(Click title to go directly to the review)
VILLAINS UNITED # 1
THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES HC
7 SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT # 2
THE MATADOR # 1
BLOOD OF THE DEMON #3
ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL. 1
LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #3
SHADOWHAWK # 1
FALLEN ANGEL #20
NYC MECH: BETA LOVE # 1
THE FLASH #221
BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE # 1
VILLAINS UNITED # 1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Dale Eaglesham
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
The career and writing of Gail Simone makes for an interesting study. Ms. Simone, as we all know, got her start writing the hilarious spoof column "You'll All Be Sorry" at a website called Comic Book Resources. Whether she was producing increasingly ridiculous Cockneyisms for John Constantine, or detailing the lives and bad fan fiction of some archetypical comic book types, or affectionately lampooning everyone from Tony Isabella to George Lucas, Gail Simone always killed ya!
Her column lead to gigs writing SIMPSONS comics and to co-creating the often-imitated KILLER PRINCESSES with artist Lea Hernandez.
Of course, Ms. Simone's comic book career really took off when her work on Marvel's DEADPOOL attracted the attention of AICN Comics. Gail Simone wrote the single funniest comic book story I've ever read. Deadpool, having shrunk the Rhino with Pym particles, proceeds to drill a hole through Rhino's horn and use him as a key chain ... puts Rhino in a hamster ball and whacks him with a bat ... and finally flushes Rhino down the crapper.
While still at Marvel, Ms. Simone wrote the editorially troubled AGENT X (notable for a scene in a Manhattan bistro that serves Latverian food) and the kid series THE MARVELOUS ADVENTURES OF GUS BEEZER. But it was at DC where her work got interesting.
You see, Ms. Simone could have kept on writing the world's funniest superhero comics. I'm talkin' comics that were really funny, not Peter-David-funny. Publishers and fans would have kept her in a long career for that. Instead, she grew as a writer. Her BIRDS OF PREY contained humor, but it was a real superhero book, often violent, not what I expected. And it worked. She went even darker with her ROSE & THORN mini. When I think of the direction Ms. Simone has taken, I can only hope that my current favorite Marvel writer, Dan Slott, is watching. After SHE-HULK, SPIDER-MAN / HUMAN TORCH and GREAT LAKES AVENGERS, he needs to find his BIRDS OF PREY.
Now, Gail Simone is writing VILLAINS UNITED which ties into some Big @$$ Crisis going on the DC Universe. Hey, DC, if there's always a Big @$$ Crisis going on, they don't seem so big.
"Hey, Bruce. What's up?"
"I'm going to the Crisis. You comin'?"
"I think I'll catch a movie. I may pop into the Crisis later."
DC villains are banding together because of what the JLA did to Dr. Light in the last Big @$$ Crisis, which I think was titled BIG @$$ CRISIS. The villain society under Luthor is forcing other villains to join. Those who resist are dealt with villainously. I dig it the most. Since most villains suffer from the same affliction I do, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, some resist anyway and form The Secret Six. The Secret Six are working for a mystery villain, but are pretty cool. Deadshot is on the team and there's a guy called Ragdoll. My favorite, as portrayed by Simone and Eaglesham is the Tarzanian Catman whom we see holding out against the Society.
The best bits in the book are the ones that are pure Simone. The midgetly Dr. Psycho, at a Society meeting, muttering in the background about what he'll make Catman do to himself. And Deadshot taking the time to finish a smoke before he blows away an antagonist.
The problem? When the Six are introduced, it is unclear that they are opposing the villains we've been seeing up to that point. They're just more DC villains and I'm a recovering Marvel Zombie.
As usual, here at AICN, I'm gonna give the art the short shift. Dale Eaglesham provides us with the perfect comic book art. It is in sync with the story. It is the story. It is the characters. It's excellent without being flashy, as is much of the best storytelling art.
I recommend that you follow VILLAINS UNITED for the next six months until we hit BIG @$$ CRISIS # 1.
THE AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES HARDCOVER
Writer: Joe Casey
Penciller: Scott Kolins
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Humphrey Lee
Sometimes it really is better to just wait for the trade. When this mini-series was first solicited about this time last year, it immediately caught my eye. In the midst of “Chaos” and all the “Disassembled” shake-ups going on throughout the Avengers and related-books last year, seeing a book about revisiting the early years of the Avengers seemed like a nice breather from it all. But alas, upon reading the solicit further, I noticed the one thing that can make or break a book even more than its creative team: The price tag. Carrying a hefty price of $3.50 an issue, and shipping bimonthly to boot, immediately my attention somewhat waned. But this is Marvel we’re talking about here, and I knew it would be only a matter of a month or two after the series ended before we at least got a trade. And being a biweekly book meant that trade, or in this case a really spiffy hardcover, would come all the sooner. And I’ll go on record here saying the wait was pretty well worth it.
As I stated above, EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES is basically a retelling and mild updating of the assembling of the Avengers. It runs a gamut of landmark events, from the teams’ first inception, to the discovering and reviving of Captain America, and ending with the “changing of the guard”; where most of the original roster take off leaving the team to be managed by Cap with the unusual group of heroes: Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver. All this is done while developing integral subplots, such as Iron Man’s fight to get the team the government sanctions it needs to function, Captain America’s adapting to the new era he is in, and old memories that haunt him, and so on. Other trials and tribulations abound, as the book goes to great lengths to depict how hard it would be to get such a team to band together and survive though all the negative elements you would expect; infighting, public opinion, political and military intervention and so on.
So, with so many elements to tackle, how does the book hold up?
Pretty well actually.
Simply put, you can tell there was a lot of love put into this book. The way the characterization falls for each member is spot on. You can feel that Casey knows and loves these characters. The emphasis he puts on just how powerfully important the team is to each character and the amount of good can they can accomplish through it, definitely bleeds in some personal sentiment. That said, the way some elements were handled fell somewhat flat for me. The main one that bothered me is the set of circumstances placed around Captain America. One of the main plotlines in the book is that of Caps’ desire to attain vengeance on the also returned Baron Zemo for some old, wartime wrongdoings. This painfully, in my opinion, involves playing up a moral dilemma with Cap, as somehow we find he managed to fight on the frontlines of the bloodiest war in modern history without a single kill, and is loathe in doing so now, despite all the atrocities visited upon the world by Zemo. This is a perspective that, even for a comic, I always found to be entirely unrealistic by the nature of the character himself. I’m not saying that Cap should be hardened to levels where killing is just another bit of soldering to be done with, but he should be very much more adjusted to the possibility of it going down that way.
