Monthly archives: October, 2006

Book of Doom: Superman Confidential #1

After three long weeks of subpar Books of Doom, I’m hoping to turn things around for the Legion. And what better way to do that by combining a great writer, a great artist, and one of the greatest superheroes of all time? This week, the Legion of Doom will all be reading…

Superman Confidential 1Superman Confidential #1

Written by Darwyn Cooke; Art and Cover by Tim Sale

Don’t miss this first 6-part story arc in a brand-new ongoing Superman series, brought to you by the award-winning writer Darwyn Cooke (DC: The New Frontier) and artist Tim Sale (Superman: For All Seasons, Batman: Dark Victory)! Superman Confidential tells stories from key moments in the history of Superman. First up: the secrets of Kryptonite! Witness Superman’s first encounter with the radioactive chunks of his home planet and learn how it changed his life.

Y’know, when I first saw this solicited in previews a few months back, I wasn’t impressed. Another title like JLA/JSA Classified with rotating creative teams, set in various points in the history of the characters, except now they didn’t even have a whole roster of superheroes to pick from, just one. But that was before I’d read New Frontier, which is one of the best stories I’ve read in a long time. Now Darwyn Cooke is that guy that anything he puts out is worth a read for me. And yeah, Tim Sale’s art certainly doesn’t hurt any. Check back on Saturday and give us your thoughts on the issue as we give you ours.

Spyboy: Final Exam

Spyboy Final ExamBy Peter David (W), Pop Mhan and Norman Lee (A)

Cover price $12.95. Published by Dark Horse Comics. Originally printed as Spyboy: Final Exam 1-4.

Plot: A teenaged secret agent is framed as a terrorist by his new archenemy.

Strengths: Peter David is a strong writer. Anything he does is going to be readable. So even if it’s not your cup of tea, it won’t feel like a chore to finish a story he’s written. And while there’s a lot of history to these characters since this is the seventh collection of Spyboy stories, I didn’t feel like I was at a disadvantage having never read the previous six volumes.

Weaknesses: The “teenager is secretly a hero” concept just seems unoriginal. At first I thought it was because movies like Spy Kids and Agent Cody Banks had been released so much a few years back (when this series was originally published). Then I realized that it’s because Spyboy has a lot in common with Robert Kirkman’s Invincible: the hero that can’t make it work with the girl he likes; the best friend who’s kind of a doofus; the parents that know his secret; the supporting cast made up of other heroes… it’s all been done much better in Invincible. Then again, just about anything involving a teenaged hero has been done better in Invincible than anywhere else.

Also of note: There is a very heavy manga influence in Final Exam, especially in the art of penciller Pop Mhan. And I’m not talking Joe Madureira manga here; I’m talking actual manga from Japan. There are action lines all over the place, and there’s even an imaginary embodiment of the lead character’s subconscious for comic relief. While I felt the need to mention this in the review, I don’t think it’d be fair to put this aspect as either a strength or a weakness. Manga seems to be one of those things that can excite one guy and repulse the next.

Grade: C. There’s really nothing extraordinary about Spyboy: Final Exam. Nothing’s remarkably good. And nothing’s terribly bad; it’s just been done better. Judging by the smaller trim size (6×9), I’d assumethat Spyboy is aimed at a younger audience, and the kiddies probably don’t have quite as discerning tastes as I do.

Book of Doom: Deathblow #1

Deathblow #1I didn’t have any kind of high expectations for Deathblow, and in fact I had ridiculously low expectations, until I saw that Brian Azarello was writing it. I thought, “A ha, what a sign of the times, when a book that originally launched from the Jim Lee boom of the 90s is now intriguing based upon the writer.”

It read to me like a book that was intially intended for mature readers but was then toned down for all ages. The biggest clue of that was the opening scene in the bathroom, with the bathing woman’s carefully placed towel as she rose from the tub, even though she was wearing a swimsuit. Not that I look to Deathblow for hand-drawn nudity, but I was wondering if that suit wasn’t added later.

