Monday, October 31, 2011

New 52 Recap

I've always been a sucker for big events in the comic universes, even if many of these crossover storylines fail to live up to their billing.

So when I heard about the DC Comics reboot, I was immediately interested, even though I was a bit cynical for the need for a reboot after they had just DONE a whole succession of reboots (Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Blackest Night, Brightest Day, etc).

Since the release of Justice League #1, I've been buying, reading, and reviewing debut issues from the New 52. I started with my review of the free preview book, where I gave my thoughts on the pitches for the upcoming releases. You can read that post here.

From there, it was on to the actual books. Here are some quick stats:

Number of First Issues Reviewed: 30 out of 52
Highest Rating: 8
Lowest Rating: 3
Surprise Favorites: Static Shock, Action Comics, Aquaman
Non-Surprising Favorites: Animal Man, Justice League Dark
Biggest Disappointments: Batgirl, Suicide Squad
Least Surprising Disappointment: Deathstroke
Average Rating: 5.73
Number Of Titles That I Have Purchased A Second Issue Of: 17

And here is a complete list of the titles I've reviewed from best to worst rated. All ratings are out of 10.

Aquaman #1 (8)
Batman #1 (8)
Batwoman #1 (8)
Justice League: Dark #1 (7.5)
Static Shock #1 (7.5)
Swamp Thing #1 (7.5)
Wonder Woman #1 (7.5)
Action Comics #1 (7)
Animal Man #1 (7)
Catwoman #1 (7)
Detective Comics #1 (6.5)
Green Arrow #1 (6.5)
Superman #1 (6.5)
Birds of Prey #1 (6)
Blue Beetle #1 (6)
DC Universe Presents (Deadman) #1 (5.5)
Nightwing #1 (5.5)
Demon Knights #1 (5)
Men of War #1 (5)
Superboy #1 (5)
Supergirl #1 (5)
Batgirl #1 (4.5)
Batwing #1 (4.5)
Justice League #1 (4.5)
Batman And Robin #1 (4)
Batman: The Dark Knight #1 (4)
Green Lantern #1 (4)
All Star Western #1 (3)
Deathstroke #1 (3)
Suicide Squad #1 (3)

Here's my complete list of second issues purchased:

Action Comics
Animal Man
Batman: The Dark Knight
Birds of Prey
DC Universe Presents (Deadman)
Detective Comics
Justice League
Justice League Dark
Static Shock
Swamp Thing
Wonder Woman

I'll be starting on that stack shortly.

Superboy #1

This is the last of the New 52 issue #1's I'm planning on reviewing. On to #2's soon!

Title: Superboy
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Scott Lobdell
Penciler: R.B. Silva
Inker: Rob Lean
Colorist: The Hories
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Chris Conroy
Cover: Eric Canete, Guy Major

Superboy is a clone being grown in a tank, and the experiment is about to be terminated because the team of (mad) scientists involved can't detect any signs of consciousness. Until he wakes up and kills a bunch of people. That probably counts.

So Superboy is falling in love with the one scientist who showed a bit of compassion, except that once she's placed in charge of the project by means of the mad-science equivalent of a battlefield commission, she's suddenly married to her job and Superboy is left to his virtual reality world, a world where teenagers who look remarkably like Slade Wilson's daughter talk philosophy and distract the new kid in town from doing the important things like rescuing people trapped in burning buildings.

In the non-virtual world, Rose Wilson is the hired-assassin-on-standby in case things get out of hand a second time. Like THAT is going to help.

Half of Superboy's DNA comes from Superman. The other half is not-quite-revealed in the last words of one of the dying scientists. The scientists try to figure out why the kid has no empathy. They even consider the possibility that the human donor could have been "a deeply pathological, megalomaniacal narcissist (That sounds familiar. I'm thinking the initials L.L are involved, and I don't mean Lois Lane. Or Lana Lang. Or that mermaid chick. Or... Oh, never mind.).

Because of course, we all know that personality is inherited as a simple Mendelian trait. Not that I should be surprised. Comics writers have been writing about genetics since X-Men #1 and it sometimes feels like none of them ever bother to actually learn anything about the subject.

So the guy behind project N.O.W.H.E.R.E. (sadly we don't get to find out what the acronym stands for) shows up and decides he wants to field-test Superboy against the Teen Titans. Seems pretty obvious where this is heading.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Blue Beetle #1

As of right now, tomorrow's review of Superboy #1 will be the last of my reviews of New 52 first issues. I have two more titles that were of mild interest (Blackhawks and Teen Titans), but the #2's are starting to pile up and #3's on their way soon, and I've got a backlog of books picked up at cons this year as well. So I'm going to try to post some kind of wrap-up of the #1's in the next day or two before I start reading any of the #2's.

Title: Blue Beetle
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Tony Bedard
Penciler: Ig Guara
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorist: Pete Pantazis
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Editor: Alex Ogle, Eddie Berganza

Opening sequence takes place long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, and the retcon is being applied with a shovel. It's also one of those annoying sequences where we're supposed to be impressed because we see one dude taking on an entire planet's armed forces and winning singlehandedly. Hint to DC: This does not make the bad guy look impressive. It makes the victims look like idiots. Fortunately, much like the "war" that is being depicted, this scene is over quickly.

The real point is to establish that the Beetle scarab is part of a techno-insectoid collective called the Reach (and they are really reaching when it comes to thinking up original names). The Reach are BAD guys. They "assimilate" locals, turn them into unstoppable monsters, and then "coccoon" entire planets, presumably to eat later. They are a universe-level threat and the only force standing in their way is Starfleet Jedi Knights Sailor Scouts the Green Lantern Corps.

Only, that was then, and this is now. One of their scarabs has been sitting around on Earth waiting for an archaeologist or two to go "Hey, look! A cursed artifact of unknown origin! This belongs in a museum! But I think I'll sell it to the highest-bidding unscrupulous relic dealer instead!"

