Things have been busy in Yer Bunche's world, so I haven't had the time to really sit down and read the big stack of comics that's accumulated over the past two months in anything resembling a timely manner until the past week or so. When I finally did get around to it, man, did it feel good, kinda like I would imagine a long-deprived junkie would feel if given a clean fix. Anyway, there was a lot to read and not all of it was worth covering (some was just mediocre, so who needs to read about that), so here's the pertinent stuff.
THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN ANNUAL #1
As the history of Iron Man continues to be retconned to match the origin story from the first movie, I'm finding myself very much liking the tweaks and as a big fan of Iron Man's arch-nemesis, the Mandarin, I could not have been happier with this annual focusing entirely on him. Tony Stark's not even in it and I didn't even notice his absence. The story has to do with the Mandarin kidnapping an acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker and holding his wife hostage to ensure the filmmaker's cooperation in crafting a film that purports to tell the Mandarin's "heroic" life story as a cinematic epic. The film is to be made from the Mandarin's own accounts of his story and over the course of the issue we see the Mandarin's heavily revisionist take on his history contrasted against eye-witness accounts of what really went down, leaving us with a very clear understanding of the man's tremendous evil and megalomania. Also, for the first time in my decades of having read the character, I an finally convinced that the Mandarin is deeply emotionally scarred and is actually quite insane. Brilliant and driven, yes, but very definitely a madman. RECOMMENDED.
YOUNG ALLIES #1
Another entry in Marvel's Heroic Age creative thrust — whose stated goal is to restore fun to comics, which is what they were supposed to be doing in the first place — this slight effort introduces what appears to be Marvel's latest attempt at coming up with an answer to DC's Teen Titans. If that's the case, this doesn't even come close, but this first issue was an okay time killer. A group of disparate young heroes — the female Nomad, the de-powered Araña, Gravity, Toro (a man-bull version, not to be confused with the sidekick of the Golden Age Human Torch) and Firestar — unintentionally find themselves teaming up against a bad guy team of the illegitimate offspring of several "name" villains who call themselves the Bastards of Evil (best bad guy team name ever!), resulting in an okay throwdown that culminates in a literally explosive "To Be Continued" moment. Realistically, I don't see this amounting to much and will be surprised if it lasts for twenty issues, but it definitely does have a "fun" feel that will appeal to kids, and I'm all for that.
WONDER WOMAN #44
And so ends Gail Simone's run as writer on Wonder Woman and considering how it seems that the powers that be at DC may not have allowed her to work her scripting magic on the Amazing Amazon and disrupt the character's more-often-than-not dull status quo, I'm glad to see her go. If you've got one of the best writers in the biz and don't let her cut loose, then let her move on and concentrate her considerable talent on projects that let her flourish.
WONDER WOMAN #600
This issue's number supposedly reflects the total of issues Princess Diana has starred in since her first appearance back in 1941 and celebrates that anniversary with an over-sized edition featuring an introduction by Lynda Carter, some short stories of varying quality (my homegirl Amanda Conner's charming five-pager pairing WW and Power Girl being the best of that bunch), pinups that I mostly could have done without (the exceptions being those contributed by Phil Jiminez and Francis Manapul) and the launch of J.M. Straczinski's "new look" Wonder Woman in a story arc that erases her history, effectively removing pretty much all of the stuff that made her unique. I'll read what follows because I can do so without spending money on it, but the introductory chapter was generic at best.
THE WALKING DEAD #73
One of the best of the ongoing comics out there, this series continues its leisurely unfurling of its current story arc as our heroes settle into a functioning community of survivors they encountered a few issues ago. I won't give away any of what happens, but I will say that it's as excellent as ever and my man Abraham (seen on the cover) again proves why he's my favorite of the regular cast. The man don't fuck around...
THE WALKING DEAD #74
As per usual with this series, just as things begin to go well for our heroes, the shit again hits the fan. That's all I'm gonna say, except that I wish I had the next issue in hand right now!
Another over-sized anniversary issue that ushers in J.M. Straczinski at the scripting reins, this issue is pretty tepid stuff, save for a fun early encounter between the Man of Steel and Dick Grayson's Robin. I've occasionally looked in on the Superman books over the past decade and for the most part have not enjoyed what I've read. The stories to be boring long-form arcs that hold no interest for me and this issue picks up right after the end of the last epic, in which Superman fucked off from Earth for around a year, leaving his wife and job behind, and now that he's back, what's he gonna do? He's gonna voluntarily walk across America in an attempt to re-connect with a country and people that he feels he's lost touch with. What the fuck?!!? The guy's been gone for a year and now he's gonna basically separate himself from Lois and his Clark Kent identity and job for another indefinite leave of absence? Man, get me a wife and job that'll let me get away with that kind of absenteeism!
