Sunday, February 7, 2016

Paper Girls #5

   Paper Girls shows why comics are awesome.

   This series is a jigsaw puzzle of strangeness, as four 12-year-old girls who deliver newspapers (yep, they're Paper Girls, not girls made of paper) find their lives turned into some kind of science fiction nightmare.

   The population seems to have (mostly) disappeared, there are strange figures wandering the neighborhood, strange creatures flying in the sky, and the threat of death around each corner.

   But what makes the series work is the fact that we're immediately invested in the "girls" - Erin, Mac, Tiffany and KJ - as they work together to face assorted strangeness and try to find a way to survive.

   And just when you think you're getting a grip on the series, it takes an unexpected turn.

   Kudos to Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson for crafting a unique story that makes such great use of the storytelling potential of comics.

   Strange, but highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Batgirl #48

   I'm not sure what to think about DC's comics these days.

   Rumor has it that the line will soon be rebooted into a new form soon, with new issues #1 and the characters changed to be more in line with the movie and TV versions of the characters.

   So does that mean I'm wasting my time investing any interest in the present-day comics releases? Should I prepare myself to say goodbye to this version of the characters, just as I did when the "New 52" started?

   I suspect titles like Batgirl won't be much affected by the reboot - there's no movie or TV version to draw on here, and the series isn't really broken, so it should stand. (Though we should remember the old Army saying: "If it's not broken, break it.")

   This issue features a couple of guest stars, as Black Canary and Batwing drop by for social visits, but find themselves confronting a mystery - namely, what has happened to Barbara's memories?

   For someone with a photographic memory, she's having trouble with her past. What follows is a nifty (though unfinished) tale, with great, stylish art.

   Gee, I hope they're all still friends in the "New" DC Universe!

Grade: B+

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Doctor Strange #5

   OK, let's get the complaint out of the way first - this story is taking a long time to get going.

   But it's been worth the wait.

   Up until now we've seen indications that... something... is destroying magic, and is making its way to our reality. As the Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange is the first line of defense - but if his magic is failing him, how can he fight back against an overwhelming opponent?

   After four issues of build-up, with this issue, the attack finally happens - and we get a good luck at the force behind the attack.

   One of the interesting angles behind writer Jason Aaron's new take on Strange is the idea that using magic brings with it a cost - sometimes a terrible cost, and we begin to see how it affects Strange - and how he's been able to shoulder the burden so far.

   Combined with amazing art by Chris Bachalo and a small army of inkers, you've got a story that's bringing this classic hero in new and different directions.

   It's pretty impressive, actually, to find a fresh take on such a long-running character.

   Looking forward to more of this - and faster, please.

Grade: A

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Spider-Man #1

   After buying the Amazing Spider-Man comic for most of my life, I finally gave up on the series when modern-day "adjustments" made too many changes to the character (including ending the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, and Dr. Octopus taking over Spidey's Mind).

   And I never really developed an interest in the "other" version of the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales. To me, Spidey is Peter Parker. Period.

   But I do like writer Brian Michael Bendis, and I like artist Sara Pichelli a lot (and her art in this issue is tremendous), and I frankly miss reading Spider-Man, so I decided to give this new series a go.

   And I'm glad I did, because it really "feels" like a classic Spider-Man story. We see Miles dealing with problems at school (including losing out on a hot date because of his super-hero duties).

   The menace he faces in this issue is a heavy hitter - and he finds that he's the last hero standing at the end of a major battle.

   It's nice to have a Spidey title that taps into the original structure of the series - the hero facing real-world problems, fighting difficult fights and proving his heroism.

   Even though it doesn't star Peter Parker, I had so much fun that I can forgive - so I'll be sticking with this one!

Grade: A

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Classics - Rip Hunter Time Master #6

   One of the real delights of the new TV show Legends of Tomorrow is the inclusion of Rip Hunter Time Master, one of my first "favorite" comics.

   In the late '50s and early '60s, DC had several comics that featured regular people (which is to say, no super-powers allowed) starring in extraordinary adventures.

