Books for Soldiers

January 5, 2007

Marvel: The Characters and Their Universe

marvel.jpgMarvel: The Characters And Their Universe, Published by Barnes & Noble Books, 288 pages, $75.00.

So, I'm walking through a Barnes & Noble store in Amarillo a few weeks ago, and I stumble upon a beautiful book called Marvel: The Characters And Their Universe. Now, I'm a sucker for comics history books. So, this incredibly beautiful leather-bound (or close enough to fool me, anyway) coffee table book,
with a colorful raised illustration of some of Marvel's greatest characters, drew me in at first glance. Upon thumbing through the book, generously filled with lavish illustrations and photos, I was quickly hooked and headed for the checkout stand.

Author Michael Mallory has put together a respectable history of Marvel Comics, starting farther back than most who retell this particular story, with the inception of Red Circle, then a pulp fiction magazine publishing company. And, considering the fact that the book chronicles Marvel history up to 2004 (the year of publication), it can be considered quite comprehensive.

One of the most attractive characteristics of this book, however, is that it not only covers Marvel properties in print, but in other media as well. Covering just about every incarnation of any Marvel character on big screen or small since the '60's, Mallory's inclusion of the company's Saturday morning contributions and live action prime time projects were a pleasant revisiting of many beloved memories for this longtime fan. I especially enjoyed some previously unknown information (to me) concerning the '70's television show "The Incredible Hulk," as well as the various TV movie spin-offs.

This gleeful walk down a brightly colored memory lane will bring a lot of pleasure to current fans and former fans alike. It would also make a great Christmas gift for the comics fan in your life.

Find it at Barnes & Noble bookstores, as well as online retailers and auctions, where great deals can be found. Heck, I got mine at B&N for $25.00, a third of the retail price! Who says you can't "geek out" affordably?
Review by Mark Allen

Posted by sferrell at 2:08 PM

December 29, 2006

Comic review: Metal Hurlant

Metal Hurlant.jpgMetal Hurlant #8/65 pgs. and $3.95 from Humanoids Publishing/various writers and artists/sold at on-line auctions, storefront and on-line comics shops, and at
www.metalhurlant.com.

Once upon a time there was a French comics magazine named Heavy Metal. It was an anthology title filled with beautiful art, often incomprehensible stories, graphic violence, and lots and lots of naked men and women. It went away in the good old U.S.A.

Then there was a French and American comics magazine named Metal Hurlant. It was also filled with beautiful art, but most stories were understandable and enjoyable, and the violence and sex was toned down a bit. It went away as well.

The eighth issue explored an American icon resurrected in the future only to be doomed by uselessness, a world where zombies are a commonplace nuisance, and a knight intent on slaying a dragon that is a little less and a little more than he appears.

Yes, there are three incomprehensible stories; all are possibly chapters in continued stories. Intriguing art does not save them from obscurity. A simple summary of what had gone before sure would have helped otherwise befuddled readers.

The art, wildly divergent from story to story, is all excellent.

Although Metal Hurlant is again extinct, there is much to recommend past issues to adult readers who aren't offended by crass language, nudity, and blood. This series, however, was never for children.

R. A. Jones is one of the writers in this issue of Metal Hurlant. He is a member of the Oklahoma Cartoonists Hall of Fame. MV

MINIVIEW: Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril [penny farthing press; graphic novel] Excellent art and story in the grand tradition of the pulp magazines of the '30s and '40s! If you enjoy the high adventure of the Indiana Jones films, you'll love Captain Gravity!

Order Vance's history of the American Comics Group in Alter Ego #61 at www.twomorrows.com.

Interested in the exciting Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection and Toy and Action Figure Museum? Go to fourcolorcommentary.blogspot.com/

review by Michael Vance

Posted by sferrell at 10:14 AM

December 2, 2006

Comic book review: Jack of Fables

jackofables.jpg
Horrors!

The original Aesop, Mother Goose and Grimm fairy tales we grew up reading have been redacted! Ad-mittedly, they were pretty nasty.

The new comic book, Jack of Fables, starts out mildly nasty and stays that way; its villain is quietly working behind the scenes in Fable-town. His name is Revise, and he wants to redact the home of all fairy tales, Fabletown, where Snow White, Paul Bunyon, and Jack Horner [aka Jack B. Nimble, Jack Frost, Jack the Giant-Killer] live with lots of fairy tale characters.

It's a lousy place.

Here's what's happening in Fabletown by the second issue: Jack Horner has been kidnapped, beaten, and taken to a prison camp, the Golden Boughs Retirement Village. A promotional blurb says he meets "the enigmatic author of his current dilemma: the mysterious
Mr. Revise!"

Here's the look of Jack: its art is closer to reality than 'bigfoot' comics, and the visual storytelling is competent, crisp, and interesting.

Here's the flavor of Jack: "Sun shining brightly through the bedroom curtains [thinks Jack]. Birds merrily chirping, and all that other happy morning crap. Give me a break." This as Jack lies in bed next to a naked Goldilocks whom he doesn't even like.

Horrors!

Yep, sex, violence, selfishness, profanity, and the 'everything is crap' mentality once again equates adult literature (i.e. the real world).