That apparent withdrawal from an ideal level of intensity seemed to suit the rest of the book as well. Deathblow is a hardcore toughguy, but the intensity of the breakout just played a little too cartoony for my tastes. The parallels between the Americans and the locals was a little too cute for me, and Greenie’s violation of war movie rules was just too self-aware. Speaking of self-awareness, I was not the slightest bit fond of being looked at by the people from within the book.

This week’s comics

This, my friends, was a good week for comics. I’m going to format this post and steal Fin Fang’s countdown format since he doesn’t do it anymore. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my

Top 7 Books of the Week!

But first – a quick mention – for thoughts on Deathblow #1, check out this week’s upcoming Book of Doom entry. And for word on Week 25 of 52, check out what Doom DeLuise had to say.

7. Justice #8
This book comes out so infrequently that I forget what’s going on, so I’m just buying them and waiting for it to be done, so I can sit down and read them all. But it sure looked pretty.

I’d like to put it at 6th place and put the Civil War book at 7, since I would still buy this issue and I wouldn’t recommend Civil War: Choosing Sides, but since I didn’t even read Justice, I don’t think that’d be fair.

6. Civil War: Choosing Sides
Essentially Marvel’s version of DC’s recent Brave New World, this is a handful of short introductory stories for upcoming series or current series sporting their new directions. I bought it before realizing that, and seeing that the cover and first few pages were drawn by Leinil Yu, thought it was some stand-alone story by him. In a way it was, but I was hoping for more than just those 8 pages. His Venom looks quite nice, though.

5. New Avengers #24
I continue to dig this book, and continue to think it’s another great supplement to Civil War. Bendis gives Tony Stark a speech at the end that finally characterizes the pro-registration side as something more than fascists. It still has that undertone of dishonest Stark schmoozing, but you can end up wanting to believe him and see how someone reasonably could.

4. Daredevil #90
Daredevil continues to walk right into a trap in his quest to solve the mystery of Foggy’s murder and fall for every woman that moves. Lines like “This is sounding more and more like nothing that helps me” solidify why Brubaker is fit to write this book.

3. Captain America #23
The continued focus on people who are not Captain America makes for an interesting companion to Cap’s starring role in Civil War. Bucky’s working with Nick Fury now. We get exposition and fighting. Good times.

2. Action Comics #844
I’m normally not a big fan of celebrity writers, since it seems they get to come in and do whatever they want, continuity be darned. Richard Donner’s debut might end up fitting into that category, but the writing carried enough gravity that it didn’t matter if it was a big departure from the status quo, and Adam Kubert cranked out some of the best art I’ve ever seen from him. He’s always been my favorite of the two brothers, and I know that each deserves to be viewed as his own man, but look at that disfigured disjointed mess over in Batman and then look at this bold and expressive spectacle over thisaway. I’m pumped about this series, even if it means we have yet another Kubert on a story about yet another child injected into the life of yet another DC bigshot.

and my favorite book of the week is
1. Superman / Batman Annual #1
I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had this much fun reading a comic book. Entitled “A Re-Imaginary Story,” this is a new tale of long ago, when Superman and Batman first figured out each other’s identities. Starting out on a cruise-gone-bad through the Bermuda Triangle, a space-time anomaly of some sort brings the Earth-3 heroes and villains into the middle of a mess worthy of a fine sitcom. The characterization is great, the intertwining plots are a blast, the action is a hoot, and the extra treat is the portrayal of Deathstroke’s “good guy” doppelganger. The story is funny, but it’s through great writing (and admittedly a few cheap gags, but not enough to ruin the flow) that fits into an action-packed superhero story mold rather than pulling the reader out of it.

Hulk & Thing: Hard Knocks

Hulk & ThingBy Bruce Jones (W) and Jae Lee (A) with Gerry Conway and Rich Buckler

Cover price $13.99. Published by Marvel Comics. Originally printed as Hulk & Thing: Hard Knocks 1-4 and Giant-Size Super-Stars 1.

Plot: The Thing and the Hulk reminisce about old times and tease a fight for three and a half issues before they finally go mano-a-mano.

