issues, but this format would make such pages difficult to read at best. The design of the dust jacket is terrific, with a great spine design and a Jim Lee-drawn Justice League spread printed onto the actual hardcover underneath. 

And I can't help but wonder if it would be at all feasible to do a volume two, and possibly make the entire DC Universe line available to die-hard fans in a single monthly book like this. That would be pretty cool if highly unlikely.

Next: More comments on The New 52, the anthology series Dark Horse Presents and a look at X-Men: Regenesis.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New 52 Notes: Green Lantern books, OMAC, Supergirl, Wonder Woman

Reading Green Lantern #3 and Green Lantern Corps #3, I’m impressed by the quality of the latter, technically second-tier title for delivering the kind of action and outer-spacey adventure I like to see from the title. Though it got quite cluttered in the second issue, the “Ring Slayers” story shines again in a very good third issue. The former also is very good, but I don’t recall Hal Jordan ever being this much of a hot-headed jerk. Reading these together, it almost feels like Hal and Guy Gardner swapped roles.
OMAC #3 delivers pretty much the same story as the first two issues did — Kevin Kho lands himself in an odd place where he has to fight a powerful and turns into OMAC to win the day. It’s still good, but overly serialized in a bad way and the overall plot is being pushed too far into the background. I still love the art, which has obvious Kirby roots but also a nice modern sheen to give it a contemporary look.

In retrospect, I think the first two issues of Supergirl should have been one issue — either a condensed version of the two-part story or a double-size issue. It just reads that way to me. Supergirl #3 takes things in a different direction, as Supergirl tries to find out the truth about where she is and how she got here and acquires a new (at least I think he’s new) nemesis in Simon Tycho. So far, I like the writing on this book and the take writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson have on the character. The art takes a slight detour here, with Bill Reinhold’s inking and Paul Mounts’ coloring darkening the overall bright look of the first two issues. It’s not an improvement, but it’s definitely not the kind of bright and inviting look that seem to best suit this character.
Wonder Woman #3 was the best issue to date of the series, which itself is one of the best of The New 52. It’s hard to say too much about this without giving away rather significant origin-related spoilers. But just about everything in this comic book works, from Brian Azzarello’s plot and script to the art by Cliff Chiang and outstanding colors by  Matthew Wilson. Excellent stuff. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Checking Out 'Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts'

Last week, I had a chance to see the new documentary film Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts in its Los Angeles premiere screening at Meltdown Comics in Hollywood. This is the second movie — I have to resist my tendency to call any movie a "film," because very few of them are made with it anymore — from the Sequart Research and Literacy Organization, publishers of such fine tomes as my own Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen (buy it now!). Their previous film, Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, was a bona-fide hit with comics fans and got a lot of attention in the mainstream press and was screened at conventions and film festivals. The Ellis version is made by the same filmmakers, headed up by director and film editor Patrick Meaney and d.p. Jordan Rennert — both of whom attended this L.A. premiere screening.

Here's the trailer for the film:

Links, Layout and Other Housekeeping Notes

Readers may have noticed some tweaks to the design of this blog. I decided last week to update the links and did something screwy to the previous design, which I created in Artisteer, and could not restore it the way it was. So I took the opportunity to create something similar but different. It was nice to find that Blogger has really updated its template and layout functionality, so I no longer need Artisteer to get a look that I like.

Secondly, I updated a lot of the links so they should all work. If you find one that doesn't, please let me know. Also, if you have a comics-related site that you think should be included, let me know and I'll add it asap.

I've had a few folks approach me with some sponsored links — easy enough to figure out which they are. If anyone else is interested in sponsored links or buying an ad, let me know and I'm sure we can work something out.

And lastly, if anyone's interested in just giving a donation of any kind to support the blog, I've added a Paypal donation button at right. No donation is required, but any amount you feel like sharing is much appreciated.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reviews: Hulk #1, DD #5, Cold War #1, Last of the Greats #1, Aquaman #2, Justice League #3

The Incredible Hulk #1 was better than I expected. Not having read the book in years, I missed out on and don’t understand most of the Red Hulk stuff or what mental state Bruce Banner and the Hulk are in these days. I therefore expected to be confused, but wasn’t, though I’m sure it helped that I recognized the Mole Man’s underground minions. Writer Jason Aaron did a good of job of putting it all together and making sure there was some actual action in a first issue. The art by Marc Silvestri et. al was quite good — definitely Silvestri’s distinctive style but amped up with some nice detail that came through quite well in the inks and was well-complemented by Sunny Gho’s colors. That said, I”m not interested enough in the Hulk to make this a regular read at $3.99 a pop.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ranking DC's New 52

We're now about halfway into the second month of DC Comics' The New 52, and I'm now at the point where I have to pick and choose which books I really want to follow and plunk down my own money for. So I made a list and found it quite interesting.

The good news is that I am buying more DC Comics than I was before the relaunch, when I was pretty much just getting the core Batman books. 

Starting with the books I liked enough to stick with, these are the titles I have bought the second issue for already:
  • Action Comics
  • Animal Man
  • Batgirl
  • Detective Comics
  • O.M.A.C.
  • Batman and Robin
  • Batwoman
  • Batman
These books I definitely plan to buy the second issue of:
  • Justice League
  • Wonder Woman
  • Superman 
  • I, Vampire
That's 12 so far, just one title less than a quarter of the New 52 offerings. 

