Saturday, December 30, 2017

REVIEW: Scooby-Doo Team-Up #33 (2017)

Regular cover by Dario Brizuela.
©DC Comics

DC Comics, $2.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 27, 2017

“The Ghost of Ferro Lad”
20 pages, Read Time – 12:35

by Sholly Fisch (story), Dario Brizuela (art), Frano Riesco (colors), and Saida Temofonte (letters). Edited by Kristy Quinn.

 BOTTOM LINE: It’s the only Legion we’re getting lately, so, don’t knock it! Besides it’s kinda cute, if you can accept not one Legionnaire is smarter than the average 7-year-old reader.

So, based on the name of this blog alone, you might be able to guess I’m a pretty big fan of DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes. And, as such, you’d probably presume I’d be a tough critic when it comes to something like this. But, no. In fact, I appreciate almost any love DC still shows for the Legion. And, hey, crossovers with Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny are about all the use we’ve seen DC make of the team these past few years! Plus, I accept some tweaks will be necessary when massaging the property for younger readers. Heck, I’m actually interested in seeing just how that is accomplished, as I remain convinced the Legion would make an excellent basis for a kids’ comic and toy line.

Any, hey, any use of the characters that doesn’t up and decide Mon-El and Saturn Girl are married now is at least not the worst thing DC is allowing to be done with my all-time favs these days.

Now, you will no doubt be proud of me that I resisted the urge to snark, "OMG! They're using the '60s Legion costumes with the '80s team logo! Worst. Comic. EVER!"

Still, I did find it odd that this issue depicts the Legion’s Bronze Age HQ on the cover, yet the Silver Age Clubhouse inside. Sure, I get that the newer version makes for the more imposing, dramatic cover image, while it’s the campy classic inside that sets up the usual “crashed rocket” joke. But, still, I have to wonder if any young readers came away confused by the change from cover to interior?

Anyway, the Legion comes back in time to get help from the Scooby Gang given that their clubhouse is being haunted by the ghost of Ferro Lad. Great set up! Okay, sure, you have to accept the premise of Scooby lore that these teenagers are world-famous crime solvers, and that even the Legion thinks Fred et. al. are better ghost-catchers than anyone they can throw at the problem — but, hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?  But even so, if writer Sholly Fisch handed in 100 LSH springboard story ideas, editor Kristy Quinn could not have picked a better one for a Scooby Gang adventure.

Still, I did find it funny when Lightning Lad reasoned that the Legion has “some geniuses . . . but no real detectives.” I’m sure Chameleon Boy would be interested to know that, given that he was stranger-in-a-strange-hat Sherlocking decades before Star Trek’s Data was even conceived, much less built.

Then there are other things, like Princess Projectra saying everyone on her planet can cast illusions. Okay . . . no. Still, I had to tell myself, let it go, just accept it for what it is.

And there were other laughable moments, like the Mission Monitor Board depiction of Bouncing Boy and Shrinking Violet taking on Darkseid. But I think that was supposed to be a joke.

I do appreciate that artist Dario Brizuela got all the Legion costumes right. Of course, I’d wager he was provided with a reference source. In fact, give that one panel of the Nolan brothers is a near exact match for a panel in the classic Adult Legion story, I can just about guess which issue he was given. I say “just about” only because I can’t remember if that particular panel was in ADENTURE COMICS #354, or #355.

Now, even though I was willing to overlook a lot, I still had to swallow hard when Velma suggested Ferro Lad’s twin bother might be a suspect in the haunting of the Legion Clubhouse, and the Legion was all, like, “Oh, gee, ya think? We never thought of that.” I mean, really?! And Brainiac 5 is a 12th level intelligence? Is that on a scale of 1-t0-1,000?

However, all was forgiven when we got to Dougie and he’s all, like, “No way, man, I’m not haunting you. I’m happy as a Jovian space clam living life as an accountant.” I literally laughed out loud. Of course, later on I had to wonder how much work it takes to become a CPA in the 31st century. I mean, Not-Ferro Lad is still a teenager, right?

The only real downer to the issue was the solution to the crime. As Velma ticks off the various things that might have created the image of Ferro Lad’s ghost, she mentions Green Lantern’s ring and asks if  there is anyone in the 31st century with a similar power. Brainy doesn’t confirm whether there is a GL Corps in the future, because he’s at least smart enough to know what a ball of wax that one is. So, instead, he points to the Emerald Eye. And that works well enough, except for this — Brainy literally says the eye was there each time the ghost appeared, it’s just that nobody noticed it.

Oh, really?! Are you actual Legionnaires, or are you Subs?  The eye was just floating there the whole time and nobody saw it? It would have been better if Brainy had said the eye was there, only invisible, for whatever reason. And maybe once they know the eye is present, Invisible Kid spots it, maybe because he can also see invisible things. Whatever. I could have accepted a tweak like that if it allowed for a scene to demonstrate how the Legion accepts even those with supposedly weak powers, because everybody can be a hero in their own way.

