Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Justice League of America #10


   This was a series I expected to love - and this Bryan Hitch written and drawn version of the Justice League of America certainly started out strong - but it sputtered, fell way behind schedule and, with this issue, finally limps across the finish line.
 
   How late is it? It's been almost 17 months since the first issue appeared, and more than three months since the last one. (Not to mention the fill-in, cover-the-missed-deadline issue.)

   As a result, it's hard to remember the story points. As best as I can manage, the Kryptonian god Rao came to Earth promising to cure all ills - and he delivered, healing the sick, ending poverty and hunger, and so on.

   Of course, there's a secret agenda at work, and it soon became apparent that he was threatening all life on Earth.

   There were side stories, with the League split up and tackling different problems - and somehow Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) winds up on ancient Krypton, where he meets a younger Rao - and the entire planet is transported to our modern-day galaxy, where an army of 250,000 super-powered warriors threaten to destroy the Earth. Oh, and modern day Rao still plans his own brand of destruction.

   And on and on. The art in this final issue is by Tom Derrick, Daniel Henriquez and Scott Hanna, all doing a creditable imitation of Hitch's unique, larger-than-life style.

   With Hitch writing the new (regular) Justice League comic, this series was wrapped up with Tony Bedard providing the script - and it's a creditable job.

   But the series just became too big and too convoluted to end well - so we can be happy that we finally did get an ending. Thanks for that, DC.

   And I still think this was a great concept - a series using the top DC stars, placed outside of regular continuity (so no pesky problems with losing a star to some overarching story), written and drawn by one of the industry's top creators.

   It should have worked! But meeting those deadlines and keeping the story focused are vital parts of the equation.

   Maybe next time!

Grade: B-

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New Comics Day

 A light week for me - a mere four comics (plus the "Comic Book History of Comics #1" - which I had missed two weeks ago).

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

- Black Widow #8 - Those kids are top to no good.

- Totally Awesome Hulk #12 - Fighting monsters.

- Justice League of America #10 - Is this really the end of the long-running Bryan Hitch-drawn JLA?

- Saga #40 - One of the best books out there.

   And I received review copies of:

- Doctor Who 12th Year Two #12

- Doctor Who 3rd #3

- Faith #5

- Hard Case Crime Peepland #2

- No Angel #1

- Savage #1

- Tank Girl Gold #2

- The Skeptics #2

- Torchwood #3

- Vikings Uprising #3

   And that's it! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Classics - Strange Tales #126 and 127

    Just a few months before this series hit the stands, fans could tell that Doctor Strange was getting a following.

   He shared Strange Tales with the Human Torch, but he was finally getting significant attention on the cover (Jack Kirby penciled his appearance on #126, for example) - and he was also featured in that cool upper-left-hand-corner art box that Marvel created in the early '60s.

   He was given 10 pages of story space (the Torch got 13 pages), and Stan Lee and Steve Ditko used it to expand their stories - and blow the minds of the readers.

   These issues featured a (rare, at the time) continued story, as Strange faces his greatest enemy for the first time - the ruler of the Dark Dimension, the Dread Dormammu (which, according to the movie, is pronounced "Door-Ma'am-Moo" - so I had it right all along).

   The story allows Ditko to run wild with inventive images as he creates an unearthly environment, with flat, floating spaces serving as doorways. Pathways wind with no regard to gravity or logic, creatures of all shapes and sizes thrive, and Strange must face overwhelming odds.

   These are the stories that really drive readership - a great, powerful opponent, a never-before-seen environment, and high stakes for the coming battle, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance.

   A couple of notes: happily, this Dormammu is human-sized, so he and Strange can go toe-to-toe and fight as equals. Years later, Dormammu was depicted as a towering giant, and he's been that ever since (mostly), including in the movie. I've never cared for it. Also, the coloring is different, as his head is enveloped in blue flames and smoke - later appearances would change it to red, which was much more effective.

   Strange is faced with an impossible task - defeating the foe who once defeated his master, the Ancient One. Even with a slight assist from the lovely Clea, who makes her first appearance, he's outmatched.

   The plot twist that allows Strange to survive his battle - and "win" (sorta kinda) was brilliant, and serves to show both Strange and Dormammu in a good light - making him a better hero and Dormammu a worthy villain with personality - not just a monster.
   
   At the end of the adventure, Strange receives a gift from his teacher - a new Amulet of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation (which is oddly colored all yellow here).

   If there was any doubt that Doctor Strange belonged in the Marvel Universe, this adventure closed the deal.

   One of my all-time favorites!

Grade: A+

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Guest Review: Life, Death, and Sorcery: A Hundred Days in the Future Part 2


   Stepping in with a guest review today is my pal James Cassara, with a look at a new comic series:

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   Chapter House Comics is one of several smaller companies trying to establish themselves as an alternative to the superhero heavy output of Marvel and DC. 

   Based on the handful of books I’ve sampled from them their track record is, purely on percentages, considerably better than the Big Two.  

   Part of this is my disinterest in modern day superhero comics - having read them for 50 years the genre has long ago run its course for me - while the notion of any company branching out into areas that don’t involve guys in tights beating the heck out of each other appeals to me on many levels. 

   Of course when a publisher’s entire output is a fraction of DC and Marvel’s, the great and not so great are considerably more obvious.

   On the recommendation of my shop owner who, like any great retailer knows the tastes of their clientele, I gave Life, Death, and Sorcery a provisional try. 

   It appears to be created solely by Danny Zabbal (his is the only name on the credits) who draws in a clean, crisp, easily followed style that is pleasing to the eye. 

   The story revolves around Amelia, a 15 year old runaway from an unhappy home. I gather her parents are divorced, her father seems overwhelmed in raising Amelia and her two younger sisters, and things in general seem to be falling apart for her.  

