Monday, July 28, 2014

Batman #33

   This issue wraps up the "Year Zero" story in Batman, and while some of the issues have been a bit up-and-down, I have to give credit to the creative team - they managed to stick the landing!

   The stakes are high, as an inexperienced Batman is taking on The Riddler in a deadly match of wits. If Batman fails, the city of Gotham may face destruction.

   It ticks off all the right boxes for long-time fans: a battle of wits between classic enemies, a death-trap with seemingly no way out, the fate of Gotham City hanging in the balance, and a gathering of friends and future allies in common cause.

   There's one story thread tagged on that feels out of place and tacked on - a flashback to Bruce Wayne's early struggles - but it's easily forgiven.

   As always, the art is terrific, and there's a genuinely touching sequence at the end that shows how dedicated Bruce must be to become the Bat.

   Glad to see this series back at the top of its game!

Grade: A


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Wonder Woman #33

   After almost three years of Brian Azarello's take on Wonder Woman as a mythological horror story, it looks like we're near the end of this tangled, twisted tale.

   We've followed Diana's ongoing battles with the pantheon of Greek gods, and the fatality rate has been high (though I should say that Diana isn't the one doing all the killing).

   We're near the final showdown with the powerful god known as First Born who has managed to take command of the gods and defeat Diana, who is now the God of War.

   That moves the battle to Paradise Island, where the Amazons have marshaled their forces to fight overwhelming odds - and it doesn't look good for any of the good guys (such as they are).

   It's great to see Cliff Chiang handling the art, since he started the "New 52" series - his art has a unique, stark look to it that's entertaining, even when the subject matter is a dark and grisly as you'll find here.

   A good time for a reminder that this is not a comic for young readers. The series (and this issue in particular) include lots of unsettling images - blood, death, destruction, even the threat of rape - not something you want your young daughter to read.

   But for those mature enough, it's a dark, powerful story. But it's definitely time to wrap it up and move on to other matters.

Grade: B+



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Star Trek Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever #2 (of 5)

   As a huge fan of the original TV series Star Trek, I can tell you that the episode City on the Edge of Forever was one of my favorites, and was one of the sharpest, most well-written episodes in the show's run.

   As a kid, I had no idea that the writer was Harlan Ellison, or that I'd eventually become a big fan of his work.

   But as I became more aware, I discovered that Ellison had written a different version of that episode originally - but had been forced to change it because of pressure from the network and other sources.

   Thank goodness for comics! Through this medium we can dust off his original script (also available as a book - there should be a link below this post), recast the actors as young and vibrant performers, and discover the story as it might have appeared.

   The story finds the crew of the Enterprise exploring a mysterious, time-altering phenomenon. When a member of the crew uses a gateway to jump into Earth's past, reality is altered - and the only way to fix it is for Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock to journey into the past to undo whatever damage the other crew member caused.

   The changes will be a surprise to those of us who've seen the original episode numerous times (and know it by heart) - and I certainly won't spoil it for you here - but it's a lot of fun to follow the story down a somewhat different path.

   The art by J. K. Woodward is excellent, capturing the likenesses of the original cast with great skill, and creating a new and unique setting for the alien world.

   I'm enjoying this series - it's wonderful to unlock and peel back the layers of the story in a new and different way. I recommend it highly!    

Grade: A


Friday, July 25, 2014

Superman #33

   We're at the second issue in the Geoff Johns / John Romita, Jr. / Klaus Jansen run on Superman, and I have to say that so far, it's been very good.

   It's great to see a focus on his secret identity, and to find Clark Kent acting like a reporter - tracking leads, doing interviews, unraveling the story.

   He's trying to uncover the secrets behind the "new Superman" who has just turned up in Metropolis - the mysterious powerhouse known as Ulysses.

   And there's a lot going on behind the scenes here, which we're just getting glimpses of - but it's a surprisingly sweet and touching issue, and it's wonderful to see the supporting cast from the Daily Planet back in the spotlight and being used to their full potential.

   The art is excellent, from tender moments to jarring action sequences.

   It's great to see this long-neglected title being placed in the hands of such capable, top-of-the-line creators. You should be reading this comic!

Grade: A-


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Groo vs. Conan #1 (of 4)

   I have to admit that when the Groo vs. Conan was first announced (some years back, it seems), my first reaction was "Oh, I'm buying that."