Still, however, the revelation was made, the subsequent fight with the Fatal Five was fun. Not that it was much of a fight. Would that the Legion could take down the Five this easily every time. But the real fun was how they defeated baby-brained Validus, who was suddenly less interested in fighting than with petting the Legion’s new puppy (i.e. Scooby-Doo). That one didn’t draw a LOL, but it sure made me smile. It was, after all, a shining example of why I like this series so much. It’s because, to quote a phrase oft-used by Kevin Smith, it’s “charming as fu*k.”

So, it was fun, I liked, it, and I wonder if Legion fan sites online will now list Scooby and the Gang as honorary Legion members, right alongside Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, Rond Vidar, Pete Ross, and Kid Psycho. Actually, a team-up now with the gang and their fellow honorary Legionnaires would not go unappreciated.

I wouldn’t mind a team-up with the actual Subs, either.

And that just leaves it to me to mention the art. It’s both a high and a low for this series, to me. I mean, Brizuela gets all of the Scooby gang exactly spot on-model. So, that’s a super plus. His super-heroes however, all seem to be cut from the same template, as if he’s just adding costuming tweaks to a computer model. Not that they look bad at all. I just wish he’d put more time into their depictions, as well. Also, except for the occasional establishing shot, this series rarely has any backgrounds to speak of, which somehow seems to reinforce to my eye that all of the non-cartoon characters are drawn on basically the same body and facial shape.

Also, it seems to me that Brizuela must draw this title digitally, and that, perhaps to save time, he cuts and pastes a lot of the Scooby Gang poses from previous drawings. Maybe not, but it sure seems that way when we get giant variation in line thickness. There are a couple of pages in this issue where the Scooby Gang are drawn in super thick lines, no matter if they are in the foreground or the background, in stark contrast to the Legion members sharing the same panels. So, it just makes it look like maybe Brizuela digitally drew in the Legionnaire to the appropriate size for a given panel, then dropped in a Scooby Ganger and resized it to fit the space, regardless of how thick or thin that made the character’s contour lines.

It’s not a huge thing, but it does occasionally draw me out o the story, causing me to miss sight of the art for the obviousness of the artiface.

And, finally, in our Bottom-of-the-Page Department: In my full review for Issue#30 I included a Top 10 list of most-wanted future team ups, some of which probably can’t happen, due to licensing issues. Now, I’m sure editor Kristy Quinn did not consult my wish list. Still, we will be getting two of my 10 — Angel and the Ape, and Stanley and his Monster — along with the Inferior Five, in #36, out in March.

For what it’s worth, the rest of my list included:

• Blue Falcon and Dynomutt
• Clue Club
• Detective Chimp
• The Dingbats of Danger Street
• Funky Phantom
• Goober and the Ghost Chasers
• Jabberjaw, and
• Speed Buggy (racing the Mystery Machine!)

So, to that list, to fill-in for my two taken requests, I now add:

• Bat-Cow, and
• Sigmund and the Sea Monsters

Now, Bat-Cow is, I admit, kind of a lark. But orders from comics shops have spiked for this series both times Harley Quinn appeared. So, I’m just sort of curious to see what kind of affect, if any, Bat-Cow would have on sales. Also, I think it would be a fun challenge for writer Sholly Fisch to figure out just how to work Bat-Cow into a Scooby story.

As to Sigmund, I really think the Krofft characters could make the basis for a really strong young readers line of comics that also appeals to adults. Elsewhere, you’ve probably seem me suggest Eric Powell, creator of The Goon, as writer/artist for an ongoing Sigmund series. But even if we don’t go completely that route, I still think its worth Warner Bros. licensing on behalf of DC, or maybe even buying outright, rights to the Krofft stable of characters. At any rate, featuring some of those characters here could be considered a test run for more Krofft comics. I almost suggested Electra-Woman and Dynagirl as the first team-up, but I think Sigmund & Co. probably fits in better with the Mystery Inc. vibe.



COVER: 8.00 | PLOT: 7.00 | SCRIPT: 7.75 | LAYOUT: 7.50 | ART: 8.50 | EDITS: 7.00

REVIEW: Aquaman #31 (2017)

AQUAMAN #31 (2017) — Regular
cover by Stjepan Sejic. ©DC Comics
DC Comics, $3.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

“The Crown Comes Down, Part 1”
20 pages, Read Time – 14:30

by Dan Abnett (story), Riccardo Federici (art), Sunny Gho (colors), and Steve Wands (letters). Edited by Alex Antone.

 BOTTOM LINE: Zero plot movement, but with enough atmosphere and political intrigue to make this issue well worth both the time and the dime. Plus, it’s SO pretty to look at!

