Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Classics - Guy Gardner Warrior #20

   All the rumpus about the recently pulled cover of Batgirl (which depicted her bound and at the mercy of The Joker) reminded me of a similar incident from 1994 that most readers may not know about.

    It happened in this issue of Guy Gardner Warrior - then in the hands of writer Beau Smith.

   As he once told the story, he and artist Mitch Byrd worked on this issue, but his editors weren't happy with the first two pages, which depicted something you hadn't seen in a comic up to that point - namely, Wonder Woman getting beaten badly by several monstrous aliens.

   "You can't do that with Wonder Woman," Beau was told. His response: "Why not? You wouldn't have said anything if it was Superman or Batman getting beaten up. Several other heroes are taking a beating in that scene - why should she be any different?"

   The editors had to admit that he had a point - and the scene was left in place (and I have to admit, it's still pretty shocking today).

   The story was smack in the middle of a difficult time for the comic. The Green Lantern Corps was being destroyed over in GL's comic, as Hal Jordan had gone mad and become a mass murderer. (How much did I hate that storyline? With a white-hot intensity.)

   So the creative team had to come up with a different power source for Guy. For a while (this issue included) he wielded one of Sinestro's yellow power rings, but that would eventually go away.

   The real treat this issue is the interaction between Guy and the assorted hero guest stars. Beau was one of the few writers (Chuck Dixon was another) who could properly write Guy as a tough-as-nails, put-up-with-no-guff, straight-talking, kind-of-a-jerk-but-a-hero-throughout kinda (ahem) guy.

   (He's also good-hearted under all that gruff, as a quick scene with Ice shows.)

   The art by Mitch Byrd and Dan Davis is terrific - powerful, with an organic, larger-than-life, pyrotechnic take to the life-and-death battle that faces this group of heroes.

   As much as I hated what was going on in Green Lantern's book, I loved the story unfolding here, as Guy Gardner became a hero in his own right - not just an imitation GL.

   Great fun - I'm amazed DC hasn't collected these yet!

Grade: A



New Comics Day

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

- New Avengers #32 - Battle of the gods!

- Daredevil #14 - A new look for the Man Without Fear?

- Elfquest: Final Quest #8 - A crucial decision!

- Flash #40 - The showdown!

- Guardians of the Galaxy #25 The true power of the Black Vortex.

- Lady Mechanika #5 - Yet another showdown!

- Multiversity Ultra Comics #1 - As Meta as all get-out.

- Powers #2 - Where is Walker?

- Thanos vs Hulk #4 - Considering the title, there's not much Thanos content here. Lots of Hulk, though.

- Uncanny X-Men #32 - A brotherly heart-to-heart.

   And that's it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Michael Moorcock Library: Elric of Melnibone

    Most sword-and-sorcery heroes follow a typical mold: they're strapping muscle men, killing monsters with a sword while canoodling with a beautiful, half-naked damsels.

   But writer Michael Moorcock took a completely different approach when he created Elric of Melnibone.

   The heir to the throne of a mystic kingdom, Elric is an albino, given to bouts of weakness, which he offsets with drugs and magic - and eventually by the use of the arcane sword known as Stormbringer, a blade that gives Elric strength by drinking the souls of its victims.

   This volume collects the six-issue 1980s mini-series by writer Roy Thomas, layout and ink artist P. Craig Russell, and pencils by Michael T. Gilbert - and what an amazing, gorgeous volume it is.

   It's the perfect combination of incredible writing (is there anyone better at crafting comics adaptations than Thomas?) and mind-blowing artwork.

   Gilbert and Russell are different artists, but their styles mesh vey well here, creating mystic, flowing environments, stunning character designs and shocking depictions of alien creatures and monsters. Sometimes lovely, sometimes gruesome - you never know what to expect.

   This collection isn't for everyone - it's a dark, adult story, with death, destruction, nudity and terror.

   It's an origin of sorts for Elric, and reveals his connection to dark gods and mystic forces, introduces some of his supporting cast, and describes how he came to possess his mystic sword.

   It's great to see this classic tale being made available to modern audiences. Part horror, part adventure, and all imagination - it's a terrific work and highly recommended!

Grade: A


Monday, March 23, 2015

We Can Never Go Home #1

   Here's a new title that offers a true rarity - a fresh look at what it means to be a teen with super-powers.

    We Can Never Go Home focuses on two kids in high school facing the usual pressures: peer pressure, sex, bullies, mean girls - but this is no after-school special.