That complaint above is really the only kind of gripe I have. Iron Man’s fight to get sanctions, while important, played itself out a bit. I would have liked to see them expand more on some of the more classic plot threads we’ve seen over the years and were only really briefly touched on here, like the skepticism towards Thor’s claims of godhood, and the occasional breakdowns in Ant-man and Wasps relationship. Despite these negative bits, though, the story still makes for a fun and engaging read.
I also have to emphasize how spectacular the book looks visually. I was first introduced to and became a fan of Scott Kolins’ art since his stint on the FLASH with Geoff Johns. I was quite amazed at his attention to detail and how everything he does seems to move so fluidly. This is definitely no exception.
Here, the action sequences are very dynamic and beautifully rendered. The costume designs have that great retro feel but still look very stylish. And the facial expressions do a great job of conveying the proper range of emotion. The only real problem, on that note, is how at times Scott will draw a sort of “bug-eyed” expression on a characters’ face that just seems, well… it looks like they’re having their prostate examined. It just gives off a very disturbing look. I’m not sure why, but it’s always been that way with his art. But that’s an overall minor complaint as the art otherwise never falters.
It’d also be a crime not to mention how beautifully colored the book is. I think I now see why the price tag was so high on the individual issues, given the quality of the paper to contain all the ink.
This entire volume is priced exceptionally well and, while devoid of extras, is nicely bound and packaged. I’m sure down the road there will be a regular trading of this, but if you’re already interested, why wait? This is already a great value, especially for the visuals, and is a good overall read. Perfect for fans new and old alike, this is a great use of the hardcover format.
7 SOLDIERS: SHINING KNIGHT # 2
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Simone Bianchi
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
By now, the first wave of Grant Morrison’s 7 SOLDIERS project has appeared. We're starting to get into the second issues with SHINING KNIGHT # 2. I have to say, I've enjoyed the premieres of all the titles, but this one is my favorite.
For one thing, Mr. Morrison is working with a truly exceptional artist, Italy's Simone Bianchi. Bianchi is able to perfectly place fantasy figures into the specific creepiness of nighttime Los Angeles. The book looks like Walter Hill directing a Conan movie. If James Cameron had made Reese from THE TERMINATOR a sword wielding teen aged Knight of the Round Table, the results would look like Simone Bianchi's art.
Comic book editors, hire Simone Bianchi as often as you can. Pay as much as you can afford. That is an order!
Grant Morrison is a writer of such skill that he can make an unassimilated character from ancient times more sympathetic, likable, and easier to relate to than most writers can when they try to portray modern day Everymen. Sir Justin has a goodness, a morality, and a true heroism to him that we're not getting with most comic book characters. He's put upon and suffering. His encounter with a Sheeda Mind Destroyer brings to mind Jesus being tempted by Satan after forty days and forty nights of fasting in the desert.
Mr. Morrison even makes us care and worry about Sir Justin's winged horse, Vanguard, who is in the clutches of some truly bizarre characters at an estate in the Hollywood Hills. If David Lynch created super villains (who didn't scream or snort from a breathing mask) they would be like Vanguard's captors. Although they don't specifically threaten the poor beast, I was almost relieved when the Sheeda showed up.
The 7 Soldiers books are being weaved together. I can see the connections between THE SHINING KNIGHT, THE GUARDIAN, KLARION THE WITCH BOY and ZATANNA. I want more. More second issues.
As I said before, THE SHINING KNIGHT is my personal favorite. While I'd love to see all of these books become ongoing titles, with the same creative teams, THE SHINING KNIGHT is the one I'd most readily follow, with THE GUARDIAN a close second.
Writer: Gary Reed
Artist: Vince Locke
Reviewer: Bug of the Living Dead
I was around twelve or thirteen. You know the age. Hell, some of you might be that age and reading this column now…
*sigh* Damn, I’m old.
But anyway, at that tender age, I had a fascination with horror. There wasn’t a horror flick in the rental section of the video store that I hadn’t seen numerous times. It was around that age that I discovered DAWN OF THE DEAD. Loved it. A zombie horror fan was born on that day and I was thrilled as punch to hear that a sequel would be in theaters soon. So, on my thirteenth birthday, I convinced my mom to let me go see DAY OF THE DEAD. The ticket lady gave my little brother and me a double take when my mom bought us tickets. “You know, this is a pretty scary movie.” She said cautiously. To which my mom replied, “I know. But they’re ghoulish kids. They can take it.” Did I mention I have the coolest mom in the world?
After seeing that film, I was hooked on the genre. Not long after that, I went to my local comic shop and saw a comic that would prove top be the comic book equivalent to DAWN and DAY – DEADWORLD. This book followed the adventures of a group of survivors as they traveled across an America plagued by the living dead. These kids were smartly written and faced horrors beyond this world. This was no ambiguous corpse uprising depicted in Romero’s films. In DEADWORLD, someone opened a portal causing the dead to rise. Out of that portal sprang eyeless six-armed monstrosities, legions of the recently deceased, and one pissed off zombie biker badass named King Zombie.
One of the things that I found to be the coolest of the cool was that each issue of DEADWORLD had two covers. One for nambies – a wussy or tame cover. And one hardcore and graphic one. My comic shop owner saw the devilish side of me and always saved me the gory covers. Did I mention that, growing up, I went to the coolest comic shop in the world?
Twenty years later, and I’m still reading comics, but DEADWORLD had faded away. I seem to remember a few miniseries and a few specials, but I had moved on to other stories. Recently, I have plunged headfirst into Kirkman’s truly spectacular WALKING DEAD series and I think one of the reasons why I love this series so much is because it reminds me of the old DEADWORLD series. So imagine my surprise when I walk into my local comic book shop and see a new number one issue of DEADWORLD on the shelves.