So, when I saw this issue was not drawn by Stjepan Sejic, I was a little concerned. After all, ever since he came on board, Aquaman has been as cool as he’s been since the beginning on the Geoff Johns reboot. Even writer Dan Abnett, who’s been at the helm for the entire run of the current series, seems to have stepped up his game. You’ve heard me say repeatedly that AQUAMAN really needs to present itself not as traditional super-hero adventure, but as a fully-realized fantasy world. Basically, it needs to be LORD OF THE UNDERWATER RINGS, with Aquaman himself being a kind of Underwater Conan.

Well, they haven’t gone full Conan, not to the extent the upcoming feature film promises to, at any rate, but Abnett and Sejic certainly have delivered on mystic/medieval intrigue. Such has been the case that even though this is, like, the 42,948th time Aquaman has lost the crown of Atlantis and had to fight a despot who’s taken his place, it all feels fresh and new.

Part of that is because Abnett is finally treating Atlantis as he, or any writer should, as if the setting itself is one of, if not THE main character. This has been accomplished largely though development of the Trides, or different levels of Atlantis. Currently, Aquaman is trapped in the ninth, or lowest Tride — basically Suicide Slum — where the bottom feeders and mutants live, fighting his way back up to The First, where he can take down the current occupant of the throne. But interestingly, Aquaman is so insistent that he does not want the throne back or himself that he persists in playing a game that fools exactly no one, pretending he is not the former king, just some look-alike renegade. Thus, he’s not fighting for himself, but for justice, which helps drive the narrative in that super-heroic direction, even in this freshly remade fantasy world.

Vulko is back, and between he and the Windowhood — perhaps Abnett’s best addition to the Aqua-mythos — more than half of this issue is political intrigue, plotting, and planning. But it works as Abnett opens and closes with action scenes, with Aquaman first fending off soldiers from the higher Trides, then trying to rally the mutants, led by King Shark, to his side. So, even though we end the issue not one lap of the pool closer to resolving the overall conflict, there is enough feeling of movement among the various parts and pieces on the board that we don't feel cheated, as if nothing really happened.

If I have any complaint about this issue, it’s that we end with a Mera-in-danger cliffhanger. But he haven’t touched on her status, or really even seen her the entire issue. She’s just dropped in out of the blue as something we are supposed to remember from previous issues and now be worried about. At one point early in the issue, Aquaman mentions to Vulko that Mera is waiting from him on the surface, trapped outside of Atlantis by the Crown of Thorns. That would have been a good place to drop in a panel or two showing the reader what Aquaman does not know — that Mera tried to get past the thorns and was captured. That would have helped create some additional tension in the last panel when it suddenly appears as if she is drowning. After all, I think it was Chekov who said, “You can’t drown a Sea Queen in Act III unless you place her on the mantle in Act I.” And in comics, each issue needs to be a three-act play, not just one small piece of a larger production, so that readers can come away from that month’s chapter feeling like they’ve had a complete reading experience. And that’s especially important when each chapter costs $4 a pop.

And finally, what of the missing Sejic?

Well, don’t tell Stjepan I said this, but I think Riccardo Federici is not only a worthy substitute, he may even be a little bit better!

Of course, some of that may be due to the coloring of Sunny Gho. I generally prefer a more traditional approach to comic book coloring, but the painted feel here really boosts the wet noir atmosphere of this book, enhancing the idea that we truly are somewhere that exists as “a place apart” from the rest of the DCU.

AQUAMAN has more than held its own since being demoted from bi-weekly to monthly status. But now, just as Aquaman the hero starts to ascend the Trines of Atlantis, AQUAMAN the book deserves to start swimming back up the sales charts.



COVER: 6.00 | PLOT: 8.25 | SCRIPT: 9.00 | LAYOUT: 8.25 | ART: 9.25 | EDITS: 7.50

Friday, December 29, 2017

REVIEW: The Champions #15 (2017)

THE CHAMPIONS #15 (2017) —
Regular cover by Humberto Ramos.
©Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics, $3.99, 28pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

“World’s Collide, Part 6”
20 pages, Read Time – 8:30

by Mark Waid (story), Humberto Ramos (pencils), Victor Olazaba (inks), Edgar Delgado (colors), and VC’s Clayton Cowles (letters). Edited by Tom Brevoort.

 BOTTOM LINE: More an epilogue than a proper part of the tale, with a new Viv Vision born into a world where all adults are stupid and all the teens are Wesley Crusher.

So, this issue of really more of an epilogue to the “Worlds Collide” story than a genuine 6th chapter. Of course, that story seemed to go about two more issues that it really needed to anyway. That’s been a failing lately of Mark Waid, hitherto one of my go-to writers, whose name alone was often enough to cause dollar bills to practically leap out of my wallet and into the cash register at my local comics shop.