   My second reaction was, "How the heck is that possibly going to work?"

   After all, Groo is the most comical barbarian of them all, and Conan is rooted in the dark, brutal world of the Hyborean Age.

   I should have had more faith in Sergio Aragones, the writer / artist who created Groo and is, quite frankly, a national treasure. He is, without a doubt, our greatest comic (in every sense of the word) book artist, one of the greatest writers and an all-around wonderful guy.

   (I'd have faith in veteran writer Mark Evanier, too, but no one - including Mark - knows what he does on this comic. )

   The trick is reviewing this comic, because I don't want to give away any of the surprises therein.

   Well, the cover shows that Aragones has recruited an excellent artist to depict the Conan side of the story - Thomas Yeates, a fantastic artist with a classic heroic style that fits perfectly into the world of Conan.

   And thankfully, it's obvious that the creative team is a big fan of Robert E. Howard's creation, so - at least so far - Conan has been treated with respect. Groo, not so much, but that's as it should be.

   This is definitely the most offbeat comic in recent memory, and well worth picking up - if just to see how they make it work.

Grade: A-


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Comics Day

   Here's what I picked up today:

- Alien Legion #2 - Under attack!

- Batman #33 - The final question!

 Elfquest: The Final Quest #4 - Pushed to the limit!

- Flash #33 - Racing through time.

- Groo vs Conan #1 - About. Danged. Time!

- Invaders #8 - Searching for an old friend.

- Original Sin #5.2Thor's searching for his sister.

- Ragnarok #1 - Walt Simonson? I'm there.

- Saga #21 - Married sex.

- Star Trek City on the Edge of Forever #2 - Kirk and Spock, time travellers. 

- Superman #33Two Supermen!

- Tomb Raider #6 - Back on the island of death.

- Wonder Woman #33 - War of the gods!

   And that's it! 

The Classics - Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane #63

   I have to admit that I occasionally buy the silliest comics for no good reason.

   For example, last weekend I stopped in a local comics shop. Looking through the back issues, I found this issue of Lois Lane, a comic I never followed or cared much about (no offense to those who love the series - I'm just being honest).

   But when I read the dialogue and the caption, I laughed - and I knew I had to buy it.

   On the cover, we see Superman walking out of the traditional Daily Planet stock room, saying, "I'll tell you why I'll never marry you, Lana or you, Lois! Who wants a wife so stupid she doesn't realize I'm Superman when I take off my Clark Kent glasses?"

   The caption says, "Could Superman's 'Clark Kent' disguise fool you... all of the time... or even some of the time? So how can he keep on fooling the world? Here is the story we have never dared publish before!"

   Superman has a reputation from the Silver Age (this issue was published in 1966) of being, frankly, a jerk toward Lois and Lana, using dirty tricks to preserve his secret identity. Hard to imagine him being much more of a heel than he is here, telling his love interests that they're stupid.

   Of course, the story DC had never dared publish before ends up being a scam (it's one of those endings where a character takes off a mask to reveal his true identity - and then takes off another one to show his truly true ID.

   The issue features wonderful art by Kurt Schaffenberger (who is actually allowed to sign his work). He's one of the unsung heroes and great talents who never got the kind of attention he deserved.

   The story's silly (more sitcom than adventure), with the most surprising shock being that the story was continued into the next issue.

   Someday, I'll have to track down that issue, too. I could always use another laugh.

Grade: C


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Soulfire Annual #1

   I've complained in the past about summer annuals. The once-anxiously-awaited event has become, in more recent years, something less than special.

   I'm happy to report, though, that the Soulfire Annual is a cut above the average.

   That's because, instead of going for a bloated, overblown storyline, we get a collection of short features that serve as a great overview of the series - especially handy for those who might have come in late.

   The first is a grim struggle in the future as magic returns to the world at large; the second is a cartoon version of a young Grace and her friends trying to help a young dragon overcome a phobia; the third is a more realistic version of young Grace as she learns some surprising things about the world outside her castle; and the final chapter is a genuine primer by Michael Turner, Jeph Loeb and J.T. Krul, which explains the history behind the rise and fall of magic.

   The art is terrific - it's a fun mix of talent and stories, and a great way to catch up on the story behind Soulfire.

Grade: B+