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Executive Assistant Iris #0 – Review

By: David Wohl (writer), Eduardo Francisco (illustrations), Sunny Gho (colors)

The Story: Diane Coverdale clearly needs some protection. She goes looking for some.

A Message Before the Review: I’ve never read an EA Iris story before, but have been intrigued with the concept since I attended the Aspen panel at a comic convention in Toronto in 2009. I’m finally getting to Iris now.

The Review: It’s going to be a bit tougher to review this comic, because it is only 12 pages long (with sketches and a bit of behind-the-scenes narrative to complete it). Wohl effectively fit a complete story in this small space, but I don’t want to lose sight of what an issue #0 is supposed to do. It does not launch the story. That is the job of issue #1. It does not bore us with exposition. Info dumps should stay on the cutting room floor. An issue #0 has to engage the reader with a very brief and not-very-challenging conflict for the hero whose resolution puts all the principal characters in place for the launch of issue #1. Given those goal posts, Wohl executed (no pun intended) this story perfectly. There was so much movement and action that I doubt any exposition would have fit anyway.

Who are the principal characters? Iris and Acteia (both highly trained ninja-like assassins euphemistically called Executive Assistants) and Diane Coverdale, a very wealthy woman who needs a special kind of bodyguard. We learned all about Diane in this short story, and we learned enough about Acteia to like her and see the potential she will have to drive some major physical action and character growth. And, we see the cool, mysterious Iris, but only from a distance.

What was primed? Well, a world of assassins for one thing. It exists in secrecy and it has it’s own schools and economies. Wohl has also primed Coverdale as the target. This time, she survived. Whoever goes after her next will try harder. And Wohl has primed Acteia and Iris. They are very dangerous and didn’t even break a sweat this issue. Now the dramatic tension comes from the reader wanting to see them in action, for real, in danger of not winning.
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Kirby: Genesis #1 – Review


By: Kurt Busiek (writer), Jack Herbert and Alex Ross (artists), Vinicius Andrade (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor)

The Story: We get to see a whole lot of Kirby and his hot platonic friend Bobbi. The backdrop for their story is the sudden appearance of all sorts of weird stuff that hearkens back to when NASA’s Pioneer 10 probe, carrying a message for aliens on how to get to Earth, was lost in some strange effect. And the story opens…

The Review: I was absolutely flattened by the art. I mean, wow. Kirby’s face alone is worth the price of entry. It’s life-like, expressive and unique, with a wealth of details, from the slight hollows around his mouth and his perma-five-o’clock-shadow to the worry wrinkles on his forehead. The draftsmanship and respect for the precision of anatomy was eye-catching. Nearest comparators that leap to mind? Neal Adams or Cascioli, maybe with a bit of an Ivan Reis’ flavor of Boston Brand thrown in. The layouts are intriguing and gather no moss as we go from page to page. The smaller, close-up frames cram the eye towards the long, scenic views that are a riot of detail. The credits page was stunning not only for the scope and composition of the figures, with feet angling down to enhance the dynamism of the page (no pun intended), but also for the startlingly effective shift in color tone and lighting. And once the weirdness starts hitting the fan (and the midwest), Herbert and Ross channel the King and get some real Jack Kirby flavors working their ways into the artwork. Quite an artistic accomplishment.
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Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #4 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: The Colossus of Mars, Part 4: The Jeddaks of Lesser and Greater Helium have fled to Ptarth, where they have summoned other red Jeddaks to convince them that Yorn is a threat to them all. The other Jeddaks are not convinced. Then Yorn drives the hand of the Colossus of Mars through the palace walls and tries to kill everyone….

What’s Good: Arvid Nelson continues to deliver pure pulpy adventure with all the elements that made pulp sci-fi popular. First of all, we have a central hero of great ability and nobility who seems to be the driving personality in all action situations and discussions. Second, we have leaping plot twists (like finding Valian) and emerging mysteries (like a spy planted among them). Third, we have the tireless scientific inventions (the wings and the brain wave interrupter). Fourth, we have a very physical, martial ethos in character, where the amount of social status and respect the reader ought to accord each character is strongly signaled by how fit they are. (So far in the Dynamite rebirth of Barsoom, the chubby characters are either the moral reprobates or the hapless ones who don’t get the girl, a very strong message in the source material Burroughs originally produced.) Fifth, Nelson has filled this book with moment-to-moment action and conflict. With a set up like this, it’s easy to see why pulps dominated popular literature for so long in North America. I also appreciate Nelson’s the nods to longtime Burroughs readers, like Thuvia with her banth.

