Thursday, October 30, 2008

Issue #37: Comic Books For The Week Of Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Project SuperPowers #7 (of 7) (Dynamite Entertainment)
Legion Of Super-Heroes #47 (DC)
Superman #681 (DC)

Project Superpowers #7 (of 7) * * * *
This issue wraps up the first mini-series of obscure golden age super heroes. This issue, and the series it concludes, was a satisfying story. It did something other mini-series that lead into another mini-series don't always do, lead its story to a satisfying conclusion. All of the plot threads come together in this issue and are wrapped up in an action packed climax. The Fighting Yank finally faces the difficult choice that his life wasleading to. The heroes are trapped and the odds are not good for them. The ending leaves the door open for these characters, as in "What's Next?" but the questions asked in this story were answered. At the end are two more hero features, including The Owl, which caught my attention with the upcoming Watchmen movie. There will be a volume two of Project Superpowers, as well as spin-offs for Black Terror and The Death-Defying Devil. I'll be checking them out.

Legion Of Super-Heroes #47 (DC) * * * *
As the cover indicates, Brainiac 5 has a lot more than super science on his mind. And there is a suprising twist to the Princess Projectra plotline. The art is a little loose for my taste but it does remind me a little of Jon Bogdanove, so it's not bad. There are some action scenes in this issue, but the strong point is the character interaction and development in this issue, a Legion strength. I just read on some comic book news web sites that this series will end with issue #50, and Jim Shooter will not be writing any future Legion title. I would guess that the Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds mini-series will impact what a future Legion title continuity will be, but I hope that will be the last Legion "reboot" for a while. My only criticism of Legion stories of recent years are the frequent reboots, which seems to have the Legion spinning its wheels, so to speak. The stories have been good, but with the reboots the stories haven't been leading anywhere. That's what I hope the Legion Final Crisis tie-in will solve.

Superman #681 (New Krypton #2) (DC) * * * * *
The triangle numbers from the 1990's have returned. Superman introduces the Kandorians to the world. Some of Superman's friends have a few worlds of caution for him, and the issue concludes with a big surprise. And Ma Kent gets some surprising help in dealing with her grief. And another Alex Ross cover can't hurt, either! This has been the best Superman issue this year. James Robinson has written an excellent chapter, and Renato Guedes pencils and Wilson Margalhres inks make excellent art. The New Krypton story looks to take its place next to other excellent DC stories this year, like Green Lantern's Sinestro Corps War (which I didn't read but heard great things about it; plus it was written by Geoff Johns). It feels great to say that it's fun to read Superman again.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Issue #36: Comic Books For The Week Of Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Terry Moore's Echo #7 (Abstract Studios)
Invincible #54 (Image)
Superman: New Krypton Special #1 (of 1) (DC)

Now I'm back to my regular comic book collecting schedule at my new comic book store, Acme Comics Since I have not picked up Invincible #53 yet, Acme was shorted some copies of this issue, I will review issues 53 and 54 next week. As anxious as I am to read #54, I don't want to read any spoilers about the previous issue until I can read them in order. I had enough of spoilers when I read the ending of Action #870 on the internet. BAck to our regularly scheduled comic books.

Terry Moore's Echo #7 (Abstract Studios) * * * * *
Julie and Dillon are still on the run, and Ivy is hot on their trail. She is not the only one interested in them. Echo is the perfect example of a title that does not need super hero fisticuffs to be interesting. It has an interesting story full of character moments. And we'll have to wait until next issue to find out what happened at the end.