Strengths: The bonus story by Gerry Conway and Rich Buckler is a really fun old-school superhero story. It’s exactly what the main story should have been, a knockdown, drag-out fight between the Thing and the Hulk. The twist this time is that in an attempt to cure Bruce Banner and Ben Grimm of their respective monstrous predicaments, Banner accidentally causes them to swap bodies. Ben can’t quite get a handle on the extra power he has in the Hulk’s body and takes a pounding from the Hulk (not Bruce Banner, mind you), who relies on the sheer brute strength the Thing’s body possesses to attack his opponent. Throw in Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, Medusa and Thundra and you’ve got a great little story.

Weaknesses: Jae Lee is usually hit or miss. Sometimes his art is great, like in the Ultimate Fantastic Four annual he did featuring the Inhumans. Sometimes it’s really bad, like in the UFF fill-in arc he did with Mike Carey featuring the Mad Thinker. Hard Knocks falls closer to the latter category. While his interpretation of Hulk is interesting, Thing just doesn’t look like Thing at all. At one point, it looks like Hulk is about to passionately kiss Thing, and I’m almost certain that’s not what’s supposed to be happening.

Bruce Jones, on the other hand, is pretty much always a miss. Granted, I’ve only read this trade, another arc of his on The Hulk, and his run on Nightwing, but they’re all pretty terrible. Just like the Nightwing run, Hard Knocks suffers from bad characterization, bad dialogue, bad pacing and bad action sequences, and a poorly executed ending.

Oh, and there’s the fact that they only fight for the last half of the forth issue. And that when they do fight, they give up for no reason and decide to have a cup of coffee instead. Seriously.

Grade: D-. The Hulk and the Thing have fought many times before, and will fight many times in the future. All those fights are or will be better stories than Hulk & Thing: Hard Knocks. It probably wasn’t a good idea to point that out by including a good Hulk/Thing fight (which is factored into the grade) in the trade.

WM seeks NCBS

What do you look for in a comic book store?

For the longest time, I had only two options, and my decision was largely based on geography. But I soon came to realize that my weekly comic stop shop was not only convenient – it’s a good store.

I’ve moved within the past few weeks, and I’ve undertaken a quest to choose my new comic shop. Up until a few months ago, there was a comic book store literally right across the street from where I now live. But now, sadly, all shops in my new home city are a decent drive away. So geography will not play a role.

I’ve come up with a few criteria to help me decide, but I post this publicly looking for thoughts from the readers and fellow LODers.

1. New releases kept separate.
I want to know what came out this week, and I want to know it quickly and effortlessly. I don’t want to have to look through shelves and shelves of the most recent issues and figure out which ones I don’t have. The little “New this week!” signs are nice, but I’ve found that they can easily be passed over when part of a multi-colored wall of comics.

2. Diversity of ordering.
I’ve gotten to the point as a comics buyer where I’m just about tapping out my available budget, but every once in a while I like to try something new. I like when a comics store doesn’t just carry Marvel, DC and Image. I know it’s not feasible to order everything out there, but when I get to know the ordering habits of a store, I can start to assess their tastes. And then when there’s some tiny indie book sitting on the shelf, I might be willing to take a chance. I guess my point is, when I’m hungry for something new, I want to try something unique – not just whatever X-Men or Wildcats miniseries is out now.

Last week, the store I tried had Rocketo on the shelf. This was a plus.

3. A staff of humans.
I’m aware enough of my place in the comic-reading subculture to know that we comic book readers are sometimes justifiably lumped into a larger subset of society known as the hygenically challenged. Fair enough. I don’t expect my comic book store staff to be all J. Crew and whatnot. But I also don’t want to get physically ill when I get close enough to pay.

That same store last week had a handfull of dirty, smelly, hairy men who ignored me as I tried to purchase my comics so that they could argue about who just stunk up the bathroom – which was right next to the register – and left the door open afterwards.

Customer service is another thing. I don’t like being hassled at a comic shop. If someone asks me if they can help me find anything, that’s polite and that’s about as much help as I want. But I also don’t want to be made to feel like I’m inconveniencing the four freaks on the clock when I – the only customer – want to give them $20 for the comics in my hand.