Actually, it appears to be a feud between a couple of black market types and they've each brought in their own team of third-rate super villains. A huge brawl follows and when it's all said and done, the one still standing with the scarab is... Ted Kord Jaime Reyes.

See, there's another plot going on here and it involves El Paso teenager Jaime Reyes, who just wants to play soccer and go to the quinceanera of the cute girl he has the crush on. You know, the girl with the rich aunt who's in the black market artifact-selling business. Reyes was the previous Blue Beetle reboot, and is now being re-rebooted. I'm sure that the Ted Kord fans would have preferred it if he'd just been plain booted. But no such luck. There's an explosion and the backpack containing the scarab literally falls out of the air into the car that Reyes is riding in. One thrown knife later and scarab-mania is about to run wild, but unfortunately we're out of time, so tune in for issue 2.

Okay, this actually wasn't terrible. Well, the opening scene really WAS terrible, but it got better. Reyes has generic teen issues, but the book introduced a pretty multifaceted cast of supporting characters. And while I'm iffy about any villain that shares a name with a toothbrush, the Reach have the potential to be a fairly interesting cosmic-level threat at some future point. Their technology certainly provides some nice visuals, and its ability to shift and reassemble provides a nice counter for the constructs of the Green Lantern rings.

And I also liked the portrayal of Reyes in his first action scene, where loyalty to his friend gave him the courage to act. Comics could use more heroes who act heroic.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Batwoman #1

Getting down to the last of my #1's. I think I only have two more (I only bought the titles I was interested in, not the entire 52).

Title: Batwoman
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: J. H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman
Artist: J. H. Williams III
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Janelle Asselin, Mike Marts

With so many of the DC relaunch books doing introductory issues that served only to establish the bare bones of the rebooted character with barely any advancement of plot (Supergirl, Suicide Squad, and Justice League were particularly blatant examples of this), it was refreshing to find a "New 52" debut issue that was absolutely loaded with plots and subplots.

DC had a hit on its hands with Batwoman as done by this creative team and they wisely decided not to fix what wasn't broke (why couldn't they have followed that line of thinking with Harley Quinn's costume? Or with Amanda Waller in general?). So this book dives right into the action with much of the supporting cast from the previous version of the book, along with some new additions.

The villain in this issue is also pretty interesting, a malevolent spirit associated with drownings who targets children. It'll be interesting to see Batwoman taking on a supernatural foe, and I could see that being pushed as a theme in this title among the Bat-books.

Also on the supernatural child-abduction is Gotham detective Maggie Sawyer. You might remember her heading up the Special Crimes Unit in Metropolis in a long run of Superman books. She's quickly established as a new potential love interest for Kate Kane in a scene that also establishes Renee Montoya as presumed dead (Yeah, right.). This was actually a really well-played scene with good dialogue and use of artwork. Definitely my favorite moment in the book.

On top of all that, there is a subplot involving Mr. Bones (From Infinity Inc. Remember him?) and the Department of Extranormal Operations, interactions with Kate Kane's father and with the Batman, and Kate training her niece (formerly Firebird) as her new sidekick.

Basically, there was a lot going on here and it all looked great, and it was mostly pretty intriguing. Unlike a lot of the new DC titles, this book didn't try to hold the reader's hand. It just jumped right in and got things moving.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, October 28, 2011

Deep Suit

Here's a minicomic we picked up at MICE 2010.

Title: Deep Suit
Date: 2010
Publisher: Jam Jar
Writer: Benjamin Doane
Artist: Benjamin Doane

Half-sized b/w minicomic.

A hero in a diving suit seeks out a lost spyglass and a treasure of orange marmalade on the zombie-infested sea floor of a flooded Earth. And the statue that keeps watch on the hero's ship is being decidedly unhelpful.

This is some good sureal fun with a little dash of political satire in the opening scene. The plot jumps around quite a bit, but there are so many oddball scenes that come out of left field that I wasn't really feeling the lack of explanation.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Suicide Squad #1

Still making my way through the New 52's issue #1's.

Title: Suicide Squad
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Adam Glass
Artist: Frederico Dallocchio, Ransom Getty, Scott Hanna
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz, Pat McCallum

I don't have a gripe with Harley Quinn's new costume. I mean, it does make her look more like a prostitute than a superheroine, but it isn't any worse than half the female characters in mainstream comics. Bleach the outfit and you've basically got Emma Frost.

But I do think the costume change is a pretty idiotic decision by the powers-that-be at DC comics. The classic Harley Quinn costume is incredibly popular with cosplayers (take a look around any major convention and you'll usually see several Harley Quinns), and it seems like a waste to not support that popularity.

What I DO object to is the new look for Amanda Waller. "The Wall" was one of the best female characters in comics, someone who was tough enough to face down the Batman without any powers of her own. The fact that she was middle-aged and overweight was a refreshing change from pretty much every other female character in the DCU. Well, the new version of Amanda only appears on one panel in this issue, but she's got the exact same body type as well, I would assume it's the same body type that the marketing department feels in necessary to keep the 14-to18-male demographic reading.

Younger Superman with an attitude? I can live with that. Emphasis on the warrior side of Wonder Woman? Okay. Barbara Gordon back as Batgirl? Controversial, but I'm at least willing to give it a try. Catwoman/Batman sex scene? Well, hopefully not in every issue, but at least it fits the vibe of a Catwoman book. And as I said, I can even overlook the stupidity of the new Harley Quinn costume. But mess with The Wall? You just lost a reader. This will be my last review of the new Suicide Squad.

But as it turns out, I don't think I'm going to be missing much. This entire issue was an extended torture sequence involving the captured members of the Squad. Actually, it could be argued that it's the readers who are being tortured, especially since the "surprise" twist at the end of the issue can be seen from a mile away.