This issue has a bit of the same failing. The conversation and eventual confrontation between the now human Viv Vision and the less-human-than-ever High Evolutionary takes up seven pages — more than 1/3 of the issue! We could have easily covered that same narrative ground in half that space. Then we get four pages of the Vision, thinking Viv dead, at work building Viv 2.0. Conveying that info, even with reinforcing The Vision’s paternal grief, really only needed to take up four panels.

The problem is that the story was obviously planned out starting from  the last-page shock reveal. Because these days it’s all about the last-page shock reveal, not the story. Narratively, it’s not about the destination, or even the journey, anymore. It’s all about that transfer at the next station.

But from dead Viv to two Vivs, we didn’t really have a lot of ground to cover. So fill, baby, fill.

Meanwhile, we get adults acting stupid, which seems to be the theme of this book. Adults are stupid. It was much the same in THE AVENGERS before Waid split off the young members to form The Champions. There were a couple of issues where the adults acted so mean-spiritedly toward the teens, I was certain they were possessed by some entity that would soon reveal itself. But, nope. The adults really were behaving that much unlike actual adults. No wonder the kids split.

So, here, none of the Avengers seem the least bit concerned with the Vision locking himself away in his lab. Leave that worry to the kids. We adults are just here for the post-funeral buffet. Then, when the kids have a blow up over Nova deciding he should quit because he’s the only non-Wesley on the team, the Avengers are just, like, okay, whatev. Laters. You kids deal. Work out your issues. Check in on the Vision, t0o, maybe. But we’ll smell ya later.

Meanwhile, it falls to Ms Marvel, as leader, to convince Nova that he’s actually the most Wesley of them all. Sure, he’s not book smart, or computer smart, or even people smart. But he is deus ex machina smart, and that’s almost as good.

Now, I’ll grant you, the fact that the High Evolutionary has evolved into a living data stream — a being of “pure electronica,” as he calls it — is pretty cool. And the danger of him doing the same to the newly humanized Viv is somewhat suspenseful. Although one wonders why he previously “evolved” Viv from android to human, given that, in his new ideal state, that must be seen as a backward step. So much so that he insists on correcting it here.

And about that cliffhanger, which was the one and only point we were driving to, albeit at the speed of a funeral procession — having a human Viv and [spoilers!], an android one, certainly does present a host of intriguing story possibilities. I don’t about it to actually amount to much in the long-term, hence the fairly low “collectability” score, but ya never know.

I’ll also note, having complained about overuse of the Photoshop blur technique in this week’s issue of THE MIGHT THOR, that the trick is used to good effect here, in the smoke that ripples off the just-transported Viv.

Oh, one final thing — with the Champions in Viv’s back yard, and her in a lush virtual garden, there seemed to be a LOT of loitering around green backdrops this issue. Maybe that was done on meta-purpose. Maybe the safe space Viv got sent to at the end of the last chapter was supposed to resemble, in some way, her own back yard. But if that similarity was not completely intentional — and it’s not clear that it was — there should have been more to differentiate the two settings than a few colored alien fruits in the wherever it was Viv was until she wasn’t.

Oh, and one more final one more final thing: I don’t call the cover very successful. I only just now noticed that’s supposed to be the High Evolutionary’s face our heroes are running across. That’s really not clear at all. Nor does it make a lot of sense, even in an allegorical sense. Also, I still hate the Falcon’s new costume. So, that didn’t help.

Oh, and I lied. On more really and for true final one more final, final thing — the worst sin this issue commits (and it’s a sin that only reinforces my complaint of how little there there was there) is that it was only in my hands for 8 ½ minutes. At $4, that’s almost 50¢ per minute for my time. Phone sex is a better value for my entertainment dollar.



COVER: 5.00 | PLOT: 6.25 | SCRIPT: 7.50 | LAYOUT: 8.25 | ART: 8.75 | EDITS: 5.50

REVIEW: Dark NightsL Metal #4 of 6 (2017)

DARK NIGHTS: METAL #4 (of 6) —
Regular cover by Greg Capullo & John
Glapion. One of four alternate covers.
©DC Comics
DC Comics, $3.99, 32pgs., cardstock cover
On-sale December 20, 2017

“[no title]”
22 pages, Read Time – 19:15

by Scott Snyder (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Jonathan Glapion (inks), FCO Plascencia (colors), and Steve Wands (letters). Edited by Rebecca Taylor.

 BOTTOM LINE: I’m not exactly lost, but with so much appearing to happen in other books between issues, I’m beginning to not care overmuch about what might as well be called, DARK NIGHTS: MacGUFFIN.

There’s an old adage in crafting fiction — show don’t tell. And while Snyder tells me everything I need to know to understand what’s going on, I get to see so little of it that I sort of lost interest.