These books I am very likely to pick up, availability and funds allowing: 
  • Supergirl
  • Aquaman
  • Batman: The Dark Knight
  • Superboy
  • Green Lantern Corps
  • The Flash
So if I pick up those books, that means DC got me back for 18 of the 52 books. Again, that's not too bad — it's a lot more than I was getting. 

These books just missed the mark for me, and I could reconsider:
  • Green Arrow
  • Swamp Thing
  • Deathstroke
  • Green Lantern
  • Blackhawks
  • Teen Titans
I admit that I had picked up Green Lantern #2 at the store last week, but changed my mind and put it back once I saw Love and Rockets: New Stories, Vol. 4 was out. 

These titles were the mediocre group of the bunch — not bad, but also neither interesting enough or good enough to make me want to come back. And I'll admit, some of these surprised me.
  • Batwing
  • Hawk and Dove
  • Justice League International
  • Men of War
  • Static Shock
  • Stormwatch
  • Demon Knights
  • Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.
  • Grifter
  • Legion Lost
  • Mister Terrific
  • Resurrection Man
  • Birds of Prey
  • Blue Beetle
  • Captain Atom
  • DC Universe Presents
  • Legion of Super-Heroes
  • Nightwing
  • All-Star Western
  • The Fury of Firestorm
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians
  • The Savage Hawkman
  • Voodoo
That's a full 23 our of 52 books that fall into that category, nearly half of the line.

And then, there's the titles I actively disliked or thought were flat-out terrible.
  • Red Lanterns
  • Suicide Squad
  • Catwoman
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws
  • Justice League Dark
Again, not bad, but the relaunch hasn't really improved the quality of DC Comics, despite all the hype. I wish that the publisher had taken the time to dig deeper in terms of talent and offered up more surprises. They only get one shot at this — at least for the time being — so I would have liked there to be more comics that I could wholeheartedly recommend to both lapsed fans and new readers.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #11 (Feb. 1963)

“A Visit with the Fantastic Four” and "The Impossible Man"
Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Letters by Art Simek

Another, much more successful experiment than the previous issue, this is a rare issue with two FF stories that is refreshing, fun and entertaining. Interestingly enough, Stan Lee writes in the intro to the second Marvel Masterworks volume of Fantastic Four stories that this issue was extremely unpopular at the time. Fans in particular disliked the Impossible Man as being too "silly" for so "serious" a comic book as The Fantastic Four.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Captain America,' 'Punisher' and 'Daredevil' relaunched with unexpected style, substance

Before I delve back into DC waters, it's been interesting to notice that Marvel has been relaunching a lot of titles lately as well, though without anything like the fanfare that DC has been getting.

In addition to next month's relaunch of Uncanny X-Men — the very last long-running title from Marvel or DC to get a new first issue — Marvel recently relaunched Captain America, Daredevil and The Punisher. I had started thinking about this piece a while back when only one or two issues of each was out, but now there's four issues of DD out and three each of Cap and Punisher.

Let's start with Captain America, which seems to have gotten a new first issue to coincide with the release a few months back of the movie. That's not a bad move on Marvel's part, and it's one I'm surprised they haven't used to greater effect in the past.

This isn't much of an introductory first issue, but it really doesn't need to be. Comics fans know who the characters are and the basic setup, while readers new to the character who saw the movie will be in pretty much the same place. There's a nice connection to the movie with the first issue opening on the funeral of 91-year-old Peggy Carter that also introduces Sharon Carter, a.k.a. Agent 13.

Unlike most of last month's DC debuts, Captain America has a very distinct tone and feel to it that is tailored quite well to the character. My original thoughts were that it was a bit decompressed, but on a second read I think it's far from being the worst offender in that category. The second issue does drag a bit, however, with much of the first half of it devoted to back story before stuff starts happening. The third is another good issue, and writer Ed Brubaker has surprised me by writing comics arcs that are structured like they used to be, with enough going on in each issue to keep me interested.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DC New 52, 4th Wave, Pt. 2: I, Vampire and, yes, Teen Titans nail it

OK, I just finished reading the final six debut issues of the New 52. Reading them all has been fun, but it's a lot of comics. I don't know when I last read this many comics in one month, but it's been a long while.


The Savage Hawkman #1 is confusing for me because I don't understand the idea of the Nth Metal. I thought Hawkman was from Hawkworld, but I guess it's all been changed. This issue begins with Carter Hall trying to rid himself of the Nth Metal and any connection to Hawkman. He fails, of course, and goes missing while some of his colleagues dredge up a mystery object from the ocean floor. It eventually unleashes all kinds of nasty and Carter finds himself morphing back into Hawkman to fight it. As you can tell, the story, by Tony Daniel, is pretty average. What I really liked was the art by Philip Tan and the coloring by Sunny Gho. This is a nice looking book — it has a painted look, though close inspection reveals that to not be the case. I don't have an emotional connection to Hawkman, so I doubt I'll be back, but this is a decent comic.