Anyway, there is a little bit of background on some of the characters about how they were captured (Harley got taken down by Black Canary; well actually Harley just kinda surrendered to Canary). The other characters who get the spotlight are Deadshot and El Diablo (a Latino fire-elementalist guy, not the DC hero from the late 80s of the same name). Sadly we didn't get to see how King Shark got arrested and tried. That at least might have been some good comic relief ("Candygram!").

And that's it. Torture. (Not) Surprise plot twist. Amanda Waller is skinny. The end.

If this book was a member of the team, I'd be hoping they'd detonate the bomb implant right about now.

Rating: 3/10

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Batman And Robin #1

Title: Batman And Robin
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Peter J Tomasi
Penciler: Patrick Gleason
Inker: Mick Gray
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau
Editor: Harvey Richards, Mike Marts
Cover: Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray

Introductory sequence introduces the new villain, Nobody (talk about a name with some epic potential!). Nobody can be best summed up by the words Tom Baker used to describe the monsters in an old Dr. Who episode: Big, bad, and invisible. Kudos to the art team of Gleason, Gray, and Kalisz for their handling of a really challenging opening fight scene. It still took me two readings before I figured out exactly what was going on, but I'm impressed they managed to successfully get it across at all.

From there it's off to (stately!) Wayne Manor and the Batman, who unfortunately has to share half the billing in this book with Damian Wayne. Damian manages to be both a liability AND a complete jerk for the entire book, which is just about par for the course for this character.

The problem here isn't so much the writing as the basic concept. And I freely admit that there are probably readers who love Damian. Those people probably also think Hit Girl is pretty awesome. I guess I'm old fashioned. Children as cold-blooded killers don't do much for me. Or maybe it's because I work with real teenagers in my day job. Heck, I didn't even like the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl (Wonder where she'll show up in the DCNU? Teen Titans villain, maybe?).

So the writer isn't doing anything more than following precedent. Damian Wayne's unique talent for being both lethal and incredibly annoying is quickly becoming established tradition.

There are even a couple of decent moments. I already mentioned the opening scene that introduces Nobody. The bit with Damian lying awake on his bed waiting for the call to action was a great visual.

But the second half of the book is a generic takedown of random terrorists trying to steal nuclear material. Aside from the Batman's somewhat amusing solution to keeping the reactor from melting down, the only thing that distinguishes this from any other Batman/Robin brawl is Damian doing his loose cannon routine.

Can we just have Tim Drake back please? I'd ask for Stephanie Brown back (at least she manages to not be a jerk while she's being a liability), but they'd probably just kill her around issue 4.

Rating: 4/10

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wonder Woman #1

Title: Wonder Woman
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Chris Conroy, Matt Idelson
Cover: Cliff Chiang

Wonder Woman always struck me as a character that DC couldn't quite figure out what to do with. The Batman had his comedic phase in the 1960s when the TV show was popular, but other than that he's always been the "avenging dark knight". Superman was always the "big boy scout".

With Diana it seems you never know what you're going to get. Amazon warrior or pacifist? Is she the naive visitor to "man's world" from her Paradise Island, or is she the only JLA member with the guts to break Max Lord's neck when that was what had to be done? Patriotic symbol or mythological figure? Feminist, or sex-object? Or a bad attempt at both?

Unlike a lot of the DCU, Wonder Woman could really use a reboot, along with an attempt to bring her some coherence and consistency. Now personally, my favorite versions of Wonder Woman have been the George Perez run in the 1980s (emphasis on her pacifist side and really strong on interactions with her supporting cast, which in that series was pretty much the best it has ever been), and the Lynda Carter TV version (which I love in spite of all the goofiness because the character showed wisdom, restraint, and most importantly the sense of humor that is so often lacking in her comic portrayals).

And for the record, I feel that some of the more recent Wonder Woman comic stories have been among the worst I've read in recent years (must avoid ranting about Genocide...).

So I approached this book with some trepidation, having heard that it would emphasize the warrior side of Diana and that it would be heavily based in Greek mythology. That's not necessarily the direction I was hoping they would go.

But as it turned out, the first issue a pleasant surprise that showed some good potential.

Opening scene involved a villain, a demigod (literally; he's a son of Zeus). He's hanging out atop the world's tallest building, which for some reason in the DCU is located in Singapore and not Dubai. Anyway, there's some small-talk with some women, followed by some throwing of women off of the aforementioned world's tallest building. That was how I was able to figure out the guy was a villain.

Fortunately, this does get better, although not before we have some gratuitous equine decapitation. Now THAT was a phrase that I didn't expect to be writing on this blog. It actually leads to a gruesome, but at least clever sequence where a pair of centaur assassins are conjured using the bodies of the just-slain horses.

The assassins, as it turns out are after a woman named Zola and her child (fetus, actually; DC Comics apparently favors the Mississippi definition of personhood). Hermes has just arrived to protect her, but she's not actually all that thrilled with a strange blue-skinned dude breaking into her house to warn her of her impending assassination. But just as things get out of hand, Hermes tosses her the magical key of teleportation and she ends up in Diana Prince's bedroom (Wonder Woman sleeps naked btw, just in case anyone was curious, and DC was hoping you were).

Now it's Diana's turn to be not amused by an uninvited guest.

And then it actually gets pretty good. No, really. I realize I've been mocking this issue pretty mercilessly up to now, but I loved the interaction between Zola and Diana. The action sequence that followed was excellent. A bit more gory than might be expected from a Wonder Woman book, but we are in Amazon warrior mode here so it works. And the scene that followed with Zola, Diana, and Hermes was really solid too. Ending bit brought us back to the opening scene and some generic prophesy, but the good of the second half of this book really overshadowed the bad.

And Cliff Chiang's artwork helped a lot. It's a slightly more stylized look than most of the new DC titles, but it really fits the mythological feel of the book and Chiang's action sequences are crisp and powerful.

