Thursday, July 2, 2015

Secret Wars #4 (of 8)

   The most vital ingredient to every good superhero story (other than a hero, of course) is a great villain.

   And Marvel has (arguably) one of the greatest villain in the history of comics - Dr. Doom.

    The problem with every villain is that he has to lose at some point - and that diminishes him to some extent. Doom avoids this by being the ruler of his own country, and by being smart, powerful, capable and... well, awesome.

   But in recent years, Doom has been diminished a bit through overexposure, and through a series of defeats at the hands of lesser opponents.

   Secret Wars is fixing all that, because it gives Doom a chance to show why he's so formidable. While an army of heroes (Avengers, Illuminati and the Cabal) were dealing with the collision and destruction of alternate Earths, Doom was looking for the cause of the cosmic event - and, along with Dr. Strange and the Molecule Man, confronted that power - the Beyonder (or was it the Beyonders?) - and claimed that power to preserve a crazy-quilt version of the Earth.

   And now he rules over Battleworld as a god.

   But, as we see in this issue, not everything is under his control, and he finds himself facing old enemies - and a new threat.

   It's great to see Doom back at the pinnacle again, in a terrific story by Jonathan Hickman, with amazing, powerful art by Esad Ribic.

   We're halfway through this series and it's packed full of amazing concepts and plot twists galore. Oh, and quite a few shocking surprises. So far, it's the best comics "event" in years!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today - another light week for me:

- A-Force #2 - Who is the woman covered in stars?

- Justice Inc. #2 - Chasing a ghost.

- Princess Leia #5 - A daring rescue!

- Secret Wars #4 - Doom confronts a new enemy - and his oldest opponent.  

- Spirit #1 - What happened to the Spirit?

   And that's it!

The Classics - Parts Unknown #1

   There are comics that seek to educate, to tackle vital social issues and enlighten the reader.

   This is not one of those books.

   Instead, Parts Unknown was created to be the equivalent of a "B"-movie, the kind that you'd see on a Friday night at the drive-in theaters of my youth.

   It's raw, crude, violent... and a heck of a lot of fun!

   Created by writer Beau Smith and artists Brad Gorby and Randy Clark in 1992, the series featured two police detectives - the beautiful (and tough as nails) Maria Lucci and the rough-and-tumble Spurr.

   Their careers take an unexpected turn when they stumble onto the strangest kidnapping ring ever - a group of murderous lizard-like aliens planning to conquer the Earth for two reasons - one, to reap organs (and skin) from humans - and two, they want to (how shall I put this?) have their way with all the world's women.

   So you can expect lots of death and destruction, women in distress (or barely staying in dis dress), and lots of fun dialogue.

   Politically correct it ain't, but it is - assuming you're a fan of this kind of rude, rambling and raucous adventure (and who isn't?) - a heck of a lot of fun!

   (And why in the world the SyFy Channel hasn't made this into a movie by now, I have no clue. Sharknado has nothing on the mayhem in this series!)

Grade: A-

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mercy: Shake the World

   You will find few writers in comics who will challenge the reader more than J.M. DeMatteis (and yes, that's a good thing).

   Now back in print is Mercy: Shake the World, his graphic novel with artist Paul Johnson (originally published as part of DC's Vertigo line).

   It's that true rarity in modern comics - a story that's filled with hope and a positive view of life.

   The story could easily have gone in a different direction - it uses some classic horror tropes to set up the focus on the mysterious woman (or force of nature) known as Mercy.

   The story is told from an unusual point of view - that of a man who is in a coma, and finds his spirit floating through a dreamlike world.

   He is drawn to others who face pivotal moments - a married couple who are about the split apart; an elderly woman who lives with the literal ghosts from her past; and a young man facing a traumatic - and possibly life-ending - change.

   Where most writers would take the easy way out (perhaps a grim and gritty analysis of the dark side of the spirit) but DeMatteis makes it an exploration of the spirit, a message of love and hope - it's inspired work.

   Johnson's art is a perfect match for the story - evocative painted images that convey the story while keeping a unique artistic vision. From the stunning beauty of Mercy to a myriad of strange, twisted environments and the raw emotional experiences of the characters, he captures it with a flood of pages, any one of which would look great framed and hanging on the wall.