After getting a lot of criticism last week for the portrayal of women in the New 52, we next come to Voodoo #1. Another Wildstorm refugee, this one sees the former member of Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.S. working as a stripper while being investigated for some reason by a couple of agents. Turns out, she's an alien with telepathy who finds it easy to learn about men as a stripper because they're guards are down while they watch her. It's not much of an explanation, but it is one. The end also indicates that the stripper locale is a one-issue affair, and the plot will move on into some more interesting areas. The art by Sami Basri is, as you'd expect for a story set in a strip club, replete with women wearing skimpy clothes and in various levels of undress. The biggest problem with this issue is it doesn't deliver enough of anything — mystery, character, suspense, plot — to make me want to stick around. It's just thin, and hangs on a reveal that anyone familiar with the character had already figured out.

Justice League Dark #1 is a silly book that tries to jam together characters unsuited to a superhero into a superhero team. This should be called Justice League Vertigo, as it features Madame Xanadu, John Constantine and Shade: The Changing Man, as well as Deadman and Zatanna. Like Justice League International, there's not much of a connection here to the main Justice League title save a short appearance by Batman. The story is pretty standard "assemble the team" stuff, but it hurts just a little bit to see characters like Constantine be forced into a costume story when they're just not made for it.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 has some really pretty artwork from David Finch, but otherwise feels completely superfluous. Batman and Detective Comics still feel like the "real" books, and this and Batman and Robin are spinoffs that will come and go while the others remain the center of the Bat-verse. This is still a decent Batman comic, but it's the kind that's aimed at the die-hard fan and completist. On a side note, there's one really odd, prominent panel of a female Arkham inmate wearing a skimpy outfit that includes a thong with a bunny tail on it. I'll wait to see what the reaction is to that.

I, Vampire #1 managed to overcome my longstanding dislike of vampires and I really enjoyed it. This may be the breakout original title of the New 52 — I really hope it is. It's deftly written by Joshua Hale Fialkov and sports some really incredible artwork from Andrea Sorrentino. I don't think any description of the plot will do it justice, just go read it — even if you can't stand vampires.

And the final first issue of the New 52 is Teen Titans #1, from Red Hood and the Outlaws scribe Scott Lobdell and veteran artists Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund. Thankfully, this was a lot more like Lobdell's script for Superboy than for Red Hood. It starts with the mistake-ridden, overconfident debut of Kid Flash, followed by Tim Drake — who has kept the Red Robin moniker — assembling a new team. It's got the same sort of snappy pace and dialoge that Lobdell is known for, and he makes it work quite well with these characters. I expect the ret-con of Wonder Girl will prompt some outcries. It appears her previous connection to Wonder Woman is gone and her powers are quite different. But she has a personality — perhaps still at this point a stock personality, but she still has one — as does Red Robin and the cocky new Kid Flash. I have long found Booth's figures to be a bit stiff, but this is a big improvement from his 1990s efforts with Wildstorm and the X-Men books at Marvel, so good for him. While I am not the biggest fan anymore of teen books, I still might give this shot based on the energy that this first issue delivers.

And with that, the pile of New 52 comics sitting on top of a longbox in my office is complete. I'd love to know what anyone else thinks of these books. Do you agree with my take, disagree, partially agree? Send me links, comments or emails if you're so inclined. I'll be taking a look at others' reviews and expect to post some kind of wrapup before the second issues hit starting next week.

DC New 52, 4th Wave, Pt. 1: Aquaman, Flash, Superman outshine the rest

The finish line is in sight for DC's New 52. Look for a post that kind of sums up a take on the overall project in the next day or so. Obviously, it's been a big hit for DC, which announced yesterday that all 52 books have sold out of their first printings and going back to press. Three titles have shipped 200,000 or more and eight more have shipped more than 100,000. That's a huge boost for the direct market, where the 100k mark has been a tough one for any book to crack.

I still have a few books in the final batch to read, but in the meantime, here's my thoughts on the books I've read so far.

There should be more books like Aquaman #1, which I found to be a very entertaining and action-packed comic book. This is another very slick entry, with some terrific artwork from Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Writer Geoff Johns tries very hard to make Aquaman a convincing action hero and mostly succeeds. I expected that having everyone think of him as a joke would not work at all, but it turned out to be fairly amusing in the end. I also think it's funny that the logo imitates the one invented for the fake Aquaman movie from the Entourage TV show. At the very least, this is the best Aquaman comic in a long time, if not ever. It's up to you to decide if that's a significant achievement or not.

Next is yet another The Flash #1, this one from co-writer and artist Francis Manapul and co-writer Brian Buccellato. This was much improved from the rather ponderous take Johns had on the character in the previous reboot, or even the previous short-lived version before that I have trouble remembering anything about at this point. I found this to be a solid, nice-looking Flash comic. It doesn't invent the wheel, but it's pretty much spot on for what an average issue of this title should read like. If Manapul can keep it up, will be a consistently entertaining title.

The Fury of Firestorm, The Nuclear Men #1 appears to be a full reboot of the character, and is a straight-forward origin story that shows how the Firestorms got their powers and introduces a big, scary villain for them to fight in the next issue. We meet Ronnie Raymond, star high school quarterback, and Jason Rusch, student journalist. They clash and very quickly develop a dislike of each other — so of course they are bound together as the new Firestorms. The art by Yildiray Cinar has a slightly funky, retro feel to it that, combined with the very traditional origin story, makes this a bit of a throwback. It's not bad, but nothing about this is interesting enough to make me stick around for another issue.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DC's New 52, Wave 3, plays it safe except when it comes to sex

The final batch of first issues in DC's New 52 arrived Monday this week instead of Wednesday. I've already read a few that I quite like, but I have to wait until tomorrow because of the embargo. That leaves me with today to catch up and go through all of last week's books, which contained more than its fair share of bombshells.