Rafael and Lopez did another great job of creating the visuals that make Barsoom work. The thoats, the airships, the radium bullet fire, the Howling Mesas and the austere scapes of Mars itself were ensnaring. Two of the most impactful visuals, though, were the Colossus of Mars itself, pale green, emotionless and wrinkled, and the expressions at the summit of Jeddaks. The arguments were written on their faces, along with doubt, disgust, impatience, and frustration. There’s a particular expression of Dejah Thoris’ at the end of their argument that was really evocative. And stylistically, I continue to love the steampunk feel to some of the tech that is plot-relevant to the story (the Colossus and the interrupter). It occurs to me that perhaps this isn’t even derivative stylistically from the steampunk art movement so much as being an updating of materials that were core to the pulp era of the late 1800s and early 1900s (vacuum tubes, brass, magnifying glasses) and so prominent in early sci-fi film (1930s). Either way, it’s cool.
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Deadlands One-Shot – Advanced Review

Main Story by: David Gallaher (writer), Steve Ellis (artist), Troy Peteri (letterer)
Backup Story by: C. Edward Sellner (writer and colorist), Oscar Capristo (artist)

The Stories: An inventor has made a deal to build a gun that can kill the devil, and he’s been given a ghostly stone to help him do it. In the second feature, a new patron at a saloon means trouble.

The Reviews: This book identifies itself on the cover as a weird western and delivers on that promise on page one. Not only that, the story itself is a coming of age story in the Hero’s Journey mold, mixed with a deal with the devil. The opening about the young inventor who loved his family and turned to building guns pulled me in right away. Lots of grist for the mill, so to speak. And the arrival of Tygian, with his strange offer, is the hero’s call. He reluctantly accepts and is thrust into a strange world. He’s given the hero’s talisman (in this case, the ghost stone) and the challenge to “build me a gun that will kill the devil.” That’s a pretty strong challenge and it grips the ambitions of adulthood, leaving our hero to attack his task with enthusiasm. The story was fun and while I didn’t guess the ending in its detail, the arc of the story was pretty clear from the beginning. I wasn’t surprised that a deal with the devil would go sour. The second story was a bit more of an O. Henry piece, with a smaller scope, but a sharp snap of surprise at the end.
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Samurai’s Blood #1 – Review

By: Owen Wiseman (script), Nam Kim (Pencils), Matthew Dalton (inks), Sakti Yuwono (colors), Michael Benaroya and Owen Wiseman (creators)

The Story: Katashi is fostered to the Sanjo clan, a family of honor and power. Gakushi, one of the Sanjo clan’s chief aides, stages a coup and wipes out all of the Sanjo, except for two, a brother and a sister, and Katashi, who is the one that will have to protect his foster siblings.

What’s Good: I love a good period piece, and while this is by no means a perfectly historical work, the flavor of the samurai code, the villainy and treachery of those who do not subscribe to are clear. Wiseman hints at the different burdens and fates the central characters are carrying, which leaves some room for this series to expand. The fighting and assassination, of which there is no small amount, keeps the pace of events quick. Betrayal is something the reader must work to keep up with as layers of deception are exposed and Wiseman kept me on my toes.

The artwork, especially the color palette, did the job of capturing what I imagined rural 17th century Japan to look like. And while I bought the main action and scenery, where I really responded to the visuals was in the larger fight scene with the troops in red armor. The contrasts in color and the level of detail in the armor and surroundings was a treat.
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Warlord of Mars #7 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Lui Antonio (artist), Adriano Lucas (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: Having led the tharks away from Dejah Thoris, John Carter became lost and is dying in the Martian desert. But, he finds a strange building and after some creepiness, gets past it and back to civilization, where he gets news of Dejah Thoris. Then, it’s back to sneaking *into* the enemy camp for our favorite Warlord of Mars.

What’s Good: We’re in the high point of Act II of A Princess of Mars, so the pace of action is fast and the exposition is minor. Nelson hurtles us from the atmospheric factories of Mars, the weird tech of the homesteaders of Mars, to the city of Zodanga, where writer and art team show us a different Martian culture and how their military works. I have to say that I like Nelson’s sleight of hand for getting John Carter into the Zodangan navy better than Burroughs’ version. Nelson didn’t abandon Burroughs’ premise, but he connected together the attrition from the Zodangan-Helium war, especially among the air service, with Carter’s easy entry. This made the plot much easier to buy. I also loved the training sequence and Carter’s laconic monologue as well as his boastful competitiveness.
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X-Men #12 – Review

By: Christopher Yost (writer), Paco Medina, Dalibor Talajic (pencillers), Juan Vlasco, Dalibor Talajic (inkers), Marte Gracia (colors)

The Story: First to Last, Part 2: In three different times (2.7 million years ago, in the early issues of the original X-Men, and now) we learn about the evolutionaries. They are looking for the leader of mutantkind to speak for all mutants, to prevent homo superior from going extinct.

What’s Good: I thought that the art in the now (and 2.7 mya) by Medina and Vlasco was pretty strong. Although some of the early primates seemed a bit plastic, the wolves were not, and the Eternals were visually impressive. The modern scenes were even stronger. The evolutionaries facing Cyclops in the debris of Utopia seemed to live in the kind of chaotic, gritty atmosphere that makes the best use of the styles of Medina and Vlasco. The heroes are dynamic, the villains menacing and the smoky background looks to be crumbling around the story. The quick switches from character reaction to character reaction were effective and the choice of camera angles and zoom-ins were powerful. Check out the close-up on the evolutionary leader’s eyes right before the splash page attack on Cyclops.