Since it has been almost 20 years since the first issue came out, Image’s DEADWORLD #1 starts with a sort of rehash of the old series. There is still a group of kids traveling in a bus across America, there is still a ranting loon named Deake who may have key information as to what started this whole mess and how to stop it, there are still masses of zombies shuffling about just waiting to eat anything with a pulse, and there is still a chain-smoking, Harley riding, foul-mouthed King Zombie calling the shots and causing all sorts of chaos. It’s good to see nothing has changed.
One of the strengths this book has going for it is that Vince Locke, the artist on the original DEADWORLD series, is back on board. Vince has a gritty feel to his artwork. No one and nothing is pretty in DEADWORLD. It truly is a world that has died and the panels reflect the lifelessness of everything. His simplistic and sketchy lines add to the tension, which builds as the dead descend upon the school bus filled with survivors. Locke’s presence in this book immediately gives the series a credibility and style that other zombie books lack.
I can’t help but compare this book to my current favorite read, WALKING DEAD. While that series masterfully unfolds with mature themes and realistic dilemmas one may face if living in a world where the dead live, DEADWORLD (or at least this first issue) seems more concerned with the action. This being the first issue, I don’t know if DEADWORLD is going to delve into the sophisticated themes Kirkman’s book often does. Although the threat is similar, the worlds of WALKING DEAD and DEADWORLD are very different. The zombie menace is depicted as much more “in your face” in DEADWORLD, while the zombies often take a backseat to the story of the survivors in WALKING DEAD. And that variety is a good thing. These two books, from the same publisher, no less, should offer a different take on the genre.
Personally, being a fan of the genre, I’m glad that I am offered such a selection of zombie comics. I’m willing to give DEADWORLD a shot. It is still in the zombie genre, but offers a different take, focusing more on the zombie threat. It’s a good time to be a comic book horror fan.
THE MATADOR # 1
Written by Devin Grayson
Art by Brian Stelfreeze
Published by Wildstorm / DC
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
THE MATADOR # 1 came off far better than comics with these kind of concepts usually do. Writer Devin Grayson gave us a great portrayal of the main character, Miami PD Detective Isabel Cardona. Usually when we get a female cop in a comic book, there's zero degree of subtlety and she comes off like Dirty Harry with an over-active thyroid (I’m thinking of the Maggie Sun character in Wildstorm's abysmal BLACK SUN mini from a while back). Instead, this character and the way she is written by Ms. Grayson reminds one more of the work of Elmore Leonard.
Approximately three-quarters of the way through the comic, Cardona's fat captain tells her, “... you don't need to prove yourself to me, Isabel."
Cardona is written by Grayson and portrayed in Mr. Stelfreeze's cool art style as a normal woman, with normal fears and fantasies, who is up to the task of working homicide in Miami.
Cardona is after a killer whom the police have dubbed The Matador. He may be a hit man, a mob enforcer, or a serial killer. He could possibly be a vigilante. The Matador strikes with grace and a flourish. An unreliable witness (who is probably telling the gods-honest truth) describes him as having near supernatural abilities.
Along the way, we see Cardona crushing on a married assistant DA. At first, visually, you wonder if he could be the Matador but when you see him in full, you realize that he's not cool enough. He's not really even cool enough for Cardona. There's also a fine, if predictable scene with Cardona's Cuban-American family that shows off Ms. Grayson's talent for dialogue. More good dialogue comes whenever Cardona banters with her leering/goofy partner. He reminds me a little of Albert Brooks in TAXI DRIVER.
Stelfreeze's art has a '70s hardass movie vibe up until Cardona's confrontation with the Matador. Then, it goes into a perfectly restrained Hong Kong cinema mode.
The weaknesses are minor, but I'll bore you with them anyway. There's a reaction shot when Cardona's partner makes his final nerdly come on of the issue. I hate reaction shots. They are a waste of space. Stelfreeze could have put the reaction in the same panel or at least cut out a panel. Worse, an entire page is devoted to Cardona getting dressed after she wakes up from a dream about the Matador. Most fans would deem a page of a woman getting undressed as a good use of paper, but why use the whole page to show Cardona slipping into her clothes (she doesn't even start out completely naked) and gather up her file and gun? That's two panels worth of usefulness max. I dunno what STORY author Robert McKee would say about that, but in ADVENTURES IN SCREEN TRADE, William Goldman advised us to start each new scene as far in as possible.
Minor complaints aside, if you're looking for a good crime comic with plenty of mystery, modern noir, excellent characterization, action and superb art, THE MATADOR # 1 is highly recommended.
BLOOD OF THE DEMON #3
Writer: John Byrne (plot)/Will Pfeifer (script robot)
Artist: John Byrne (pencils)/Nekros: defined as destitute, abandoned, deprived, useless, futile,
vain, ineffective, powerless and unable to respond (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger
Wow! In this latest issue of ANGEL, John Byrne gives us the battle we never thought we'd see: Batman vs. Angelus! Based on the popular but recently cancelled WB television series, you'll recall that at the end of the previous issue Byrne left us with the cliffhanger of Batman confronting Angelus - the evil version of Angel who'd been running rampage all over Gotham. So, this issue should kick off with that Batman/Angelus battle we've all been waiting 30 days for, right?
Splash page focuses instead on Alfred and Batman sitting around talking in the Batcave - which looks like a Tri-D chessboard from Star Trek for some inexplicable reason. But it does give us a chance to read another exciting recap of Angel's origin. Two whole pages of origin!
Page 4 introduces special crossover guest-star Willow into the story when Batman calls her for some magical help finding Angelus. However, it looks to me like it was just an excuse for Byrne to have the opportunity to draw Willow naked in the shower with strategic soap bubbles blocking out the naughty Vertigo parts. But here's my question: If magic-girl can basically make anything happen just by saying her magic words, why doesn't she just make herself clean by speaking an incantation? Also, why does she then do nothing but lounge around in her apartment wearing nothing but a bathrobe for the rest of the comic?
