Friday, October 31, 2014

Wonder Woman #35

   At long last, after three years and the start of the "New 52," we've reached the end of the story by Brian Azzarello.

   It's a tale of gods and mortals, all centered around Wonder Woman, who is both Amazon and newly-crowned Goddess of War.

   Since the first issue she's been fighting to protect a baby who is the last son of Zeus and a mortal. So for 35 issues, Diana and her allies have fought to protect mother and baby from virtually the entire pantheon of Greek gods - Apollo, Hera, Ares, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hermes - you get the picture.

   The rise of the (otherwise unnamed) First Born has been the final opponent to face. Incredibly powerful and fiercely determined, he has murdered gods and plans to take his place as the ruler of Olympus - but first he has a baby to kill.

   This issue gives us the final confrontation, and answers some questions that have been lingering since the beginning.

   The issue features terrific art by Cliff Chiang, who has given the series a wonderful, stylized work. I look forward to seeing what title he tackles next.

   I have to admit that I really liked this series, even if it was a bit too graphic in places. Frankly, the story ran too long - it covered pretty much the same ground more than once - but the writing has been strong and the art so good that it's easy to forgive these minor problems.

    Next issue, a new creative team takes over. They have mighty big shoes to fill.

Grade: A-

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

All-New X-Men #33

   I have to admit that, of all the X-Men comics in recent memory, All-New X-Men is my favorite.

   There are several reasons.

   For the most part, it focuses on a small group of heroes - namely, the original team (displaced through time to the present) - although they've swapped Cyclops (now in his own title) for X-23 (who sorta kinda has a thing with the Angel. Maybe).

   The characters are fun, with distinct personalities, and the dialogue is sharp and entertaining.

   The stories by Brian Michael Bendis are fast, breezy and unpredictable.

   The art (here by Mahmud Asrar) has been quite good.

   Did I already mention not having to deal with a cast of thousands?

    All of which brings us to this issue, which continues the adventures of the team on the Ultimate version of Earth. A confrontation with a powerful new mutant ends with the team somehow transported to this world - separated and scattered.

   Here familiar menaces are somehow different but just as dangerous - and even friends can be a threat.

   It's building slowly, but it's been a great ride so far. It's been a while since I felt that way about an X-Men comic.

Grade: A-

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Classics - Giant-Size Man-Thing #4

   It's an easy joke - the only question is, did the editors at Marvel realize they were creating a title that fans would be snickering about far into the future (coming up on 40 years and counting)?

   Whatever the case, Giant-Size Man-Thing (hee hee!) has (ahem) stood the test of time.

   The entire concept was improbable. Marvel's Man-Thing was created at the same time as DC's Swamp Thing. (There is much debate about who slogged out of the swamp first, but both owe a dinner to The Heap, after all).

   But where DC's creation had intelligence, the Man-Thing had none. A shambling mockery of a man, incredibly strong, it is driven by emotions, reacting to them, drawn to conflict. And it can't bear fear - so any creature feeling fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing.

   What that meant was that it took a terrific writer to make the character interesting - the burden was on the supporting cast or the characters created for each story.

   Luckily for us, the character's stories were crafted by Steve Gerber, an odd, unorthodox writer who was also a bit of a genius. He crafted all kinds of off-beat psycho-dramas that drew in the title character - like the "Kid's Night Out" story here.

   It's an oversized adventure that combines text pages, a dysfunctional family at a funeral, and their destructive attempts to get their revenge on an odd but determined girl named Alice. Her only defender is the confused but powerful swamp creature.

   But this issue's famous for a completely different reason.

   Behind the excellent Man-Thing story is the first solo story starring Howard the Duck.

   Howard would quickly become a sensation, and for good reason. His stories, written by Gerber (who created the character with Val Mayerick in an earlier Man-Thing adventure), were a terrific balance of humor, social commentary and action.

   It didn't hurt that the art was by Frank Brunner, one of the most talented artists in Marvel's history.

   The story pitted Howard against Gorko, the Man-Frog - a classic loser who transforms into a formidable foe, and forces Howard to take a heroic stand.

   The issue is worth buying for the main story, but it's one to collect because of Howard.

Grade: A

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New Comics Day

    Here's what I picked up today at the comics shop:
 
- Fantastic Four #12 - An intervention for the Human Torch.
 
- Groo vs Conan #4 (of 4) - The final fight!
 
- Guardians of the Galaxy #20 - Escaping from certain death!
 
- Little Nemo in Slumberland #2 - A lovely book.
 
- Saga #24 - New faces!
 
- Wonder Woman #35 - The final battle. For sure!
 