4. ?

Week Twenty-Five

In the first couple of pages of this week’s issue of “52,” we meet the main boss behind the Intergang infiltration of Gotham, and he’s not only a cannible, but he’s a terrible party host. He murders a lot of his guests. He doesn’t murder Magpie or Ventriloquist, which is interesting, since they’re two of the characters capped off in the “Face to Face” OYL arc in the Batman/Detective Comics series. Next, we see Marvel Jr. and Mary Marvel with their hands full dealing with a demon of some kind. Fortunately, the Black Marvel Family shows up and saves the Judeo-Christians. After that, we see Ralph Dibny in Hell with the Dr. Fate mask, and they come upon Felix Faust’s decaying soul. The coolest line of this issue comes when the mask tells Dibny that, “If you end up here, I promise you that no one will mourn for you. Ever.”

Next, we see the new Infinity Inc. take care of business in Metropolis, along with their newest member (who’s supposedly hot), which segues into Alan Scott meeting up with Michael What’s-His-Name (aka Mr. Terrific), asking him to help him out with Checkmate. What’s gonna happen??? Oh, wait, we already know. Then, back on the Island of Dr. Moreau, Professor Morrow takes interest in the fact that Will Magnus is taking pills that supposedly halt his creativity. Very interesting. The conclusion comes when Manheim, the Intergang leader, talks to some big egg-shaped Krang wannabe about how Krang-lite has created a group of weapons so terrible, only one name seems to suit them: The Four Horsemen.

I just hope Arn Andersen’s a part of it. Or at least good ol’ Tully. C’mon, cut us some slack here; nobody knows what the heck’s going on! I rather enjoyed the action scenes in this issue, and I’m glad they’ve given a face to Intergang (Manheim), so that we can hopefully see Black Adam beat the heck out of it, but, other than that, this issue merely marked time. I liked it, though. It was a fun little bit of filler, but it gave us a few cool things to look at. Oh yeah, the art’s awesome again, for the second week in a row. Thank the gods.

Well, I’ve got some friends who want me to come downtown and get drunk with them, so that’s all I’m going to say this week. Big fan, right here.

See ya in seven.


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt’s far too rare here we take a look into the realm of small-press and self published comics. So I’m really glad to get the chance to offer a review of Undercard, a new boxing comic written by Chris Gumprich and illustrated by Dennis Culver. The book – which the two published – follows a washed up boxer who was never good enough to be more than target practice for the big names in the ring. Thus, he’s the undercard.

The illustrations are black and white, and are never quite so pretty again as the first two-page splash, which shows the protagonist’s face being hit so hard he’s momentarily disfigured. It’s a beautiful snapshot of punishment, replete with wavy lines of pain like a blocky, abstract incarnation of Peter Parker’s Spider Sense. The thick black linework and lack of shading exaggerates the scene, which is the intent. It’s a very, very good illustration, and by itself makes the $5 cover price worth it.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingFrom there, the undercard, Joe, is further pummeled in a two-page spread of 12 square panels. The setup is simple and, again, effective, allowing each of the miniature drawings to build up to and then deliver a burst of action. And until the last of those panels, there’s not a single word. Afterword, we see the heady winner dance in the ring to the crowd’s adulations. Joe ducks out to no one’s notice.

Once patched up, Joe is cut from boxing and dumped, and we’re left to wonder what will become of this never-was. Sadly, that’s the literal truth. The issue, at 22 pages, stops right there, having really only just dipped a toe into what seems a fascinating world. Because except for those die-hard boxing fans (if any remain), none of us ever hear or learn a thing about the little guys in the sport. This is fertile, untouched ground Gumprich and Culver are wandering onto. So the major disappointment is having such a small first taste.

There are a few other issues here. Culver’s style is so well suited to the boxing scenes that he’s a natural for the book, but some of his scenes outside the ring fall flat. Gumprich does a great job with dialogue and not overpowering the book with captions, etc. But this first issue is also as decompressed as anything you’ll see from Brian Michael Bendis. I know it’s not superheroes, but a bit more could be going on here.