Finally, by page 5 the cliffhanger action picks back up with a nice shot of the bottom of Batman's boots. Turns out Byrne had done one of those annoying timestep-backwards-schticky-thingees he's been way overdoing …oh….since at least SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE. This time he decided to bore us readers by showing us that before Batman confronted Angelus at the end of issue 2, he and Alfred had a long talk about Angel/Angelus and had to call Willow for help finding him. Apparently, the Dark Knight Detective has trouble following a trail of blood and destruction. Pretty tough to do, all Angelus did was eat the face off a street hoodlum and assault the police in issue two.
Anyway, two more pages of big fightin' between Angelus and Batman. Lots of different views of the bottom of Batman's boots. As would be expected though, considering that Angelus has the supernatural strength and speed of a demon without a human conscience, Angelus is kind of beating the snot out of Batman. But the fight scene gets interrupted by a cut to the hospital where Maggie Sawyer (for some reason now a black woman and working in Gotham rather than Metropolis) and Carl Kolchak (apparently now working for a yellow-sheet in Gotham) are recovering from their scary encounter with Angelus back in issue 2. Wesley and Fred arrive on the scene trying to track down Angelus. They are assisted by the soul of Angel who appears as a floating disembodied head urging Wes and Fred on.
More of Batman getting clobbered by Angelus and then that weird demon-dude who caused the reemergence of Angelus back in issue 1 gets his own self killed in a gross way by a shadowy Morgaine le Fay.
Angelus does win the fight with Batman, but doesn't kill him. This allows us to glimpse a determined Batman hurling himself around the roofs of Gotham with a torn costume muttering "This isn't over yet."
A little bit more of Wes and Fred. A little bit more of Willow in a bathrobe on the phone with Batman. Exciting. Some bizarre subplot starter about a lady who's got an actual factual "angel" living in her apartment baking apple muffins for her. What? More Batman fighting Angelus. Willow tries to contact the rest of the Justice League to help Bats, but they're all too busy with their own problems. Particularly, it looks like Superman is dealing with a really ugly face, Aquaman is dealing with the fact that someone drew him with two normal green-gloved hands rather than the magical bluey hand he has now, and Wonder Woman dealing with eyeballs that have magically reappeared and a few missing stars on her panties.
Finally, the battle between Batman and Angelus comes to an end once Wes and Fred catch up to them. This is because Wes steps right up and speaks the magical incantation that forces Angelus to revert to Angel. Well, needless to say, Batman's still not too happy about Angel - doesn't trust that Angelus isn't going to get loose again and finish tearing up Gotham. So, Batman barks out a 12-hour deadline for Angel and his team to find out just what's going on or he's a-comin' after Angel at the OK Corral!
As an epilogue, we get to see Morgaine le Fey offer one of her face masks to the aforementioned street-hood with the chomped-off face. That's our setup for the next exciting issue of ANGEL.
Serious point: Back in the day, there was a COMICS JOURNAL interview with Byrne where he mercilessly took apart Roy Thomas for only writing what Byrne called "adaptations." As defined by Byrne, this was Roy taking stories and characters from other media, that Roy personally liked, and "adapting" them into comics rather than coming up with something new (for example, he cited the occasion when Roy took Wagner's Ring of the Niebelung and turned it into a story arc in THOR.) In fact, Byrne called it "self-indulgent [b.s.]" that had "destroyed [Roy] as a writer."
Using his own term definitions, can someone tell me how John Byrne's BLOOD OF THE DEMON qualifies as anything more than a self-indulgent, thinly-disguised "adaptation" of ANGEL?
ESSENTIAL DEFENDERS VOL. 1
Written by Roy Thomas, Steve Engelhart, Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Marie Severin, Bob Brown, Herb Trimpe
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Non-Buzz
Know, O Talkbacker, between the time when the dudes drank kegs of beer and the rise of the Sons of Knowles, lay an Age of Bronze. Unto this: Buzz, bong in hand, destined to wear the ridiculous title of @$$hole with a sarcastic smirk. It is I, his Chronicler who alone has enough brain cells left to tell thee of his saga. Come, let me tell you of the days of reading comics while getting high....
Long time readers of this column may know that I'm a huge fan of the Marvel Essentials line. I don't believe in taking comic books seriously. That ruins them. But they are a form of literature and art. The good folks at Marvel are making their classic and semi-classic catalogue available to us at low prices. That's a good thing.
If you're a new reader or one of those readers that hang out the message board of a writer who disavows any continuity except the stuff he personally created, reprints like the Marvel Essentials provide easy and cheap access to continuity. You say you worry about your favorite writer wasting his time reading old comics (which you deem crappy because he didn't write them) instead of writing new comics for you? Well, chances are, he's reading something. It may as well be something pertaining to his job.
Which brings us to THE DEFENDERS. My friends started talking about Devil Slayer and Gargoyle and Hellcat. I said, "Uh-uh. The Defen-DERS. The Hulk. Dr. Strange. Sub-Mariner. Valkyrie." It turns out we were all sort of wrong. Everybody seems to have fond memory of Marvel's second-tier super team, but not from the original era. I was thinking of a time when Luke Cage, Professor X, Yellowjacket and the Guardians of the Galaxy filled out the non-roster. Turns out, that'll be in Volume 2.
Two of the most interesting things about the DEFENDERS concept are, first, they never really regarded themselves as a team. Big gun Marvel loner types like Dr. Strange, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer and the Sub-Mariner found that time and again, they had to ally themselves for the greater good. Whenever anyone like Hawkeye or Valkryie expressed interest in joining, in this volume, they were told in not too polite terms that there was nothing to join. The Defenders were sort of like middle school dudes with homophobia so strong that they were even afraid to admit that they were friends.
Also, originally, the non-team consisted of three characters simply because Roy Thomas seemed to like writing them so much. DR. STRANGE and SUB-MARINER had been canceled, I think, so Thomas tagged them to another character he'd written exceedingly well, the Hulk, for a team. What could be better than a writer creating a team book simply because he liked the characters?