Superman: New Krypton Special #1 (of 1) (DC) * * * * *
There's a lot going on. Clark is dealing with his grief, as well as finally meeting a whole city full of people from his lost birth planet. We see what happened to Brainiac after his defeat by Superman. We also get the first few hints that the transition might not be a smooth one between humans and kryptonians. After the Jimmy Olsen special we get a follow up to the events from that issue. And the ending is a shocker. This looks to be setting up another great storyline for Superman, and the Man of Steel may not be the same at the end. It looks like the string of fantastic Superman stories will continue for 2008 and into 2009.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Issue #35: Catch Up Week #7: Comic Books For The Week Of October 15, 2008

Things did not work out with my old comic book store, to get my titles without driving an hour into Orlando or having them mailed to me, for reasons I won't go into here. So I set up a subscription at a comic book store in Longwood, Florida, Acme Comics, Cards and Collectibles It has been in business since 1980, and I have visited it in recent years. Some other comic stores in the Orlando area may have some higher end comic merchandise, like life size busts of Marvel characters, but Acme is the most fun. It has a huge collection of action figures and comic book memorabilia which covers many genres and TV shows. It will be fun to look around the store on a regular basis every week. It's still a 45 minute drive, but I take State Road 46 to I-4 outside of the Sanford Mall, and I only have to pass a few exits until I get to the S. R. 434 exit. From there it's a quick drive through the S.R. 425 intersection (Ronald Reagan Blvd.), and the store is one block from 17-92 on the left. The drive is not as tiring as it would be if I had to take I-4 into downtown Orlando, and get off on the U. S. 441 for stop and go traffic to other comic book stores. It's pretty steady driving with only a few traffic lights and usually light traffic for the half hour it takes to get to I-4, and then it's only 15 minutes from the time I get on the interstate to the store's parking lot. Acme's web site has some pictures of their store, so check it out. Now that I've caught up on my comic reading, let's get started with my reviews.

Comic books for the week of Wednesday, October 1, 2008:

Supergirl #34 (DC)

Tor #6 (of 6) (DC)

Top 10 Season 2 #1 (America's Best Comics / Wildstorm / DC)

Invincible #53 (Image)

Invincible issue #53 was not available, but Acme was waiting for more copies, which should arrive next week, Wednesday, October 29, 2008. So I will have to wait to blog about this issue, as well as issue #54, which I picked up today, Wednesday, October 22. In fact, I won't read #54 until I get issue #53. Invincible is one of those titles that I save to read last because I know it will usually be the best title of my stack for the week. I did peek at the inside back cover to see what was coming up, and it looks like writer co-creator Robert Kirkman has some major hard-core action coming up.

Supergirl #34 (DC) * * * * *

The cover posts a familiar yet slightly revised headline from Superman Returns. In the story we see Supergirl doing Super deeds, yet with not quite the ease of her super cousin. After reading some of the earliest Supergirl stories from the 1950's, I can see why the silver age Superman kept his super cousin's identity secret while he trained her how to use her super powers. The modern Kara Zor-El has to learn on the job, so to speak, but she knows who to go to for help. She also learns why having a secret identity can be a good thing, especially for your sanity. Lana has some questions about the direction of her life to answer, after her recent firing by LexCorp. The answer is a familiar one for older Superman readers like me. I'm picking this title up through the Krypton On Earth storyline, but I don't know if I'll continue it after that storyline is over. But this is an excellent story, with a great mix of action with character devvelopment. The art on the cover and in the story is great. I'm anxious to read the Krypton storyline through the super books. Judging from past stories of Kryptonians on Earth, even in "imaginary stories" relations between the two civilizations won't be smooth.

Top 10 Season 2 #1 (of 4) * * * *

Being another co-creation by Alan Moore is a good reason to pick up this next mini-series of the Top 10 title. Although Alan Moore is not involved in this four issue series, co-creator and artist Gene Ha is, and the results with new writers Zander and Kevin Cannon are not disappointing. This is the continuing story about the 10th Precinct Police Station of Neopolis, a city where all of the citizens, and their pets have super powers. A new Commissioner is introduced after a horrible murder happens in the reflecting pool outside the precinct. The new commissioner's orders are not making a smooth transition with the officers, and one the officers discovers her spouse "crossover dressing". One of the great things to do while reading any Top 10 issue is finding the "easter eggs" in the backgrounds of pop culture characters. Early pages of this issue inclued several characters from Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I've only read the last mini-series, drawn by Jerry Ordway, which was what attracted me to the title originally, but this issue promises to lead to another excellent story. Eventually I would like to get the trade paperback of the original Alan Moore stories.