Writing-wise, I’m loving this arc. Yost is surfacing an ancient mystery with huge stakes (the survival of the two extant species of homo). The slow reveal, the bubbling anger and impatience on the side of the heroes, plus Cyclops’ mysterious orders drive the tension right up. And the toggling between the past and present is very effective in unfolding the coolness of this story and revealing the true menace of the evolutionaries. Also, seeing Magneto in any setting is a treat, but seeing him in his full villainous glory brings a nostalgic pang to my heart.
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Kirby Genesis #0 – Review

By: Kurt Busiek (writer), Alex Ross (art direction, layouts, covers), Jack Herbert and Alex Ross (art), Vinicius Andrade (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Jack Kirby (concepts and characters)

The Story: In 1972, Pioneer 10 was launched to fly past Jupiter. It was fitted with a plaque, in case anyone in deep space ever found it, so as to be a first contact for humanity. The plaque shows the way to Earth. Issue #0 is about what happens to Pioneer 10, and the attention it draws.

What’s Good: Out of the gates, I have to say the art was superb. Ross’ layouts are strong and Herbert’s inks (as well as Ross’ own), convey a lot of texture and depth. And the raw awesomeness of Andrade’s colors really stood out on the double splash page of Jupiter and all of the brightly-colored Kirby creations that leapt off the page. Where the art team was going for a strong Kirby flavor (some of the poses, the reimaginings of the characters, etc), they did a great job and the Kirby tone just soaks through the paper. At the same time, they totally sidestepped all of Kirby’s problems with odd proportions and what I’ve always considered poor draftsmanship. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the King, but I think we’ll all agree that some of his art, even after 20 years in the business, could be pretty crude (his early Marvel stuff certainly showed he was conscious of being paid by the page). Whatever your feelings on Kirby’s draftsmanship, your don’t have to have any worries here. The art team brings beautiful detail to Pioneer 10, childhood exuberance, and reimagined Kirby aliens of all kinds (too many to list), bizarre Amazonian warriors, and space commandos with what looks like a battle bicycle.
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X-Men Legacy #249 – Review

By: Mike Carey (writer), Rafa Sandoval (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), Sebastian Girner (assistant editor), Daniel Ketchum (editor)

The Story: Aftermath, Part Two: The dust is still settling on the X-Men’s Age of X. Events in Age of X were so fast and so different, that the X-Men, back home and safe, have some breathing room to deal with who they might have been and what they might have chosen. Legacy #249 is about three people coming to terms with the mirror that Age of X held up for them: Rogue, Legion and Frenzy.

The Review: This story demands a deft hand at character work, something at which Carey normally excels. I have to say though, that I was generally disappointed in what could have been a really strong story. This one turned out to be just okay.

I thought that the Frenzy story-line was the most engaging, emotionally. I felt for her and her angst over who she might have been and still could be, although there were no real surprises to how things turned out. I think it’s very facile to show someone what they might have been and then, after that, they simply decide to be different. There’s more to it than that. There’s a reason Frenzy, in the real world, chose the path she did and there should be some resistance to this new path. There was really none here, which I though was a lost opportunity.

The Legion story-line was the most intriguing intellectually. I loved seeing the way Nemesis was trying to control the different personalities in Legion and I loved seeing the new personalities. This part was fun and was really about the science fiction adventure that will follow with Legion and his many, many personalities and awesome power.
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Carbon Grey #3 – Advanced Review

By: Houng Nguyen, Khari Evans, Paul Gardner, Mike Kennedy (story), Paul Gardner (script and lettering), Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, Hoang Nguyen (art)

The Story: Life is pretty crappy all around for the four special sisters who are the elite enforcers of a Reich-like empire. The Kaiser is killed on their watch, enemies encircle, and the four girls are hunted, even those who had no involvement.

The Review: Welcome to the third installment of this Prussian steampunk masterwork. In it, you’ll find absolutely stunning art and a complex, multi-layered political espionage plot filled with ninja-styled action in a Kaiser Wilhelm setting. The images are truly arresting, from the leaning, half-destroyed iron and steel tower, steel-gray against a slate sky, to blazing gunfights, plane crashes, moody colored flashbacks, secret missions and scarred hunters. Really, there is no way for me to effectively describe this art other than to say it is fabulous. The emotiveness in the expressions are some of the best I’ve seen in two years of reviewing comics, well on par with Cascioli’s stuff, but here shown with a simultaneously shinier and grittier sensibility.

Split evenly between writing and drawing, Carbon Grey takes advantage of the flexibility of the laws of physics in the comics medium. This leads to some eye-popping visuals, but that are wholly dramatic in their impact and hovering between ironic and surreal in their tone. I’m talking about riding a flaming aircraft like a weaponized surfboard, wielding a sword that cuts like a lightsaber, and the kind of samurai-like self-possession it takes to do both at the same time.
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X-Men Giant-Size #1 – Review

By: Christopher Yost (writer), Paco Medina and Dalabor Talajic (pencillers), Juan Vlasco and Dalabor Talajic (inkers), Marte Gracia and Wil Quintana (colorists), Daniel Ketchum (associate editor), Axel Alonso and Nick Lowe (editors)

The Story: First to Last, Part I: In this new arc, the Neos, another mutant offshoot of humanity (different from homo superior) is attacking the increasingly misnamed Utopia. The neo’s have lost the ability to reproduce, as homo superior had done for a while, and now that mutants are being born again, they want the secret to what’s up. This battle royale drudges up some buried memories in Scott, really old ones, from the original X-Men’s first year: He suddenly remembers a run-in with the evolutionaries that he was supposed to have forgotten.