SECRET SIX #22
The best ongoing team book continues apace and Gail Simone's scripting mojo is firing on all cylinders as Cat-Man's off-the-rails quest for vengeance against the men who kidnapped his infant son reaches its violent conclusion. If you haven't been reading this series, go straight to your local comics shop and pick up the trade paperbacks of the previous stuff, along with the VILLAINS UNITED collection that kickstarted it.
POWER GIRL #13
All you need to know about this is that artist Amanda Conner has left the building, taking all of this series' life and fun with her. What remains in her wake is a mere simulacrum that bored the ass off of me. It's competently assembled, but there is no heart or charm to it now. I will not be returning.
MOUSE GUARD: LEGENDS OF THE GUARD #1 (of 4)
I've encountered MOUSE GUARD in bits and pieces and have found it to be quite charming, a trait displayed in spades by this first of a four-part mini-series of short stories. Very good art and a fun script kept me entertained and I will be back for the duration.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1
I've lost count of how many times this series has been rebooted from issue #1 and I've been an avid LEGION reader since 1973! Anyway, legendary LEGION writer Paul Levitz is back and I was not impressed with his first chapter on the current Legion, but that may just be due to the story needing an issue or two to find its footing. When it's good, the Legion is one of the most entertaining comics out there and Levitz was one of its surest helmers, so I'll give him a chance.
ADVENTURE COMICS #12
As previously stated, I've been a Legion of Super-Heroes follower for just shy of forty years and when I first discovered them outside of a reprint story, they were the long-running anchor feature in ADVENTURE COMICS, so it's only fitting for them to be there once more. This Paul Levitz-scripted story gives us Superboy early in his career, having recently met his peers from a thousand years hence and enjoying a day in their time in which he can finally cut loose and just be himself. It's simple, straight-forward and very much something aimed at younger readers, and I'm all in favor of that. For too long comics have catered to the grownups who followed this stuff since childhood and have pretty much forgotten the kids for whom it was intended in the first place, and I think there needs to be more kid-friendly stuff to go around. The old school Legion were young themselves and as such they were a perfect gateway into comics for young imaginations such as mine and many of you out there who are reading this. That was a special time in my youth and I hope that this generation's kids will find the same fantasy refuge with the Legion that I did. That's not to say that this was particularly outstanding, but it is certainly welcome.
JOKER'S ASYLUM II: THE RIDDLER (one-shot)
The JOKER'S ASYLUM short story series has returned and if this one-shot is any example of what it holds in store, I'll be there for each installment. In this outing, the Joker, locked up yet again in Arkham Asylum, regales us with the story of what happens when the pre-reformed Riddler falls in love at first sight during an art heist. His every advance is soundly rejected, so the Riddler decides to intensely analyze his inamorata and craft himself into the man she would theoretically want. Unlike the majority of the Batman's rogue's gallery, the Riddler is not so much insane as he's too smart for his own good and consumed with a need to prove to the world how clever he is, and when intellect collides head-on with matters of the heart, things cannot go well...
HATE ANNUAL #8
Peter Bagge's HATE was (and is) one of my favorite reads during the 1990's and was one of the very few comics that most of my circle of friends from college and the comics biz were somewhat obsessed with. The slacker anti-adventures of Buddy Bradley, his ultra-neurotic girlfriend (and later wife) Lisa and a cast of assorted fascinating losers is hilarious stuff, so if you haven't read HATE don't start with this annual; instead go back and pick up the collected editions of the previous stuff. You'll be glad you did and getting started with this issue would be like diving into a long-running soap opera with no prior clue as to who the characters are or what makes them tick. Sure, you can eventually figure it out, but an intimate understanding of their minutia is an essential prerequisite. This annual features a number of short gag pages and strips, but the main attraction is the nineteen-page "Lisa Leavenworth-Bradley Discovers Her Creative Outlet," in which the much older, somewhat less neurotic and married-with-rugrat Lisa starts up a Tori Amos ripoff band with another mother whom she encounters at a PTA meeting (they take Tori Amos songs and write new lyrics) and when they take their act out of the practice area and onto the stage of a seedy titty bar in a bad neighborhood, things get rather interesting. Also of note is an hilarious look at the cast's misgivings about the towering inaccuracies about marijuana and its use as portrayed in the classic exploitation film REEFER MADNESS (1936). RECOMMENDED.