This is typical of any big comic book event, where the story continues and develops in a host on crossovers, one-shots, and ancillary series. Frankly, I’ve suffered from “event fatigue” since at least FINAL NIGHT. And yet I always seem to come back for more, kicking myself afterwards for not having been strong enough to resists. Yes, when it comes to comic books, I rank somewhere below G’Nort on the willpower scale. It’s getting to the point where I not only have event fatigue, I’ve taken so many kicks to the wallet, I think I have PTEF — Post-Traumatic Event Fatigue.

So, what do we have here? Well, since Issue #3, Batman has grown old fighting the bat-metal demon, I guess, as has Superan, who shows up with several other-dimensional iterations of himself, who are there until they’re not. We then spend a couple of pages with each of the super-hero teams who were dispatched last issue to find pieces of Nth metal. But in each vignette there are questions. I mean, I still don’t have any idea why Plastic Man is some kind of inanimate egg. That must be something that happened in one of the zillion tie-ins. Here, he’s just there, accepted by the heroes for whatever it is he is, and taken along on one of the mission. We also get some convoluted explanation for were Thanagar exists in the galaxy, which I presume is meant to be some kind of reconny fix for one of the 1,001 previous times Hawkman’s convoluted continuity was fixed by some sort of retcon.

Then we go along with the World’s Finest team while they have a long chat with Daniel of the Endless. I honestly am not sure if this guy is the former Hector Hall, son of what I still think of as the Earth-2 Hawkman, or Dream of the Neil Gaiman SANDMAN series. Or maybe both. Possibly neither. Anyway, it’s a nice chat. Although all I can think throughout it is that “Barbatos” sounds more like Bruce Wayne’s pirate ancestor than a reality-devouring demon. The gist of Daniel’s monologue is that once upon a time stuff happened, but all that is about the change. Yay, new stuff! But we won’t let go of any of the old stuff. It’ll all get amalgamated into one new big, shiny ball of every-stuff.


Then it’s “Meanwhile . . . “ time on the Rock of Eternity with Wonder Woman’s team, where Kendra Saunders tries to destroy the Anti-Monitor’s brain. Which they brought with them, I guess? I remember from a previous issue that all the immortal characters of the DCU wanted Kendra to destroy the brain because it will either hasten or prevent the end of everything — I forget which. What I don’t remember is where the brain came from. That seems like kind of a big deal and not the sort of thing that would have been just kicking around all this time since the original Crisis.

Anyway, Kendra, who has been known not as Hawkgirl, or even Hawkwoman, but as Lady Blackhawk since I don’t know where or when, suddenly turns into an evil hawk avatar.

Because reasons.

Then Black Adam shows up, which makes marginally more sense.

But we don’t get to see what happens next, because we have to get hack to Bats and Supes, as they are confronted by the evil Hawkman at the end of all time, because, you see, it’s the end of the issue and time for the cliffhanger — which I’m sure will get resolved somewhere else, with no more than a helpful expositional explanation in the next issue of this series.



COVER: 7.25 | PLOT: 7.50 | SCRIPT: 8.50 | LAYOUT: 7.25 | ART: 8.50 | EDITS: 4.75

REVIEW: The Defenders #8 (2017)

THE DEFENDERS #8 (2017) — Cover
by David Marquez. @Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics, $3.99, 28pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

“[no title]”
20 pages, Read Time – 11:20

by Brian Michael Bendis (story), David Marquez with Michael Avon Oeming (art), Justin Ponsor (colors), and VC’s Cory Petit (letters). Edited by Tom Brevoort.

 BOTTOM LINE: It’s mostly a Deadpool comic, 'tho that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It's Luke Cage's involvement in the origin of Kingpin that really breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Word on the tweet is that this title will be canceled with #10, once Bendis bolts for DC. That’s to be expected, I guess. By not giving THE DEFENDERS a legacy number of their own, Marvel pretty much telegraphed that this iteration of the team, if not the entire franchise, is more about the creator than the characters. For what it’s worth, by my calculation, this issue would have been DEFENDERS #236. To wit:

• 1-3     — MARVEL FEATURE #1-3 (1971-1972)
• 4-155   — THE DEFENDERS #1-152 (1972-1986)
• 156-180 — SECRET DEFENDERS #1-25 (1993-1995)
• 181-192 — THE DEFENDERS #1-12 (2001-2002)
• 193-197 — THE DEFENDERS #1-5 (2005-2006)
• 198-203 — THE LAST DEFENDERS #1-6 (2008)
• 204-215 — THE DEFENDERS #1-12 (2012-2013)
• 216-228 — FEARLESS DEFENDERS #1-12 (2013-2014)
• 229-236 — THE DEFENDERS #1-8 (2017-now)

But as to this issue: Meh.