The Review: My first reaction to reading X-Men Giant-Size #1 was: “That was pretty cool.” Superb art led the way, starting with a planet-scape, then dipping under the cloud-deck, and into a cave and some newborns. The detail, draftsmanship and colors were beautifully natural and the following action dramatic and clear. In the present-day, the clouds in the background of the giant neo were spectacular and the fight scene pretty awesome, although from time to time, the “cameras” zoomed in too close, and it was tough to follow the blow-by-blow. The shift in art teams between past and present was a useful tool to highlight the change in setting and there were some nice old-school touches to the scenes in the past. My favorites were the Kirby-esque action poses, Magneto’s not-form-fitting costume, Magneto’s general portliness (you get a no-prize if you remembered that he started off as a middle-aged man before being turned into a child by Mutant Alpha in Defenders #16 and then aged back to his prime adult strength by Eric the Red just before Uncanny X-Men #104), and even Wanda’s sixties sort of physique (instead of the ultra-svelte pneumatic women that populate comics since the 80s). All-in-all, some very fine artwork.

Writing-wise, Yost has brought a piece of high-concept sci-fi to the X-universe. The introduction of the mystery of the evolutionaries, the hurtling fight scene right out of the gates, and the neat resolution of the plot challenge of the neo’s all launched this arc strongly. I felt propelled along the story and wanting more of this *big idea*. The dialogue worked, and the characters were mostly honest. Where they weren’t honest (Bobby’s exaggerated quipping in two time periods, Wolverine’s idiotic back-stabbing on the neo and Emma’s inexplicable failure to wake up their best strategist while they’re being attacked), I could see why Yost had chosen to fudge a bit, for dramatic effect, but since I’ve read some pretty flawless books by this writer, I felt he’d cut a couple of corners he didn’t need to.
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Avengers Academy #14 – Review

By: Christos Gage (writer), Sean Chen (penciller), Scott Hanna (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), John Denning (assistant editor), Bill Rosemann (editor)

The Story: Electro attacks France’s main science institute while most of the full-fledged Avengers are away. The kids need a chance to prove themselves and Electro isn’t the baddest guy in town. When they get there, though, it turns out he ain’t alone. The kids don’t do too bad, though, all things considered.

What’s Good: Gage did one thing every great writer must do. He made the heroes active. They wanted something. They wanted it bad, and we the reader can sympathize: they want to prove themselves. They’re not asking for a free lunch. Just put me in the game coach. I like them already. This situation also creates a lot of tension, because when has any battle plan survived contact with the enemy? I love how well the trainees do against the Sinister Six and I have to say, I really like the ending. For a while, when I saw how they got the bad press and all, I was thinking “Oh great. Another thin persecution story. Seen it.” But Gage tricked me. That wasn’t the end. The end was about stepping up to the plate morally that was the big climax of the book. The fight, for all that it was a great superhero donnybrook, was really just a plot device to get to the personal growth made by a surprising number of people at the end. What am I saying about the writing? Gage was right on target.

And, I have to say, after my first exposure to the Chen-Hanna-Cox team, I’m loving the art. The fine lines leave a lot of room to fill the panels with detail, which I love. The credit page is a pretty good example of this. From top to bottom, the big panel is brimming with the external accoutrements of the Avengers Mansion, the backgrounded and framing characters, the tight line of those arguing, with some intense Giant-Man action thrown in as background. That is visual storytelling! And Cox’ colors are beautiful and clear, with the bright spots attracting the eye to the important parts of the page. I also enjoyed Chen’s slanting camera angles and overlaid panels. His layouts and choices of borders (or not) kept the pages from ever feeling the same. Chen and team made it feel like there was so much action going on that it could only be layered. And a PS: I loved the texture of Reptile and Rhino when they slapped down.
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X-23 #10 – Review

By: Marjorie Liu (writer), Sana Takeda (art), Jody Leheup (assistant editor), Jeanine Schaefer (editor)

The Story: Laura’s having a hard time absorbing some of the things she’s discovered about her past. She starts cutting herself, as useful as that can be for someone with her powers, but it certainly points dramatically to her pain and inner conflict. Then Wolverine and Jubillee arrive, each carrying a mirror of a kind for Laura to see herself in.

What’s Good: I was blown away by Takeda’s art. I’d only seen it before in Ms. Marvel and it hadn’t seemed to me to be the right fit for him. But here, the dreamy, ethereal tone of his art works absolutely perfectly for the cutting scene with its slow-mo water clock of a dripping faucet. The color combinations he picks are stark and dramatic, and the mistiness that suffuses his environments makes the reality of his foregrounded characters that much stronger. Laura’s eyes throughout are haunted, despite the foil she has in Gambit, who seeks to pull her free of what she’s found out about herself. The action moments, juxtaposed so neatly with moments of zen-quiet are shockingly clear and violent, revealing a conflicted soul, at once in action and reaction.

