Solar: Man of the Atom #1

Solar: Man of the Atom #1, Dynamite Comics; 2014

Doctor Solar has a new series.  Dynamite Comics just released the first issue in a series.  Here is a character that has had a long history – but without much to fame and glory.  I believe he was created by Paul S. Newman and Matt Murphy in the 1960s for a comic series with the publisher Gold Key Comics.  I have no idea how I know of this pulp/vintage character.  It is a case of one of those things that I know without knowing exactly how I know.

In 2010 I know that Dark Horse Comics released a small series entitled Doctor Solar.  I think they only made it 8 issues – through design or low sales, I do not know why it ended.  This is not as bad as it seems – Solar’s original run with Gold Key Comics in the 1960s only ran about 30 issues.  But here we are in 2014 and now it seems the property has gone to Dynamite Comics (founded 2005).  If you glance at Dynamite’s title list, you will notice that the majority are franchises from TV or film. Or even books.  Nevertheless, I read nothing of the Dark Horse comics series – so when I saw Solar #1 sitting on a shelf at my local comic book store I grabbed it.

I read it first – out of the large stack of comics that came home with me.

This issue displays the efforts of writer Frank H. Barbiere, artist Joe Bennett, colorist Lauren Affe, with cover artist Juan Doe.  I am a terrible sucker for (well, obviously, comic books) (1.) science fiction-esque covers/comics; (2.) vintage/pulp.  I really liked the cover Doe gave us for this issue and seeing Doctor Solar in his own title again definitely was the root cause of my spending $3.99.  Cover art does matter – it is not just something to glance at and cruise on past.

Solar #1, first page; Dynamite Comics

The first page is a keeper, as well, if you are science fiction addict. How can you see the cover, and then the first page, and then not be hooked?  One of the things that I like, generally, about this whole issue is the artwork and coloring.  It is really eye-catching and pleasing.  It works very well with the story.

Now, since I hardly recall any origin story for Doctor Solar, I cannot speak on this issue’s heritage or loyalty to the character.  I can say that the storyline here is worth reading, even if it does not seem incredibly unique.  I mean, a story in which there are estranged family members, ambitious, genius scientists, and rather dull bank robbers does not rank very highly in the annals of originality.  Nevertheless, I do not always need a first issue to be original – I do need it to have elements which will draw me back for issue #2.  That is definitely to be found here.  And so, I think the money was well spent.  It is rather difficult to say much else regarding the storyline – but if the art keeps up and the story progresses, I can see this being a safe monthly purchase.

4 stars

Superman Unchained #1

Superman Unchained #1 – J. Lee, S. Snyder; DC Comics; 2013

Because we are nearing the end of the year and I have not done a comic book review in awhile, I figured it was time. Not to mention the INSANE backlog of comics stacked around the premises.  I would show you pictures, but I think it would terrify.  Anyway, I happily dove into the first issue of DC’s Superman Unchained title.  This issue starts a new series and was highly anticipated by readers.  Anything involving Superman generally makes news, however the excitement over this title comes from the creator team of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee.  I think DC jumped onto these facts and slapped a $4.99 on the cover just to see if they could do it – i.e. how much value does Snyder/Lee have in terms of buyers?

The cover is nice.  You can tell immediately that it is Jim Lee’s work.  It features the New 52-style Superman (younger and updated costume) ripping through some sort of technological debris. Superman has a gritty look as opposed to the happy, accomplished look he tends to wear.  I really wonder, though, what DC was thinking with the “Unchained” part.  Is this some cool, youthful lingo?  You know, the dialect in which we would say “this is off the chain” or “no limits.”  But the thing is, the whole concept of Superman is that he is never chained.  He’s unchained, y’all…………

frame, Superman Unchained #1, J. Lee, S. Snyder, DC Comics; 2013

I really like the artwork in this issue.  It has frames from all points-of-view and angles.  I like the coloring – very colorful and sharply defined.  I always think of Jim Lee’s work as being high-definition and highly-sharpened.  Included in this issue (and perhaps to soften the price point) is a tagged-in four-fold “poster” that actually is part of the issue.  This fold-out section is part of the storyline – just the art needed an embiggened format to be shown.  Now, did it? Sure, I guess, maybe.  I am not real fond of gimmicks like this.  I found it a bit cumbersome to unseal, unfold, read, and then re-fold.  Overall, the Superman here is drawn with shadows, while frowning in concentration, with youth and almost a slightly dark feel.