Rating: 7.5/10

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Batman: The Dark Knight #1

Back to the New 52. Still working my way through first issues.

Title: Batman: The Dark Knight
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Paul Jenkins, David Finch
Penciler: David Finch
Inker: Richard Friend
Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Editor: Mike Marts, Rickey Purdin
Cover: David Finch, Richard Friend, Alex Sinclair

You know the line in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil gives up on making a creative plan for world domination and just says "The hell with it. Let's just do what we always do and hijack a nuclear weapon."?

This book felt a lot like that. No original ideas? No problem. Let's just do what we always do and have a mass breakout from Arkham Asylum. That always works.

In the lead-up, we get a little bit of narrated monologue on the nature of fear, followed by a scene of Bruce Wayne doing his playboy/philanthropist gig. Two long-term complications are introduced right off the bat (Bat! Get it! Never mind...). First there's a Gotham internal affairs detective who's got his sights set on Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon. Then we have Jaina Hudson, a possible new love interest, who's flirting more than a bit outrageously at first sight.

From there it's mayhem at Arkham, and as usual, it doesn't matter how many cops you've got. The only way to restore order is to have the Batman lead the charge fists-flying. Oh, and in the midst of it, there's some random villainess in what is basically a Playboy bunny outfit who manages to strike pretty much the most sexist pose possible while dodging bullets. But that's not who the Batman is going after. He's heading straight into the heart of darkness to find Two-Face before he gets... Oops too late. Harvey Dent has been redrawn by way of the Rob Liefeld School Of Excessive Muscles.

The two new supporting cast members seemed decent. Everything else here has been done before. Only a lot better.

Rating: 4/10

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Hall of Insides

My second review from the New York Comic Con.

Title: The Hall of Insides
Date: 2011
Publisher: Sea Lion Books
Writer: Anne Elizabeth
Artist: Siya Oum
Colorist: Mauro Salgado
Letterer: Dave Lanphear

This is a standard-format comic short story set in Anne Elizabeth's Pulse World, and specifically in Vivant, the sentient extradimensional store that caters to the supernatural residents of New York City.

Ginger, Mac, and Noah discover the door to Vivant's insides, and they get treated to a behind-the scene tour. Unfortunately for them, one of the group has already committed a dangerous transgression.

This plays out as part teen drama, part adventure, and a large part cautionary horror tale. The various rooms of the insides are cleverly concieved, and Oum's art captures the wonder of the supernatural emporium nicely. Writer Anne Elizabeth loads Ginger's narration with alliteration, which gives an odd light tone to the story that contrasts with a somewhat grim ending.

Mac is by far the most likable of the characters, which is part of the point as Ginger is in line for some serious comeuppance (possibly more than she actually deserved; I suppose part of the point is to emphasize the danger of the setting, although this is accomplished a bit heavyhandedly).

This is a solid introduction to the setting, especially visually, and it works as a horror story, but aside from Mac, the lack of sympathetic characters makes it difficult to really get engaged with the story.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, October 17, 2011

Salt Water Taffy 1: The Legend of Old Salty

Here's my first review from New York Comic Con. This was purchased on a whim and it turned out to be a pretty good choice.

Title: Salt Water Taffy
Issue: Volume 1: The Legend of Old Salty
Date: 2007
Publisher: Oni Press
Writer: Matthew Loux
Artist Matthew Loux
Design: Matthew Loux, Steven Birch
Letterer: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: Randal C. Jarrell

First in a series of trade-paperback format graphic novels about the adventures of Jack and Benny Putnam (ages 11 and 8) in the not-quite-normal town of Chowder Bay, Maine.

The opening scene has the kids riding in the back seat of their parents' car en route to a summer vacation on the Maine coast. The inevitable "Are we there yet?" gets thrown in, as the brothers fight in the back seat and older brother Jack prefers to keep focused on his Gameboy rather then the scenery.

But once they arrive in town, a live lobster lurking in the salt-water taffy bin is the first sign that Chowder Bay is not quite a normal town. The adventure that follows involves a monstrous lobster queen, and grizzled old fisherman, and a state inspector who turns out to be, well, something really weird.

This was a good story that mixes quirky fantasy with some very realistic moments of the kids on summer vacation. The scene of them first exploring the summer home and jumping on the beds was just spot-on. The dialogue is amusing throughout, and the setting is loaded with potential for more stories.

This reminded me a lot of early issues of Bone, where the comedic bits existed against a background where an epic story was brewing. I'm looking forward to seeing where this story goes.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hot Tea, Cold Water #3

Here's another book that my wife picked up at the recent Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE).

Title: Hot Tea, Cold Water
Issue: 3
Date: 2011
Publisher:Leann Leake (
Editor: Leann Leake
Contributors: Rachel Dukes, Laura-Marie, Kimball, Leann Leake, Jerel Dye, Colin Tedford, Thirteenthstory, Hooroo Jackson, Katie Jacobson, Laurel Leake, Luther Leake, Periwinkle, Gregery miller, Dan Mazur, Rio Aubry Taylor, cherry Ogatawa, Len White, Boo Pop, Gynn Silva, Owen Marston, Masoud Shadravan, Kimberly Hritzko, Amanda Rose Thomas, Line O, John Petrolino, Kevin Leigh

Bunch of disclaimers to start with. First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, my wife is one of the contributors to this issue (and her page is pretty awesome!). Also, this is a zine, which falls somewhat outside of the scope of what I usually review here (I love zines, I just tend to not categorize them with comics). This particular zine has a lot of comic content, so I figured that the line is blurry enough that I'd go ahead and review it along with the rest of the haul from MICE.

So this is the alphabet issue, and we've got 26 contributors each with a letter to reflect on. Beyond that, the guidelines were wide open. We open with a pretty nice fanart of Disney's Ariel by Rachel Dukes. There's an essay about the decision to have children (under b for "babies" by Laura-Marie. Editor Leann Leake contributes a set of short comic strips about here dog (under d).