Tor #6 (of 6) (DC) * * * *

This issue concludes this Joe Kubert created character. The 82 year old artist has not lost anything from his wealth of talent and experience. The only reason I did not give this issue 5 (*)'s is that last issue was the climax of the story and this issue is the denouement, as Tor and his unnamed woman begin his journey to return to his home, but not before he faces a few more dangers this secluded, dangerous land have to offer. The cover actually points to an incident Tor faces inside the issue. Told all in captions, with no word balloons or sound effects, this issue, like the rest of this mini-series, is a textbook on how words and pictures combine to tell the story, and how each contributes what the other cannot. I will be keeping my eye open for Kubert's next comic book project.

Comic Books For The Week Of Wednesday, October 8, 2008:

Action Comics #870 (DC) * * * * *

This issue is the finale to the Brainiac story. And before I could get a chance to read this concluding issue last week I read the major spoiler at the end of the issue (which I won't reveal here in case there is anyone who hasn't read this story yet) on a web site. Just like with the death of Steve Rogers Captain America, a major newspaper revealed the end of the story before most comic book readers could get to a comic book store. That did not take away from my enjoyment of this issue. Artist Gary Frank is on my short list of favorite Superman artists. He has an excellent grasp on showing subtle human emotion through facial expressions. Just when things seem hopeless for Superman and Supergirl, we see how hard core Superman can be when he needs to be. And a few words of comfort to Kara have far reaching effects. And the ending is jaw dropping, even when you know it's coming.

Comic books for the week of Wednesday, October 15, 2008:
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #1 (of 1) (DC)
Justice Society of America #19 (DC)
Ultimate Origins #5 (of 5) (Marvel)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 (of 5) (DC)

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (of 1) (DC) * * * * *
The first thing I enjoyed about this issue was seeing Jimmy becoming an adventurer himslef, as he was in Jack Kirby's Jimmy Olsen issues and in the '90's with the Cadmus Project. Cadmus is involved in this issue as well. Someone is targeting anyone involved with Cadmus for assassination, and Jimmy is investigating the story. What he finds out points to a future storyline for Superman, and does not bode well for him. What I enjoyed most about this issue was Jimmy beginning to grow up. It seemed after Infinite Crisis DC de-aged Jimmy, as well as Pa Kent, who looked completely different. It's about time we see Jimmy begin to grow into the top notch journalist we know he can be.

Justice Society of America #19 (DC) * * * *
Jerry Ordway draws the first few pages about Power Girl's delimma, which is enough for me to pick up this issue. The full consequences of Gog's actions become apparent to the JSA, and both Gog and Magog force each JSA member to make difficult choices. I would have given this issue 5 (*)'s, but this issue points to next issue, when the fat hits the fire. This issue seems to be setting up the final conflict, maybe, starting next issue, which promises to be a 5 (*) story.

Ultimate Origins #5 (of 5) (Marvel) * * * * *
We learn the full story about the obelisks, and Nick Fury makes a disturbing discovery in the Canadian wilderness. We also learn how the Ultimate Professor Xavier is crippled, and a dark secret about the Ultimate Mutants. With the heading March To Ultimatum above the title I know Ultimate Origins would lead to another event series, but it did not leave me feeling empty. It fulfilled the purpose of the title and revealed the origins of the Ultimate Marvel Universe, and it was a dark and almost true to life story, deserving of the Ultimate title. It shows how the past of the Ultimate universe is going to impact the present in the Ultimate world.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 (of 5) (DC) * * * * *
The Legion of Super-Villains gets stronger while the Legion of Super-Heroes still seems splintered. But the Legion is beginning its counter-offensive, and, in Legion fashion, sending teams out to accomplish different parts of the plan. It will take more than one reading to soak in George Perez's detailed art, and detailed is an understatement. After Superman, I enjoy the Legion the most, and this mini-series does not disappoint, and I hope at its conclusion that all of the resent confusing reboots are laid to rest and a new continuity established which includes the classic Legion that Legion fans love, to move the Legion forward.