Here's real reality: life is full of joy and crap, not just crap.

Jack of Fables is a well-written, well-drawn, and interesting comic book; it can be a great one with some balance. Let's hope the creators learn the balancing act in future issues. There is much potential for great storytelling in Fabletown. MV

Jack of Fables #2/22 pgs. & $2.99 from Vertigo/writers: Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham; penciller: Tony Akins /available at on-line & storefront comics and book shops, or at www.vertigocomics.com. MV

Review by Michael Vance of "Suspended Animation."

Order Vance's history of the American Comics Group in Alter Ego #61 at www.twomorrows.com.

Interested in the exciting Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection and Toy and Action Figure Museum? Go to fourcolorcommentary.blogspot.com/


Order Michael Vance's history of the American Comics Group in Alter Ego #s 61 and 62 at www.twomorrows.com.

Interested in the exciting Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection and Toy and Action Figure Museum? Go to fourcolorcommentary.blogspot.com/

Posted by sferrell at 12:07 PM

November 24, 2006

Comic review: Grunts

gruntsGrunts, published by Arcana Studio, 32 pages, $3.95.

They say war is hell. You'd have to be crazy not to believe it. But, if you had to depend on the depiction of war in a comic book to prove that statement, you could look to the very first issue of Grunts from Arcana Studio to do so.

In said issue, writers Shannon Eric Denton and Keith Giffen give us a battle-hardened band of somewhat ethnically diverse U.S. Army recruits (perhaps draftees; who knows?), as they blast their way through German soldiers, get mistaken for the enemy and shot at by their own fighter planes, and encounter a battalion of seemingly-unstoppable German super-soldiers. In short, Grunts #1 is a war comic hopped up on super-charged adrenaline.

Not only that, but in the midst of all the chaos, the reader is actually treated to interesting characters. No small trick, considering the wall-to-wall in-your-face action. All of that aside, I do find myself hoping for a lot more background on the characters in future issues.

Artists Matt Jacobs and Eric Spikes present readers with a stunning display of talent, as they depict said military madness in a style reminiscent of classic Joe Kubert war books. The flair for visual characterization demonstrated in the renderings of Sarge, Tommy, Demartino, Fatty, Tug and McCann is as astonishing as the individual characters are distinctive. Additionally, the emotionally-evocative tone they set, using a generous amount of black and red, is chilling, and a perfect canvas on which to create the impressive work that is Grunts. I don't know who these artists are, but I'd swear they have many years of art gigs under their belts.

I should also point out that this team pulled off a great war book without the language that some readers and creators believe is such a must for the genre.

Grunts is highly recommended, but only for older readers, due to graphic war-related violence.Find it at comics shops, online retailer and auctions, and at www.arcanastudio.com.

Review by Suspended Animation's cMark Allen

For information on the exciting Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection and Toy and Action Figure Museum go
to fourcolorcommentary.blogspot.com/

Posted by sferrell at 4:03 PM | Comments (1)

November 19, 2006

Comic review: Andrew Pepoy's "Archie and Friends"

Archie.jpgArchie Andrews is 65 years old, but he doesn't look a day over seventeen.

The old codger is joined by his young looking buds, Betty, Veronica, Katy Keene, and Josie and the Pussycats, in the comic book Archie and Friends, and they are all just as hip, er, gnarly, eh, whatever, as the day they were first introduced. Their publishers make sure that Archie and friends never go out of style.

Katy Keene takes the spotlight in this issue and is every young girl's fantasy, i.e., to be beautiful, intelligent, accomplished, and admired. That fantasy is perfectly accomplished by artist and writer Andrew Pepoy who is every fanboy's fantasy, i.e., boy has he drawn everything over the years!

In this issue, Katy is on the red carpet at the VTV Movie Awards, nominated for "Best Kiss", and the place is packed by gently caricatured real actors and actresses whose names have been changed to protect the innocent, er, the publisher.

Pepoy's art is terrific, and he continues the gimmick that has made Katy Keene a cult favorite over the years. Readers design her clothes.

His art is reality based, clean, and attractive. His visual storytelling is fun, crisp and flawless. Pepoy's story won't win the Pulitzer, but Archie comics have never really been about plot. They are all about characterization and the experience of growing up.

Even for this reviewer (who is neither a young girl or a fanboy, despite the rumors!), this story is fun, and Archie and Friends in recommenced for preteen, teenaged, and old codgers who like to pretend they are young again like me. MV

Archie and Friends #101/23 pgs. & $2.25 from Archie Comics/various artists and writers/available at store-
front and on-line comics and book-shops, retail outlets, and at www.archiecomics.com.

Andrew Pepoy is an associate member of the Oklahoma Cartoonists Museum.

Order Vance's history of the American Comics Group in Alter Ego #61 at www.twomorrows.com.