Colin Tedford's contribution is a small collection of his humorous interpretations of traditional folk gospel lyrics. Katie Jacobson's prose story about conjoined twins on their first date is vivid and disturbing. Laurel Leake's wordless take on juggling is a visual treat.

There was fantasy poetry by Len White (q for "quiver") and political poetry by Boo Pop (r for "revolution"). There's a pretty amusing comic strip by Masoud Shadravan about his work as a usability designer and developer. There's a tribute to Vincent Price by Kimberly Hritzko and a collage piece on society's perception of weight with an accompanying essay by Amanda Rose Thomas.

Kevin Leigh finished the book with a simple but powerful comic strip on zombies (what else?!).

This zine has an extremely eclectic mix of topics and concepts, and there is some excellent art, stories, poetry, and reflections between the covers. Any time you have such a mix, readers will find that there is some material they like better than others, but I just found that there was a lot here to like.

Rating: 8/10

Birds of Prey #1

As mentioned in my previous post, I'll be at New York Comic Con all day Saturday, so expect some upcoming reviews of book that I pick up there to be mixed in with the remaining books from MICE and the DC New 52 titles. Eventually I'll get back to my backlog! Here's another DC book.

Title: Birds of Prey
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Jesus Saiz
Colorist: Nei Ruffino
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Janelle Asselin
Cover: Jesus Saiz, Nei Ruffino

The cover features what I assume to be the full team of Black Canary, Sparrow, Katana (huh?) and Poison Ivy (!?!?). This issue is all Canary and Sparrow, although Barbara Gordon makes a guest appearance (to decline an offer of membership) and Katana gets a mention.

The story centers on a reporter who's been tipped off about the identities of the members of the Birds of Prey team. He's on his way to meet with his secret source unaware that 1) Canary and Sparrow are on to him, and 2) His source wants him dead.

And there are ninjas. Who might be clones, and who appear to be equipped with some pretty hardcore biological weaponry in addition to their usual (inadequate) ninja skilz.

Canary is written well. Nothing that's too much of a departure from the way she's been depicted in past versions of Birds of Prey. She's still got the sonic scream (which they refer to as the "canary cry", probably because someone finally informed them that all screams are, by definition, sonic).

I was a bit more dubious about Sparrow. Much of the action takes place in a church and Sparrow is apparently a somewhat lapsed Catholic who's got a good sense of humor about her situation, so she had some funny lines. But beyond that she seemed like a rather generic femme fatale.

The ending provided a bit of an interesting twist, but there just wasn't enough in this issue that felt original or creative. The storytelling was competent, but it lacked the kind of spark that past versions of this title had, the kind of spark that gets the reader caring about the characters.

Rating: 6/10

New York Comic Con This Weekend!

This weekend is the New York Comic Con, and Dandelion Studios artist Missy Pena (Perils of Picorna) will be on hand at the New York Anime Festival Artists Alley (NOTE: This is separate from the Comic Con Artists Alley; info on the NYAF side of the show can be found here).


Missy will have her full array of prints, button sets, her bunny zipper bags (!), and the first two issues of Perils of Picorna. She'll be there with her Four the Win partner Finni, who has provided this handy map! Look for Finni and you'll find Missy as well!


Dandelion Studios writer/editor Rick Silva isn't set up at the convention, but he will be there on Saturday as an attendee. In addition to Perils of Picorna at Missy's table, you can also catch the debut of the Iconic II anthology at the Comic Book Artists Guild table over on the comics side of the convention.

Rick's story in Iconic II is called "The Mastermind of Paris". It's a Lovecraftian pulp adventure tale set in France in the year 1784, and features the investigative team of Antoine Lavosier, Jean Sylvain Bailly, Benjamin Franklin, and Joseph-Ignace Guillotin as they attempt to unravel the mystery of Anton Mesmer and his seemingly supernatural abilities!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Superman #1

Title: Superman
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: George Perez
Artist: George Perez, Jesus Merino
Colorist: Brian Buccellato
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Will Moss, Matt Idelson
Cover: George Perez, Brian Buccellato

The cover is this issue has a very 80's feel to it, which is appropriate with the involvement of George Perez (who wrote this issue and was credited with the breakdows for artist Jesus Merino). And we continue the nostalgia with the return of Galaxy Broadcast Systems and Morgan Edge (with a completely new look, and only a tiny bit more subtlety).

The focus here is the purchase of the Daily Planet by Galaxy and the resulting restructuring that occurs. Lois Lane is heading up new production while Clark Kent turned down a promotion, wanting nothing to do with the new ownership.

There are a lot of characters being introduced and reintroduced here and there's a lot going on. Terrorists are driving a truck loaded with explosives and chemicals while a strange creature of living fire arises out of the newly-constructed Metropolis Astrodome.

On top of the ongoing stories, we get a thread of caption narration relating the situation in the form of a Daily Planet news story. There's also an ongoing theme about the decline of printed news in the age of digital media. Oh, and a one-page Stormwatch crossover that comes totally out of left field.

Did I mention the alien fire monster?

I caught a bit of a bad vibe from the internet about this book, but you know what? Perez manages to pull these threads together reasonably well and comes up with a good fun story with some twists and turns and a lot of development of minor characters.

Is it perfect? Not by a long shot. There's the seemingly unnecessary Stormwatch cutaway, and some preachy writing about the whole print vs. digital issue (Perry White actually says at one point "I want the kind of detail and analysis on this only print can offer!"). The Daily Planet narrative in the captions is wordy and doesn't do all that much for the story. And there's an annoyingly awkward scene at the end where it's revealed that Lois has a boyfriend who's not named Clark Kent in the most blatantly obvious way possible.