Like THE ESSENTIAL PUNISHER VOL. 1, a great deal of this book is made up of stories that took place before the lead characters had an actual title. Early, often reprinted meetings of the Big Four, from DR. STRANGE # 183, INCREDIBLE HULK # 126, and SUB-MARINER # 34-35 are included. Standouts include writer Steve Engelhart's work on "The Avengers / Defenders War" which Marvel reprinted in color a few years ago. Engelhart wrote both titles at the time. Toward the end of the volume, writer Len Wein took over and we edged toward THE DEFENDERS I first knew, with the Squadron Sinister and original Nebulon storyline. Your DEFENDERS may come later, I hope. Personally, I'm waiting for Power Man's first appearance (they had to pay him to be a Defender) and the beginning of writer Steve Gerber's long, weird, famous and excellent run.
Until then, remember, none of us are friends and we're not an organization. We just worship, mock, applaud and bitch about comic books together sometimes.
LEX LUTHOR: MAN OF STEEL #3
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Lee Bermejo
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Sleazy G
One of the lines that’s been blurred more and more over the last couple of decades in comics is the line between villain and monster. It’s due to the repetitive nature of the medium, I suppose: if the same villain just shows up periodically to pull off a bank heist, get beaten up by the hero, and then fades out ‘til the next bank heist, there’s no real sense of danger. Sometimes, though, in the attempt to ratchet up the excitement and introduce a genuine threat to the hero, the writers go too far. Each subsequent story with that villain must then continue to turn it up a notch until The Joker, for example, becomes such an inhuman ghoul that he’s no longer a character so much as a monstrous caricature. There’s a fine art to making a villain seem more menacing without going too far.
Lex Luthor has, at times, been another one of those histrionic villains who shriek about world domination while threatening the lives of untold numbers of people. If handled the wrong way Luthor could easily end up sliding down the same slippery slope as The Joker, leaving a huge body count in his wake and a bad taste in readers’ mouths. Brian Azzarello realized that wasn’t the best path to take the character down, though, and instead focused on trying to figure out what prompts Luthor to make the choices he does. What we get in this series as a result is a much more nuanced approach to the character and a better understanding of what Lex is really about.
Azzarello portrays Lex Luthor as a guy who truly believes he’s doing the right thing by defending the planet from an extremely powerful outsider with the ability to destroy all humanity has worked for. It’s a simple but efficient little device to get us inside the character’s head. Telling the story completely from Luthor’s perspective in no way alters the character, but it informs and explains it so that we better understand why Luthor is so obsessed with Superman. What we see is still an egotistical jerk that manipulates or destroys people when they get in his way, but he’s one who honestly believes he’s doing the right thing every step of the way. When he offers to help his janitor’s son get into a prestigious school, there’s no question he legitimately wants to help somebody who deserves his aid. The aid is what you’d expect from Luthor—bribes and threats—but it’s obvious that Luthor is not doing this because he’s eeevil. It’s just that he doesn’t know any other way to go about handling things. It’s a smart, logical way to make the villain more dangerous and more sympathetic at the same time, and it works especially well here. Luthor has always been at his best when using his intellect and power to leverage others into giving him what he wants, and Azzarello plays that up perfectly in this series.
The book isn’t without flaws, though. One of the primary sequences in Issue 3 is a one in which Batman, contemplating how to handle a chunk of kryptonite that has just been handed to him by Luthor, is attacked by Superman. We all know by now that Superman could have floated there doing that “I have great posture and I crossed my arms, so you *know* this has to be serious” thing he does so well and just talked the situation through man to man. We also all know these two respect each other far too much to have Superman flying around acting like he’s trying to kill Batman, knocking him off of buildings and taking a swing at him. It seems pretty out of character to me, even if he was trying to keep kryptonite out of Bruce’s hands, and it never quite clicks.
Still, that’s just one quibble in three otherwise very strong issues. I know some people are skeptical of Azzarello’s work, especially when dealing with the big characters, but in this case it’s unwarranted. He may sometimes have a problem writing the brighter, shinier heroes out there, but he’s long since proved he’s able to get a good, solid handle on the villains. Additionally, the art by Lee Bermejo and colorist Dave Stewart is killer. Different palettes are used to contrast different scenes in a way that highlights the events going on in-panel. Icy blues are used to depict the cold, calculated sparring between Lex and Bruce Wayne over dinner. Those scenes alternate with the oranges and reds of a heated battle between two very different types of hero. It goes beyond that, though: the art in the blue scenes is slightly less detailed and looser, similar to the work of a Sean Phillips. When we get to the fight sequences, though, the art is incredibly detailed. It makes Batman and Superman feel like they’re rippling with energy, and you can feel the struggle between the two. There are some really fantastic panels here, especially those of a determined but overtaxed Batman giving everything he has to hold on to an elusive prize.
Azzarello’s grasp of Luthor’s motivations and the way the art compliments the story has resulted in a miniseries far more interesting than many to come along lately in the Superman family of titles. Minor concerns aside, it’s a compelling approach to a character who deserves to sit at the top of DC’s roster of villains. I’ll take this Luthor over a maniacal creep in armor plating the colors of the Joker’s suit any day of the week. “A reckoning” my @$$...
SHADOWHAWK # 1
Written by Jim Keplinger
Art by Carlos Rodriguez
Published by Image
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Believe it or not, when the original Image books hit the stands in the early 1990s, it was a pretty exciting time for comics. No, not because of the variant covers/poly-bagging/insert your own '90s comic clichÃ© here.
The main thing it meant was more comics! New comics. New characters. If we are currently in the Age of the Writer comics-wise, that was the Day of the Artist. The big hope was an alternative from assembly line comics. Looking at the best work of such mainstreamers as Walt Simonson and Frank Miller, the idea of one person almost equally talented at comic book story and art seemed to promise a harmony and a smoothness that had been missing from your standard DC and Marvel comics. Independent, European, and Japanese comics, as well as comic strips, usually had an artist/writer. And many Golden Age comic books were written and drawn by the same person.
The problem with the original Image rebels is that none of them could write. They could all draw (stow your fanboy consensus thinking about Rob Liefeld. He can draw, he can conceptualize. If he could have gotten his books out on time and could have written, you wouldn't hate him much worse than you do John Byrne). But it's a little harder to tell whether someone can actually write, especially in a visual medium like comics is supposed to be. If someone can't draw, you can tell by looking. Lack of writing talent is easier to disguise.