Interested in the exciting Oklahoma Cartoonists Collection and Toy and Action Figure Museum? Go to
fourcolorcommentary.blogspot.com/

Review by Mark Allen of Suspended Animation
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Posted by mferrell at 8:46 AM

November 14, 2006

Comic review: Doug TenNapel's "Iron West"

ironwestcover.jpgIron West, published by Image Comics, 160 pages, $14.99

Cowboys and indians? Robotic cowboys and indians? A giant train monster!? Sasquatch?!? What in the name of the wild, wild West is going on, here? Well, I'll tell ya, pardner. It's called Iron West, and it's just about the strangest, most unique and certainly entertaining graphic novel to come out in '06. And, you've got creator, writer and artist Doug TenNapel to thank for it.

See, there's this here lonesome loser named Struck - wanted for train robbin', cheatin' at cards and makin' a woman wait for commitment. O.K, he may not actually be wanted for that last one, but it adds a little something to the character.

Struck is a loser who's easy to love. Not big on bravery and quite short on chivalry, his quick wit and friendly manner still manages to make him a sympathetic character. The fact that he finds himself running for his life in the middle of a whole mess of strange goings-on doesn't hurt.

During the course of the story, however, readers are witness to a transformation that takes place within good ol' Struck. One that makes him..., well, it makes him a better person. Kudos to TenNapel for the sharp characterization.

But, hold your horses a second, there, cowboy (or cowgirl, as the case may be), cuz that ain't all. That there Doug's a real crowd pleaser. He draws good, too! Ahem. That is, he illustrates great characters with an original art style that conveys action, humor and drama flawlessly. And, yet, if I had to describe that style in one word, the term "quirky" comes to mind. That's not a shot, mind you. It's a compliment. His art looks like no one else's - it's pure TenNapel. Check it out for yourself and see.

I reckon Iron West is fine readin' for just about anyone. Even the young'uns. Find it at comics shops and online retailers and auctions.

(Apologies to readers for possibly painful alliterations.)

Review by Mark Allen of Suspended Animation
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Posted by sferrell at 10:15 AM

September 24, 2005

Comic Book Review: Superman Shazam #1

Superman Shazam 1.jpgby Sean Ferrell

This book by writer Judd Winick and artist Josh Middleton is a nostaligic take on the DC universe, almost kid-like. I'm not saying it's immature, just that the look of the book creates a "golden age" feel, and the story, taking place as it does very early on in the current mythos lends it a wide-eyed adventurous vibe.

The heros that we know so well have only begun to emerge, and this is the story of Captain Marvel and Superman's first interaction. When "magical" artifacts are stolen from a series of museums around the country it creates a path of mystical signifigance. Superman's vulnerability to magic and Marvel's magical background will, of course, overlap in intersting ways, but that is for future issues. This first issue is merely setting the table. It does a good job of it. There's immediate mystery involving the stolen artifacts, and the emergence of the heros into society makes for a fun and historical review of their early days. I particularly enjoyed how confident Superman comes off, almost cocky. Meanwhile, Billy Batson is just revelling in his powers. Good fun.

Middleton's art is classy and classic (almost like Mike Mignola) and Winick's characterizations are spot on. As the DC universe hurtles toward Infinite Crisis it's nice to have a little glow of straightforward fun to balance it out.

Recommended.

Posted by sferrell at 3:13 PM

August 7, 2005

Justice #1

justice1.jpgJustice, written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger with art by Alex Ross and Doug Braithwaite, is (as you would expect with Mr. Ross involved) a beautiful book to behold. It also grabs you by the throat very quickly and tightens its grip as the story progresses. One of the best aspects of the story is that it doesn't take place in an "alternate" or "non-contemporary" setting (such as some of the more thematic stories that sometimes create great stories that don't take place in the current timeline). This feels very much like it's a part of the current stories taking place in JLA, Superman and Batman books, and even reads like a better companion to the Villians United mini-series (Villians United sometimes is a little too action oriented and not as compelling as it could be). Justice, while it certainly has a very thematic feel, gets right into a storyline that is current, electric and engaging. It's also very contemporary to our current world with people playing not so clear roles of hero and villian as they do what "must be done" in the name of "security."

Another nice element is the use of the heros as a foil to themselves. They are outdone by their own legends in a sense, and so while the heros do everything we expect of them you get the sense that they are conflicted by their own inability to be what others think they should be (the good husband, father, lover, or even hero). It's a dynamic that is often ignored, but which has become a very obvious throughline for most of DC's books right now (Superman, Superboy, Wonder Woman, Green Lanterns Hal and Guy, etc... all are undergoing a "what have I been doing, and why?" crisis as we head toward, well... DC's CRISIS!).

It's also nice to see a more grown up looking comic reflecting a bit of the attitude of the more action driven stuff. Too often the best artists seem to be put on the series with little action or cape flapping. I like seeing a well done cape, and no one does them better than Mr. Ross.

As you might have guessed, this is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

(Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 1:29 PM

June 25, 2005

review: New Avengers #6

newaveng6.jpgWriter:
Brian Michael Bendis

Artist:
David Finch

While this book just keeps chugging along I do wish that Marvel wouldn't keep putting characters on the cover who aren't going to appear, or even be mentioned, in the story. I've always been distracted during a story by deceitful cover art. I'll be reading along and I just know that there's not going to be the ALL OUT WAR between Captain America and Daredevil which appears on the cover (just made it up, to make a point), and by the time I reach the end I have been proven right. That's just the way marketing is--but putting characters on the cover who don't even appear in the book is another thing entirely.