I mean, it’s done well enough, but apart from dealing with Deadpool — who is fun without being too annoying, a blessing by itself — the Defenders really don’t make any progress on their investigation into Diamondback. And far from being the trigger that finally convinces Daredevil to reveal his true identity to his teammates, I would think all that unabated anarchy would only embolden Matt’s resolve to keep his own counsel.

But my biggest issue with this issue is the revelation — made for the first time here, so far as I know — that Diamondback and Luke Cage were present when Kingpin made his move to assume control of the Gangs of New York.

Now, first off, the decision to do those scenes in a different, “simpler” art style, and mostly in black & white to boot, was inspired. I just have trouble believing this is how it went down. Kingpin is supposed to be the epitome of criminal finesse. He really just showed up at a meeting and gunned down his rival? The Kingpin I’ve always read about would not have been anywhere near that meeting. Moreover, he have had plausible deniability five times over from having any connection to it at all. But even so, Kingpin would have taken over by backing his rival into a financial corner and forcing fealty to his regime. He would not have shown up to a meeting and been all, “Hi, I’m new; Bang! You’re dead.”

And, sure, we’re told Kingpin researched every person at that meeting, even the muscle, but I find that hard to believe, as well. Luke and Stryker were supposed to be nameless nobody thugs at this point. Would they really have been allowed in this room at all, even as potential muzzle fodder? And if they were, what about them would there have been for Kingpin to research? And come to think of it, wasn’t Luke framed for whatever crimes he was sent to prison for? If he was ever deep enough into actual crime that he could have been present for a high-level meeting like this, then he may have committed too many actual crimes to ever be truly redeemed. I mean, Jim Shooter did not invent the rule that if a super-hero murders a planet full of people, that hero must die. He was just following the model of Victorian, moralistic literature. And that principal carries on. I’m not sure I could remain a fan of Luke Cage knowing he really was a thug, any more than I can stomach the peeps on THE WALKING DEAD ever since the murdered a bunch of Saviors in their sleep.

But then there’s one more thing — and I fully admit this is my own fanboy baggage brought to the comic book table. See, I know full well that Spider-Man and Kingpin were around for more than a decade before Power Man made his debut. And sure, I get that the narrative gets compressed from real time, and ever moreso the further in time we get from original publication. But I just have a real problem accepting that Kingpin was still at this most primordial part of creating his empire when Luke Cage was around to be a factor of any kind. At best, Cage ought to have still been in high school at a time when Fisk was already fully established as the Kingpin of crime.

And also, am I misremembering things? Was Luke Care ever a NYC gang-banger? I always thought his roots ran in a more southerly direction.

Part of me thinks Diamondback was making it all up to make an impression on his criminal compatriots, since the story comes entirely from his POV.

Still, since we’re talking about suspension of disbelief — which is a major requirement (for me, anyway) of accepting this new backstory — I also had to laugh at Hammerhead being brought have to life. After all, not only was he shot though the skull at point blank range, meaning the back half of his head should’ve been blown completely off, a la JFK, but, by the looks of things, his cold, dead corpse has already undergone a full autopsy.

That, my friend, is a LOT of damage for The Hood’s l’il red gem to repair.

Oh, one final aside — I do enjoy how Bendis makes use of the intro page to actually add to the story, while providing additional insight into the characters. The narrative of the off-panel prison guard made what is typically a "dead page" in most Marvel comics, maybe the best one in this entire issue.

And did you get a look at The Punisher's booking number? I can only presume one-time Punisher artist Mike Zeck is a fan of Van Halen. "OU812ZECK"



COVER: 7.50 | PLOT: 7.50 | SCRIPT: 9.25 | LAYOUT: 8.25 | ART: 8.50 | EDITS: 6.00

REVIEW: Future Quest Presents #5 (2017)

Regular cover by Steve Rude
©DC Comics
DC Comics, $3.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

“Invisible Sun!”
20 pages, Read Time – 11:45

by Phil Hester (story), Steve Rude (art), John Kalisz (colors), AW’s Dave Lanphear (letters). Edited by Marie Javins.

 BOTTOM LINE: A simply gorgeous book that expands on what has hitherto been a paper-thin character. Is it wrong of me to want Birdman in the JLA now?

Up until now, FQP has had a kind of running sub-plot, with Space Ghost working to rebuild the roster of the now-decimated Space Patrol. This issue, however, appears to be kind of it’s own thing. That’s probably because a new writer, Phil Hester, steps in for regular scribe Jeff Parker, who will return for #8, following Hester’s three-part tale.

This issue is super-fun. Sure, working in Birdman’s battle call feels a little forced, but the tale of Birdman and Inter-Nation working to resolve who is bringing to life avatars of forgotten gods, and why, is a good one. The original Birdman cartoon shorts were wafer thin, of course, so Hester gets to add a lot of layers here, and does do quite expertly. I’m trying to recall which elements, if any, were part of BM’s appearance in the previous FUTURE QUEST series, but that was months and months ago. At any rate, Avengers cranky-wiseacre personality, the obvious crush on Falcon 7, and the memory loss regarding any life before the accident that made Birdman . . . well, Birdman, are all intriguing enough here that I find myself suddenly willing to follow a regular ongoing Birdman series.