Erik Larsen on THE SAVAGE DRAGON, Todd MacFarlane on SPAWN and Jim Valentino on SHADOWHAWK were better writers than their Image partners. To be fair, some of the Image guys like Jim Lee didn't even try to write but the writers they hired (whom I think were their lab partners from middle school chem) weren't much better. For some reason, though, the writing in the solo hero books was somewhat superior to the writing in the team books. Not good writing, you understand, but when you consider the comparisons....
SHADOWHAWK dealt with a faux-Batman vigilante who jumped off buildings and broke criminal's spines, which I guess was supposed to make the book like Frank Miller's work, except that Miller books were good. The most interesting thing about Shadowhawk was that he eventually turned out to be a guy with AIDS, who died. All those years before Judd Winick gave Green Arrow AIDS. Hell, in YOUNGBLOOD, Liefeld had Chapel turn out to have contracted HIV from one of his beaucoup groupies. Shadowhawk was supposed to be a better-conceived Batman, which meant that he came out as a more ill-conceived Batman. I remember reading an interview in which Mr. Valentino said something along the lines of "Batman is supposed to be this mysterious guy, but he drives that flashy car and is best friends with the Chief of Police?" Well, driving the car is probably the most realistic thing about Batman because even the best athlete in the world can't jump from skyscrapers. And how else could a vigilante operate on a long-term basis unless he had help from police brass? I don't care about realism in comics myself, but it did seem like efforts toward greater realism had the opposite results.
Mr. Valentino went on to become the publisher of Image. Under his reign, Image became the best breaker of new talent in comics. A lot of edgy and innovative books have come from Image. Some of comics’ biggest talents (Bendis and Kirkman are two that come to mind) had their first mainstream success at Image.
In the new SHADOWHAWK series, we learn that Shadowhawks are reincarnated and whoever wears the helmet gets the weaponry and tutelage of generations of past Shadowhawks. This is an Alan Moore-like concept and probably originated with Moore. Our current Shadowhawk is a high school kid named Eddie Collins. Big surprise, having a high school kid superhero since ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, huh? Oh well, John Hughes once explained that high school is about the last experience that most Americans have in common. Eddie is the opposite of Peter Parker. He stands up to bullies, is on the basketball team, and gets asked out by a teen princess in a short skirt. He's a little too opposite of Peter Parker.
As Shadowhawk, while going through a training session with the voice of a past 'hawk, he tangles with Blacklight, a hippie superhero who has been in a coma for 30 years. Blacklight looks just like Frost from NOBLE CAUSES, a fine Image series. He's out to avenge the death of his wife Day-Glo and is manipulated by unseen forces. In a move straight out of first year Image, a BLACKLIGHT spin off comic is already on its' way.
Jim Keplinger's writing, especially his dialogue, is smoother than Valentino's ever was. Carlos Rodriguez' art conveys fluid motion and brings the series up to date, although I prefer Mr. Valentino's original, rough and ready style.
In all, the book reminds me a lot of the cartoon based on Dwayne McDuffie's wonderfully under rated Milestone / DC series STATIC. Although Shadowhawk is white and his best friend is black. But otherwise...Not a bad comparison because it's a cartoon that is doing superheroes right.
FALLEN ANGEL #20
Peter David: Writer
David Lopez: Artist
DC Comics: Publisher
Man, DC just didn’t know what to do with this book, now did they?
Here’s a book that’s clearly of the superhero genre, but it doesn’t quite fit within the DC proper. It’s also very adult, yet isn’t really the sort of thing that jives with the Vertigo style. And when I say adult, I mean just that. It doesn’t wallow in adolescent-like violence, or engage in the sort of “Tee-hee-hee, we just said pussy!” variety. But neither is it the sort of book that could survive the trimming of these elements. No, this is the sort of book that has “Mature” on the cover, and it doesn’t mean immature inside. This was a superhero book for grownups, one that treated sex, violence, and the relationship between good and evil in a realistic and non-exploitive manner.
So, naturally, DC is canceling the sumbitch.
Not only that, events have conspired to rub salt in the wound. Issue #18 would have been a near perfect ending to this series, but we get two more issues, ones that play out as a pretty damn fun new beginning for the Angel and her city. This finale features an interesting tie to the city for guest stars Sachs and Violens, centers around one wiz-bang of a fight, and manages to quote not only Casablanca (again), but Groucho Marx as well. I should say it quotes Casablanca twice, since that final panel might as well have been lifted from the last shot of that classic film (Best movie ever made, by the way. Anyone who says otherwise should not be trusted with firearms or small children).
Sure, you may not want to pick up a book that’s already essentially dead. I wouldn’t blame you. Then again, what sort of excuse is that to not read a fun book? Not just a fun book, but a smart one that doesn’t pander to the reader, or make a joke out of things just for the hell of it. I know, I know, it says Peter David: Writer up there, but I mean what I say. And I’m sorry to see this book come to an end.
There are, of course, rumors that another publisher plans to pick up this book, starting it anew. Personally, I’ll believe it when I see it. I hope it does come back, though. Until then, We’ll always have the back issues.
NYC MECH: BETA LOVE # 1
Written by Ivan Brandon & Miles Gunter
Art by Andy MacDonald
Published by Image
Reviewed by Buzz Maverik
Do they even make anthology comics any more? And if they do, do the comics sell?
NYC MECH : BETA LOVE # 1 would make a great story in an anthology comic. It's got gorgeous art by Andy MacDonald and color by Nick Filardi. It has a droll sense of humor, an everyman bus driver hero named Quentin who happens to be a robot in a world populated by robots, and a slice of life gone whacko plot.
Starting with the cover by Eric Canete, NYC MECH is great to look at and great to read. We get to know Quentin without a lot of dramatics or exposition. Writers Brandon and Gunter are light-years ahead of so many big timers because they don't tell us everything. They know how to use their medium and they let artist MacDonald do his share of storytelling. We learn a lot by the fact that even the pigeons and rats are robots in this New York City.
Quentin's bad day, starting with upstairs neighbors blasting their hi-fi and the unpleasant jerks riding his bus, is broken up by a flirty punkette who hijacks his bus. What she does with it is a fun twist. And she promises to see Quentin for a "second date."