The storyline is okay.  I think that Snyder has proven himself a very capable and interesting writer with his laudable work on the Batman title.  In this issue, there are included several pages of “interview” material with Snyder and Lee and he makes some comments regarding the differences and similarities between the characters Batman and Superman.  I do think Snyder will be writing us a Supes who is a bit heavier and grittier than those 1980s Superman characterizations. Anyway, the storyline is kind of vague.  Satellites are falling to Earth – Superman is reacting to this. Clark Kent and Superman (or do we speak of them as the same?) are “investigating” the situation.  A supposed-terrorist/crime group called Ascension is hinted at – the whole time all the characters tell us “it cannot be Ascension who did this.”  Of course, Superman’s go-to is Lex Luthor (who has a few frames which perfectly depict his arrogance.  There are some threads with Lois’ father and historical events (WWII).  Overall, Snyder is setting up a big storyline for us, so it’s too early to decipher much other than there are a few interesting elements here.

I am going to give this 4 out of 5 stars – for the art, for the seemingly bold direction Snyder is driving toward, and because this feels stronger than the Action Comics and Superman titles’ starts with the New 52.  I own issues #2 – 4, so I will have to see where this goes.  Still, at $4.99 I am not entirely sure all readers will feel they got their value.

4 stars

The Flash Vol. 1: Move Forward

The Flash vol. 1: Move Forward – DC Comics; Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

I have been working my way through a number of the first volumes of DC’s New 52 comics series – the ones that I do not have on my pull list.  So far, I read Animal Man, which I thought was a bust, and Demon Knights, which was really good, but as of issue 23 or 24, it’s been canceled.   The next volume I read through was The Flash.  This volume is really good and I do wish I had gotten on board and put it on my pull list with issue #1.   The first volume, entitled Move Forward, collects the first 8 issues of the series.  This is a neat thing because frequently these hardback/tradeback volumes only collect five or six issues.

This series, so far, has had creators Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato and I think they have done a fantastic job.  Everything works well in these first eight issues.  The DC New 52 was supposed to be able to introduce and draw in new readership who have not been involved in comics or who are unfamiliar with DC’s universe.  Not all of the New 52 series have accomplished this goal with a seamless and non-confusing presentation.  The Flash, however, definitely succeeds – and probably the best of all that I have read.  Excellent work on that point.  Secondly, I love all of the art.  I love the covers – and the variant covers.  I love the interior art.  I also am really impressed by each individual issue’s splash page – the title pages are actually “artistic.”  Go figure! Real design in a comic book!

The Flash #3 variant cover – Jim Lee; DC Comics

The storyline is decent.  The first five issues (in terms of the story) were not absolutely awesome and amazing (or whatever words are used today to describe really cool things), but the story was solid and readable.  Not every story is a rock ‘em shock ‘em big deal and a huge universe-spanning event.  The storylines here are good and solid and accessible – so precisely what one should demand from a comic series. Therefore, I have no complaints.

The characterizations are also good.  It struck me while reading through this volume that of all the superheroes that DC has, I think working on The Flash has to be the most fun.  I cannot imagine the creators not having fun with this.  He’s fun to draw, fun to write.  And I think that fun shows through in this volume.  It is not goofy or silly (sometimes Spider-man is intolerably goofy), but Flash is fun.  And if comics do not, at the end of the day, contain any fun – what’s the whole point?  The supporting characters are also developed nicely; Patty Spivot and Iris West are interesting and do not seem to be there just as filler characters.  In this series, Barry Allen has a lot of good qualities and can definitely sustain a long-term ongoing comic.  And that, too, is precisely what readers should be looking for.