At least if drawn by Steve Rude. 

And let’s not mince words. No slight to Hester intended, but The Dude is the main draw here. His storytelling is excellent, and his draftsmanship superb. According to the interwebs, Steve has had some personal issues the last few years, but if any of that is true it has not affected his drawing one whit. Seriously, when DC finally accepts my Legion of Super-Heroes pitch, Steve Rude is my first, last, and only pick for artist. Why he is not on a main DCU title full time I can't begin to fathom. 

It’s worth mentioning that Hester’s choice to have the mud god appear during a native reenactment ceremony was a good one, as it gave Rude a chance to draw a rampaging-natives sequence straight out of classic Jonny Quest. My only nitpick is that, but for one line in a single balloon, after the scene was over, I would not have guessed these were not aboriginal natives in a real primordial village.

But I should take pains to point out one other thing I truly do appreciate — Steve’s Falcon 7 is amazingly sexy, without being one inch of slutty. That’s not something very many comic book artists can manage. So, kudos!

Sadly, FQP has not been selling that well, and one has to wonder how long this title will last. If it were me, I’d go ahead and cancel it and revive DC COMICS PRESENTS as a kind of DC version of Dell’s old FOUR COLOR series, featuring a different licensed property every issue or three. Not just the Hanna-Barbera super-heroes, but its other characters in DCs NuHB line, plus properties from other companies. Can you imagine LAND OF THE LOST by Frank Cho, SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS by Eric Powell, THE BUGALOOS by Mike Allred, or H.R. PUFNSTUF by Skottie Young?

But really, just keep giving me anything by Steve Rude and I’m happy. 

I do wish this series was $2.99, though, and would happily accept a lower grade of paper to facilitate that. Heck, I actually feel this issue would have worked better without so many gradient coloring tricks on the backgrounds. But even done exactly as is, this series would be perfect for younger readers, which is the niche I think this series can fill. Sadly, the price point assures it's only moving to collectors, and the nostalgia factor can only ingratiate itself just so far into the pull lists of zombie fanboys.



COVER: 8.50 | PLOT: 7.50 | SCRIPT: 8.25 | LAYOUT: 9.75 | ART: 9.50 | EDITS: 7.00

REVIEW: Green Lanterns #37 (2017)

GREEN LANTERNS #37 (2017) —
Regular cover by Mike McKone.
©DC Comics
DC Comics, $2.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

“A World of Our Own, Part 1”
20 pages, Read Time – 14:15

by Tim Seeley (story), Carlo Barberi (pencils), Matt Santorelli (inks), Ulises Arreola (colors), Dave Sharpe (letters). Edited by Mike Cotton.

 BOTTOM LINE: A well-drawn murder mystery with high emotional drama . . . on another planet. What more do you want?

I’ve enjoyed this series from the beginning, but especially so since Tim Seeley came on board a few issues back. It’s real easy for Lanterns Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz to come off as one-note characters — she’s agoraphobic and prone to panic attacks, he’s a hot head — but Seeley has so far has succeeded in making these heroes  seem like characters with issues, rather than let the issues BE the characters.

He also makes a smart choice this outing to have the leader of Ungara (her name is never given this issue, and I’ve forgotten it from previous ones) do her thinking while sparring. That adds a bit of visual interest when the GLs show up for a chat, which is good given that the rest of the book doesn’t have a lot of action.

I am a bit confused by the commander, however. When we last saw her a few issues back, she seemed to be only a military commander, the captain of an Ungaran ship. Maybe a fleet. But this time out she is depicted as leader of the entire planet. I think I liked her better when she was middle-management.

There also is a bit of an ick factor concerning her daughter, Liseth Vok. Before, Liseth was made out to be a pop princess, basically the Brittany Spears of her planet. Although her exact age was not given, the strong insinuation was that she was the equivalent of an earth teenager. Even in this issue, she repeats that she’s too young to remember the great Ungaran wars that haunt her adopted mother. So, when Simon beds Liseth toward the end of this issue, even if she is the instigator in that encounter, it feels a little off.

There’s also a bit of off-ness in the visuals as well. Carlo Barberi does a great job, and has the kind of clean, dynamic style I prefer. And Matt Santorelli has a nice variation in his line weight that makes the drawings pleasing to the eye. But just as the appearance of Bolphunga’s pop changed from issues 35 to 36, the Molites, rescued by the Lanterns in Issue 34, look different this time out. I mean, they look mostly the same, except that they’ve grown by about three feet. It’s the babies who look like the adults did in their last appearance, when they were depicted as magenta space moles. I mean, the name of their old planet was Mol. How on the nose is that? Before they were two feet tall, at most, but here they’ve grown to more than twice that, at least, with one even depicted to be taller than Jessica! So, it seems editor Mike Cotton is either not paying attention, or else is just letting stuff go, figuring we won’t notice.