Next Week:
Comic books for the week of Wednesday, October 22, 2008:
Terry Moore's Echo #7 (Abstract Studios)
Invincible #54 (Image)
Superman: New Krypton (DC)
I won't be reviewing Invincible #54 because I have not received issue #53, and I don't want to get ahead of the story. I did peek at the inside back cover to see what was coming up, and it promises to ramp up the action and conflict for Invincible. So I will review #54 when I review the comics from next week, October 29.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Issue #34: Comic Book Books

Comic books for the week of Wednesday, October 8, 2008:
Action Comics #870 (DC)

Even though I haven't read this issue of Action Comics, I have read the huge spoiler on comic book news web sites. I won't post it here. If you haven't read it and can't wait to read it, you shouldn't have any trouble finding it on the comic book news web sites.

I haven't made final arrangements with the store manager of my old comic book store, to begin picking up my comic book titles from his home. He just got back from vacation, so within the next week I'm hoping to get back on schedule. Until then I will blog on general comic book topics to stay on schedule with new posts.

Since last week I blogged on my favorite comic book trade paperbacks, I thought I would blog on my favorite non-fiction book on comic books. Right now I'm reading Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk, published by Da Capo Press in 2007. It is a book on comic book theory and criticism. I'm only 75 pages into it so I will save a review of it for another post. While readers may not agree with every opinion of the author, he does present some interesting ideas. Part of the beginning of this book includes a little bit of comic book history.

For me, any non-fiction book about comic books begins with Curt Swan: A Life In Comics by Eddy Zeno, published by Vanguard Press in 2002. Curt Swan has always been my favorite comic book artist, of my favorite comic book character, Superman. His clean style in a conservative era, for a conservative publisher, was still able to show a full spectrum of emotions on the characters' faces he drew. I would call this book an "art" biography, because not only does the book explore Swan's life, but it covers the development of his art style, and the inkers he collaborated with. Zeno interviews colleagues, family and friends to gain a well rounded picture of Swan's life and personality.

If you are looking for a book that gives a good overview of the history of the comic book history, try Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones, published by Basic Books in 2004. the backbone of the book is the long, twisted and tragic history of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of Superman. Growing up in working class families, they go from rags to riches to rags for most of their lives. While they were extremely taken advantage of, the book chronicles the mistakes they made in dealing with DC Comics, not being as business savy as their bosses. My favorite chapters are the early ones chronicling the various histories of Jewish immigration from Europe, Prohibition and the rise of organized crime, the pulp magazine industry and the New York garment industry and trade unions. Jones then shows how these diverse threads of American history combine to create the comic book history.

For further reading about Superman sepcifically, try Superman: The Complete History by Les Daniels, published by Chronicle Books, in 1998. He has written similar books about Batman and Wonder Woman, DC Comic's big three. Daniels explores Superman's history from his creation, his overnight sensation, branching out to other media and licensing. The book covers Superman's history into the 1990's. My only criticism is that Daniels gives a more sympathetic view of DC Comics' relationship to Siegel and Shuster than the company deserves. But for a full exploration of Superman through the decades in multiple media, complete with pictures, this book is one to add to your reading list.