I think this title got over-looked and treated poorly by readers who got all caught up in Scott Snyder’s Batman title and with the Grant Morrison working on Action Comics thing.  However, while Batman has been excellent, the Action Comics title has suffered a lot.  Meanwhile, The Flash has been solid – at least through the first eight issues – and I think readers ought to give it a chance – or even a second chance, if that is the case.  I really enjoyed the art and design and the character is fun and good.  This is a five-star volume.

5 stars

Demon Knights Vol. 1

Demon Knights, Vol. 1 – DC Comics

After returning N. Gaiman’s The Sandman Vol. 1 to the library, I picked up Demon Knights Vol. 1.   Demon Knights is a title DC introduced as part of their New 52 reorganization/reboot in 2011.   I confess that I was not/am not fully versed in DC’s magic realm. I know of The Phantom Stranger and I know of The Spectre, but that’s about it.  The demon Etrigan and his connection to Merlin and Vandal Savage has a vague and fuzzy image in my brain.   However, I saw this tradeback sitting on the shelf and could not resist.

This volume collects issues #1-7 of the title.  I had no idea what to expect and after reading it, I am a happy reader. The title has survived the various “waves” of roster moves that DC made since the New 52, which is good.  (Some titles, like Blue Beetle, didn’t last.)  Overall, the story is interesting and the art is suitable.  It’s not perfect, the flaws are there, but I think as a whole this title adds a diversification to the DC lineup that allows readers to read something different than a Bat-title (how many are there? 6? 8?)

So, when I say that I had no idea what to expect, I mean it. I just enjoyed the cover for a few minutes and then started turning pages.  The story starts off at the fall of Camelot.  Arthur is dead and three women are in a boat taking his body to Avalon.  Excalibur is tossed into the waters – but Xanadu, one of the women in the boat, dives after the sword.  We are then taken to the castle wherein we are given something of a point of departure for the demon Etrigan.  Merlin has summoned and captured the demon.  Jason of Norwich, a young boy, enters to tell Merlin the castle has fallen and they must flee. Merlin then “fixes” the demon to Jason.  Moving forward in time, we meet Mordru and the Questing Queen.  They are marching their horde army through the land to Alba Sarum.

That’s basically the first issue.  And while it is a bit in media res, the careful reader can follow the storyline well enough.  Part of the impetus of the New 52 was to re-introduce readers to the DC universe – without the readership having to be familiar with the entirety of DC’s history.  I think this is done in this issue/volume, but it does take some patience.  In some places in this volume, it seems like a simple battle book.  I think that the “demon knights” are made distinct enough by the writer (Paul Cornell), but I also think that the storyline moved really fast.  We are given some background story on some characters, perhaps enough to keep readers curious, but maybe not enough to keep us invested in the scenarios.

I like Conan and Kull and so this title works for me.  I like the dark ages feel to it, with the debates of battle-strategy, magical elements, and questions of personal honor and destiny.  The pacing was a bit too quick for me and the Questing Queen seems too distant/unknown to me.  Also, I’m kind of guessing at how the magic powering works… people seem to “power down” and “power up,” but I am not entirely sure how that works exactly. Madame Xanadu is definitely a good character and has a lot of fun frames by the artist.  Also, the covers done by Michael Choi are really pretty.

I definitely want to read the next volume – and I hope DC keeps this title running.  Overall, I’m going to give this volume 4 stars.

4 stars

The Sandman vol 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

The Sandman Vol 1 – N. Gaiman; Vertigo

I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s massively-famous The Sandman: Vol 1, Preludes & Nocturnes.  I had found the second volume very cheap at a library book sale. I have been putting off reading this series for a very long time, so when I got volume two practically free, I decided I would bite the bullet and read.  The Sandman is a series that began in 1989 and continued through 75 issue until 1996.  It has won acclaim in both the comics-community and in the general media (e.g. New York Times and Entertainment Weekly).

I have never been interested in this series because, after some review of the matter, I think that I am not on the same wavelength as Gaiman.  That’s a fair way of putting it.   I find Gaiman a bit creepy.  Not that I have ever met him, mind you.  There are female friends in my world who use the word “skeevy.”  No one has ever defined that word for me and I am hardly an expert in its usage.  However, if I had to associate it – yeah, it’s gonna be with Gaiman.  When I was dragging my feet about reading this series, I looked Gaiman up on Wikipedia. I even read an article about his wife.  Yeah, neither one is going to get invited over to a tea party at my house.  Again, nothing against them – we just come from widely divergent universes. Also, “gothic” is usually just creepy.