Those are minor gripes though. And for a first issue published only of their own effort, the two are off to a great start.

To order Undercard, check out the official site.

JLA Classifed: New Maps of Hell

JLA Classified New Maps of HellBy Warren Ellis (W) and Jackson Guice (A)

Cover price $12.99. Published by DC Comics. Originally printed as JLA Classified 10-15.

Plot: The Justice League goes to a hell dimension to prevent the Martian god of terror from annihilating humanity.

Strengths: Don’t let the awful CG cover art fool you, the art in this trade is amazing. You may know Jackson Guice by the name he draws Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis under- Butch Guice. It’s not normally how you see the Justice League drawn, and it’s a nice breath of fresh air. He’s got a great style similar to guys like Steve Epting or Michael Lark, with realistic body proportions and lots of detailed line work, especially in the faces. His faces are always full of emotion, and if the cool armor he draws Green Lantern in the entire time isn’t cool enough, check out the panel of Batman’s horribly scarred back at the start of the story. Guice draws Batman about as well as anyone else ever has.

The classic line-up of the Justice League is here in full force, minus Aquaman, who I’m pretty sure was dead at the point in continuity when this story is set. Instead, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter utilized Oracle as their seventh member. While the other members are fighting their way out of their own personal hells, Oracle is frantically pooling all her resources to ensure that once they do, they’ll be able to make it back to Earth. It’s always nice to see Barbara Gordon as a major player in the DC Universe.

Weaknesses: This is a really by-the-book JLA story: Various seemingly unrelated threats occur around the world simultaneously. The heroes notice a connection and team up to face the threat. The team is split up and each hero is forced to overcome an obstacle by themselves. The team reunites and the heroes combine their powers in a way the villain never could have anticipated and are victorious. Nothing groundbreaking here.

There’s a really unnecessary scene of the League confronting Lex Luthor in the Oval Office about his connection to the threat. It seems to be there just to as an excuse to have a shot of the Justice League marching up the White House lawn. Granted, it’s a cool shot, but it really takes you out of the story. Luthor in reality is only marginally responsible for the threat, and it’s completely by accident. But the meeting leaves you with a feeling like it’s going to lead to another encounter between the JLA and Luthor. When it doesn’t, it’s quite disappointing.

Grade: C. It’s an above-average JLA story, but New Maps of Hell doesn’t add anything new to the legacy of the Justice League. Though for a wholly unimportant story, it’s quite compelling.

Book of Doom: Deathblow #1

Deathblow #1, suckasThis week’s Book of Doom is Deathblow #1. Since one of the purposes of the Books of Doom is to get us to read something we normally wouldn’t, rather than just staying in our comfort zone, I thought I’d pick something for the team that I’d never consider buying – unless it was 1991.

I figured hey, even if it stinks, it’s Deathblow #1, man! That’s like a Jim Lee creation! And it’s issue #1 too! So it’s probably going to be worth like 25 bucks! And there’s probably a Michael Turner or Joe Quesada variant cover (or maybe Stephen Platt…) !!

So here’s the solicit info:

Written by Brian Azzarello; Art and cover by Carlos D’Anda; Variant covers by Stephen Platt

From critically acclaimed writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Superman) and red-hot artist Carlos D’Anda (Outsiders) comes the story of one man’s journey of self-discovery — and all the people he must kill along the way!

In a world marred by brutal warfare, unjustified nation-building and corporate greed, soldiers like Michael Cray – code name: Deathblow – run the risk of becoming lethal puppets. The real question is, who’s pulling the strings?

Following a deadly mission, Cray is assumed dead by his superiors – until it’s discovered he’s being held in a Middle Eastern prison. A daring commando raid rescues Cray, and the government will use any means to determine where his loyalties lie. This puts Deathblow on a dangerous road, unsure of who his real enemies are and of who he can trust – including himself!

If any of you folks would like more info on Deathblow before taking the plunge, here’s the wikipedia entry.