But in spite of those issues, this is a fun story that has a bit of a nostalgic feel to it even as it sets up the new versions of the supporting cast. The alien fire monster is not the type of villain I'd like to see in every issue, but it works as a one-shot deal here.

Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

All Star Western #1

Back to reviewing the new lineup from DC. This is their new "western" title. Except that it takes place in the East.

Title: All Star Western
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray
Artist: Moritat
Colorist: Gabriel Bautista
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Editor: Kate Stewart, Joey Cavalieri
Cover: Moritat

Since when is Gotham City WESTERN? It's in New Jersey! I actually think that DC missed a good opportunity to title this comic Gotham By Gaslight, a name that they own and which might bring in the steampunk crowd.

Regardless, we are indeed in Gotham City, and Jonah Hex is in town, teaming up with early forensic psychologist Amadeus Arkham to track down Jack the Ripper the Gotham Butcher.

There's a young prostitute who knows Hex and manages to pass along some useful information once he's done laying a beatdown on the locals in a barroom brawl. She's actually a likeable character (Hex and Arkham really aren't). So of course she gets killed off in the next scene. This is the old west east! People weren't likable back then! Or if they were, it meant they were DOOMED! Oh, and women who do things like work as prostitutes or stand up to the hero need to be put in their place, of course.

Other than the rather blatant refrigerator moment, the rest of this book is simply dull. The serial killer (or killers; conspiracy theories and secret societies are hinted) acts like every TV serial killer. Arkham spouts Freudian analysis, but manages to come up with no insights about either the killer or Hex (who receives the bulk of the psychobabble) that are actually interesting or surprising.

Populating the city with the ancestors of characters from the current Batman continuity is a clever touch, although the handling of Mayor Cobblepot is ham-fisted. The character basically IS the Penguin.

This was the first book I've read in the "New 52" that really felt LONG. And not in a good way. Between Arkham's incessant psychoanalysis in caption form and a succession of scenes of Hex beating people up for no reason that actually made any sense, the book just seemed to drag on an on.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bed Mermaid

I think I need a break from DC. Fortunately, I just found a bag of comics I picked up at the Maine Comic Arts Festival.

Title: Bed Mermaid
Date: 2010
Publisher: Kristilyn
Writer: Kristilyn Stevenson
Artist: Kristilyn Stevenson

Two-page (plus covers) minicomic freebie from Kristilyn for Free Comic Book Day 2010

A girl and her cat undergo a strange transformation while they sleep. This is more of a vignette than a story, but Kristilyn does a nice job of presenting the metamorphosis in a series of tiny panels. Her character's facial expressions are adorable, and the cat is also very cute.

Nice dreamlike vibe to this one.

Rating: 7/10

Green Lantern #1

Title: Green Lantern
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen
Colorist: David Baron
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Editor: Darren Shan, Brian Cunningham
Cover: Greg Capullo

I picked up the Greg Capullo sketch cover variant (pictured above). I like the touch of color on the ring against the black and white, but Sinestro isn't really that recognizable in this version. He looks like something halfway between Guy Gardner and the Joker.

Things that are new and original: Sinestro as a Green Lantern. Sinestro with a chance at redemption, even though he doesn't actually want the chance. Sinestro suddenly forced to confront his own Sinestro Corps as mutual trust breaks down.

Things that have been done to death: Hal Jordan can't keep a job. Hal Jordan can't pay the rent. Hal Jordan makes hothead mistakes that land him in jail (okay, I can sorta buy that one, but the actual scenario was so idiotic that that it totally lost me). Hal Jordan engages in bad-sitcom-level displays of social awkwardness.

Everything in this comic that involved Hal Jordan except for the last page had me cringing. Absolutely awful, unimaginative filler. I'm sorry. This guy is a hero. I'm not buying the idea that he is utterly incompetent at life. That's taking the easy way out and going for cheap cliche situations rather than actually giving the story some depth.

Sinestro is the only thing that kept this from being the worst of the New 52 books I've read so far.

Rating: 4/10

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nightwing #1

And still more New 52!

Title: Nightwing
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Penciler: Eddy Barrows
Inker: JP Mayer
Colorist: Rod Reis
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Katie Kubert, Bobbie Chase
Cover: Eddie Barrows, JP Mayer, Rod Reis

Nightwing is one of those characters that I usually enjoy because he's one notch less extreme than the Batman, both in terms of his abilities and his personality. It makes him more realistic, and often more reasonable that Bruce Wayne, which can be refreshing in a universe of extremes.

Much of this book delivers just that vibe. We see Nightwing on patrol taking down a random masked killer on the subway. Dick is sporting a redesigned costume with a lot more red in the look (Possibly a throwback to the Flying Graysons/Robin? It really doesn't make sense for any other reason.). He's still in Gotham, and back to his Nightwing gig after a year under the cowl (when Bruce was "away"; so it's not entirely clear what elements of continuity were kept).

And Haly's circus is back in town.

So is a mysterious, and very dangerous man who's out to kill Dick Grayson. This may or may not tie into the events of Batman #1 (it really SHOULD; this is the perfect chance for a bit of cross-title continuity).

The introductory bit was good, and I loved Dick's interaction with the circus performers when he finally goes to visit. There's even a new potential love interest (and a potential rival) thrown into the mix.

But the last few pages, when the plot rapidly descends, were a problem for me. Dick allows two cops to die because he decides to powder out of a fight to do a costume change. This is the kind of trivial use of violence that I get really frustrated with in mainstream comics. And it didn't help that the random killer in the opening scene slashed three throats before Dick arrived to stop him. The writer makes an halfhearted effort to have Dick acknowledge the fact that he just cost two human beings their lives for the sake of protecting his secret identity, but after a quick couple of reaction captions ("This is on me." really shouldn't cut it here), we're back to business as usual.