There are a few other things in this issue as well that Cotton ought to have caught, and said, hmmmm, let’s think about this for a moment. For one, Simon and Jessica go undercover to infiltrate the Molite camp, and, so, the rings change the color of their skin to Ungaran crimson. But then they are outfitted in work clothes that glow a bright green. That’s incognito imperium, ain’t it? Especially when sneaking in through a dark sewer pipe.

Also, when the Molites were rescued from Mol, we were told there were 10,000 of the race left in existence following the destruction of their planet. But here, in what is maybe less than a month story time from their last appearance, we see a nest with thousands of eggs. Now, suddenly, I’m SUPER curious to know a bit more about the mating cycle of Molites. Do they go into heat and all mate at once? Do they have super-short reproductive cycles? When their planet was blowing up, did that result in a lot of panic sex? And yet, somehow, I don’t think that was supposed to be the point of this story.

I also hope the point was not to depict the Ungarans as red-skinned red state tea partiers. Maybe it’s the current political climate we live in making me overly sensitive to social justice analogies, but I suddenly found myself seeing parallels to poor Muslim refugees and anti-immigration Trump supporters. But maybe that’s me. If I did not have the news media pounding the evil-Trump line into my brain day after day, I probably would not have given this plot a second thought as some supposed statement on current affairs.

Seeley does give some balance, by having the Molite Pope admit he stole some metal for his costume, and that he knew it was wrong. So, extrapolating that behavior to all, or most, or even many Mols, and we see the Ungarans have some cause to be irritated. It’s not just a case of, “They’re here, so we hate them. Make Ungara Great Again.” But, still . . .

Oh, and let me just say, I loved the cover. It’s not entirely clear to me if Simon and Jessica are entering through a force field, or rising up out of a pool, but, word balloons on a cover — YAY!



COVER: 9.00 | PLOT: 6.75 | SCRIPT: 8.75 | LAYOUT: 8.50 | ART: 8.50 | EDITS: 4.25

REVIEW: Marvel 2-In-One #1 (2017)

MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #1 (2017) —
Regular cover by Jim Cheung. The issue
had seven variant covers. ©Marvel
Marvel Comics, $3.99, 28pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

"Fast Burn"
20 pages, Read Time – 11:25

by Chip Zdarsky (writer), Jim Cheung (penciller), and John Dell with Walden Wong (inkers)

 BOTTOM LINE: Familiar tropes are handled with such deftness, it feels like the first and most important time we’ve ever gone searching for a missing FF team member.  

Oh, wow, this was a really good issue! 

I mean, count me among those who misses the Fantastic Four, but the search for a missing FFer trope has been done to death, as has Johnny Storm's penchant for pity parties. But here the transition from two family members who have not always gotten along, and have since gone their separate ways, reuniting to regroup Marvel's first family, is handled so deftly, that every panel feels like the very first and most important time we've ever covered this kind of narrative ground. And not only does Zdarsky nail the scope and tone of the story, he also perfectly depicts a pair of characters who, in less capable hands, are among the easiest in all the Marvel pantheon to let slip into stereotypical, two-dimensional dialogue and personal motivations. 

And let's also give a tip o’ the fantasti-cap to the artwork of Jim Cheung. Fabulous. It’s detailed without being too photo-realistic, expressive without feeling cartoony. I also appreciate the cross-hatching he (or more correctly, inkers Dell & Wong) uses for texture, rather than leaving that part of the artwork to the colorist, as so many comics do these days, and the fact that even when there is a lot of linework, every line serves a purpose — it's not just scratching in filler in the classic Image style, to hide weaknesses in the art.

I also have to say, I appreciate the handling of Dr. Doom here. He was written so well that I absolutely believed every word he said, and every feeling he expressed. And for that reason, the last panel shocker registered as the true shock it was meant to be.

So, yeah, while I still don't get why this was a #1, instead of #101, given the line-wide legacy numbering — and that kind of stuck in my fanboy craw — I really, really enjoyed this issue. If this issue is any indication of things to come, then, please, please, please, Zardasky & Cheung on a new, ongoing FANTASTIC FOUR series!   

Actually, it just occurred to me why the Merry Marvel Bean Counters didn’t pick up 2-in-1 at #101. They’ll probably count the first four issues of this series as an FF comic — notice the indicia title is "2-in-one," not "two-in-one" — allowing them to relaunch FANTASTIC FOUR at #650.



COVER: 7.25 | PLOT: 9.00 | SCRIPT: 9.50 | LAYOUT: 9.00 | ART: 9.75 | EDITS: 8.00