How many times has the Sentry been on the NA cover? How many appearances has he actually made? I think he's been on as many covers as he has panels and that's not just false advertising, it's pointless. He's not a character that people are rushing to get to, is he? At this point, why not put the Hulk, Mary Jane Watson, and the Fantastic Four on the cover too? What about Daredevil, Dr. Strange, hell, The Beholder!! Put em all on!

Now that that's out of my system, this book continues to be great. Brian Michael Bendis continues to feed the story in a way that provides some insight into how dysfunctional this team can be even while working so well together. His use of Wolverine as the "modern day equivalent" of Captain America is genius (Tony Stark makes the comparison, arguing that in today's world the Avengers needs Wolverine, just like it originally needed Cap). And the schism in SHIELD makes for a very good, enduring mystery over which the monster-of-the-week will get the cover art (sort of like the X-Files enduring 'what happened to Mulder's sister' riding shotgun to Flukeworm-man).

As always, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

(Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 9:52 AM

April 17, 2005

review: "Detective Comics #805"

detective 805.jpgThis book has now taken a very dark, very interesting turn. Slow to build, this 12-part story is finally hitting it's stride. While I'm not too sure about how DC is using it's Batman villians right now (Mr. Freeze has played a role in practically every book right now, creating a bit of confusion in the "when" of the stories, and a bit of confusion about which books you're following), there's no question that the mystery of who we're facing now is the energy of this series. Now that Batman has had villians melt in his hands, where to go for the next clue (and does Robin realize that the sample Batman gave his was a person-yuck!).

Right now this and "Batman" are the only two Bat-titles I'd recommend. If you can only go with one, go with "Batman". If you can get two, get this as well.

(Recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 11:13 AM

March 31, 2005

review: "Countdown to Infinite Crisis"

countdown.jpgThis is it. For those of us who read (and read, and read) comics in the '80s, this is the book you've wanted. If you remember what it was like to finish a book and sit and stare at the wall thinking about how great it was, if you thought "Oh, my God..." and couldn't put into any other words how exciting it was, and if had that pang of disappointment that it was over, that you could only read it for the first time once, then this book is for you. This promises to be a leaping off point for the DC universe that promises to really, really shake things up.

Not much left to say. Go buy it now. Buy two (they are just $1).

(Can't recommend highly enough.)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 9:48 PM

March 30, 2005

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel #1

lex.jpgLex Luthor: Man of Steel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo looks to humanize one of DC's biggest baddies. Azzarello is proving to be quite the writer for Superman--his work on the Superman book has been tremendous. He's more intent on what's inside than what's outside, sometimes creating almost static looking moments as Superman has interior turmoil. That same inward looking eye is at work here, but looking inside Lex.

We're given Luthor's "heroic" ideal: protecting humanity from an 'unwanted, untrustworthy, alien' presence. Sadly, this fits remarkably well into our current political world-view (who can you trust--you, no one else). While looking out for the little guy he knows--we don't see who might be ground under his boot--the guy he's helping is so indebted that he can't afford to ever leave Luthor. It's true for the office worker. It's true for the weapons designer. It's like getting a job sweeping floors for $1,000,000. The work may suck, but what else are you gonna do and make that money.

Driving Luthor's schemes against Superman is his perception of the Man of Steel as an inhuman behemoth, something to be feared. Lee Bermejo's work illustrates this perfectly. Superman doesn't seem to be wearing his tights as much as he looks constructed out of them. There's no man behind the "S", only the "S" itself, and it's not an "S", it's an alien symbol being misinterpreted by humanity. Of that Luthor is certain.

Issue #1 was top notch. I'm sure there's more (and who am I rooting for again!?) to come.

(Highly recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 10:11 PM

March 13, 2005

review: "Action Comics #825"

action.jpgWriter J.D. Finn and artist Ivan Reis have created one of the best Superman stories I've read recently. This is a definite keeper. Superman faced with the choice: your loved ones or countless innocents. Add to that the evolution of Doomsday and Gog's shifting personality due to countless years to debate his choices and you've got high action and deep concepts.

Reis' artwork too is memorable. This is a classic hero story and his work is up to the task (in a way that Green Lantern's current mini- isn't, from my perspective). There are some great images, including a future battle shot involving Doomsday that has "poster" written all over it.

Great stuff.

(Recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 7:15 PM

March 12, 2005

review: "Atomika #1"

atomika01.gifThis is the first Speakeasy Comics book I've read (they are publisher for Mercury Comics, who created this Atomika book). I am very impressed. This has been described "an alternate past -- where the Revolution has become the State -- Liberty has been destroyed and the gods now walk the Earth", but I think they are selling themselves short by saying it's an "alternate past". It seems like this is about power and corruption (which we see every day). It's about how goals get lost and the machine--no matter how noble the intentions originally were--builds up steam and crushes those it meant to free. I see the dynamics of this story all too much in our current world politics, both at home and abroad. In short, even if this story is supposed to take place in the past, it is very timely right now.