I actually attempted to read a couple of Gaiman’s novels.  I think I got at least 25 pages in Neverwhere.  And I did watch the DVD of Coraline.  But that’s as far as I was able to get.  Something about his writing or his ideas doesn’t mesh with me.  That is okay. I would rather be honest about it than lie and pretend to be a fanboy over this.

First impressions:  (1.)  the main character, Morpheus, looks like Gaiman.  And it’s not a look I like.  Arrogant of the author?; (2.)  man, I hope this isn’t just a revenge tale; (3.) The art is gritty. Dunno if I like the layouts.

After reading volume one, I can say that some of the contents are very dark and disturbed (depraved?).  But these elements are luckily buried in a story that is tolerable, not great.  The question is:  is the story there to provide a context for the darkness or do the disturbing parts just fill-out an otherwise credible storyline?  Immediately, I think most fans would say the latter.  I am not so sure.  There are some good ideas, don’t get me wrong.  For example, the interactions and juxtapositions in “Imperfect Hosts” is quite original and creative and I can get behind some of this inventiveness.   The same goes for “A Hope in Hell.”  Both of these issues demonstrate the best that is offered in this volume.  Creative and interesting.  But throughout the rest is a very dark and dim view of humanity.

I was never really able to sympathize or enjoy the Morpheus character.  Particularly, with his moping around and stereotypical portrait.  Pale, hairy, moping Gothic creature. And the thing is, while we are led to believe that this character has insight and is cunning, generally, I found him boring and lucky.  I am not familiar with Jack Kirby’s Sandman character, but I cannot say that Gaiman’s characterization is a winner for me.

So here is the thing. . . not all authors have universal audiences.  Many authors are able to reach most audiences.  Some strive to increase their audience.  Some authors have a select, carefully segmented audience and seek only to reach that number.  I suspect a lot of readers really dig Gaiman’s work and he does have a widespread audience.  For better or worse, though, I am not in that number.  I can recognize the quality parts in this volume, but hands-down I am completely more entertained and interested in Locke & Key and Scalped.   I do intend to read volume two of The Sandman, but we will see if I ever get father than that.  I am going to give the first volume three stars – because I do think it is deserving of precisely three.

3 stars

Locke & Key – Welcome to Lovecraft

Locke & Key 1; IDW

Locke & Key Volume 1 – J. Hill, G. Rodriguez; IDW, 2008

I finished reading the first collected volume of graphic novel Locke & Key by writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez.  The hardback edition I read is entitled Welcome to Lovecraft and was released in 2008. It collects the first six issues of the comic by the same name published by IDW comic publishers.  One of the decisions that I made going into 2013 was to read more graphic novels and from different publishers than I usually do.  Locke & Key has continued for several volumes and has gotten a lot of praise.  So I figured that I would try it out and see how it goes.  Also, because the author names the location for the story “Lovecraft,” I admit I was intrigued.  If an author invokes that name in his writing, one almost expects creepy, weird, scary stuff – so I was all set to read something well-done.

The story, generally, is about the Locke family and the family’s ancestral home, Keyhouse, a Massachusetts mansion with a fantastic collection of magical keys and doors.  And this story is not for kids.  Some bad language, some gore, some horror, etc.  I do not think it is a foul book (I wouldn’t read that…) but it does have a smattering of bad. After all, this is technically in the “horror” genre.  Anyway, Keyhouse.   This is the main focal point of the story.  This is interesting because usually authors use a character as a focal point and not a setting.  The first issue in the volume starts in media res and fills in some backstory via flashback, however, even at the end of the issue – the reader will have a number of questions about the whole thing.  And this is okay because by the end of the volume many of these are fleshed-out and resolved. Of course, new questions are then presented!