FYI, due to some of the topics that came up in this week's books, the language used below may not be suitable for all ages. Proceed at your own risk.

Top book on the pile is Wonder Woman #1, by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. As you might expect from Chiang, the book looks great and is well colored with an appropriately moody palette by Matthew Wilson. The story is a pretty significant deviation from the typical Wonder Woman story, getting into an area I think you could call occult, except it deals with Greek mythology so maybe that's a better way to describe it. But it is darker in tone and look that the shiny, bright take on Wonder Woman that has prevailed over the years at DC. I'm not sure how effective this is as a first issue, however, because not much is explained. Diana doesn't even appear until halfway through the issue, where she's found sleeping naked (though covered) in a London flat. It's not clear what the set up is, who she's supposed to be or how she's intended to fit into the world. I think Azzarello and Chiang have a bit more leeway based on their reputation to get things going in the next couple of issues, and this was much better than the Odyssey revamp of last year. So, this is promising.

Dick Grayson gets his old costume and book back with Nightwing #1, which was a competent if completely average superhero comic. The art by Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer is nice, and I enjoyed the scenes where Dick returns to the circus he grew up in to say hi to his friends. I don't know if anyone has ever done that idea before, but I thought it was a nice touch here. The superhero-ing part of the book was less thrilling, and I really wish the industry would institute a ban on the hero narrating the story in captions. That was interesting and effective in 1982 when Chris Claremont popularized it on the first Wolverine miniseries, but it's been overused to death. How about having characters talk to each other once in a while? It might be a good trend to start.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The New 52, Wave 2, Pt. 2: Green Trumps Red, Superboy and Deathstroke Surprise

Sorry about the long delay in New 52 reviews and other series. I had a lot of assignments come in that I had to get off my plate, which is great news for any freelancer but it means the blog gets delayed.

One story I wrote is of note to folks here, which is my article on Sam Register's running of Warner Bros. Animation and the studio's surge in production and success in brand building. One of the big examples is the upcoming DC Nation show, which is still hard to peg down in terms of content, but it will include some sweet-sounding animated shorts that I think fans will get a real kick out of. DC Nation is due to start airing on Cartoon Network next summer. The story ran in Variety and, if you're a subscriber and can get past the paywall, you can read it here.

A couple other stories I've done for the current issue of Animation Magazine that may be of interest include my story on the making of Batman: Year One, which I think is really good; and this story on MTV Animation, including the return of Beavis and Butt-head, as well as a new toon called Good Vibes that turned out to be a nice surprise.

I continue to be lucky enough for DC publicity to still be sending me all the New 52 issues, as I have had no time to even hit the comic shop for the past few weeks. I've had to refresh my memory on the rest of the releases from the second week of the New 52, and changed my initial opinion in a few cases.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 was a bit of a disappointment even though there's nothing wrong with it. I love the title, but expected a little more crazy and a lot more fun. Instead, we have a fairly standard setup as Frankenstein is now working for the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive and is sent on a mission to save a town where monsters are stripping the skin off people. Also, Frankenstein's wife went in on the mission first and has gone missing. He's joined by a quartet of new, monster-like agents and there's a some nice fighting scenes. The art by Alberto Ponticelli is solid, though somewhat generic for a monster-themed title, and Jeff Lemire's script lacks the wit, characterization, or the kind of just plain weirdness that would have set this apart. I think the Wachowski Bros.' Doc Frankenstein series of a few years back was a much more fun take on a very similar idea.

A number of reviews of Green Lantern #1 say it's very much a continuation of the previous Green Lantern run. I don't know because I wasn't reading it before now. This impressed me, however, as one of the most new-reader friendly books so far. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, this issue finds Hal Jordan no longer a Green Lantern and living jobless and in need of cash on Earth. Meanwhile, Sinestro somehow is once again a member of the Corps and would like to change that, leading to him approaching Jordan about some kind of deal. I think you could give this comic to anyone who saw the Green Lantern movie and they'd be able to follow it no problem. It features Hal, Carol Ferris and Sinestro, all pretty much as they were in the movie and easy to identify. The art is clear and I think the story has enough interest for such folks to enjoy it and want to read more. For die-hard fans, it's probably little different from reading Green Lantern #68.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The New 52, Wave 2, Part 1: Batwoman's worth the wait

After a few work-intensive days, I finally finished reading all this week's releases in The New 52. This week was very different from last week, with the best entries coming from unexpected sources and some of the books I thought would at least be strange and interesting falling short.

Again, I'll do these in the order I read them, and likely break them up into multiple posts to make it easier to read.

Batman & Robin #1 comes only two years after the previous Batman & Robin #1, which was a blockbuster by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. This version is by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray, and features the same Robin (the Damian Wayne version) and a different Batman (back to Broce Wayne from Dick Grayson). The crux of the issue is the relationship between the two, with Bruce addressing various family issues and explaining himself to Damian. There is some action in here, but the overall tone focuses on the the relationship with the result being a fairly slow and not especially exciting first issue. The art is often dark and murky to the point where it's a bit tough to follow and pages look like a sea of ink. Neither element makes this a particularly compelling debut and I can't see this appealing much beyond the Batman completists.