Having made my little political soapbox statement, I loved this book. Writer Andrew Dabb has created a mythology that's compelling and disturbing. Sal Abbinanti images are equal parts dream and nightmare; powerful and evocative. The images, story and storytelling set it apart from alot of what comic book readers might expect (it's a bit more fablist than others), but it still has the feel of a mainstream book. Its more metaphorical than, say Superman, but that doesn't make it bad. The artwork is stylized as well, but it fits the story and is emotionally evocative. This book has left me wanting more.

I also look forward to seeing more Speakeasy books. From the looks of this one they know what they are doing.

(Highly recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 4:07 PM

March 8, 2005

review: "Batman 636-7"

batman.jpgAfter all the "Gang War" nonsense has finally died down we're left with the real purpose of all the cross-over-palooza: a pared down Batman universe with less "official" sanction of the Bat-crew. Barbara Gordon is no longer the eye-in-the-sky, all seeing, intrigue and tension killing voice in Batman's ear. The police no longer view Batman as an ally. The public doesn't know what to make of him. His sidekicks are spread out thinly over the city and outlying communities (Robin and Batgirl are now Bludhaven residents).

It seems that the reality of having a team that is so entrenched in the city and it's workings finally hit the editors at DC. With Batman as basically an arm of the police, with highly sophisticated intelligence and real-time monitoring of everything in the city (via "Oracle"), it created a Bat-world of gadgetry, but no real drama or tension. Batman didn't have to get out of dilemmas--he never got into them.

So, in the two most recent issues we have Gotham's new crime lord, Black Mask, establishing his reign, and we have Batman at odds with pretty much everyone around him. Seems like old times. The story so far has been best when dealing with Black Mask, who talks like he's halfway to being the Joker with funny asides as he threatens those around him, and Mr. Freeze. The Batman story so far is action based, which is fine, with touches of Nightwing admiring him, which is also fine; however, in order to hold our interest the story better have something at stake for Bats (enter Red Hood). It will be interesting to see how this leaner, meaner Batman pans out. I'm hopeful.

(Recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 10:03 AM

March 6, 2005

review: "Astonishing X-Men #8"

astonishingxmen.jpgJoss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is so refreshing that I almost don't know what to say other than "superb." Here's why you read comic books. This is especially remarkable in a market where X-books are so overproduced that the entire franchise is beginning to feel like a parody of itself. How many more books can Wolverine be in before Marvel has to reveal that he's actually 7 or 8 clones? This book is the exception: if you can only read on X-book it better be this one.

Whedon's story so far has been straightforward. There has only been one complete arc, basically reintroducing us to the team lead by Scott Summers. At this point Scott is fully involved with Emma Frost, Wolverine still doesn't like him, Beast is unhappily turning more inhuman, and so on and so on... But Whedon's also bringing back some of the most loved X-characters: Kitty and Colossus. This old meets new and the tension it creates drama inside the team as they try to care for students and present a better face of mutants to humanity.

Issue 8 introduces a second, more devious story arc that promises to be exciting and horrible--horrible in a good way. It is Whedon's ability to mesh fast, humerous dialogue with fast, nail-biting action that set him apart in the Buffy shows, and it works for him here too. I have no doubts that when it's called for he'll off a hero, bring a villian back from the dead, or make people switch sides so fast that the reader will have to put the book down for a moment.

Add to this the beautiful artwork of John Cassaday and you've got one of the best books out there. Whedon knows why people read the X-men, and he's happy to give it to them.

(Very highly recommended.)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 10:04 PM

March 5, 2005

review: "Seven Soldiers #0"

sevensoldiers0.jpgWhat I found most amazing about Seven Soldiers of Victory #0 (by Grant Morrison and J.H. Williams) is how quickly I connected to it. I never really felt like I was starting something new, but instead felt like I was coming back to familiar territory. Morrison has managed to create an artificial nostalgia, a sense that we're getting caught up on something we loved as kids, in what is a brand new story--it's an impressive achievement.

Perhaps it's helped by the use of The Vigilante as one of the "Seven". This gun toting cowboy was one of the characters from years back which DC acquired from its acquisition of another comic company. He's actually made a brief appearance in a recent episode of "Justice League Unlimited." As the leader of this group, an old and somewhat tired looking man, he gives an air of history to the group.

The nostalgia is also brought on by references in the story to the popularity and fandom that surrounds "heros". These B-level crime-fighters aren't driven by a thirst for justice, or a sense of responsibility that comes with great power; these guys are driven by boredom, or desire for fame, or hero worship, or obligation. They live in a world were heros go to conventions to tell stories to fan-boys, where fan-boys save their pennies to get magic rings, where a dominatrix costume becomes a super-hero costume simply because you're calling it that (the artwork aids this idea tremendously; everything has a worn, real-world quality). These people are more like us than Batman or Superman.

