Thursday, April 24, 2014

Original Sin #0

   It's time for Marvel's latest event, and I already hate Original Sin.

   To be fair, I don't hate this issue. It focuses on The Watcher, one of Marvel's oldest characters and one of the all-time greatest cosmic supporting characters.

   Considering that his race has always been dedicated to watching events, but forbidden to interfere (wink, wink), he's a fascinating character - and when he shows up, it usually means something big is about to happen.

   Mark Waid writes this issue, which is a great recap of the history and purpose of the character, as seen through the eyes of one of Marvel's newest heroes - Nova.

   Jim Cheung, Paco Medina and five inkers provide the artwork, and it's excellent, giving the Watcher a suitably alien look and environment, but instilling in the characters a strong heft and real-world grit. Lovely work.

   So what's not to like? It's the well-advertised promise that the event will focus on the death of the Watcher.

   It's a story point with no bite. Even if it stands, another Watcher will simply be assigned to take his place. And it's difficult to believe that a cosmic being capable of watching alternate realities isn't able to protect himself from an attack from a mortal creature.

   I know, I shouldn't pre-judge.

   I'll read the series, because I love the characters - it also will include the original Nick Fury, which also causes concern, frankly, since these events are required to include one or more "shocking" deaths.

    So I'll buy it. And then I'll have good reason to hate it. (Kidding! Mostly.)

Grade: A-



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Classics - Sub-Mariner #14

With the resurgence of The Invaders, I started thinking about the earliest "reunions" of the members of that World War II team - the ones that took place before the team was actually (retroactively) created in the '70s.

   When Captain America was revived in Avengers #4, he fought against the Sub-Mariner in that same issue - but neither "remembered" the other.

   This issue was the second encounter between the team members, I believe - as Namor is attacked by an out-of-control Human Torch (but not the teenage member of the Fantastic Four).

   It's a classic fire vs. water battle, as the two fight in true Marvel fashion - and then team up to take on the villains behind the attack.

   This time around, thanks in no small part to writer Roy Thomas being attuned to the Golden Age origins of both heroes, they remember each other - Namor refers to him as "my uneasy ally of 20 years ago." (This issue was published in 1969.)

   The original (android) Torch was revived in the Silver Age in Fantastic Four Annual #4 - but he "died" at the end of that story.

   So this issue finds him revived by the Mad Thinker, the Puppet Master and Egghead, and used to power a weapon that threatens the United States - which puts the Torch in conflict with Namor. There are several other twists along the way, and the ending is a real surprise (though also a bit of a disappointment).

   The art is by Marie Severin with inks by Joe Gaudioso. I've always been of two minds about Marie's art - on one hand, the layouts are dynamic and it's loaded with terrific, action-packed panels. She's also a master at emotional impact. But some of her figures can be a bit rubbery in places. I think  her style was best suited to more comical efforts - but I must admit that her heroic work is a lot of fun, too.

   Perhaps this story struck a spark in Thomas' mind - just seven months later he included The Invaders in a time-travel adventure in The Avengers - and six years later the team received its own title, focusing on their adventures in WWII (eventually Thomas told the story of the fight between the Invaders and the Avengers from the Invaders side of the fight).

   If you love continuity, these are the kinds of stories that made Marvel so much fun to follow!

Grade: A-


New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up at the comics shop today:

- Aquaman #30 - Fighting a mad Hercules!

- Conan the Avenger #1 - Shadows over Kush!

- Daredevil #2 - Two blind heroes.

- Fantastic Four #3 - One hero down.

- Flash #30 - What's the deal with Wally West?

- Guardians of the Galaxy #14 - Divided and conquered!

- Invaders #4 - Fighting the Kree!

- Justice League United #0 - Can't have too many Justice League comics.

- Original Sin #0 - Who is the Watcher?

- Powers Bureau #9 - A wild one.

- Shadow Now #6 - Bloodbath.

- Tomb Raider #3 - The nightmare returns.
   And that's it!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hulk #1

   The beauty of the concept behind the Hulk is that it's very flexible - so with great regularity the series takes sudden turns and moves in unexpected directions.

   So we have had a Hulk who was an Agent of SHIELD, a fugitive, a gangster, a hero and a mindless monster (to name a few).

   Writer Mark Waid may have come up with the most unexpected direction of all.

   The Hulk is, of course, virtually indestructible - and efforts to hurt his mortal side (Bruce Banner) tend to result in an immediate appearance by the big green guy.

   So a mysterious group tries a different approach - they use an assassination attempt to set up an even darker plan. The result is a terrible decision facing a surgeon - and more than a few surprises along the way.

   The new art team on the series is one of my favorites, Mark Bagley, with inks by Andrew Hennessy. Perhaps it's the inking and perhaps it's the subject matter, but this is a grittier look for Bagley, whose style is usually more slick and precise. Here's it's darker, edgier - but strong storytelling as always.  

   With that twist on the last page, it's hard to see where the series goes from here - but I'll bet it'll be well worth following.