The father, Rendell Locke is murdered by a high schooler named Sam Lesser.  And though it seems a random murder by a particularly deranged teenager, the connection is Keyhouse.  We are told in flashback that if anything is to happen to Rendell, the family is to go live at Keyhouse with Rendell’s brother, Duncan.  Why? In a cryptic statement Rendell tells his wife that “the house chose Duncan.”  Clearly, Rendell is not oblivious to the mysteries of Keyhouse.  After the murder, the family (mom, older brother, middle sister, young brother) travel from California to MA to live at Keyhouse and everyone is dealing with the loss of Rendell and the change in their lives.

My biggest problem with the artwork is that Duncan and the mother, Nina, look the same age as the kids in the novel.  Assuming the oldest kid, Tyler, is 17 – the mother and the uncle still only look 25 at most.  This kind of didn’t work for me – not that I expected them to be old and haggard or something.  The best part of the artwork is how much the artist seems to mesh with the story and draw scenes which amplify and parallel the writing.  Sometimes a writer’s good idea might fall a bit flat without a diligent, capable artist. No fear of that here.

At the start I was a little confused. Back-and-forth in time was disconcerting – what happened when and where? But I got it all sorted out and reading got a lot better.  Joe Hill did an excellent job developing each character, especially the kids.  Tyler is a compelling character and is written and drawn really well.  Bode is a lot of readers’ favorite character because he’s a curious, intelligent kid who loves his family.  He’s a cute kid.  Kinsey, the girl, is also a strong personality and independent.  Hill’s characterizations are so good that one really is “pulling for” this family.  It is really important to have likeable characters that a reader can sympathize with and follow along with interest.  Without this – this storyline would not be worth reading.   The villain in this volume (Sam Lesser) is exceedingly hateable.  He’s repulsive and deranged and I dislike him a lot. This is also “good” because who wants a villain that is not really a villain?

There are some really cool plot twists – the frame where Bode sends two items down the well is awesome, how Lesser escapes from prison is sharp, and the interconnectivity of characters in Lovecraft adds to the suspense.  In other words, I liked the unfolding of the story and its pacing. After finishing the volume I want to get the next. I have these questions:  what happens next (re: Zack)?  How will the connection Duncan to the house and everything else develop?  How will Tyler and Bode’s relationship change after the events of issue six?

I recommend this book to those who enjoy suspense/horror, good character development, and who are over 18.

4 stars

The Black Beetle #1

The Black Beetle - Francesco Francavilla; Dark Horse Comics; 2013

The Black Beetle – Francesco Francavilla; Dark Horse Comics; 2013

In 2011, in the anthology series Dark Horse Presents, Francesco Francavilla presented his new character/comic.  In Dark Horse Presents issues #11 – 13, the short storyarc “Night Shift” was serialized.  I hate paying $7.99 for Dark Horse Presents – especially when I am really unsure about some of the items included.  But finally, in September 2012, I found Dark Horse Presents #11 on sale and eagerly read the short Black Beetle stuff.  It was really good.  I never got around to locating and purchasing #12 and #13.  This irked me a little bit, because what little we got in #11 left off on a cliffhanger.  In 2013, though, Dark Horse finally started releasing a volume of The Black Beetle – starting with issue #0, which collected the entire “Night Shift” story from Dark Horse Presents.

What made me so very interested in this new creation by Francavilla?  Simply I think he’s an excellent artist.  I cannot really speak for his writing since I have not read enough to make a good assessment. However, I loved his artwork in the Black Panther volume he did as well as the art for the Captain America issues he did (Captain America & Bucky and Captain America & Black Widow ).   I really like his artwork.  The main reason is that I feel that it is actually artwork – as opposed to perfunctory comic book drawing.  If you read enough comic books, you should get a sense of the different styles of the various artists.  Not all things done by each artist are fantastic – many have a sort of “perfunctory” feel to them.  Filler issues, the burden placed on the writer rather than artist, nothing standout, etc.  However, Francavilla’s art is very clearly his when you see it.  And it looks so good that it makes you want to read whatever the writer is writing.

I am not very good at describing artwork. I can only use the words that seem to fit according to my experience. So, forgive me if any of this is indelicate.  Francavilla’s artwork seems (to me) to not be focused on excessive detail or realism.  He relies on basic framing, understanding of shadows and inks, and his own color palette of favorite colors. Generally, oranges, blacks, blues. Nothing overly colorful and kaleidoscope-y.