   To complicate matters further Amelia seems possessed of an inner voice that intermittently gives her directions which she feels compelled to follow.

   That’s a lot of assumption on my part which points to the biggest challenge of this comic. Having missed the first issue I have scant idea what is going on, and after two thorough readings I am still unclear. 

   Remember the days when continued story comics provided an opening synopsis of “What has gone before?” Life, Death, and Sorcery is badly in need of such.  

   This lack of certainty, coupled with a story that in 25 very well drawn pages (reminiscent of The Hernandez Brothers, who appear to be a strong influence) barely nudges forward, left me feeling as if I’d just missed the train. 

   It ends with the introduction of an interesting SF element that seems to offer promise, but I am not sure if it’s enough to draw me back for a third issue.  

   I so wanted to love this comic and it certainly has much to offer. But darn, it is no fun to read a comic and not fully know what the heck is going on.  

   Publishers take note!  


Grade: B-

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Usage Yojimbo #159

   The Usage Yojimbo series is tough to review because... well, it's always excellent! (I have the same problem with Saga.)

   It makes it tough to review because... what can I say? "It's another great issue, everyone!"

   And this issue fits the mold!

   It's called "The Hatamoto's Daughter," and it involves a brutal attack that claims the life of a high-ranking samurai, leaving behind his young daughter.

   Usagi finds her and brings the girl back to her village - but she holds a secret that brings the attention of the underworld - and a gang of murderous thugs.

    The issue guest-stars one of my favorite supporting characters in the series - Inspector Ishida, a take-no-nonsense lawman who's great at solving mysteries - and by the end of the issue, he has one to deal with.

   One of the strengths of the series, of course, is the fact that - despite being set in feudal Japan - it lends itself to almost every genre, including some cracking good detective stories.

   When I picked this issue up, someone at the comics shop asked if I was a fan of "animal" characters. The short answer is that I don't see Usagi (or his supporting cast) as animals - they're terrific characters involved in amazing stories!

   Their appearance doesn't really enter into it - and it doesn't hurt that the art by writer / artist Stan Sakai is always terrific!

   Highly recommended!

Grade: A

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Wynonna Earp: Legends: Doc Holliday #1

   When an actor is tapped to write a comic book that features his or her onscreen character, I tend to cringe a little - good acting doesn't always translate to writing ability.

    Thankfully, my fears were groundless with Wynonna Earp: Legends: Doc Holliday, which is written by Tim Rozon, who plays Doc on the excellent TV series - and Wynonna creator Beau Smith.

   They've crafted an opening chapter that manages to stay true to the characters and creates a nasty new villain in the process.

   The story brings a trio of Black Badges - Wynonna, Doc Holliday and the warrior woman Valdez - to Portland, searching for a paranormal mass murderer.

   What they find is an old enemy Doc knows all too well - and he may be too much for even three lawmen / women.

   The art (and the cover above) is by Chris Evenhuis, who has a clean, powerful style that draws you in and won't let go - and his character designs are spot on. Add in strong layouts and lots of energy - it's impressive work!

   And I shouldn't have worried about Rozon - by all reports, he's a comic fan, so he knows the territory. And his first effort here is solid as a rock!

   (And if bad guy Boone Helm doesn't give you the creeps, no one will.)

Grade: A

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Friday, November 25, 2016

The Flash #11

   There are certain characters who become the "property" of specific writers or artists.

   Sandman (Dream), for example, should only be written by Neil Gaiman. Elektra should only be written by Frank Miller. And The Shade should be the property of James Robinson.

   But the latter turns up here, guest-starring in the latest storyline in The Flash.

   But there are extenuating circumstances - after all, The Shade was a foe of the original Earth-2 Flash (Jay Garrick). He also fought Barry (Flash) Allen in the '60s.

   But Robinson took the character and crafted him into a great anti-hero in the pages of Starman - and that's who we see in this story.

    The story takes Flash and the new Kid Flash into the Shadowlands - the dark dimension that's the source of The Shade's powers.

   Written by Joshua Williamson and drawn by Davide Gianfelice, this story is (so far) one of the best Flash stories in recent memory - it strips out a lot of the unneeded side stories and focuses on a straightforward adventure, one that focuses on both Flashes and gives them a chance to be heroic.

   They even have a good handle on The Shade, which makes it easier to accept when other hands are all over a beloved concept.

   So far, so good.

Grade: B+

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Death of X #4 (of 4)

   From time to time the major comics companies will put out a comic that arrives, basically, as a heartfelt "UP YOURS" to longtime comics fans.

   Here's one now.

   The final issue of Death of X is meant to seal the deal, to show us why the Inhumans and the X-Men must fight (in an upcoming Event mini-series, natch).

   And we get a little bit of that. The Inhumans set loose on the world two clouds of Terrigen Mist (exposure to it reveals a small number of normal people as Inhumans and gives them some kind of power).

   But exposure to the mists has terrible (often fatal) effects on mutants - so the X-Men decide to destroy those clouds.

   Of course, instead of sitting down and talking about solutions, the two opposing forces instead fight to the death - even though there's no reason for the fight to escalate that far.

   The story rather casually, almost as an afterthought, takes out a character who I've been a fan of since my earliest days as a reader (we're talking early '60s here), and it's terribly wasteful and pointless.

   It does have this effect: I'll be avoiding the mini-series that follows, along with the spinoff storylines. Perhaps if they ever get around to correcting the numerous (and egregious) harms they've inflicted on both the X-books and the Inhumans (numerous deaths and ongoing character assassinations), I'll return.

   But I'm not holding my breath waiting.

Grade: D

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