A less DC-centric book to read is Excelsior! by Stan Lee and George Mair. This book is Stan Lee's memoir of his career, from his childhood through getting hired at his cousin by marriage's comic book company as a gofer and becoming the editor out of high school. Lee explores his decades in the wilderness of comic book publishing, editing a line of derivative comic books his publisher was content to produce. It is interesting reading to explore Lee's growing dissatisfaction with his job and his desire for something better, and how both played a part in the revolution that Lee would spearhead with a stable of experienced artists in the early 1960's. Stan Lee gives his side of the the creative differences he had with two of his best srtists, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but Lee is not stingy in his praise of any of the artists he collaborated with. Sometimes in interviews he has been more reluctant than necessary to call the original artists of the original Marvel characters co-creators, but Lee's contributions cannot be ignored. The best analogy about the 1960's Marvel staff was the Beatles. Like the Fab Four, Lee and the Marvel artists together were greater than they were seperately. That unique synergy of what became known as the "Marvel Method" toppled DC Comics from the pinnacle of the comic book industry.

I'll leave the list at these four for now. I hope I don't have to blog about the rest next week. I'm ready to get back into the flow of reading comic books weekly and blog about them. If so, I'll save the rest for a future post.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Issue #33: Six Star Comic Books

Comic books for the week of Wednesday, October 1, 2008:
Supergirl #34 (DC)
Invincible #53 (Image)