Black Beetle frame (issue #1) - Francesco Francavilla, 2013; Dark Horse Comics

Black Beetle frame (issue #1) – Francesco Francavilla, 2013; Dark Horse Comics

Anyway, I picked up issue #1, which starts the 4-part story “No Way Out.”   I am a little icky because I wanted to find #0, but alas.  Anyway, Black Beetle is a style of costumed hero living in Colt City – which is a 1930′s-esque time period urban city on the East Coast.   The whole concept of the story and art is in the tradition of “pulp” vintage crime stuff.  I do not want to give anything away, so I am going to be really brief with the synopsis:  Black Beetle is doing surveillance on Colt City clubs that the gangster families frequent.  Roxy Club, Coco, Spencer’s, etc.  And at one of these, an explosion occurs – Beetle then seeks out the culprit. It is not who he expects to find. And we learn a little bit about the geography of Colt City along the way.

I gave this issue 8/10 stars on the comic book site that I frequent.  For here, I am going to ballpark it at four stars.  I love the art – I’ve already said that.  The story is good – because it does have that true vintage crime pulp feel.  The ads in the issue are minimal (I think there was one? Thank you Dark Horse!).  However, I demand a lot from first issues and I was not in total awe after finishing the issue. I re-read it and felt comfortable with my rating.  Also, I am very interested in pulling the next issue.

4 stars

X-O Manowar #1 (2012)

X-O Manowar

X-O Manowar #1; Valiant Entertainment (2012)

X-O Manowar is a comics character that was created in 1992 by Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and Joe Quesada. If you are unfamiliar with those names – they are some of the big Marvel creators in the 1970s and 1980s.  I could bore you with details about company properties within and without Marvel Comics and Valiant Entertainment. Somehow, though, I feel that would deflate any excitement over the actual comic book – so let’s just move onward.

X-O Manowar is science fiction – and is a really good fix for someone who is a big science fiction fan.  On Free Comic Book Day 2012, I got the preview by Valiant comics that featured X-O Manowar.  I was excited, of course, because the cover art looks fantastic. I added it to my pull list at my local comic book store.  Well, it took forever for my issues to come in (don’t ask….).  In my travels I found a clean copy of X-O Manowar #0 from 1993 for $1.  And then one weekend at my comic book store – all of the first four issues of the current run of the title arrived!

I read the 1993 issue and enjoyed it. The cover is a glossy-foil cover by Quesada and Jim Palmiotti and shows X-O Manowar in front of an explosion in space.  It looks like early 1990s cover art – but it should catch the eye of any science fiction fan. Space. Lasers. Armor. Finally I read the first issue of the 2012 volume.  This is another really awesome cover. I say that because it has such a science fiction feeling to it – and the coloring, which highlights only X-O Manowar – makes the cover really eye-catching, I think.

X-O Manowar #0

X-O Manowar #0; Valiant 1993

This newest issue keeps, more or less, to the same overall storyline as presented in the old #0 1993 issue.   Aric Dacia is a Visigoth. He, and all the men in his clan, fight the Romans.  Generally, the Visigoths get walloped by the Romans.  In the 1993 version Aric’s father Rolf dies in single combat as Roman troops have entered his home. In the 2012 version, Rolf is wounded on the battlefield, Aric brings him home, but Rolf dies in his bunk.  Either way, the son is enraged and develops an even more acute desire for vengeance.

That night, the Visigoths discover a “Roman transport” and Roman troops. What has happened is the Visigoths mistake aliens for Romans. Led by the emotional and rash Aric, the Visigoths attack the alien ship and are (no surprise here) defeated.  The aliens haul the surviving Visigoths onboard and take off into space.  From the moment Aric regains consciousness, his thoughts are on escape and vengeance.  He’s still a bit muddled about who he is actually fighting – but that does not matter too much to him.  Frankly, I prefer the setup in the 2012 version a bit more than the 1993, but both are good science fiction fun.  The 1993 issue takes the storyline a bit further in the first issue, but I think the 2012 ends at a good stopping point for the issue.