Mister Terrific #1 is another reasonably solid comic book that I think could have been better. I think it's admirable that DC has put out so many books with non-white lead characters (Static Shock and Batwing being the other two to date), even as they've gotten so much flak from fans about the dearth of female creators and characters. I'm not exactly familiar with this character, who I think previously appeared in the JSA. The script by Eric Wallace and the arty by Gianluca Gugliotta and Wayne Faucher is all solid but not spectacular. It's all pretty standard first-issue superhero stuff, that I wish was in some way more memorable than it is.

Suicide Squad #1 has a terrific cover, though I had to read the interior of the book to figure out that it's Harley Quinn front and center there. This issue sees the SS team assembled, sent on their first mission and enduring some torture. This is a book that really could have benefited from a more straight-forward approach to the storytelling. A title like Suicide Squad suggests a high-concept series with a heavy dose of crazy, and instead it's a slow-moving, somewhat unpleasant story with lots of scenes of torture in it. It just doesn't stand out.

Ah, Batwoman #1. At last. Much delayed, this one was definitely worth the wait. Yes, Greg Rucka has moved on, but J.H. Williams III is still drawing, and working on the stories with W. Haden Blackman. This looks absolutely amazing, with appealing and distinctive characters engaged in a clear, interesting story. Plus, it's super sexy and realistic in a way that shames that the typical bubble-boobed heroines that normally pass for "sexy" in comics. There's no reason to not pick this up. Excellent.

Legion Lost #1 was aptly named — I was lost. I have never had much luck at penetrating the continuity  of Legion of Super-Heroes, though I do recognize a couple of the characters in this book. Apparently the premise is a group of Legionnaires are lost on present-day Earth. Not much else was easy to absorb from this issue. Introductions are important and, on the second- and third-tier books, there may not be a chance to draw an audience down the line the way you can with a high-profile first-issue.

I liked Grifter #1 a lot more than I expected to. It's less of a superhero story and more of a straight action story. Writer Nathan Edmonson and artists Cafu and Jason Gorder capture some of that old-time Wildstorm energy for this globe-trotting tale. The art was really attractive, but the story wasn't quite crazy and strange enough for me to be sure I'll come back for a second issue.   

Demon Knights #1 is overall a pretty good comic. For one, even though it's got Jack Kirby's Demon in it, it's more of a fantasy comic with lots of action. Uniqueness of genre, some appealing depictions of the characters and pretty good art from Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert take this pretty far for me. Like a lot of these books, there are issues with characters not being terribly well introduced or there being enough interesting story, but in this case there's enough charm to overcome the shortcomings.

Next: Red! Green! Superboy! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

'Pariah' slickly covers familiar ground

Pariah is indicative of the current state of indie comics: It's a high-concept story that's slickly produced and has some kind of movie ambition and/or Hollywood connection or talent behind it.

First, the book itself. Pariah #1 starts with Brent Marks, who we're told is a "Vitro," which makes him superhumanly smart. Completely isolated from other Vitros, he lives a miserable teenage life in Ohio, where he can't meet girls at high school and hates his brain-dead parents. But he's also got this idea for a working interplanetary spaceship and has started building components for it in his room. Then, an explosion at a weapons research laboratory that employs a large number of Vitros releases a deadly toxin in the air, making Vitros persona non grata. Brent runs afoul first of some bullies, then of the law and is captured for what is certain to be a nefarious purpose.

The high concept here is the idea of Vitros, which is based on real world research that indicates genes can be modified before birth — i.e., in vitro — to achieve certain genetic outcomes. I wish this had been explained in the book itself, though. I learned this fact from the press kit that came with it.

(As a total aside, this was one of the best press kits I've ever seen for a comic book release. It included several professional-quality press releases, bios of the creators, a bookmark, printouts of reviews, a hand-written note from the publicist, a copy of the book and even synopses of upcoming issues.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Small Press: Diamondback is Unpolished but Enthusiastic

Every so often, folks send me an email asking if I'll take a look at and review their comics. For a long time, I had no time to do so, but a couple of recent requests piqued my interest and so I'm going to do a couple of these indie reviews before I dig into this week's tantalizing pile of The New 52, sitting since yesterday afternoon on my desk.

I have here the first two issues of Diamondback, published by Colorado-based Anasazi Comics, each $3.99 for 24 pages in color. Written by Jeremy Lee, who created the series with Michael Andereck, Diamondback is set in an "anarcho-capitalist" future in which all government has collapsed and the only justice you can get is what you pay for. In the massive Denver City, a man named Jack Cody's wife is killed in a gangland gunfight. Lacking legal insurance, his child is taken from him and Jack is sent to prison, where he makes socks and his soul dies. He's pulled out after a year by a an agent named Cowboy, who believes Jack also can be an agent for the Carroll-Dodgson company and begins training him. Jack takes on the name and identity of Diamondback, and he and Cowboy immediately clash with the big boys of the agency game at Dyja International, which forms the spine of the first two issues.

There are some interesting tidbits in here and I think this could be developed into something that works as a story and would be quite interesting as an action tale with some social commentary in it. The execution leaves something to be desired, even though it makes up for its many technical flaws with sheer enthusiasm. I wish the script had an editor who could make sure that the concepts in the book were clearly explained.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

New 52, Week One, Pt. 3: JLI, Swamp Thing, Batwing and Static Shock

Delayed slightly by a short-lived, mildly annoying illness and tons of work and baby duties, here, now, are some thoughts on the last batch of releases in the first full week of DC's The New 52.