I've decided to add Supergirl to my pull list, at least through the New Krypton storyline through the Superman titles. I will have to wait at least until next week. Since the Leesburg location of Bad Apple Comics ( closed, until a new location is found by Spring 2009, the Leesburg mamager will be working out of the South Orlando store. However he does not start until next week. I guess he is taking a well deserved vacation. He has been generous enough to his Lake County customers by allowing them to pick up their books from his home, to save a long drive to South US Hwy 441 in Orlando, about an hour's drive.
In the meantime, with the recent publication several weeks ago of the final issue of All-Star Superman, which I reviewed in Superman Fan Podcast Episode #42,, and rated at six stars, I decided to use this blog issue to share other titles and Superman stories I rated at a perfect six stars.
What I look for to put a title on this elite list is if I wait anxiously for each issue, saving it to read last in my weekly stack, and never being disappointed.
At the top of this very elite list would have to be the mini-series Wathcmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I would rank this as a required text for learning how to create comic book stories, right up there with all of the how to books and texts by Will Eisner. From scene transitions to panel layout, the Watchmen trade paperback has a lot to teach by example. The first story telling tool I picked up on from Alan Moore was using a scene, word or situation in the last panel of one scene and comparing or contrasting to something in the first panel of the next scene. With the strict nine panel grid layout, when Moore and Gibbons stray from that layout, studying why that panel deserved to be larger is a good way to learn panel layout regardless of the number of panels per page. Not a plot line or character was wasted. Every character has a beginning and an end. Watchmen is the best crafted comic book ever created.
Published the same year as Watchmen was The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. This "last Batman story" crackles with energy. The panel layout changes page to page, and a lot of TV screen shaped panels are used for TV reporters or other TV personalities. The meta morphosis of Bruce Wayne from a retired caped crusader, to his traditional blue and gray costume, to a return to the original color scheme of black and gray, without the yellow circled bat symbol, is a guide to the inner change in Bruce Wayne. My only criticism of the story is the portrayal of Superman as a lackey of a senile President Reagan. But that does not take away from this apocalyptic Batman story.
A story at the other end of Batman's career is Batman: Year One. This revision of Batman's origin by Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli is an excellent origin story, showing a Bruce Wayne who has gathered all the knowledge he requires for his crusade but is missing the method. This story peels back all of the bat-gimmicks that have been such a part of Batman lore, enjoyable as they may be. Batman is not the polished crime fighter we are used to reading, after so many years on his crusade. His tools are simple by comparison in the beginning, and his methods are not as polished. Yet his tactical improvisation in every situation sees him through every peril. And the city of Gotham City that is portrayed, with the extreme of crime and corruption, is more frightening than the Caped Crusader himself.
Another limited series on this list is Planetary, written by Warren Ellis and art by John Cassaday. This series mined a century of popular culture to create a world of specially gifted people, all born in the first seconds of January 1, 1900, and how they effect the world. Planetary is an organization that labels itself "mystery archaelogists", uncovering the secret history of the world and using the knowledge and technology uncovered to help save civilization. Led by Elijah Snow, whose name hints at his ability, Planetary's biggest and only nemeses are The Four, an evil version of Marvel's Fantastic Four who use their powers and abilities keeping themselves the most powerful people on Earth, and finding the same secret knowledge and technology to keep themselves superior. Snow leads a field team of two other members who each have their own special abilities. Each issue is usually a contained story where the field team investigate a mystery. Only issues 19 and 20 are a continued story. Each issue moves along a larger story that leads to Snow's final showdown against the remaining members of The Four in issue #26. In a recent post by writer Warren Ellis he said that artist John Cassaday is about halfway done with epilogue issue #27. I'm sure it will be an excellent capstone to an excellent series.
There are two continuing series that are on this list. The first is Powers, published by Icon/Marvel, the story of a former super hero, who had lost his powers, and became a police detective. Christian Walker investigates crime involving super heroes, either as suspects or victims. We don't learn his origin until the series is several years old, and it is one of the most unique origins in comics. The series explores the good, the bad and the ugly about the super hero world. Det. Walker and his partner, Det. Deena Pilgrim see the dark underbelly of super hero life too often, as is the case with real police officers. It is as much a police procedural as it is a super hero comic book.
The other on-going series is Invincible, published by Image Comics. Created and written by Robert Kirkman, co-created by artist Cory Walker, and now drawn by Ryan Ottley, Invincible is Mark Grayson, the son of Earth's greatest super hero, Omni-Man. Mark's powers do not develop until he approaches puberty. After he becomes Invincible, Mark eventually learns that everything he knew about his ancestry was a lie, and his world is shattered. Somehow he continues as a super hero while he masters his super powers. One of the great things Kirkman does is introduce a page of minor plot in the middle of an issue, and then develop this brief plot a number of issues in the future. Sometimes a reader may even forget about the plot point and have to go back a number of issues. As he matures, Invincible has to make some major decisions about his super hero career, and the consequences continue to unfold. Kirkman is also very good at ending an issue with a shocking story development, leaving his audiance to eagerly anticipate the next issue.
All-Star Superman is not the only Superman story on this elite list. The recent story Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes from Action Comics is also on this list. Geoff Johns revises the Legion origin, restoring Superman, instead of Superboy (for legal reasons) as the inspiration of the 30th Century Legion. And we learn that the source of Superman's courage has nothing to do with his super powers. The current Brainiac story in Action Comics, depending on how it concludes, promises to be another addition to this special list.
Finally, there are a trio of Superman stories that are at the top of my list of favorite Superman stories, and are the only ones I would rate ahead of even All-Star Superman.
Number three on the list is Superman Annual #11, 1985, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, explores what Superman's fondest wish is, and what it costs him when he realizes he has to give it up.
Runner up on the list is the story Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Curt Swan. Part I in Superman #423 is inked by George Perez and Part II, in Action Comics #583, was inked by Kurt Schaffenberger. Both issues were cover dated September 1986. This story was the end of the golden and silver age continuity of Superman, done as if Superman comics would no longer be printed. All of the plotlines that were used through almost fifty years was wrapped up as Superman faces all of his enemies, with fatal casualties among friend and foe alike. This was an epic Superman story, and his greatest super power turns out to be his mind, not one of his physical powers. A Ragnarok for Superman lore, it is a timeless story that is as fresh when read today as when it was published just before the Man Of Steel mini-series starts Superman lore all over again.
At the top of my list is The Luthor Brainiac Tean from Superman #167, the February 1963 issue. Superman is threatened by the twin heavyweights of Lex Luthor and Brainiac. In fact Superman requires the help of the Superman Emergency Squad from the bottle city of Kandor to defeat his enemies. What makes this story special is how Superman is challenged more than he had ever been before. With his great super powers Superman is a hard character to create challenges for in succeeding stories. This issue succeeded in doing just that.
Any of these titles can serve as learning tools on how to create comic book stories.

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