In short, this story isn't taking place in a glossy DC world. I hate to say that they've "Marvelized" it, but the thing I kept thinking when I was reading it was how much it reminded me of Bendis' work in The Sentry and that's definitely not a bad thing. This first issue (#0) is a prequel to what's to come: seven four-issue mini-series which will have inter-connections which create a larger arc if the all 28 are read, but each of which are self contained. After seeing this first step I have no doubt that some of these minis will lead to regular series. Regular series' that are grittier than we normally see from DC, darker, more real... and oddly, nostalgic.

(Highly recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 10:03 AM

March 4, 2005

review: "JLA Classified #4"

JL4.jpgI think that like some things from an earlier decade, a little nostalgia is great, but a little goes a long way. This throwback to the "mad-cap '80s" Justice League, while it hits all the marks and sings all the favorites, simply wore thin on me from the first few pages.

The JL was great because it broke away from a traditional super-hero vibe in an era when most of the superhero books were getting old, getting revamped, and the industry was entering a boom period just before toppling under its own weight. It was topical, and contemporary. The '80s were all about corporate movement, new world orders, and the end of communism. Now, the story doesn't seem to even try to fit into the contemporary setting. In a War on Terror world this sort of levity seems childish. Maybe its that they aren't trying to take shots at any targets, simply be silly. The JL used to throw characters against each other who you thought might actually start problems (Batman drove the book, and when he left it lost it's edge). This Batman-less reincarnation just doesn't do it for me.

Especially confusing, and horribly misguided, is the fact that it doesn't include the post-Identity Crisis-world DC seems to be trying to use in its books. Not that it shouldn't be funny, or that it should be dark, but Sue Dibney--The Elongated Man's wife--died in Identity Crisis. But here she is, yucking it up. When does this take place? Not sure. But it certainly doesn't fit the rest of the DC Universe right now.

(Not recommended.)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 2:13 PM

February 23, 2005

review: "Green Lantern: Rebirth #4"

GLantern4.jpgIt's hard to keep a good man down. At least that seems to be the message of this mini-series re-introducing Hal Jordan, the Green Lanterns and much of the mythology of the Lanterns themselves.

So far the story has been strong--though not perfect. Geoff Johns has had a difficult task: retell the Lantern mythology while revamping it so that everything that happened at the end to Hal (becoming a supervillian of nearly unstopable power) wasn't really Hal's fault. It's re-introduced the concepts of what the weakness of the Lantern's rings was caused by, what the weakness in the Corps was, and it's bringing back a number of Lanterns to the DC theater.

Johns did have an especially nice moment in the story involving Green Arrow. It's good to include him so centrally to the story given his close ties to GL: they were sort of the poor man's Superman/Batman team. But unlike Superman and Batman you never quite saw why these two would hang out. Bats and Supers begrudgingly see what they lack in the other, but what do GA and GL see? Green Arrow gets a peak inside the Lanterns' powers in this issue.

Given the scope of the story the minor issues with how it's told are forgivable (he's only got six issues). Less forgivable is some less than spectacular art by Ethan Van Sciver. Something about his style just doesn't fit the story, and I'm not sure what. I find myself looking at the book, especially key, emotional moments and thinking, "Oh, if only it looked a little cooler." The images sometimes look flat, and faces lose character (Hal Jordan sometimes looks like an aged actor). We'll see if that's something intentional by the end (after all, Hal has been DEAD).

I still recommend this, especially when it hits tradepaperback status. I think it will hold up really well as a compelte story.

(Recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 2:13 PM | Comments (2)

February 14, 2005

review: "The Incredible Hulk #77-78"

hulk 77.jpgWe all know that "Hulk smash." What else do we know? We know that Peter David was arguably one of the best writers that Hulk ever had. He was friend to Hulk. Well, the friend is back.

David's return to The Incredible Hulk is going to be immensely popular (it's not a spoiler to point out that the letter column in issue #78 is filled with people paying HOMAGE to PD while at the same time loading heaps of blame on the previous writer for his efforts--a set of issues I'll let someone else cover). Now that David's back he gets to telling a story that starts off simply enough: Hulk is on an island of monsters.

hulk 78.jpgDavid's writing has two great elements: first it is simple without being simplistic. Hulk is a monster, he has massive strength, and he's more in tune with his fists than any other part of his body. David lets him use them in a story that makes the reader say "huh-wha?!?" without spending lots of time making the characters ponder. They're too busy running for their lives. That keeps the action going and the pages turning.

Second, Hulk's "ignorant self-awareness". What I mean is that Hulk is also an incredibly complex character, and he knows it--he just doesn't know HOW complex. He's like a guy at the bar who's telling strangers "You think you're screwed up!? Listen to what I got at home..." then freaking them out by revealing waaaay too much about himself. He's not concerned about figuring himself out, but it seems to be all he does. He's a walking psycholgists office: both telling and listening to his own set of problems.

Added to this is Lee Weeks's nice artwork. I'm seeing a trend away from the over muscled hyper-strong look and back to simply the "he's-so-big-he's-as-strong-as-he-wants-to-be" Hulk, which I prefer. I don't need to see his inner-anterior-deltoid (a muscle used when making made up muscle-names) to know he can create thunder when he claps his hands. Weeks creates a simple and effective image that conveys the mystery and drama of the exterior and interior fight that Hulk is engaged in.