The writing was subtle, in that Liu wisely gave stage directions to her artist and let his powerful art tell the story she wanted. Where the story absolutely needed dialogue, she wrote what she needed and not a letter more. This was very tight writing. Wolverine’s appearance, while triggering my cliché-meter, actually surprised me by strengthening the story. I feel that Marvel is throwing a few popular characters into pretty much every book to shore up weaker-selling titles (see his lackluster appearance in Avengers #13 this week). That wasn’t the case here. Wolverine totally needed to be part of this issue, as did Jubilee. Wolverine, in many obvious senses, has been where Laura has been, and his wisdom, so far from the superficial uses writers seem to make of him, was touching and powerful. I bought what he was selling to Laura and the Remi. And Liu surprised me with the ending.
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Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris #3 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colors), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: The Colossus of Mars, Part 3: On the Barsoom of 500 years ago, the Tharks are hammering at the gates of Helium. The rulers of both Lesser and Greater Helium are either in chains or trying to escape. And the Jeddak of Yorn has brought to life the great Colossus of Mars.

What’s Good: Nelson has gotten us halfway through a five-issue arc. The high part of the second act is where Nelson successfully has the efforts of the heroes come apart in their hands, and where the danger to everyone gets a whole lot worse. This is pure Barsoomian adventure with reversals and unexpected turns, in the classic Burroughs style. Stories set on Barsoom are always *big*. Cities at war. Planets in peril. Invasions to be fought off. Yet the stories are also always *personal*. Characters we care about are about to get their tails handed to them. Nelson captures this perfectly, with the old-school heroics of the red Barsoomians, the absolute dastardliness of the villains, and the savage nobility even of the worst of the Tharks. And Rafael and Lopez deliver the great visuals this issue needs to power it through. I was spellbound by the Colossus of Mars. Organic? Metallic? Something else? I don’t know, but it was spooky and old-school pulpy and wickedly cool. I had the same reaction as most of Yorn’s troops. Wow. Same thing for the weapons, and the green men of Mars, with Rafael now becoming my favorite artist for all things Thark. And off course, the story’s lead, Dejah Thoris, remains, as Burroughs intended, incomparable. Continue reading

Kato Origins #8 – Review

By: Jai Nitz (writer), Colton Worley (pencils and inks), Romulo Fajardo Jr. (colors)

The Story: The Hellfire Club: Kato investigates some mysterious activity in 1942 Chicago. Businessmen and criminals. Strange meetings. What are criminals and businessmen up to? Kato investigates in clandestine ways and gets some help from both Green Hornet and his new friend/former hobo James.

The Review: Jai Nitz, from word one, grips us in another one of those effective and powerful sets of metaphorical comparisons that I love. Here, Kato’s inner monologue turns over war and crime, secrecy and openness, like a pebble that has been palmed repeatedly and has smoothed in the process. The theme of secrecy and hiding things runs through the book, effectively, like a spine tying concepts together. And Kato’s voice, that of an experienced, lonely martial artist, steeped in Eastern philosophy and education, deepens the narrative, showing his trademark cynical view of men and the world through ironic humor. Nitz takes us a step further in Kato’s development and keeps the character fresh by surprising Kato in this issue, morally. That’s not easy to do without having the worldly character seem naive, but Nitz found some human tastes that fit the bill and did the job of giving Kato some room to grow as a person. That’s a very good thing for a writer to be able to do.

I loved the addition and growing role of James the Hobo, even though some of the stuff he has to do isn’t all that comfortable. Adding James to Kato’s cast is a natural and effective expansion of the mythos that pays dividends now and later (more character to explore, more potential for conflict, more ways to strike at Kato). The role reversal for Green Hornet and Kato seems to be strengthening, as I got the impression that Green Hornet really seems to be the chauffeur and overall second banana. I don’t mind, as I’m far more interested in Kato than in the Green Hornet, but it runs counter enough to my expectations to be a further positive surprise as the story progresses.
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Warlord of Mars #6 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Lui Antonio (artist) Adriano Lucas (colors), Joseph Rybandt (editor), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: Sola’s story and John Carter’s escape attempt from Thark with Dejah Thoris.

What’s Good: Well, all of it. Antonio and Lucas have slapped some beautiful artwork onto the page. Dejah Thoris is obviously the classic beauty that would launch a thousand ships of Helium in her honor. But more meaningfully, Carter is heroic, the Tharks (especially Sarkoja) are emotive and the settings alien and haunting (the dead cities of Mars, the thoats, the yellow-orange skies). I loved the Antonio’s dynamism as Carter launched into his trademark action and escape plans. I thought Tal Hajus was more grotesque and un-Thark-like than he needed to be (Jabba the Hutt meets an Umber Hulk), but the point of Hajus was always to be an anti-Tarkas, so where on that grotesque scale he fits opposite the noble Tarkas is really just a taste issue. But, the art certainly repelled me where it was supposed to… I do also have to bring a bit of attention to Lucas’ colors. Over the past five issues, I’ve really enjoyed the palettes he’s picked to make Mars work, but this issue, I felt he got to another level. The softness of his colors and the broad range of subtle tones in the Martian sands, the Martian skies and in the earth-toned cities of thousands of years ago really worked for me, to say nothing of his work on bringing the thoats to life.
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Brightest Day #24 – Review

By: Goeff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Norm Rapmund, Vicente Cifuentes, Oclair Albert, Tom Nguyen, Mick Gray, Mark Irwin, David Beaty (artists), Peter Steigerwald (colors)

The Story: This is the conclusion of the Brightest Day 24-issue series. Nekron is kind of back, as is Swamp Thing. The dead-then-alive elementals are in place. Everything is set to go.