Swamp Thing #1 is a very tough comic to do, because no matter how good the book is it always has to live in the shadow of great runs by Alan Moore and the original run by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson. Also, after nearly 20 years as a Vertigo property, I find it somehow incongruous to see Swamp Thing appear alongside Superman and other mainstream superheroes. None of which has anything to do with this particular story by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette. I"ll start with the art, which I found to very good and atmospheric and, appropriately, lush. I had to double check the credits because I was sure those distinctively-inked faces meant Kevin Nowlan was working on this issue, but it is all Paquette. Snyder's story does a decent job of resetting the character and his Alec Holland alter ego in the DC Universe, but still failed to really sell the idea as a good one. The horror elements were good. But I don't think this version of Swamp Thing is distinctive enough to work as a Swamp Thing comic for established fans, while this is easily, I think, the most confusing first issue for neophytes. 

I was surprised in a good way to see Justice League International among The New 52. I am, as regular readers of this blog will know, a fan of the Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis run on the title from the late 1980s. Those writers haven't returned for this version, which is written by Dan Jurgens with Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan on art — all solid superhero creators. The key to this seems to be Booster Gold, who Jurgens created a long time ago and whose series he was writing and drawing before it ended with Flashpoint. The supporting cast includes JLI stalwarts Guy Gardner, Batman, Rocket Red, Ice, Fire and Batman, along with Vixen, a Chinese hero named August General in Iron and a cheeky brit chick named Godiva. The premise is a little odd, as the United Nations agrees to form its own Justice League that it can control, under the leadership of U.N. Intelligence Chief Andre Briggs. So the JLI has no relation to the other Justice League, even though Batman's in both. The story itself is decent but not spectacular. It has a  plot that it clearly tells, with a couple of character moments that old fogeys like me will be familiar with but may appeal to the newbies. There's foreshadowing of conflicts, a cliff-hanger ending, some mid-level superhero action and it all looks very clean if average. All of this makes it hard to recommend one way or the other — it's far from bad, but it's nothing special enough to go out of your way for unless you already like these characters and this concept.

Static Shock #1 is perhaps the most standard first issue of the bunch, running through the standard story points of introducing the hero, his supporting cast, the premise and giving him a first villain to fight. I admit to not having read really anything about this character after about the first year of the original Static series from Milestone in 1993-94. I know there was a cartoon, and I know this was a signature character for the late Dwayne McDuffie. But this doesn't match up with anything I remember liking about those original comics, which to me evoked Steve Ditko's early Spider-Man work. This is a just a lot more generic. The story is by Scott McDaniel (who also does the art) and John Rozum, with Jonathan Glapion and LeBeau Underwood on inks. I really wish this book was better, but I fear this will be one of the first on the block for cancelation.

The last book on the list is Batwing #1, by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver. This is another book I was hoping would be a surprise simply because it's new. And it's a bit of a mixed bag, mostly because it didn't grab me the way I expected it to. This is a new character, sort of spun out of the idea of Grant Morrison's Batman, Incorporated idea, about David Zavimbe, who is, essentially, the Batman of Africa. His secret identity is as a police officer in the city of Tinasha in the Congo. The city is corrupt, there is plenty of rather ghastly crime and no one to fight it except Batwing. The first issue sees Batwing fight his new nemesis, Massacre, and establishes the setting, etc. It reads OK and looks very nice, but I think the reason this didn't grab me is it just feels like old DC. Most of the new books seem to have attempted to put in more plot and tell the stories clearly — this feels sparse and slow. It also doesn't show much of Africa itself, which I would have thought to be a major source of cool imagery and therefore a selling point for the book. I'm not sure it's future looks much better than that of Static Shock, but the concept is one that I think could work well with a more energetic take on the material.

And that's it for week one! Plenty more to come next week ... 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Batgirl Surprises, 'Tec Shocks and Two New 52 Surprises

It appears that Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf and Vicent Cifuentes is the surprise hit of The New 52, becoming the first book to sell out in many stores. It's no surprise that Simone writes a great Barbara Gordon, but I was especially impressed by the artwork. Not only was it attractive looking and nicely polished, but the coloring by Ulises Arreola really added to the tone of the book without sacrificing clarity. I keep harping on this point, but coloring has been a real weakness at both Marvel and DC in recent years and it's nice to see DC make a concerted effort to improve the coloring in their comics. The story was very engaging, though I missed exactly how Babs got the use of her legs back. The new outfit is very cool and the book is overall just a good bit of fun. I'm not sure why this particular book is so in demand — it could just be pent-up demand for seeing Barbara back in the cape, but I think there's more going on here and I hope the book continues to be as much fun to read as this first issue.

OMAC #1 was a book I thought had potential right from the start. This was a great concept for the character when Kirby came up with it back in the 1970s, but its original run was cut short and no one has ever quite found the right mix. But Keith Giffen, getting back into the Kirby mode he exhibited years ago on Legion of Super-Heroes, really delivers a story that gets the Kirby spirit right. Working with Dan DiDio as co-writer and Scott Koblish as inker, this is another action-packed and fun comic book that evokes the King's work in every panel and twist and turn of the story. That it does so without seeming dated is an impressive feat that few other Kirby imitations have succeeded in doing. This is exactly the sort of book I was hoping to find in the New 52 — an unexpected surprise that delights and entertains.