But it all feels kind of slight. Lots of pretty, gritty things to look at and a great, wry perspective, but the comic would seem superior if situated in a nice anthology with comics of similar length. HEAVY METAL used to do cool strips like this back in the '80s.
Still, the book contains so many superb touches that it's easy to overlook its' sparseness. The fact that it is about robots kept me riveted. The robots weren't played for laughs. It was more than a grown up version of the movie ROBOTS.
One thing: in this fictional New York of robots, like many fictional New Yorks filled with human characters, police helicopters seem to be nonexistent.
THE FLASH #221
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Howard Porter (pencils)/Livesay (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewed by: Prof. Challenger
You know? It just occurred to me that we're over number 200 of the Wally West as Flash series and I actually remember when the Barry Allen Flash series reached 200! Gah! Where's the Prof's walker? You know the one with the tennis balls attached to the bottom so I don't slip and hurt my hip? Or maybe Harry can just give me some of his hospital leftovers from his knee surgery. That might help me hobble down to the local comics shop without an emergency room visit.
Yeh. I remember when MY comics didn't deal with sickos reanimating corpses. Well, except for those Frankenstein's Monster stories, zombie and "zuvembie" stories, Arcane in SWAMP THING, um…well…. hurm, ok.
Well, back in the day we didn't have heroes mucking around with the minds of captured villains to turn them into blithering idiots - or worse - into good guys!
Oh yeah. I forgot about that…huh? Yeah. You're right. Doc Savage has been doing that since the 1930s. And he's actually been cutting into the heads of the bad guys and performing brain surgery to do it. That does seem a tiny bit worse than doing it the magic mumbo-jumbo way.
Anyway, the Rogue War continues in the seemingly endless darkening of THE FLASH.
Remember when the Rogues were just a bunch of kinda likeable bad guys who were more nuisance than dangerous - well, except for THE TOP and PROFESSOR ZOOM? No more. We're looking at Capt. Cold, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Capt. Boomerang, and some irritating punk kid calling himself The Trickster on the rogue "evil" side and Pied Piper, the REAL Trickster, Heat Wave, and Magenta on the rogue "good" side in a battle that gives us a really cool double-page spread of Central City getting demolished by these guys who are engaged in an all-out war! Nice artwork by Howard Porter, by the way.
Now, I can honestly say I'm not a FLASH devotee, but I've been picking up the series regularly since before the travesty of IDENTITY CRISIS. I've stuck with it mainly because I wanted to see how Geoff Johns took those events and spun them as it related to Barry's out-of-character involvement and the current ramifications. So, this is my way of saying that I'm kind of out-of-step with some of these guys. It does sound like this is the same Capt. Cold I grew up reading about, but now he's really deadly dangerous even though he's still dressed ridiculously and Weather Wizard may or may not be the same guy - I can't tell. I assume he's the original. But Mirror Master's been replaced by a maniac, Capt. Boomerang's been replaced by his own psycho son, and the Trickster's been replaced by some punky irritating kid. I'm really hoping the other Rogues kill that little Trickster imposter.
Interestingly, though, the "good" reformed rogues aren't all that "good." Heat Wave, who's been getting a lot of focus by Johns over the last few months, is going the schizoid route. His pyromania is really tugging at his mind to the point where he even blasts Flash with his heat gun because Flash was putting fires out. This guy needs to be locked up somewhere, not running around trying to be a hero. The Trickster's very serious and is now some CIA suit. Not sure how that kind of thing happened in the DC continuity, but then, I'm not Bob Rozakis. So, I'll just accept it's happened, and he's none too pleased about that annoying punk kid calling himself Trickster. The Pied Piper's flitting around tooting on his flute but is there some dictate from DC management that there always HAS to be some caption or speech balloon that makes a reference to his "sexual preference?" Sheesh. We get it, ok. Now stop hitting me over the head - my brain's starting to hurt. Finally, we get Magenta. Frances Kane. I know I'm out of the loop here, but the last time I even remember this girl, she was a blond teenager in an old early issue of the NEW TEEN TITANS back in the early 80s. Now, not only does she have a horrendous costume and an equally horrendous super-villain/hero name (MAGENTA: THE MAGNETIC WITCH), she's inexplicably gone from very blond hair to very brown hair. And why's she wearing a mask? Does she really have an identity to protect? Doesn't sound like it from Heat Wave's story narration where we discover that she's also nuttier than a fruitcake.
Here's the thing. This is just part 2 of a continuing story. But, it's an engrossing story. Geoff Johns, once again, takes these surface-level ridiculous characters and treats them seriously. He gives them all distinct personalities and personal struggles. Their interaction with each other is believable. It feels right. Even the uncomfortability of the new Rogues like Mirror Master and Capt. Boomerang mixing with old school Rogues like Capt. Cold is captured by Johns. He smartly registers Wally's shocked and frightened countenance when confronted with the Rogues unleashed. It’s made worse because he knows it all goes back to Barry's past mistake and Wally's own current decision to fix that mistake the best he can and deal with the ramifications. But, judging by what's happening to characters like Heat Wave and especially the not-so-shocking final panel appearance by Wally's worst nightmare, Johns is not letting up on the emotional torture of The Flash. Oh yeah, and am I the only one totally creeped out by the efforts made to reanimate the corpse of the original Capt. Boomerang just long enough to find some pertinent info that's trapped in his dead brain? To quote "Guy" from GALAXY QUEST: "That's not right!"
Really good stuff. It's not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure. If you want old school soober-heero stuff, this ain't the place. If you want RESPECT for old school with an eye towards rolling it successfully into a more mature 21st century-style storytelling sense, only JSA and TEEN TITANS beat it (both also written by Johns - imagine that). I recommend picking up the previous issue and this one so that you can jump right into this new story arc.
My one request to Geoff Johns: Don't keep Wally a car mechanic forever. That just doesn't ring true with me as a life choice for Wally West. I would suggest moving the "work" setting into one where Wally heads back to college. Plant him into a University setting for a few years and have him move towards that next level of self-fulfillment.