The Review: Okay. This review is going to be a bit different because this is the capstone of a whole series. As such, a whole lot of built up tension is in play, and reader reactions are important. So, how did Brightest Day #24 make me feel? Kind of disappointed. This series had resurrected 12 people for some conflict of cosmic significance. I watched Martian Manhunter revisit a living and dead Mars. I watched Firestorm go up against the Anti-Monitor and a bunch of Black Lanterns. I saw the land world invaded by the underwater world. I saw Hawkman and Hawkgirl end their curse. The magnitude of these experiences had keyed me up for something large, of impact to either the whole DC universe or at minimum, just the Green Lantern mythos. In the end, it was nothing so grandiose. I read all 24 issues and reread #24, and I’m still a bit confused. That’s disappointing. Were there some good emotional moments in this issue? Yes. While the climax lacked emotional punch, there were some very good, small character moments, especially in the denouement. The Boston Brand – Dove storyline ended with a bite and gave this book and the Brightest Day series a bit of gravitas. Same with the Martian Manhunter reconciliation at the end.
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Emerald Warriors #9 – Review

By: Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Fernando Pasarin (artist), Cam Smith (inker), Gabe Eltiab (colorist)

The Story: War of the Green Lanterns, Part Six: Mogo, the Green Lantern who also happens to be a planet, has a lot of fire power to unload on the last four free Green Lanterns, who, to avoid the corrupting effects of Krona in their green rings, have donned red, yellow, blue and indigo rings. Adventure follows.

The Review: Okay. Gotta say, this was pure fun. Emerald Warriors #9 offered no pretenses of literary greatness or deep human revelation. But in terms of old school adventure, danger, spills and thrills, this book had what I wanted. Each of our four favorite lanterns is wearing a ring from one of the other corps, and making their way with the different powers and motivations as best they can. To turn up the heat, Tomasi and the art team throw the entire GL corps at them, as well as Mogo, the lanterns’ heavy artillery (remember that Mogo is the same Green Lantern that swallowed up a thousand Black Lanterns during Blackest Night). So this sounds great, right? But was it my favorite part of the issue? Not by a long shot! I am a sucker for ancient mysteries and Tomasi takes us on a trip through the Oan equivalent of Gandalf’s basement. Pretty cool ancient mysteries abound, more than enough to suck me in.
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Green Lantern #65 – Review

By: Geoff Johns (writer), Doug Mahnke (pencils), Keith Champagne, Christian Alamy, Mark Irwin, Mick Gray, Tom Nguyen (inkers), Randy Major (colors)

The Story: War of the Green Lanterns, Part Four: All their allies have been turned to serve the enemy. Their powers are gone. They are being hunted. Times are tough if you’re Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner.

The Review: This issue is about regrouping after you’ve had your backside handed to you. The classic elements of a regrouping story are: (a) the heroes are on the run, (b) the heroes are hiding, (c) the heroes are massively outgunned, (d) the heroes are rearming and (e) the heroes strike back. Does this issue deliver? On the run? Check. Hiding? Check. Massively outgunned? Ummm….yeah. Rearming? Oh yeah! New tech! New toys! Wait, did you say *fastest* spaceship in the universe? Oh yeah. New rings anyone? And do the heroes strike back against stupidly unfair odds? Of course.

Johns makes good use of the odd couple dynamic, as well. It’s an understatement to say that Gardner and Jordan are different kinds of folks. The writer problem I see in front of Johns is how to keep Gardner from stealing all the scenes in the same way that Sinestro constantly upstages Jordan. Johns solved this in the best possible way by having Jordan have access to all the cool new kit and therefore all the aces up his sleeve. Jordan is literally and figuratively in the pilot seat and Gardner has to suck it up.

Johns also made sure we took the villain seriously. Dramatically, it is not enough to show the villain taking over the entire Green Lantern Corps by cunning. He went a step further by showing him confronting heroism and courage in Kilowog and crushing it by taking away all his freedom (intellectual, emotional, physical). It makes him larger and tougher to beat.
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Batman and Robin #22 – Review

By: Peter J. Tomasi (writer), Patrick Gleason (artist), Mick Gray, Keith Champagne and Tom Nguyen (inkers), Alex Sinclair (colors)

The Story: Tree of Blood: Dark Knight vs White Knight, Part Three of Three: The White Knight has triggered all of his angels (the families and relatives of the inmates of Arkham) to fall all over Gotham. Batman and Robin are racing to stop the deaths, but is it just a distraction, because the White Knight is set to light up Arkham.