Grade: A-


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Uncanny X-Men #20

   If you're going to be a fan of writer Brian Michael Bendis, then you have to accept the fact that his stories often spool out very slowly, taking months and months to get to the heart of the matter.

    Thus it is that we're 20 issues into this series and we're just now - maybe - getting to the heart of the secret behind the attacks on Scott (Cyclops) Summers' version of the Uncanny X-Men.

   Since the series began, SHIELD has been hunting for Cyclops - and at the same time, the X-Men have been fighting off attacks by ever-more-powerful Sentinels, the giant robots that track mutants.

   We may finally be seeing the source for those attacks - and it's quite a surprise (assuming it's not a false lead).

   As always, the art by Chris Bachalo (with six different inkers) is loaded with striking images and clever designs - and the storytelling on this issue is much improved.

   So has it been worth the wait? I can't render a final judgment on that until the conclusion. In many ways the story has been building nicely, but I admit the this one is straining my patience. Hopefully the finale will make it all worthwhile.

Grade: B+



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Batman #30

   I've been struggling a bit with the "Zero Year" story because it features a Batman who's just beginning his career, and as such he makes mistakes - and sometimes, actually fails.

   As this issue begins, we find a hero who barely managed to survive his last defeat. He awakens to find a Gotham City that has changed completely - it's now under the control of the Riddler (thanks to a number of those video game-esque improbable "Sword of Damocles" devices).

   Those who defy the Riddler tend to have a short life span - so what can a broken Batman do? The answer marks the point where this story really starts to take off.

   As always, Greg Capullo's art is terrific, with bold layouts and some amazing panoramic shots.

    I think my real reluctance with the "Zero Year" story is just that this is well-trod ground, with Frank Miller's "Year One" story being the gold standard.

   This story only suffers by comparison with that classic - on its own merits, "Zero" is quite good.

Grade: A-


Friday, April 18, 2014

Justice League #29

   We must note that the Justice League is the first "New 52" comic to slip on the schedule - while all the other titles that kicked off the DC reboot are at issue #30, JL lags an issue behind.

   Perhaps it's interference from the Forever Evil mini-series, which is also running late.

   For whatever reason, and despite all that, this issue is worth the wait.

   That's because it includes one of my favorite DC teams, the Metal Men. The groups is reimagined and modernized (while largely keeping the original team's personalities).

   Cyborg (the last standing member of the League) comes to them for help as he faces off against Grid, the evil digital force that took over his original mechanized body (don't worry, he has a new one now).

   I like the story by Geoff Johns, which manages a positive, upbeat approach that fits the Metal Men. But I didn't much care for the resolution - the stories up to now have indicated that Relic was searching for something - but that angle never pays off.

   Still, the art by Doug Mahnke is excellent - fresh and dynamic, with some great action sequences.

   The rumblings say that there are some shakeups on the way, leading out of the end of the Forever Evil series. Here's hoping they can get the team back to work - and the comic back on schedule.

Grade: B


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Superior Spider-Man #31

   For 16 months (since January 2013) the Spider-Man comics have not featured the Amazing Spider-Man (which is why I haven't read an issue since the first in this "Superior" series).

   See, I'm a big fan of Peter Parker - the real Spider-Man. As a kid I bought issue #15 (Spidey's first meeting with Kraven the Hunter), and I was immediately hooked.

   Over the (ulp!) more than 50 years since, there have certainly been some ups and downs, with terrific stories balanced by lame stories.

   I stayed through decades of that sort of thing, staying loyal to the character who vowed to make up for his past mistakes by fighting crime and helping those in need.

   I finally started drifting away when Marvel started putting the character through ridiculous stories - such as allowing Mephisto to end the marriage between Peter and May Jane Watson.

   But even more insulting was the idea of having Doctor Octopus take over Peter's brain - co-opting his thoughts and memories along the way, and (apparently) killing off Peter's mind.

   That was actually resolved last issue, for vague reasons mentioned in the recap section on the first page of this issue. It's difficult to care, honestly.

   So this issue is given over to Peter ending the menace of the Goblin Nation (whatever that is), and confronting assorted Green Goblin-related villains (including GG himself), with the help of Spider-Man 2099, who has traveled through time somehow.

   So yeah, it's a mess, loaded with riffs on old stories, a few glimmers of the real Spider-Man, and a story that makes no sense to this reader who just landed at the tail end of this story.

   There's an aftermath that tries to clean up loose ends, covering prior events and doing everything possible to give Peter a clean slate in terms of supporting characters.

   The story is by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, and the art on the first chapter is by Giuseppe Camuncoli and the second chapter is by Will Sliney.  Perhaps the story is affecting my opinion, but I'm not crazy about the art, either. It's loaded with energy, but the layouts are jumbled - the panels don't flow together well, and the character hurl around the page without purpose.

   I'm not sure if I'm back with this series yet (of course, it's about to reboot with a new issue #1). I want to like it, if just for old times' sake, and a relief that the brain swap story is finally over.

   But I have to see more evidence that the real Spider-Man is back. Imposters have been running the show here for far too long.

 Grade: C+