Detective Comics #1. The last time we saw a Detective Comics #1 on the stand was March 1937, and this  is the title from which the company derives its name. (Yes, DC Comics does mean Detective Comics Comics, and trying to correct that lack of logic is just as pointless as trying to get people to stop saying ATM machine.) So, this is one of the titles that changed the least, with writer and penciller Tony S. Daniel moving over to 'Tec from the same job on the just-concluded run of Batman. Daniel does raise the bar here. The storytelling is better, the color is better and the scripting is better than his recent Batman run. He's also telling an especially intense story with a conclusion that is already getting a lot of shocked responses online. I admit that it surprised me, by being both unexpected and particularly gory for a Batman comic. But it does make me want to read more.

Green Arrow #1 is another example of the kind of book I was hoping to find in the New 52. Now, Green Arrow has never been a character I've been especially fond of. He is, after all, a guy with a bow and arrow. I walk my dog in Lower Arroyo Park in Pasadena, and see archers there almost every day at a public range down there. Archery just isn't threatening to me in the same way that firearms would be, even in a safe setting like a shooting range. As a character, Green Arrow has always been a bit of a caricature, going all the way back to his role as the voice of hippiedom in superhero comics when he teamed up with that square dude Green Lantern way back in the early 1970s. This new Green Arrow keeps Oliver Queen as the hero, but updates him to be much more modern and less one-note. Gone is the goatee, and Queen is like a young Steve Jobs who runs a major tech company as a side job to playing superhero. He's assisted by tech girl Naomi and skeptic Jax. The book is, again, heavy on the action and it plays like vintage late 1980s DC, courtesy of writer J.T. Krul, penciler Dan Jurgens and inker supreme George Perez. The art really helps sell this book, as both Jurgens and Perez are veteran superhero artists who seem to relish the opportunity to revisit a more fun take on this character. This book would have easily fit into the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths relaunches of 1986-1989, which makes me very happy because that's perhaps my favorite era of DC Comics.

One more post to wrap it up.

First Batch of New 52 Releases Delivers Solid Comic-Book Entertainment

Sometimes, life is great. Yesterday afternoon, FedEx rang my door and had me sign for a package from the publicity folks at DC Comics. Quickly tearing open the package, I found inside all 13 of this week's releases of The New 52.

It was tough to not just stop working and dig right into the big pile. I took a little break and read Hawk & Dove #1 followed by Action Comics #1. I read the rest of the books last night and now will delve into them for your reading pleasure.

The good news is these books are overall quite good. After the mild letdown of Justice League #1, I found every one of the 13 new books to deliver a satisfying and entertaining story. These read a lot like comics from the late 1980s or 1990s, with more story, more action and fewer talking heads than superhero comics have delivered of late. They also have some sharp art and, thankfully, overall good coloring. The books look quite sharp. I still wish there was some kind of introductory text page and maybe a house ad promoting comic shops, explaining digital availability and an ad offering subscription info.

I don't know how truly new readers will receive these books, but I give DC great credit for doing a pretty good job delivering on material that I think has a wider appeal than superhero comics have delivered in a while.

So, let's go through them, one by one. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but if you're a stickler you might want to wait until you've read the books to proceed. Also, this may take multiple posts.

I started with Hawk & Dove #1 just because a comic by Rob Liefeld always evokes some kind of interesting reaction. Yes, the anatomy on the cover is awful, but the image still has that unique energy Liefeld brings to his projects. Inside, the story by Sterling Gates was better than I expected, though in a crazy, comic-book kind of way. It at least delivers on action, complete with monsters, zombies (or maybe monster/zombies) and a close call between a plane and a national monument. The books keeps it simple, though some of the ideas in here are a bit puzzling (what is a "science terrorist"?) if you think about it too hard. The dialog is a bit hammy, especially from the slightly one-note characterization of Hank Hall as a hothead. Still, this works in a very basic way thanks to lots of action and a couple of good twists toward the end.

Action Comics #1 is THE high-profile book of the week, featuring Grant Morrison and Rags Morales' anticipated revamp of the Man of Steel. And boy, does this get the blood pumping. If you go back and read my take a few months back on how to fix Superman, it looks like Morrison had a lot of the same ideas. This issue is all about the action, and features some great, gritty sequences. Morrison takes Superman back to the beginning — this version of the character is surprisingly similar to the original concept by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This Superman is a crusader, tackling the powerful interests of Metropolis that are otherwise above the law. His power levels also are scaled back and he leaps more than flies, and has the potential to be hurt. This Superman also is young, but not mopey — he's out there acting on his convictions and doing what he sees as right. This is a great first issue and it succeeds at being an exciting and fun take on the Man of Steel.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reviewing DC's Justice League #1 in print and in digital

I haven't reviewed new comics in a while, though I've had a few requests and will get some comments on those books up in the next day or so.

In the interim, DC's New 52 kicked off yesterday with the release of Justice League #1. I got a copy from DC, and found it to have some good points and some bad. I also tried the digital edition on my iPhone and that spurred lots of ideas on what works and what doesn't about that format.

But first, the comic itself is good but not great.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wilma Flintstone in Batman? Joker in X-Men? It's all in the coloring ...