The Review: This was a pretty good issue, succeeding in tying up the story nicely. The writing was tight, with clever moments of characterization between Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne. The drama, a pretty equal mix of mistrust and trust on Damian’s side, and brotherly affection and frustration on Dick’s, is the core of why people tune into this series. The crazies of Gotham and Dark Knight action can be found in any number of books, but it is here that we follow the story of two troubled brothers growing up. This issue gave us our fix of separation, difficulty, rapprochement and respect. It’s a nice emotional shot in the arm when so many series lack soul and feeling.

Artwise, I’m enjoying Gleason’s work, but I’m going to stand by my belief that he never looks better than when inked by Mick Gray. The addition of Champagne and Nguyen changed the feel more than a little, and reminded me of the elements of the Gleason-Champagne-Nguyen work that I don’t like in Green Lantern Corps, like faces that are inexpressive or lacking detail. That being said, the art told the story competently and had some shining moments. The tech work especially did the job, with the Batmobile plowing through traffic, and the wings on White Knight. Gleason also displayed some nice emotional touches through body language rather than facial expressions (like Dick reaching back for the water bottle or Damian tensed up defensively on the fence).

Where things came a bit unglued for me were on suspension of disbelief and the structure of the conflict. I guess I’m sold on the current inhabitants of Arkham Asylum. This means, I buy that they exist and that they have powers and that they’re dangerous. But the addition of every new villain to Gotham, especially when as unexplained and as powerful as the White Knight, has me less and less sold. How easy is it to get powers? How does the introduction of someone so powerful change the balance in Gotham? Batman is still essentially about fisticuffs, high-tech gadgetry, dastardly plots and dreadful poisons. The White Knight feels a level above that, so I wondered if this diminished the stature of some of the other villains, who seemed to be there only for comic relief in this issue.
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Warlord of Mars Dejah Thoris #2 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Carlos Rafael (artist), Carlos Lopez (colorist), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: The Colossus of Mars, Chapter Two of Five: Dejah Thoris, Princess of Lesser Helium, along with her father and grandfather (the Jeddak of Lesser Helium) are in the clutches of the Jeddak of Yorn. Help comes from an unexpected quarter, while more dire danger comes from another.

The Review: I’m following both this series and Warlord of Mars. While WoM is a close adaptation of Burroughs’ original novel, Nelson in Dejah Thoris is able to strike in new and unexpected directions. I love the whole vassalage of Helium to Yorn, and the Colossus built by the long dead Barsoomian scientist. Tone-wise, it feels like Burroughs and fits the canon. Nelson has given us palace intrigue, a mysterious artifact, a colorful cast of characters in deep danger and a heroine we can root for.

Rafael and Lopez on art are a great combination. Their green Martians were menacing, their flying ships cool, and their action scenes dynamic. I continue to appreciate their excellent depictions of the Prince of Yorn and the Jeddak’s chief advisor. Their huffing, jiggling faces were both ironic comic relief and dashes of realistic characterization. The Colossus itself, with its rough finish and hollow eyes, was way cool. And of course, our heroine was her usual stunning self.
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Brightest Day #23 – Review

By: Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi (writers), Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Norm Rapmund, Oclair Albert (artists) Peter Steigerwald (colors)

The Story: Rise and Fall: The Earth is under seige by all sorts of odd manifestations of darkness and chaos. Heroes from all over are leaping into action to try to stem the tide. At the eye of the storm, Firestorm, Deadman and Dove (the girl whose time is running out) with the White Lantern, struggle with trust.

What’s Good: The art team sold me from page one. The opening splash page of the Earth and moon against the starry backdrop was powerful. Same thing with the double-splash of the elementals and the double-splash of the Dark Avatar. Evocative. Subtly textured and colored. Awesome eye candy. And the action and moods throughout the book kept the story moving. Brightest Day has always had me hooked with the emotiveness of Boston Brand’s tortured expressions, and this issue is no exception. The dialogue and action (except for some serious flaws I note below), worked.

What’s Not So Good: Structurally, it’s a screenwriting truism that you have to build the menace of your villain up to the climax, so that in the final battle, the audience has a true contest of champions, where anything can happen. We haven’t really had any consistent villains yet. Each resurrected hero has been facing his appropriate nemesis, but nothing has been presented yet as the all-encompassing villain to really make the reader soil his trousers. Now, in the second-last issue of a 24-issue series, we are introduced to the bad guy, and honestly, I know nothing about him and his abilities, so it’s hard for me to get worried (it’s not enough that the White Lantern is racing against time). Moreover, the revelation of the parliament of trees and the eco-mood going on drastically brought me down from the cosmic stakes I was expecting. Looking back, I can see how the greening of Mars, the forest on Earth, etc fits with the one hero at the end who will save everything, but I’m having a hard time reconciling an Earth-scale danger with something like the oath that Green Lanterns swear (In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night), which is, in itself, related to the cosmic-scale color spectrum Johns so cleverly created. Are Johns and Tomasi going to shift the stakes upward in the next issue? Likely. But this issue dashed my expectations in a bad way, instead of a good way.
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Green Lantern #64 – Review

By: Geoff Johns (writer), Doug Mahnke (pencils), Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Mark Irwin, Tom Nguyen (inks), Randy Mayor (colors)

The Story: War of the Green Lanterns, Part One: Krona has left the rebellious Green Lantern Hal Jordan with the six other leaders of the other rings corps on the planet Ryut with the Book of the Black. In the meantime, the Guardians send a posse of Green Lanterns to catch Jordan. Problem is, the book is real bad news and nobody’s asking where Krona has gone with his forces.