GREEN LANTERN #55
After the seemingly endless and ultimately disappointing "Blackest Night" epic and the currently-running and utterly uninvolving BRIGHTEST DAY mini-series, it's good to have an issue of GREEN LANTERN with nothing on its mind other than a gorgeously-illustrated, bone-crunching, city-demolishing slugfest. While Geoff Johns does his usual skilled scripting thing, Doug Mahnke turns in a tour de force of violent mayhem as Lobo arrives in New York City to claim a bounty on the Red Lantern Atrocitus. That alone is fuel enough for a major throwdown, but toss in Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris (in Star Sapphire mode) and Sinestro, along with Red Lantern kitty cat Dex-Starr and you have a savory stew of fun badassery and crisp dialogue that is a joy to read. The icing on this cake of kickass is a short story detailing the tragic origin of Dex-Starr, and when you find out what fueled this once common housecat's burning rage, I defy you not to shed at least a few tears. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #49
Who would have imagined that the moment when the Cybernetic Alpha Lanterns inevitably went bad would turn out to be so boring? The polar opposite of GREEN LANTERN #55 in every way.
FANTASTIC FOUR #580
What started out as a promising return to form after a lengthy stint in turgidville continues a steady decline that may see me once again ditching my favorite classic superteam. This issue centers around a trip to a new toystore by Franklin Richards and his uncle Johnny (aka the Human Torch) with Leech in tow, only to run into the Impossible Man and Arcade, a character whose wad of interest was shot just over thirty years ago. Predictable mayhem ensues and when coupled with Neil Edwards' dull art, I just did not care. The only item of interest in the entire issue takes place during the ast five pages, when Valeria and the other ultra-geniuses under Reed Richards' tutelage present Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, with an intriguing possibility (that I won't spoil). Five pages are not enough to have made this issue worth buying as a whole, but the development at the end has me interested enough to give the FF another issue or two before I once again break up with them.
THE BOYS #43
"The Innocents" arc comes to a shattering end as Wee Hughie refuses to stand by and allow the sociopathic shape-shifter Malchemical to rape the innocent and childlike Legion of Super-Heroes parody known as "Superduper" and he suffers greatly for his chivalry.
THE BOYS #44
Part 1 of "Believe" gets off to a good start as the unwilling Homelander is conscripted by Vought-American to headline at a bullshit religion and wholesomeness rally called "Capes for Christ." Starlight (aka We Hugie's sweet lover, Annie) is also roped into the event and, having given up on her Christian faith in the wake of the atricities she's witnessed and the abuses she's endured as a member of supergroup The Seven, she's not at all happy about it and is surprised to find herself on the same side of the argument as Homelander. Meanwhile, Hughie's out of the hospital, mostly recovered and enjoying time with Annie, but as the Capes for Christ event nears, the couple's hidden-from-one-another secret lives are about to collide...
BIRDS OF PREY #2
Just as good as the previous issue, with Gail Simone and Ed Benes firing on all cylinders. RECOMMENDED.
AVENGERS PRIME #1
Easily the best of the "Heroic Age" books (which admittedly is not saying much), this Brian Michael bendis-scripted story finds Iron Man (in his 1970's armor), Thor and Steve Rogers (no longer captain America, but now in charge of U.S. security) dealing with the aftermath of the "Siege" story arc and the fall of the main city Asgard. After some back-and-forth bitchery between Iron Man and Rogers while they're supposed to be helping Thor seal off a mysterious and potentially dangerous portal, the trio are transported to different areas in the many realms of Asgard where they individual run into dire situations. Of these, the standout is the sequence where Steve Rogers makes his way into a tavern populated by what turn out ot be evil elves and when his allegience to Thor is revelead, the multitude of elves launch into combat with Rogers with the intent to eat him. What follows is artist Alan Davis having a field day as the man who was Captain America kicks the motherfucking shit out of every elf in the place, all while simply asking to be informed of where he's landed. When the smoke clears, a triumphant Rogers (was there ever any doubt?) heads of into the unfamiliar Asgardian hinterlands decked out in pilfered scale mail (that looks very much like that which he wore as Cap) and armed with a sword, a quiver of arrows (a bow was not evident) and a shield. Aw, HELL yeah. Meanwhile, Tony Stark is lost in the middle of a vast plain while attempting to repair his damaged armor (and jonesing for coffee), while Thor has the misfortune to land in the deserted Vanaheim and run straight into that Asgardian uber-bitch, the Enchantress, who magically kicks his ass (there's no one deadlier than a former lover) and swears vengeance upon him and his house. This is good stuff, made whole and fleshy by Davis' art, so if you're a fan of the classic Marvel heroes been portrayed at their best, this is definitely RECOMMENDED.