And to make matters worse, the bad guy is an expert fighter who really ought to have no trouble figuring out that the guy who he's fighting in the costume is the same dude that he was fighting a couple of minutes ago without the costume.

Too bad, because for 21 pages, I really wanted to like this book.

Rating: 5.5/10

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Aquaman #1

More from the new DC Universe. Here's the debut of Aquaman.

Title: Aquaman
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciler: Ivan Reis
Inker: Joe Prado
Colorist: Rod Reis
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz, Pat McCallum
Cover: Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Ron Reis

A surprisingly meta take on the King of the Sea, this issue spends most of its time slyly answering the whole "aquaman gets no respect" meme. Helpfully, we get Aquaman's powers turned up a couple of notches, as he flips over a truck, leaps tall buildings (it actually takes him two bounds!), and the general effect of machine gun fire on him is to get him annoyed.

He puts up with constant pestering from the (Boston!) general public, especially when he sits down at a restaurant and order a fish and chips. Sadly he doesn't stick around long enough to see if he puts malt vinegar on it.

Throughout the story, Arthur's dialogue is great. He comes off as a guy with a lot of pride, a lot of intelligence, and just enough patience to tolerate the pestering morons who seem to constantly make their way into his presence. There's also a good scene with Mera that sets up the general direction for the series. We'll be spending our time in Boston, not Atlantis, it seems, and that works well. Maybe he could replace Crawford in the outfield.

Oh, and there are villains. They are possibly referred to collectively as "the Trench" (Really, DC? Really?). They're Deep Ones from the works of Lovecraft. They speak in gibberish (translated for our convenience into phrases like "There's food up here.") and they are about to give a whole new meaning to "Deadliest Catch". The design of the Trench is excellent, although nothing we haven't seen before in designs of sahuagin in D&D and all manner of other fish-creatures going back to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. So, they're not terribly original, but they do look good.

This whole book looks good, in fact. Reis and Prado do excellent work, especially in the introductory splash page for Arthur, the variety of bystanders at the restaurant, and the scene with Mera. They also make the ocean look awesome in several panels, and that's going to be important moving forward.

The in-jokes won't carry this much further, and I'm a bit dubious about the Trench (this sort of horror plot is often a bad fit with superheroes), but taken on its own this was an enjoyable debut.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, October 7, 2011

Demon Knights #1

Title: Demon Knights
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Paul Cornell
Penciler: Diogenes Neves
Inker: Oclair Albert
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover: Tony Daniel, Tomeu Morey

What once was old is now made new in DC Comics' fifty-two. We'll begin this twisted plot, flashing back to Camelot. Jason (of Norwich?) is close at hand, as the guinea-pig in Merlin's plan. So imprisoned in the form of man, our old buddy the Demon Etrigan. Fans who haven't been caught napping most likely didn't need recapping, but there is one detail new: they throw in Madame Xanadu. Fast-forward now she's on a lark, still years before the J-L-Dark, and she's got Jason there to hold her hand, while on the side she's banging Etrigan. (Ew!).

Now immortal-types gather from near and far. Of course they meet up in a bar. Why not? It's standard fantasy. It always works in D&D. And while on the subject of cliches, the dialogue in these dark-age days, well they throw in words like "bollocks" and "arse". The result: Less historic and more plain farce. The characters gather, the team assembles. The mostly third-rate group resembles a medieval Substitute Hero Legion, called upon to defend the region from Mordru and the Questing Queen. Really? I guess I hadn't seen the Shining Knight in many recent books, but Vandal Savage? This really looks like they're digging to find the most obscure of character who have endured in backup stories long since told in Showcase or Brave & the Bold.

The plot's generic with lots brawling. By the end a bunch of dragons come calling. And I find I'm yearning for the time, when Etrigan at least would speak in rhymes. From hackneyed plot I wish they'd freed him. Where's Matt Wagner when you need him? Come on, rebooted DC Universe, bring back dialogue in verse!

Rating: 5/10
(And I'm really sorry! I just couldn't resist!)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Supergirl #1

Title: Supergirl
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Michael Green, Mike Johnson
Penciler: Mahmud Asrar
Inker: Dan Green, Mahmud Asrar
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: John J. Hill
Editor: Will Moss
Cover: Mahmud Asrar, Dave McCaig

An unusual meteor shower hits the Earth and the US military goes on alert. The object that is being tracked ends up in Siberia and apparently the US has signed a "visitor protocols" treaty with Russia. Basically this allows American redshirts to land in Russia and get beaten up by whatever alien threat has arrived.

In this case, the alien is Supergirl. She's dazed and confused and she doesn't speak the language. And guys in powered armor start shooting things at her almost immediately. Good thing for her that she's got all those handy superpowers. So she fights off the soldiers-in-mechs and...

And the issue ends, pretty much. There's one additional plot development on the last page, but otherwise it's just Supergirl looking a bit shaky with the new powers and not understanding any dialogue not in Kryptonian while she trounces a bunch of Tony Stark wannabees.

And to make matters worse, Kara doesn't come off as a teenager. I'd been under the impression that this was to be a major goal here. Make her a realistic teenager personality-wise. Instead, she's very introverted and reflective, and she's really only displaying confusion and annoyance. Not much of an emotional range at this point.

A few of the other "New 52" books (See my reviews of Green Arrow, Batgirl, or Men of War) have managed to annoy me. This one just left me bored.

Rating: 5/10

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Comicverse: Free Comic Book Day

Title: The Comicverse: Free Comic Book Day
Date: 2011
Publisher: Awakening Comics
By: Bianca Alu-Marr, Steve Peters

Minicomic freebie promoting the Comicverse webcomic.

The setting is a comic book store located aboard a space station with convenient access to three wormholes. Shopkeeper Rei runs the place along with a dragon named Ying and a surly AI that operated their comic-replicating machine. The machine can access produce the perfect comic to suit the needs of any customer as long as it can get over its own bad attitude.