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Paul Pelletier
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
There is absolutely nothing more fun than a recruitment drive issue. One of my most favorite comic book covers was AVENGERS #221 which asked the ominous question: “Who will be the newest members of the AVENGERS?” (After taking another look at that cover, the creators behind the issue may not have known that a pre-pubescent Bendis was lying on his belly in the living room, taking pen to comic book cover and using this issue as the template for his FAN FIC AVENGERS series).
In GLA #2, the members of the Great Lakes Avengers bury one of their own and make the decision to bulk up their roster since those other Avengers turned tail and went to do all of their adventuring in the Savage Land and the living room of Stark Tower. So Flatman and Doorman decide to go where superheroes flock like pigeons above my newly-washed car – New York City. One of the reasons I love the recruitment drive issues is that a blueprint for what makes this team different than others is laid out, plain as day, for the readers to see. Who is asked to join, who gives a pass, and who actually ends up on the team tells the reader a lot about how the team is viewed by the rest of the heroes in the shared universe. Unfortunately for Flatman and Doorman, the drive is less than successful and the way they are viewed in the Marvel U? Unfavorable.
The strength of this series does not depend on recognizable characters or gimmicks or Quesada-hype. This isn’t a Big Gun book relying only on heroes people outside of the medium can recognize, not caring if putting the team together makes a lick of sense as long as it is marketable. GLA’s strength relies on story and story alone. And the credit rests firmly on the talented shoulders of writer Dan Slott.
I found GLA #2 to be pretty much the perfect issue. Not only is there intense action starring the embodiment of Death AND Batroc’s Brigade, but there are more laughs than you’ll find in any other comic this month. Artist Paul Pelletier continues to draw in a classically clean style that translates Slott’s humor, action, and emotion. This is a writer artist team that can do no wrong. On top of that, Slott takes a sly swipe at the industry and its current top dog Brian Michael Bendis by having a perfectly characterized Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Wolverine explain how they are loners and wouldn’t be caught dead on a super hero team.
My buddy and fellow @$$Hole reviewer Vroom Socko says that Slott goes on to pay homage to (or make fun of, you be the judge) a reoccurring POWERS motif later in this issue, but I don’t read POWERS, so that little fact meant nothing to me, but it may to readers of that title.
The most important aspect of this book is the fact that it brings light to every facet of what makes the Marvel U special. It is slightly self-conscious. It doesn’t take the material too seriously, yet tells a poignant story about a little team who wouldn’t give up set in a cosmic and marvelous universe of heroes and villains. Your heart goes out to these lovable losers who see it as their duty to carry on the Avengers name, despite the fact that the most powerful member of the team simply has the power to kill himself over and over again. This book is everything that I wanted in FORMERLY KNOWN AS JUSTICE LEAGUE, but didn’t get: A pure blend of comedy, dramatic charcterization, and action.
So why bring up Bendis in a GLA review? Well, I can’t shuffle through a Marvel book or look on a Marvel shelf without seeing the guy’s name. He’s the top guy at Marvel and the higher ups seem to be making his style of writing the norm at Marvel. And I find that pretty sad when someone like Slott comes along with so much energy, excitement, and pride directed towards the medium. Marvel is sitting on a golden egg and I really don’t think they know it yet. Writer Dan Slott could very well be the one man who can save the Marvel Universe from total and utter Bendisization. Slott is writing stories the Marvel Way instead of square-peg-round-holing Marvel characters into stories the Bendis way. He loves the Marvel Universe and all of its rich history and inhabitants. Slott completely embraces continuity and uses it to add to the story. He is to Marvel what Geoff Johns is to the DCU, filling each and every issue with action, excitement, and yes, the talky-talk, but evenly distributes it throughout issues that stand on their own! Whether he is giving a wink and a nod to Hostess Fruit Pies in SPIDER-MAN/HUMAN TORCH or making an obscure character like Squirrel Girl matter for the first time since her creation in GLA, any reader can tell that Slott is proud to be writing Mavel comics. His love for the Marvel U is infectious. This is no dour deconstruction. He’s not hiding the characters behind plain clothes or making them cameo cast members of their own book. If Slott is writing, you know the hero is front and center and proud to be there. This type of comic book pride is all but extinct in most other Marvel books who choose to make fun of or be ashamed of the medium, its fans, and the icons that made Marvel what it is today. Slott is putting fun back into comics and it should be Slott, not Bendis, who should be taking over the Marvel Universe. Forget NEW AVENGERS. GLA is the best Marvel book released this month.
BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE # 1
Written by Steve Engelhart
Art by Marshall Rogers & Terry Austin
Published by DC
Reviewed by Buzz: Dark Maverik
Have you read the 1970s Batman stories by writer Steve Engelhart and artist Marshall Rogers (who re-teamed for a kick ass run on THE SILVER SURFER in the 1980s)?
No? Okay. Run down to the Comicpalooza and buy a copy of the STRANGE APPARITIONS tpb. Read it. Then come back to this review. We'll play Bloody Knuckles while we wait.
Ah-ha! You miss- SLAP! Ouch!
Great. Yer back. Now, you know that Mr. Engelhart and Mr. Rogers are responsible for one of the best Batman runs ever. They invented Jokerfish, after all. You can see that a lot of what was good about the first BATMAN movie came from their work.
They're back. And the good news is that the Joker is running for the office of governor of whatever state Gotham City and the Simpson's city of Springfield is in! I'd vote for him. I'm sure he's in favor of the death penalty. And Two Face is waiting in the wings. I'm sure he's attached to the two party system.
Bruce Wayne attends a political fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who turns out to be engaged to Bruce's ex from STRANGE APPARITIONS. Her name is Silver St. Cloud, and while Mr. Rogers’ draws a beautiful woman. She has that white colored hair that hot women in comic books have but only the President's Mom has in real life. How many women in comics have that hair? Storm. Silver Sable. Clea. Let's form a list. Silver was definitely the model for Vicki Vale in the Tim Burton movie.
You'll dig the Joker by Rogers and Austin. He really looks like the character from THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, whom Bob Kane modeled his original design after. BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE is one beauty of a comic book.
I can't wait until Marvel starts reprinting stories from the Steve Engelhart era. He was their Bendis/Millar in those days. THE AVENGERS. CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON. THE INCREDIBLE HULK. DR. STRANGE. THE DEFENDERS. And more.
I only wish the Joke