   Perhaps it was their way of hedging their bets, just in case the super-hero revival didn't catch on.

   So you could follow the Challengers of the Unknown, the Blackhawks, the Sea Devils, Cave Carson and Rip Hunter.

   Most followed the typical formula - a fearless, brilliant leader, a muscular sidekick, a plucky female, and the kid brother. Sound familiar?

   While the comics didn't feature super-heroes, it wasn't unusual for alien invaders, monsters or magic menaces to turn up.

   My favorite issues of Rip Hunter actually stayed away from such things, and instead stuck to historic events and solving mysteries. In the series, Rip is the inventor of a Time Sphere, which he uses to travel through time, visiting distant lands.

   This issue is history based as a mysterious prediction from the past promises present-day destruction, as a meteor strike will destroy an inhabited island - but which one?

  Rip, along with friends / co-workers Bonnie and Jeff, travel back to the year 798 where they visit Baghdad - and encounter an Iron Giant. Then they discover an earlier link - in the year 79 near Naples.

   Along the way they encounter battles and a devastating natural disaster. The information they gather leads them to the secret (however improbable) to saving the threatened island.

   There are, of course, huge plots holes riddling the story - why couldn't they just go into the future, find out the secret behind the disaster, and then go back in time far enough to allow an evacuation?

   But it's best not to focus on such things, as they get in the way of the fun of discovery.

   But I guarantee, if I could go back to 1962 and tell young Chuck, as he read this comic, that one day Rip Hunter would be on a TV show, I feel certain the response would be "No way!"

   (I've seen it and I'm still not sure I believe it.)

Grade: A

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New Comics Day

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

- A-Force #2 - Making new friends!

- Batgirl #48 - Guest starring Black Canary!

- Doctor Strange #5 - An attack on the world of magic!

- Invincible Iron Man #6 - Guest starring War Machine!

- Paper Girls #5 - Things get weirder.

- Spider-Man #1 - Welcome Miles Morales to the Marvel Universe!

- Swamp Thing #2 - Pulling himself together.

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Faith #1

   Give Valiant credit for giving a series to a somewhat unlikely superhero.

   Most stars of such books are examples of the heroic ideal (there are exceptions, of course). The men all have rippling muscles and the women are all supermodels, with big chests, thin waists and without a trace of cellulite.

   But Faith doesn't fit that mold. She's a big girl, neither muscular or willowy - overweight but still dedicated to using her powers to help others.

   First created in the Harbinger series, as of this issue she's on her own. She moved to Los Angeles to make a new life for herself,  working as a journalist by day (though it's not exactly the Daily Planet or the Daily Bugle) and fighting crime at night.

   The issue is written by Jody Houser with art by Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage, and it's a solid start.

   Faith is a hero with heart, dealing with wacky neighbors, ex-boyfriends, crazy co-employees and loser criminals - never losing her unbending optimism and energy.

   It's the classic concept - what if a real person gained powers and decided to use them for good?

   This series promises some sincere answers to that question - assuming Faith survives the last page, of course.

Grade: A-

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Monday, February 1, 2016

King Conan: Wolves Beyond the Border #2 (of 4)

   As a longtme Conan fan, I'm thrilled to see the older version of that character - King Conan - back in a new mini-series based on an unfinished Robert E. Howard story, "Wolves Beyond the Border."

   It features the return of the creative team of writer Tim Truman, artist Tomas Giorello and color artist Jose Villarrubia - my all-time favorite team on the barbarian (though Thomas and Windsor-Smith also belong in the discussion).

   This series brings us a raw, unfiltered approach to Conan's adventures. Here we find the king trying to smuggle a mystic crown through the land of the Picts, the primitive and warlike enemies of the Aquilonians (the people Conan is now king of).

   Of course, it doesn't go well, and there are ambushes, brutal (brutal brutal) fights aplenty, a horrific fate and a showdown with mystic forces.

   Throw in some humor, great characters and amazing artwork and you have another terrific comic in the King Conan series.

   More than any other version in recent history, this is Conan. Accept no substitutes.

Grade: A

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