BRIGHTEST DAY #3
The back-from-the-grave characters do some disjointed stuff and...Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....
BRIGHTEST DAY #4
The back-from-the-dead characters do more disjointed stuff and...Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
TITANS: VILLAINS FOR HIRE SPECIAL (one-shot)
This annual-sized special sets in motion upcoming events in TITANS as Deathstroke assembles a team of hardcore badasses to aid in his vendetta against that monthly's heroes. Comprised of Cheshire (who's somewhat off her game in the wake of the death of her and Arsenal's daughter), the latest version of the Tattooed Man, Cinder (an Italian Human Torch-type whose ability to turn into molten lava renders her naked) and Osiris, the team's first assignment it so kill the Ryan Choi version of The Atom, which they most certainly do. It's a brutal five-against-one execution that illustrates each team member's abilities, and I can't wait to seem them unleashed against the Titans. And while there are those who will mourn the killing of Ryan Choi, I am not one of them.
THE WARLORD #15
This issue, drawn as well as written by series creator Mike Grell, is a treat for those of us who grew up with THE WARLORD from the beginning. The series just isn't as fun when the art is not provided by Grell, whose vision of his world is best realized by his own illustration skills and integral to its overall feel, so this all-Grell issue is loads of fun and keeps us interested despite the absence of its dead (yeah, right) title character. The heroic reigns are taken by Travis Morgan's son, Joshua, whose true birthright was only recently revealed to his parents (though long-known to readers, and while his adventures are fun enough, we're also given heavy doses of the character moments that Grell excels at. The moments between a clearly joyous Joshua and his psychically-linked newborn sister, Morgana, are sweet without being cloying, and they provide a perfect counterpoint to the impending arrival of an invading armada of space aliens. Definitely worth reading, but recommended mostly for those already familiar with the territory of this series' thirty-five year history.
I'm very thankful that Vertigo has the excellent MADAME XANADU series to provide the line with an ongoing book about a sorceress, because if they had been allowed to do Zatanna as an ongoing it's a good bet that they would have "Vertigo-ized" the character and made her all dark and depressing, which would have completely ruined her. This DCU-set ongoing series is scripted by Paul Dini, one of the masterminds behind the excellent BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, and here his deft hand is evident as he establishes Zatanna for beginners and old fans alike. Though an internationally famous stage magician, Zatanna is in reality an extremely powerful and adept sorceress who famously speaks her incantations in backwards English, a trope that makes reading her adventures a hell of a lot of tongue-twisting fun. In this first arc, Zee (as she's called for short) is called in by by the San Francisco police to aid them in the investigation of a bizarre underworld hit in a restaurant that displays horrifying evidence of occult involvement. Shifting into her magical persona, Zatanna soon discovers the hit was the work of Brother Night, a skull-faced mystical gangster who seeks to control San Francisco's magical underworld's goings-on, and once she makes it known to him that she has appointed herself protector of the human world and flatly suggests that if he crosses over into her realm again there wil be a conflict, Brother Night quite correctly considers himself "served" and the battle lines are drawn. Bolstered by excellent art from Stephane Roux — that makes me wonder how long he can produce such gorgeous work on a monthly basis — this series has gotten off to an engaging and thoroughly entertaining start.
Another excellent issue from Dini and Roux that picks up right where the previous issue left off, this chapter, entitled "Fuselli's Nightmare," depicts Zatanna's encounter with a nasty little dream demon who feeds on the misery he generates in people's nightmares. Dispatched by Brother Night as an intended terminal strike against Zatanna, Fuselli severely underestimates his target...
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #34
This J.M. Straczinski/Jesus Saiz team-up of the Doom Patrol and the founding members of the Legion of Super-Heroes continues this book's solid run of fun pairings of characters you never expected to see together. When a black hole destroys the Earth in the future where the Legion hails from, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl barely escape the devastation in a time bubble. Figuring that the only way to fix things is to go back in time and stop the black hole before is hits the Earth and consequently destroys the rest of the solar system, the Legionairres go to the Doom Patrol for help, citing Negative Man's bizarre energy powers as being the key to their plan. Despite Cliff (aka Robotman) sustaining some heavy damage in the process, the threat is thwarted and all is well...or is it? TO BE CONTINUED.