   Madison is a beautiful girl who's part of the elite group at school, until a mysterious event reveals her secret abilities. As her so-called friends turn against her, she finds the only one who understands her is a smart-aleck "geek" named Duncan.

   The writing by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon is terrific - the characters are real, and their reactions are all too real. 

   I really like the artwork by Joshua Hood - I don't think I've ever seen his work before. The layouts are strong and original, and the character designs are fresh and believable. He's crafting a real world here, and the art meshes perfectly with the script.

   This is a comic for older readers - it includes profanity and adult situations.

    The first issue is a home run! I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes from here!

Grade: A


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Little Nemo Return to Slumberland #4

   There must be someone out there who doesn't love the classic Little Nemo in Slumberland Sunday comic by the great Winsor McCay - but I've never met such a creature.

   Obviously the folks at IDW are fans, so they've brought us a modern-day version that is a remarkable homage to the original.

   It must be at least intimidating to attempt to craft a sequel to that classic work - but I don't see any signs of the strain here.

   This mini-series, Little Nemo Return to Slumberland, is astonishingly faithful, while bringing its own charm and storytelling flourishes to the mix.

   It doesn't hurt that the creative team is perfectly matched to the series. It's written by Eric Shanower, a gifted storyteller with an amazing facility with classic creations like this. (You have read his Oz adaptations, haven't you?)

    The astonishing art is by Gabriel Rodriguez, with colors by Nelson Daniel. It's a wonderful journey of the imagination - bright and colorful and creative to a fault. It's not slavish in imitating McCay's style, but it evokes those glory days while carving out its own, glorious niche.

    Simply a wonderful series - hopefully just the first of many mini-series to carry on McCay's marvelous creation, sparking the imaginations of legions of future artists and writers, all of whom will dream of doing work like this.

Grade: A


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Superman #39

   Are secret identities old hat?

   That seems to be the decision modern writers and editors keep arriving at - but while it works for some characters to have their identities known (Iron Man, Captain America), for many others their secret ID is a crucial part of the character (or at least a fun aspect of the character).

   Many times heroes have revealed their identity (most notably Spider-Man) only to force a future writer to jump through numerous hoops to reestablish it.

   Is Superman about to join their ranks?

   Last issue he revealed his secret identity to one of his human (non-super-hero) friends, and this issue we see how that works out - especially since Superman is temporarily de-powered.

   So it's a day in the life of Clark Kent, who shows what it is to be a hero, powers or not.

   It's a solid issue, with strong art by John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson, and a good script by Geoff Johns.

   I'm still not convinced that Clark should be going around revealing his identity like that - but if you can't trust your best friend, who can you trust?

Grade: A-


Friday, March 20, 2015

All-New X-Men #39

   You get the sense that Marvel is struggling mightily to keep the ongoing story of "The Black Vortex" on schedule.

   So far they're been successful - but only just barely.

   For example, All-New X-Men #38 (also a Black Vortex tie-in) came out before #37 (which was not) in order to keep on track with the scheduled releases of this series that hops around from title to title.

   Also, Guardians Team-Up has been a weekly book, in order to get issue #3 out in time.

   But, it's to their credit that they've been keeping up so far.

   As for the stories - well, they're a mixed bag. They're actually following the classic structure of the original Justice League stories, where a menace arises, and the large group of heroes (in this case the X-Men, Nova and the Guardians of the Galaxy) split up to deal with the problem.

   The series feels padded though, with side-trips that are just there to provide action sequences - they don't really move the story along.

   The art is this issue is impressive - Andrea Sorrrentino has a painted, Jae Lee-inspired look the her art. It's quite a departure from the other issues in this series, but it's very good.

   So far this series is still fun, but it's starting to get that familiar "four issue story stretched into a dozen issues" feeling. We'll see.

Grade: B



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Batgirl #40

   Fans of this series have wondered if the "new" Batgirl was entirely on the "up and up."

   Since the new creative team arrived, the character has gone through quite a few changes - a new look, a new group of supporting characters, a new location - and she looks like a completely different character.

   The clever cliffhanger last issue brought all those questions to the fore, and (without giving away the plot twist), this issue brings it all to an exciting, city-hanging-in-the-balance, can-Batgirl-and-her-friends-save-the-day conclusion.

   I have to admit that I've been enjoying this series - it's not always easy to follow, and I'm not sure why Barbara's cut ties with her Birds of Prey allies, but the stories are fresh, the approach is unique, and the art is original.

   It's not for everyone, but if you're looking for something fresh, this well worth trying.

Grade: A-