It's strange the things you notice when you're reading a comic. Take this panel from DC Retroactive 1970s Batman:
"Oh, Willlllmmmaaaa!" 
I don't know if this was intended by writer Len Wein and artist Tom Mandrake or if colorist Wes Hartman is just having a bit of fun. Of course, The Flintstones is part of the Warner Bros. animation empire, just as the DC Universe is.

It reminds me of this panel from X-Men #130, about which artist John Byrne later said he had hoped colorist Glynis Wein would pick up on his idea and color it in green, white and red. Here's the printed panel:
The joke's on Scott and Jean.

Oddly, Byrne also has said in interviews that he realized as a child that he could write stories with the best of them when he came up with an idea for a TV series about cavemen who had prehistoric equivalents of modern conveniences long before The Flintstones came on the air with much the same idea. 

I admit I liked the three Retroactive issues DC publicity was kind enough to send me, though I admit to not being interested enough to buy any more of them. This is a good idea for a project, and the reprints were nicely chosen, but it should have been spread out over more than a month. Six specials each for the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s at $4.99 a piece ads up to a whopping $89.82, which is way too much.

Monday, August 29, 2011

X-Men: Schism Takes the Low Road to Mediocrity

In Marvel and DC’s near-constant onslaught of mega-events to drive sales, the X-Men titles that popularized the gimmick have fallen victim to one of the most underwhelming and skeevy events in its history with the arrival of X-Men: Schism.

I have a lot to say about this one after reading the first three of five issues in the series, so consider yourself forewarned. I also think I need to explain why something like this is worth writing about in detail when it really would be easier to just roll my eyes, say “it stinks!” and move on to something worthwhile.

Comics are the only reason where I’ll bother being critical like this because the comics is so dominated by superheroes and franchises from Marvel and DC that the failure or success of any one such franchise has a much greater ripple effect than it would in any other medium. When something like X-Men (or Batman or Spider-Man, etc. — take your pick), which has so long been a dominant creative and commercial force does just about anything, you just can’t ignore it the same way critics can pass over, say, Sucker Punch, Glee or a new album from David Archuleta.

So here we have X-Men: Schism, a five-issue miniseries that sets the stage for the next relaunch of the entire line this fall. It’s written by Jason Aaron, with each issue drawn by a different artist. Carlos Pacheco and Cam Smith draw issue one, Frank Cho is on issue two and Daniel Acuña does it all on issue three. Alan Davis is slated for issue four, with Adam Kubert apparently on issue five. There also are no fewer than four editors credited on the book, which makes the errors in execution even more questionable. Plus, these books aren’t cheap, with the first costing $4.99 for 32 pages of story, and issues two and three cost $3.99 for 22 pages of story each.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 5 - Comic-Book Movies and Mutant Cinema

I don't have a lot of books about comic book movies, in part because I don't think there are many out there that are not direct tie-in books. I have a few of those, including Frank Miller's Sin City: The Making of the Movie, The Art of X2, The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion, and one or two more. Reference works are common, including Comic Book Movies by David Hughes and John Kenneth Muir's comprehensive and readable (though pricey) Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.

Of actual books on comics movies, I only have a few, including my own. So I'll start there with a quick recap of how Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen came to be.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #10 (Jan. 1963)

“The Return of Doctor Doom!”
Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Letters by Art Simek

They might have titled this story, "Lo, There Shall Come — A Stinker!" The previous nine issues all saw improvements of one kind or another, but this issue is truly weak in every respect. This issue is, in fact, so bad that all I can really do with it is do a quick run through and make some snarky comments about it, so here goes.

This issue begins with Reed trying to figure out how Sue's invisibility power works, using a big machine that looks like a cross between a howitzer and a vintage camera. Far from Kirby's best splash page, it's made even weirder by the fact that the Human Torch is assisting Reed by taking notes while in full flame mode. It's so odd, that it gets a mention in Sue's dialog, just before the "4" signal appears in the sky and the trio assume Ben's in trouble and rush off to help.

And it just gets weirder from there.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 4

I don't have nearly enough books in the category that this post covers: Books about the art and lives of specific artists. I think there are a lot more out there, but for some reason I don't have as many of them as I thought I might.

I'll start with The Amazing World of Carmine Infantino, which I bought at a convention directly from the publisher and it was an autographed copy. I only met Carmine once, and it was at a convention and I simply said how much I had enjoyed his art on the old Marvel Star Wars series. That series was the one that got me reading comics and I had, as a kid, mixed feelings about the art. First, the comic was a lot better as soon as Infantino came aboard with writer Archie Goodwin. The stories were cool, fun to read, easy on the eyes and had some very clear storytelling. On the downside, none of the characters in the comic looked like the actors from the movie. That part bugged me enough — especially after seeing the bang-up job Mike Vosberg did on Star Wars Annual #1 — to write a letter to Marvel about it. All of which digresses from this book, which is an amiable recounting of Carmine's career as he remembers it. That's both a good and bad approach — there's lots of good little anecdotes and plenty of cool artwork throughout the book, but there's not much criticism. That leaves a few areas of comics history — especially during Infantino's tenure as top editor at DC Comics during the late 1960s and early 1970s — no closer to any kind of definitive history than we were before. Still, fans of Infantino's artwork should get a real kick out of this volume.