   I should add that this story isn't for everyone - there are no superheroes, no capes, no city-shattering fights between godlike figures - but you will find a thought-provoking story that is surprising and moving.

Grade: A

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Surface Tension #2

   As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of the well-worn "in the future, everything goes to hell" kind of story.

   But I'm willing to make an exception - so far - with Surface Tension.

   That's because it's a story loaded with interesting characters, some romantic interests, and a clever story.

   It manages to mix disaster with an unusual horror story. Most of mankind has been afflicted with something called the "Sea Sickness," which forces them to walk into the ocean.

   Not everyone contracted the disease, so the survivors try to deal with the new reality - and then a young couple walks back out of the ocean, with blue skin and jumbled memories.

   It's all tied in, somehow, to changes in sea coral - and their return has lured a monster to the surface world.

   So there's a lot going on in the excellent story written and drawn by Jay Gunn, and the artwork is terrific - kind of a Frank Quitely look, with striking environments and excellent character designs.

   It's a story with lots of mysteries to analyze, interesting characters to discover and some sharp moments of horror.

   So far, I'm impressed!

Grade: A

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Daredevil #16

   Have I mentioned how much I enjoy Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's work on Daredevil?

    They somehow manage to capture a classic, almost Silver Age feel to the comic, while making it at the same time cutting edge, with sharp characters and dialogue, stunning visuals and surprises behind each turn of the page.

   This issue brings back some classic DD villains (including his most infamous opponent), confronts the ever-frustrating problem of Matt's public identity (which they've been having a heck of a lot of fun with), and promises a (potential) final solution to the threat that hangs over his life and his loved ones.

   It ends with a heck of a cliffhanger.

   It boils down to this: you'll have a tough time finding a better comic on the market right now from any company.

   So you really should be buying this comic.

Grade: A

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Flash #41

   It's taken a while, but apparently DC has realized that the TV show based on The Flash is a hit, so they're working to bring the comic book version into line with the version that appears on the small screen.

   That's not a bad idea - and certainly the TV show has been superior to the "New 52" version of Barry Allen - but I really can't tell if the changes are new or if they've been there all along and I just didn't remember them.

   (The key word for this series so far is "unmemorable.")

   For example, we see Barry working to solve the mystery of his mother's death, and he talks to his father, who is in jail after being convicted of her murder. (Was this in place in the comic before? No idea.)

   We also see the return of the classic Flash villain, the Reverse-Flash (or Professor Zoom, if you prefer) - one of the main villains from the TV show, and also involved in the death of Barry's mother.

   Whew! But aside from Zoom's quick appearance, it's the usual business for Flash - he's barely able to defeat a Grade "D" villain, he complains about his roommate, and doesn't seem particularly... heroic.

   The series needs a better supporting cast, some characterization for the title character, and better opponents.

   You know, like the TV show.

Grade: C+

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Ant-Man: Larger Than Life #1 (One Shot)

   As much as I've enjoyed the Marvel movies, I was surprised when it was announced that they were working on an Ant-Man movie.

   He's not exactly the most likely candidate for the spotlight.

   Of course, I had the same reaction to the Guardians of the Galaxy announcement, and that worked out well - so now I'm anxious to see Marvel's tiniest hero on the big screen.

   Naturally, Marvel is going to try to capitalize on it by releasing several Ant-Man tie-ins, including this one-shot special, Ant-Man: Larger Than Life.

   I snapped it up when I realized that it featured the original version of the hero, Hank Pym - but unfortunately, only half of the comic is really worth the price of admission.

   That's the second half, which reprints the first two appearances of the character in Tales to Astonish, including the Stan Lee / Larry Lieber story "The Man in the Ant-Hill," which introduced Hank (but not Ant-Man), and the sequel eight months later, wherein Hank donned the terrific Jack Kirby-designed costume for the first time (with inking by the legendary Dick Ayers).

   But the first half of this comic is a "new" adventure looking back at the early days of Hank's career (though oddly he wears the movie version of his Ant-Man uniform), as he tries to learn to control the ants.

   The story's very thin and paints Hank as the dimmest scientist around. The art by Andrea Di Vito is solid, but there's not much to work with there, aside from some menacing insects.

   It's not a bad introduction to the character for new readers, but for those of us who are big fans of Ant-Man, it's pretty disappointing.

Grade: C+

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