Now, that is a really choppy data-dump sort of introduction to X-O Manowar.  But what I feel readers should take away from my review here is that X-O Manowar fills this little niche in comic books that exists between the superhero and the soap opera drama in comic books.  There are not too many true science fiction comics out there.  Marvel Comics publishes a group of titles that they refer to as their cosmic titles. These include things like Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, and Quasar.  However, none of these titles are currently running. Some of the trouble with those titles is that they are contained within the overarching Marvel Universe – so a great deal of familiarity with the Marvel Universe makes them more readable, hence more enjoyable.  But sometimes, too, superheroes show up within the pages.

I like X-O Manowar because it is also fun – there is a rambunctious Visigoth who is kidnapped by aliens and who bonds with their special power armor – which can only be worn by “the worthy.”  Let me cash this out for you a bit further:  a barbarian, who is fighting Roman soldiers, is taken into space by aliens and acquires power armor. If you do not like that last phrase I typed there….. I cannot help you. You are not truly a science fiction fanatic.   Sure, this might not be literature, but this sure is fun and it makes me happy! Enjoy your sci-fi!

4 stars

Batman and Robin #9

Batman & Robin #9

Batman & Robin #9; DC Comics

I have not done a review of a comic book in half-of-forever.  I know that there are some “snobby geeks” out there who disdain comic books (or are more selective and merely disdain superhero comic books) arguing that they are not literature.  Well, the thing that I want to insist upon is that no, not all comic books are literature, however, what DC Comics has done in the Bat-titles in “The New 52″ has definitely been literature.  Since the #1 issues in Detective Comics and Batman, DC Comics writers (Scott Snyder, Kyle Higgins, Peter J. Tomasi, and Tony Daniel) have created an epic-story that really deserves all the praise that people have been heaping upon it.  (And, the obnoxious writer of the DC stable, Grant Morrison, has rather stalled out in his titles…)

This review is about Batman and Robin #9.  It’s somewhat of a standalone issue focusing entirely on Robin (the Damian Wayne incarnation).  This issue is, however, entirely connected to the Night of the Owls storyline that has been running through the Bat-titles since their first issues.  This epic Court of Owls/Night of the Owls storyline is huge and has been done expertly.  The writers have, as a whole, really outdone themselves and, I think, given readers a solid example of how and why comics can, indeed, be literature.  Yeah, the whole thing spans (I approximate here) 25 issues or so for the full-impact of the story.  A reader could conceivably narrow it all down to just the Batman and Detective Comics titles, but I think that would weaken the scope of what the writers have done.  In any case, I am not going to get into a lengthy exposition on the Owls epic.  I do encourage readers to consider this stuff, though – it’s really worth it (though it may be a pain in the rear to collect all of the issues.)

Anyway, Batman and Robin #9 is a really awesome issue.  I have actually been surprised at how much I have liked this particular title since The New 52 began.  I loved the first arc (the ramifications will definitely continue throughout future issues) because it explored the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son – in both a father/son perspective as well as a Batman/Robin perspective.

Issue #9 ties into the Night of the Owls storyarc.  Let us simply say that Robin is dispatched, by Alfred, to protect a target from a villain.  The Court of Owls have sent assassins out to kill nearly 40 Gotham leaders and Alfred sends Robin to protect Major General Benjamin Burrows of the 52nd – who commands nearly 15,000 troops.

I love more or less everything about this issue.  The title of the issue is Robin Hears a Hoo – which is fun because it plays on the Owls storyline and Dr. Seuss.  Dr. Seuss and Batman? Always a win.  And look at this cover because it was done by Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz.  It is beautiful.  The perspective is perfect – Robin is a little kid, you know.  The coloring is perfect. The whole composition shows action, depth, no clutter or unnecessary busyness, and an ominous villain.  Perfect.