What’s Good: Mahnke and team pull off some pretty good visuals in this issue. I especially want to point out some awesome color work by Randy Mayor. From Lyssa Dark and the mists over Oa, there is some beautifully subtle color work, but the arrival of the color napalm (for lack of an official term) really blew the doors off the barn. Every emotional color was represented, but they blended beautifully with one another and had these eerie, watery cores. The effect was stunning. Other action and reversals were fun to watch as well. The Oans getting up in the wreckage, Krona with his seven hounds, and the explosion around the book: all beautiful and evocative. And, this is to say nothing of Mahnke’s normal strength in alien devices, settings and physiologies (check out the “impurity restored” panel for an example of all three). In terms of layout, I think Mahnke chose a broader section of panel layouts than normal, but didn’t do anything with the layouts that I hadn’t seen before.

On the writing, despite a few weak moments (a bit of distracting alliteration and a bit of clunky dialogue), the story itself (plot, events, motivations) was very solid and promises a strong story arc suitable for the inevitable task of capping off Blackest Night and Brightest Day. The drama and tension were on high notes the whole time, leaving me with the same feeling I get in a summer blockbuster: like I can’t get popcorn because I’m going to miss something critical. The whole issue felt like that. And in terms of expanding the Green Lantern mythos (Johns’ specialty as a writer), the scope of John’s vision keeps getting bigger and bigger and the events of now are directly affected by events from near the origin of the universe. It doesn’t get much more cosmic than that.
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Batman: The Dark Knight #2 – Review

By: David Finch (writer and penciller), Scott Williams (inker), Alex Sinclair (colors)

The Story: Golden Dawn, Part Two: Batman and the Penguin tangle over exactly who is interrogation whom. They’re both lugging around some Dawn Golden baggage. Killer Croc smashing entrance doesn’t even things up. In the meantime, Commissioner Gordon is getting his own Dawn Golden problems. And somebody stole the Batmobile!

What Good: I loved the visuals in this book. Finch is a great artist and he captured the eerily slow, deliberate movements of Batman in full-on menace mode. Check out the difference in Batman between the credit page and the bottom panel of the next. In terms of dynamicism, Finch has got it down. Check out Killer Croc’s move on Batman as he surprises him. That’s art in movement. The level of detail on the settings and the people (especially Penguin) were highly textured. Another great example of detail is the theft of the Batmobile. The artistic anti-heroism doesn’t stop at the Penguin either. The three surviving hobos (after last issue’s offing of the one called the King) are living wrecks, expertly done. I have to mention Sinclair’s colors throughout. Whether it’s a bright orange suit on a green Croc, or some subtle purples and blues to set off night in Gotham around the hobos, Sinclair sews it up.
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Warlord of Mars #5 – Review

By: Arvid Nelson (writer), Lui Antonio (artist), Adriano Lucas (colors), Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator)

The Story: John Carter has his first quiet moments with the incomparable Dejah Thoris. Classic adventure romance, with Burroughs’ trademark curve balls thrown in for good measure… But, more that one Thark has a hate for Carter, and it’s no small danger that results.

What’s Good: Antonio’s artwork with Lucas continues to impress. Dejah Thoris is as beautiful as Burroughs imagined her and the giant and savage green Tharks of Mars are bigger and more dangerous that I imagined. Their expressions and the action sequences are evocative and dynamic. The thoats and zittidars were well-imagined, faithful to Burroughs’ vision, but different than have been done before by such fine artists as Michael Whelan or Gil Kane. Antonio has added additional features and a bit of a lizardy feel here and there. And, as always, the Martian settings are superb. I especially liked the night-to-day shift showing the old, ruined city against both backdrops.

On the writing, I felt the beginning a little rough, lacking context, but after page three, the story took off and soared. The thoat training and the mockery that ensued revealed Carter’s simple, honest character, as did his problems with Dejah Thoris. Carter is a gentleman who marries together some American values that were classic pulp values in the early 20th century: courageous resolve, honesty, gentlemanly honor, and a quick sense of swift justice. Part of this is distrust and a lack of appreciation for the sophistication and social complexity needed when the world isn’t black and white. This is pretty much politics, lawyers and romance for Burroughs, and Nelson captured all of these values at once in the first scene where a few romantic and social things are playing themselves out. The reason this is a classic Burroughs scene that worked as well in 1912 as in 2011 is that for many people (women as well as men), it’s impossible to catch all the romantic and social signals, and everyone feels like they’re missing something. We admire Carter for going back to rescue Powell, and later on for risking himself for both Woola and Dejah Thoris, but Burroughs and Nelson make us identify with Carter emotionally through scenes like this. Yes, he’s a superb, nearly superhuman warrior, but he’s got the same problems as us.
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