And all while on a crazy monster island. Good stuff.

(Recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 8:49 PM

February 7, 2005

review: "Black Panther #1"

blackpanther.jpgWhat a cool way to start up a new series. I came to this title not wanting or expecting anything; completely open to whatever they might do. What they've done is created a historical and in some ways hysterical re-introduction to the Wakandan hero, Black Panther.

Writer Reginald Hudlin isn't shying away from social commentary and parody. The racism of colonization, of invasion, and modern day geo-political endeavors are used for dramatic energy and purpose. It's funny too (especially when a US General is told about the time Captain America got his shield handed to him when going toe to toe with BP during WW2).

The mystery of what is going on in Wakanda is interesting and should prove to drive the book, I imagine. The unused oil reserves of Wakanda (they have "some other energy source") are an enticement to Western concerns and the US doesn't seem interested in waiting for Wakanda to invite them over.

As for the art: artist John Romita Jr. has entered that area where you don't even need to mention how great he is except to remind people how great he is. Wonderful stuff. I was sorry it was over so fast, and I look forward to the next installment.

(Recommended.)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 1:54 PM | Comments (2)

February 6, 2005

review: "Detective Comics #803"

detective803.jpgAfter the "War Games" maxi-series bored me to tears I thought about dropping most every Batman title from my shopping list. The problem with War Games, other than the blatantly obvious marketing trickery of it, and the fact that much of the art stank, was that it was over-long (as a direct result of the marketing gimmick making it cover two or three issues of every Bat-Title). By the end very little was happening and it was taking forever for it to not happen. Instead of getting 12 issues of cross-over fun we had to be sold on 36 issues of crap with weak writing, lousy art and commercial excess.

So, what does all this have to do with Detective Comics #803? Not a lot, except this: this is a pretty good Bat-tale. It's dark (very dark actually) and it centers on Batman doing his thing. He's piecing together a mystery, he's angry about where it's leading him, and he's doing nasty things to nasty people to do it. One great scene gives us the Batman we've been missing scaring the be-jeezus out of a bar full of people when he throws a guy through the window and quietly explains that everyone but the guy he wants may leave in an orderly fashion. They leave.

DC needs to cut back on the attempts to get every red cent out of my pocket and let the quality of the merchandise do it for them. They've got some really great books right now (Superman, Superman Batman, the GL mini-series, Teen Titans). Why not get ONE really great writer to handle one or two of the Bat-books, let a rotating bevy of guest writers do the job on one or two others, phase out the rest and make Batman fans hunger for him a bit more. Right now it's like a meat-lover going to an all you can eat barbeque. Sure it's fun, for the first two servings. But then.... ugh.

(Recommended over most of the other Bat-titles.)
(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 4:43 PM

February 4, 2005

review: "Superman Batman #17"

supermanbatman17.jpgThis series is arguably one of the top three out there right now. Writer Jeph Loeb has been doing the best characterization for both of these heros. His Superman is somewhat alien and detached, looking for connections; his Batman is angry and removed, looking to break them. They know each other so well, but continue to surprise one another. They look at each other with respect and friendship, but there's also the hint of sadness and even jealousy. A sort of, "Why don't I have more of what he has?" comes from both sides.

This characterization of Batman is especially compelling, and in many ways better than what most of the Batman books have been providing (for the most part it seems that the Batman books are interested in the flair of the villians rather than the motivations of the hero--the current Riddler storyline in Legends of the Dark Knight being one example). With so many Batman books out there it feels like he's overexposed. But Loeb has a Batman who is utterly devoted to his cause AND conflicted. Impressive.

Meanwhile, artist Carlos Pacheco's work is reminiscent of classic comics, everyone rendered in a sort of idealized human form. Combined with the current complicated and dark storyline it forms a sort of Greek tragedy--the man is the father of the boy, who in turn becomes the man. It is emotive and entertaining.

I hope that this team continues (I mean both teams actually: Supes and Bats; Loeb and Pacheco) for a long, long time.

Very highly recommended.

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 10:14 AM | Comments (2)

February 3, 2005

review: "New Avengers #3"

newavengers.jpgWhat can I say? When you see him on the cover, you want more of him in the book. Still, even without much of the Sentry in it, this is a great issue of what should be a great book. I was a fan of the Avengers before. But, like any "group" book, you eventually hit a point where you have more people who are on the team than off the team. In the end, how many heros were considered an Avenger? Last count was around a million.

This reconstruction of the team, by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Finch, is not one to miss. (As an aside, am I developing a fixation with Brian Michael Bendis? I can't get enough of his Daredevil books and now this? Should he be worried?) This issue takes a slower, more methodical approach to the story than the previous two issues. The jailbreak on "The Raft", the super-villian high-security prison island, is through and the entire experience is making Captain America realize the necessity of an Avengers team. He convinces Tony Stark that those who helped squash the prison break should be the new team. This issue's story is the round-up of those involved.