Fortunately, space pilot Aki knows how to sweet-talk the machine into getting an issue of Tank Girl. She's new to comics, but Rei and Ying are both hoping she'll stick around.

Good start to this humorous geeky romance. The setting (particularly the shop's ability to access any comic ever published) allows the writers to mix space opera with humor based on current geeky topics fairly smoothly. The characters are all likable, especially Aki, who steals the show as the non-fan who's willing to give comics a try.

Backup story covers Free Comic Book Day aboard the station and name-drops a bunch of the FCBD 2011 offerings.

This was an effective promotional piece for the webcomic and was entertaining on its own.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Justice League Dark #1

Title: Justice League Dark
Issue: 1
Date: November 2011
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Peter Milligan
Artist: Mikel Janin
Colorist: Ulises Arreola
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Editor: Rex Ogle, Eddie Berganza
Cover: Ryan Sook

Interesting. This was the title that I had the highest hopes for among the "New 52". I loved Milligan's writing on Shade: The Changing Man for Vertigo, and this title pairs him back up with Shade and also lets him play with John Constantine. Upon reading the comic I found that it managed to hit several pet peeves of mine, but the writing was good enough in parts to leave me feeling good about the book overall.

We open with Madame Xanadu, who has a surprisingly bored expression for a person who's just had a vision of future doom. Tarot cards are scattered through the scene with pictures of characters on them: Zatanna (wit pants!) as the Magician, Enchantress as the Hanged Man (actually, just "The Hanged"; which, of course would be different from "The Hung"). Deadman is Death. You'd think Death would be Death, but I guess they decided not to bother getting the courtesy okay from Gaiman. June Moone is the Fool. Some dude I didn't recognize is the Sickness. Apparently we're not playing with the standard Ryder-Waite deck here. Shade is the Madness. And John Constantine is... cut off at the bottom of the page. Tease!

June Moon is walking around reciting rhymes while dozens of clones of her commit mass suicide via highway.

Scene with Shade and Kathy follows, and it's a total continuity-rewriting sucker-punch, but it's handled so well and is such a shock that I was okay with it. Some Shade fans are not going to be (although Milligan wrote in some wiggle room).

Scene shifts to Enchantress, who's in a farmhouse in the midwest and she's spreading madness out to the surrounding countryside. This is the kind of thing that Milligan is awesome at, and his madness effects are sick, twisted, and clever.

But then we hit one of my big pet peeves in comics. The idea here is that the regular Justice League can't handle this kind of threat, so the Justice League Dark has to get formed. Unfortunately this idea is conveyed in a throwaway scene where Enchantress' magical defenses thoroughly trounce Superman, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman. I don't like scenes that arbitrarily have the bad guy easily overpower the most powerful forces on the planet just to convince the readers that they are a major threat. This does nobody any good. Superman, Wonder Woman Cyborg, and the Batman (who's watching the scene from the JLA monitor room) all look like chumps, but the reader knows that this is just a plot device, so it really doesn't actually do Enchantress any favors either. And when it comes down to it, the book didn't need this scene. It could simply have been Zatanna on duty and she decides to call in magical talent to handle a magical threat.

It also didn't help that Zatanna decided to do a bit of backwards-talking (backtalk?) to keep the Batman from trying to help her. Because, when given the choice between going into a dangerous situation with or without the Batman on your side, the clear answer is to do it without. I'm somewhat hoping he punches her in the face when this mission is over, but that seems unlikely (even though he'd totally do that to Guy Gardner if he pulled the exact same stunt.

Another interesting detail. Apparently they can show Superman and Cyborg getting cut to a bloody mess (in a storm of magical teeth!), but Wonder Woman doesn't get a scratch, just a concerned expression before the scene fades and a caption informs us the battle's over and the good guys lost.

The story then very quickly introduces Constantine (used for comic relief here) and Deadman (barely used at all) before we end on Xanadu with Shade and predictions of doom.

Okay, that was a lot of griping. And the story barely got started.

But Milligan is so good on the small details and the creepy touches, that I was still feeling good about this in the end. I think what I love about the potential of this book is summed up in the following exchange:

Xanadu: I saw a gathering of men... And women. Each with their own specialty. You must find these men and women. You must...

Shade: You've finally lost it, Xanadu. The only people I know these days are half-insane or... or damaged goods. Most of them are a danger to themselves.

Xanadu: Exactly.

There is a lot of really awesome stuff here, and I think that once the book is allowed to grow on its own without relying on useless guest appearances by the regular Justice League (or maybe just the occasional reminder that we're still in the DC Universe), that this could get really great.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Healed #3

Here's a locally-published comic that my wife picked up at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo.

Title: Healed
Issue: #3
Date: 2011
Publisher: Homeless Comics
Writer: George O'Connor
Artist: Griffin, S.
Editor: Tracy O'Connor

Humanity has been suddenly cured of all disease. Suddenly, no one can die of "natural causes". The result isn't as joyful or blissful as one might first imagine.

I'm probably going to seek out the first two issues (they're standard format comics, b/w interior with color covers), but I had no problem following the story from here.

The main focus of this issue is on two residents of a nursing home. They're being evicted along with all other "healed" residents and they are returning to families who had essentially given them up as dead. The first segment was the most powerful, as a teenager was forced to face the consequences of actions and words that he thought his grandfather would take to the grave.

Also in this issue is a scene involving a drug company executive who's trying to investigate the cause of the healing. She understands the negative consequences of overpopulation and starvation that could await the world, but she may also have a bit of a personal stake. After all, who needs medicine in a world where nobody ever gets sick?

The dialogue was good throughout this issue, and writer George O'Connor has clearly put a lot of thought into what the fallout from the mass healing might be like. Against that global perspective, this book gives us character we can care about and some intriguing subplots.

Rating: 8.5/10