NAMORA #1 (one-shot)
Desspite a cover that looks like the Sub-Mariner's cousin relaxing in the BP oil spill, this one-shot featuring the apparently manga-influenced art of Sara Pichelli is an okay stand-alone work, though its story is kinda slight. Basically, Namora finds yet another lost colony of Atlanteans, only these are held in thrall by a mind-controlling monster/elder god of Lovecraftian proportions, and she must deal with the beast in order to free them. Not bad by any means, but nothing that can't be missed.
THE FLASH #3
The ongoing return of Barry Allen continues and really picks up steam as the Flash's run-ins with the "Reverse Rogues" escalate and the original Captain Boomerang discovers a new ability.
CAVEWOMAN: EXTINCTION (one-shot)
CAVEWOMAN, when handled by its creator, Budd Root, is one of my favorite comics, but Root's output could understatedly be described as slower than a constipated tortoise. The demand for his voluptuous Meriem has been met with a plethora of mostly crappy pinup books, stuff that I genuinely loathe, so when a CAVEWOMAN one-shot containing an actual story appeared, even though it's done by Rob Durham and not Root, I just needed to have my itch scratched, so I plunked down my $3.75. What I ended up with was a barely passable yarn involving Meriem and some of the series' kids dealing with some strange and dangerous monsters, punctuated by some staggeringly bad anatomy in the drawings of meriem's uber-zaftig figure. For those unfamiliar with the series, Meriem's build is pretty much a blend of a typical Frazetta woman and She-Hulk, only with a greatly exaggerated pair of boobs and an ass that would make Sir Mixalot's head explode. That's something only experts at drawing the uber-zaftig female form can truly pull off and for me that short list of artists includes Frank Cho (often a go-to guy for CAVEWOMAN illsutrations), Richard Corben (who I would kill to see do a CAVEWOMAN arc), Adam Hughes and Amanda Conner, alongside creator Root's charming D.I.Y. amateur efforts. Durham's art doesn't even come close to that level and it doesn't help that the story is middling, to say the least. Hold out for whenever the next issue of the Root-crafted CAVEWOMAN: PANGAEAN SEA comes out, but don't hold your breath while waiting; issue #0 of that series came out in 2000 and only a total of eleven normal-sized issues have seen the light of day over the decade between then and now, and the story still has not wrapped up.
This graphic novella, produced for the Italian market three or four years ago from what I've heard, teams veteran X-MEN scripter/hack Chris Claremont with Italian porn comics superstar illustrator Milo Manara and the results are exactly what one would expect, only minus Manara's well-drawn closeups of inviting labia. This tale of what happens when Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Psylocke (one of the least interesting characters in comics history, IMHO), Marvel Girl (Rachel Summers) and Storm go on vacation and run into all sorts of trouble features the usual clichéd Claremont masturbation fantasies involving borderline lesbian action (the girls clinging to each others' nubile flesh, but not in a sexual way; yeah, right) and S/M bondage wankery, and if not for manara's art there would be absolutely no reason to even thumb through this bullshit. And as for Manara's input, this is a case of him phoning it in. I'm hot and cold on the guy's work, athough I do think he's a talented artist and storyteller whose Italian sensibility in depicting graphic sexual content can sometimes be quite erotic, but here his illustrations of the familiar X-females are only distinguishable by reading the dialogue and the drawings being in color. The main characters' figures are virtually identical in height and shape and in many instances their faces betray that semi-Down's Syndrome aspect that crops up from time to time when Manara tries to convey "sexy." Utterly unmemorable and a frustrating waste of Manara's time and talent (I hope he got a serious paycheck for this one), this is not recommended, not even to the legion of rabid X-MEN fanboys who always wished for an X-book that was specifically designed to cater to their comics-related sex fantasies. As the old adage goes, "be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it" and one of my personal maxims is that a gilded turd is still a turd, which definitely applies here because X-WOMEN is a piece of shit.
BEASTS OF BURDEN: ANIMAL RIGHTS (hardcover)
Collected in a handsome and very reasonably-priced hardcover edition, this mini-series gets my vote as the hands down best mini-series of 2009. Chronicling the occult/paranormal adventures of a group of neighborhood dogs and their stray cat buddy, this book also includes the short stories that led to the series. If you haven't read this stuff, here's your chance and you will in no way be let down by the collaboration of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. Simply put, this is excellent and has charm to burn, so this one gets my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.