One of the nicer elements is the inclusion of Luke Cage. Somewhat of a B-level hero for a long time Bendis has him smartly demanding "to be heard." He clearly wants a leadership role and that's going to be interesting. It's also exciting to see who's approached and what their responses are. Bendis and the editors at Marvel have clearly mapped out a grand scheme of how their top tier heros would respond to each other and Bendis does a great job of capturing it.

All in all a great issue, with just that one minor itch I can't seem to reach... he's on the friggin' cover for crying out loud!

Highly recommended.

(Review by Sean Ferrell)

Read my review of "The Sentry".

Posted by sferrell at 2:52 PM

January 29, 2005

review: Daredevil "Golden Age"

DD69.jpgThe current story arc in Daredevil (from Marvel Comics), "Golden Age", written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Alex Maleev, has been a phenomenal batch of issues. Recently released issue #69 is the penultimate issue to this five-part piece which spans both the contemporary and the golden age of Daredevil comics. With wonderful use of retro imagry to evoke multiple eras (the hyper-pixellated images look just like comics from the pulp-paper and four color printing days, reminding me of the book's look when I was a kid and making me feel incredibly old at the same time) the story has introduced Bont, a pre-Kingpin kingpin, who made a name for himself by gunning-down a WWII era hero. Ruling Hell's Kitchen with a bloody and iron fist he brings all criminal bosses under his rule and leads them to power and money previously unmatched.

DD66-68.jpgOf course, Daredevil plays a role in foiling Bont's empire and Bendis cleverly uses images and
storylines (and characters, notice his use of The Gladiator) from earlier writers as the backbone of his Bont story. With spot-on Frank Miller-esque techniques Maleev's art and Bendis' words do capture the sense of what it was like to read the comics from several decades ago, and having that mesh and conflict with the realities of today's books (how is it possible that Matt Murdock hasn't aged a day, or that his life hasn't progressed all that much from when he first meets Bont) are part of the story, constantly reminding us that we're reading a comic. It's a reminder to pay attention to the fun we're having while we're having fun.

Bont's imprisonment and grudge-holding lasts for decades, and when he's finally released he's an old man. He finds a new world, one he doesn't recognize and which doesn't recognize him. But part of the brilliance of this arc is the merging of old and new. Bont is using MGH--Mutant Growth Hormone. With his insanely monstrous hatred matched by his insanely monstrous strength he's able to bully his old cronies into helping him get a hold of Daredevil.

Truly interesting is the use of time: Bendis bounces us back and forth and creates jumps that are meant to remind us of the comic-book-nature of the story. Everything could be happening right now and the fact that we need constant tags to remind us of "when" we are shows that. I don't think that is accidental. It feels like Bendis wants us aware of how the world around Bont is one that doesn't fit his "story" of himself. I think Bendis wants us to realize that how the world of a comic fits the era of the reader and the era of the hero inside is constructed by the reader as much as the writer. How does the comic-book-world of Hell's kitchen, which for forty years has had Daredevil in it, fit him? How does it fit us? The book has gotten very complex over the years, with a lot of history, and even though the "restarted" the series a few years back it's still very much the DD of yesteryear... it's also not.

Part five should wrap this up nicely. (Highly recommended)

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 4:56 PM | Comments (2)

January 28, 2005

review: "The Sentry"

sentry.jpgWhen doing a history Marvel's heros you would follow a web of linkages between characters that would repeat and loop back upon itself, but you would not find that first pivotal starting point, no one "primary" character who started it all. You wouldn't, unless you count The Sentry by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee.

When Marvel put together the Sentry mini-series and the one-shot cross-overs in Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and X-Men they revised their own history to include one main hero who taught all the others by his shining example. What Marvel created is in fact a wonderful revision and recasting of not only the heroic universe at hand but the idea of heroism in general, and the personal stake individuals have toward themselves and the greater good. The story reflects on how memory plays into our sense of self, how we rely upon relationships to steady and maintain us, and how overcoming trauma is both simpler and harder than we can sometimes imagine.

Jenkins' story is gripping without melodrama; in fact, toward the end it loses some energy--but I think that's in part due to his focus: this isn't about battle, it's about the preparation. Jenkins provides us with a character in The Sentry/Rob Reynolds who is not only flawed, he's dangerous. People who've grown up in abusive or alcoholic families will certainly see the self-denial and intentional blindness at work here. Despite his flaws Rob Reynolds is a genuinely likable, and heroic figure. You root for him.

Lee's art is dynamic and emotionally gripping, and the use of styles from earlier eras perfectly captures the essence of why we read comics in the first place. A sense of awe, wonder, and a need for heros in an otherwise complicated world is shown beautifully through 1960s style covers with hyperbole and Stan Lee-isms at every page. One of the best elements is the simplicity of the characters, the almost mundaneness to them: Mr. Fantastic looks like he might have a bit of a paunch; the Hulk is childlike and unasuming. The humanity in the artwork is wonderful.

What's most compelling to me is the future of this character. Introduced as the "grand-daddy of all heros," how will his "re-introduction" into the Marvel universe affect the future of that universe. Now that it appears he's becoming part of the New Avengers I think we'll find out.

I can't wait.

Highly recommended.

(review by Sean Ferrell)

Posted by sferrell at 1:22 PM