Inside, the issue contains non-confusing artwork, clean framing, and excellent coloring.  I like how it really feels like we are on a nighttime training exercise in a misty forest. I like how Robin solves the difficulties he runs into.  I also love the scenes where the writer shows us that Robin is not just a stupid punk kid – but is also highly-trained and intelligent. I like how the soldiers react and function.  I also like how this issue gives deeper insight into the total backstory and connection to the Court of Owls.  There is not much to dislike about this issue. It is precisely the kind of issue that comic book fans can collect, enjoy, and happily spend $2.99 on.  And $2.99 is a bargain for the quality this issue delivers.

Batman isn’t in this issue.  And he really does not have to be:  Robin carries this issue all by himself.  And the issue is good.

5 stars

Uncanny X-Men #1 (2012)

Uncanny X-Men #1

Uncanny X-Men #1; Marvel Comics

Marvel’s efforts to reorganize (let’s use that euphemism) their X-titles worked for me.   I had no history in reading X-titles, and so I felt out-of-the-loop, as they say, regarding any of the characters and storylines.  While the Marvel Universe is generally run as an organic whole, everything related to the X-Men has always seemed to run parallel to and almost separately from the rest of the Marvel Universe.  This isn’t true, but the X-titles do tend to make up their own microcosm as opposed to how the Avengers correlate to the Marvel Universe.  Uncanny X-Men was a title that Marvel ran from 1963 – 2011 with over 550 issues (including annuals).  Therefore, jumping into the complex X-Men world was basically impossible from my point of view.

In 2010-2012, Marvel restarted, renumbered, and reorganized most of the X-Men titles – without destroying any of their past historical events.  My favorite Marvel writer, Jason Aaron, was given the Wolverine title and the Wolverine & The X-Men titles.  A title just called X-Men was started and in 2012, Marvel restarted Uncanny X-Men at issue #1. If ever readers were going to get involved in X-titles – this was definitely the best opportunity.

The events of Uncanny X-Men #1 are directly related to the events that take place in the mini-event X-Men Schism and are connected to both the Wolverine and X-Men titles.  Could a reader successfully read this issue without having read those I just mentioned? Of course; however, I can say that it really is the best option to have at least read the X-Men Schism mini-event. The writer for Uncanny X-Men #1 is Kieron Gillen and it’s obvious his first order of business is to explain something of what’s going on in the X-Men world without making things too messy.  His second task is to put forth an engaging storyline that should propel this particular title forward from issue #1.   I think that he succeeds in doing both, although the issue does not turn out to be anything fantastic.

Right away the reader is given the roster of those X-Men who are on the island Utopia.  The reader is also directly given the new and improved purpose and goal of these X-Men.  From the brain and mouth of Cyclops the reader learns, alongside the new organization of X-Men, what this team’s mission will be.  Welcome to the concept of Extinction Team.  This is a basic storyline. However, I cannot say that it’s entirely new in the X-Men world, little of it that I know.

“That is our primary aim, anything else is just survival.  It’s something we’ve tried before, but never on a big enough scale.  If this team saves humanity from extinction enough, people will realize how badly they need us.  In short, we’ve always been earth’s mightiest heroes.  Extinction team will prove it.” – Cyclops

That quote is from only two frames in the issue and I feel most readers who read without care might miss what was said there.  Like I said above, this is not exactly a new directive for X-Men – Cyclops readily admits that in this quote.  The difference is that it is now going to be attempted on a larger scale.  Well, I am sure that X-Men fans can argue the point of whether or not this has been done before.  But notice the last part of the quote:  Cyclops calls the X-Men “earth’s mightiest heroes” – which is actually the longtime tagline and monicker of none other than the Avengers.  Clearly, this presages the upcoming 2012 Marvel yearly event “Avengers vs. X-Men.”   Who are earth’s mightiest heroes?

A villain, Mr. Sinister, is introduced quickly – on first meeting him, he seems like a rather cool villain to me.  I mean, he’s ruthless, unhesitating, and “classy.”  But the part I did not like is this oddball goofy usage of the weird robot/alien Celestial.  And then Mr. Sinister controls and flies off in the thing’s head. Yeah, this seemed really goofy and silly.  However, I did get a kick out of what Mr. Sinister did when he lands the head at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts!  This villain and what’s he’s done there is the most interesting aspect of the issue.  (Also, Namor is his pompous-cocky self, even if it’s just a frame or two.)

3 stars

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