- All-New Xen #33 - Crossing over with Ultimate Universe!
 
 
   And that's it - a light week for me!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

13 Coins #1


   Artist Simon Bisley has a well-earned reputation for doing edgy, in-your-face artwork that grabs you by the collar and demands your attention.

   Further proof can be found in his work on 13 Coins, a hard-edged cross between Biblical wrath and dystopian destruction.

   Written by Michael B. Jackson and Martin Brennan, the story begins with a classic (and gruesome) battle between the angels assigned to guard the Earth and a group of angels who fought back against God.

   It's never a good idea to oppose God - so for the side of evil, the battle is doomed to failure. But their evil lives on into modern times as the hand of evil rises again and again, and a select group of mortals with special abilities fight back against those forces.

   It all leads to a series of battles, giving Bisley plenty of space to work his grim magic. But is it a battle the good guys can win?

   This is definitely not a series for kids, but for those looking for a serious and gripping story of good vs. evil - and lots of terrific artwork - this is the book for you!

Grade: B

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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Flash #35

   After reading this comic, I must admit: I'd rather be reviewing the TV show, which captures the fun, energetic potential of The Flash.

   Thinking back over almost three years of the rebooted version of this series since the "New 52" started, and I really can't remember much at all about the series.

   Has Barry Allen ever won a fight outright? (Surely he has. He doesn't here.)

   Have we seen any interesting or unusual uses of his amazing powers? (Probably, but none that spring to mind.)

   The star of the series has actually been the Speed Force. It's broken, if the Flash uses it he might break reality, exposure to it creates a group of Grade B heroes - that's been the series so far.

   In this issue, Barry's future self comes through time to the present to fix his past mistakes - and, yes, the Speed Force - by killing his modern-day incarnation.

(Sigh.)

   So here's the deal, DC: the Speed Force is just a convenient explanation for the Flash's impossible abilities, just as solar energy gives Kryptonians like Superman superpowers. It's been beaten to death.

   Focus on the hero, make him a real person, give him a supporting cast - make us care about him.

   It takes a lot to make me give up a series I've been buying since I was a tot. I gave up on Green Lantern a year ago - don't let the Flash follow in his footsteps.

   Please.

Grade: B-

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Multiversity: The Just #1

   I think this issue can be summed up with the phrase, "Today's kids are slackers."

   Multiversity has been created by Grant Morrison to explore the alternate universes (there's 52 now!) that make up the DC universe.

   This issue - The Just - focuses on the children of the original Justice League (or their successors) on an alternate Earth (Earth-11, to be exact).

   They're mostly spoiled and idle - but there's a good reason for that. Their parents have seen to it that all danger has been eliminated from the Earth, so there's no crime to stop, no criminals to pursue.

   So this issue focuses on the ways they keep themselves entertained - though an odd mix of parties, love affairs, art pursuits and role playing.

   Ben Oliver provides some striking artwork for the story, and it's a clever twist on today's culture (the story is aptly titled "#earthme") and a sharp commentary on our iPhone culture.

    Either that or Morrison's just having a laugh. But just to be sure, I'd advise staying off his lawn.

Grade: B+

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Constantine

   Perhaps I'm not the right guy to review the new TV series Constantine.

   That's because I'm really not much of a fan of horror.

   I like a scary story, but most "horror" just goes for the easy shock - severed limbs, gruesome creatures popping up, blood flying - that sort of thing.

   There's some of that on view in this show - it's a bit heavy on the grisly demons - but it also carries an internal logic and an actual story that feels true to its Vertigo origins.

   The character first appeared in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing series, and then graduated to his own long-running series, Hellblazer.

   Actor Matt Ryan plays the title role, and does an excellent job as the tortured but determined demon fighter (though I admit I always pictured Sting in the part). Constantine's life mission is to make up for his greatest failure - and redeem his own doomed soul.

   He's drawn to America to try to save the life (and soul) of a young woman who faces death and destruction at the hands of a very powerful demon.

   Fans will find some nods to other DC legends in the show - the most obvious one being Dr. Fate.

   I do like the visual look of the show (a peek into the afterlife / alternate reality for lost souls was striking) and the creatures are unique - but a few of the more grotesque scenes were a bit much. One character is badly mangled in a horrific car accident - I could have done without that image.

   But for TV horror, it's well done. Add in solid acting, as interesting supporting cast (assuming any of them stick around or survive), and you have a solid show.

   Any fan of the genre should enjoy this series. Fans of the comic book character may find it a watered-down version, not as blunt or cutthroat  or quite as much of a heel - but frankly, it's much better than I expected.

Grade: A-

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