Quick Rating: Good
Title: Man of Steel (Pain of the Gods Part One)
A new hero arrives on the scene… but are good intentions enough?
Writer: Chuck Austen
Art: Ron Garney
Colors: David Baron
Letters: Bat Brosseau
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Ron Garney & David Baron
Publisher: DC Comics
No, your eyes do not deceive you, I’ve actually given this book a good rating, because frankly, it actually deserves it. Chuck Austen is the next writer to tackle the “rotating creative team challenge” of JLA with his “Pain of the Gods” story arc, six issues, each focusing on a different member of the Justice League, and Superman is up first.
Responding to a routine call at a burning building, Superman zips into the inferno to find a new superhero trying to help. But sometimes, superpowers and a good heart simply aren’t enough.
This Superman is bold and compassionate, not displaying any of the bravado or cockiness that has characterized Austen’s Action Comics run this far. This is Superman, simply put, the way he should be written. If I didn’t know better I’d never believe the two titles were done by the same writer. Except for an overly-dramatic temper tantrum at the end, this book handles big blue very well. If Austen wrote Superman this way in Action Comics, I would be far more charitable towards the title. He even ends with a nice little hint of where the story is going, which is actually a pretty good idea.
Ron Garney is at the top of his game this issue. I’ve been a fan of his since his Captain America days, and while he’s had his ups and downs since then, this is definitely an up. He nails Superman, which isn’t easy to do since so much of the issue takes place at night, in the dark. Superman is an inherently bright character, and it takes a skilled hand to make him look right while he’s in the shadows. Garney does it.
It seems a little superfluous to do a series of spotlight stories in the team book of a bunch of characters who have their own solo titles already, but for a start, this wasn’t bad. I may go so far as to say it’s the best Chuck Austen comic I’ve ever read. It’s certainly a step up from the mess of Joe Kelly’s last year on the title or the abysmal Peppy the Alien arc, although it hasn’t quite matched the very good run that other former X-Men creative team did for six issues. (Some people didn’t like the Claremont/Byrne run. I did.)
But overall, it was a solid issue. Trust me, friends, no one is more surprised than I am that I’m going to give this issue of JLA a thumbs up.
Novel By: L. Frank Baum
Writer: Eric Shanower
Art: Skottie Young
Colorist: Jean-Francois Beaulieu
Letterer: Jeff Eckleberry
Cover: Skottie Young
Editor: Sana Amanat
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Continuing my love affair with the Shanower/Young adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, Ozma of Oz #5 finds Ozma, Dorothy and their friends on the long road to find the Nome King, who has the royal family of the land of Ev in his clutches. With the way barred by an enormous mechanical man and a powerful mallet, it seems they may have to turn back – unless some among them can find the courage to go on. As I’ve stated before, Ozma of Oz is, in fact, my favorite of the original 14 Oz novels, and we’re getting into some of my favorite scenes now. The rush to get past the giant robot is cute, and Young’s portrayal of it is really magnificent. The journey into the kingdom of the Nomes is really inventive and imaginative as well. Young’s depiction of the Nomes themselves and their kingdom as a whole is very different from any other interpretation of these characters or this part of their world I’ve ever seen. It’s something wholly his own, and it’s all the better for it. The book is full of energy, life, and fun, and there’s no better tribute anybody could offer to the creations of L. Frank Baum. I don’t know if Marvel is planning to continue their versions of the novels after this one – and in fact, once you get this far reading the novels you start to become victim of the Law of Diminishing Returns. But if anybody could take those lesser novels and make them into something worth reading, this is the creative team to do it.
Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: Trajectories in Flight
As Steve Rogers ponders retirement, Peter Parker wanders onto a very familiar missile testing range.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Letters: John Workman
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Last issue, two Marvel icons were irrevocably altered by the same bullet when a German spy successfully murdered Dr. Abraham Erskine before he could transform Steve Rogers into Captain America. The same bullet killed an MP by the name of Ben Parker, depriving the future Peter Parker of the only father figure in his life.
Now, years later, Rogers is semi-retired from the program in which he served his country – the “Iron Man” project. Parker, however, is a young punk, rebellious at school, failing, and addicted to danger… which leads him to a missile testing range, where he absorbs a life-altering dose of gamma radiation.
Yeah, you get where this is going.
Straczynksi has crafted a pretty good story here, showing how the initial alteration has a ripple effect throughout time, changing things for one hero after another. This is the sort of thing the original What If? series did so well, and in fact, that’s what this comic reads like. My only concern is that this doesn’t simply turn into a case of, with every issue, two characters getting combined. It works for Steve and Peter, but if it keeps going it will start to feel like a gimmick.
Tommy Lee Edwards’s artwork is perfect for this title. He’s got a very dark, edgy, sketchy style that fits this twisted version of the Marvel Universe to perfection.
So far, this has been a very strong prism through which to show a different Marvel, and it’s working quite well.
Title: Ripper’s Curse Part Two
Writer: Tony Lee
Art: Tim Hamilton
Colorist: Phil Elliott
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Cover: Tommy Lee Edwards
Editor: Denton J. Tipton
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Scotland Yard has managed to snare the number one suspect in the legendary Jack the Ripper murders… a fellow that we know as The Doctor. Amy and Rory continue their search for the real killer, the Doctor and a new ally look into the alien creature that’s been slaying women in London. This is a cool little story. It’s always fun when these Doctor Who tales pick into some sort of real-world mystery, and Tony Lee is doing some fine work with this particular story. His interpretation of the Ripper is bizarre and a lot of fun, and he’s created an ally that’s really interesting. I find myself hoping he turns up again. There’s also a little Fun With Time Travel in this issue, bouncing between Ripper murders in the hopes of apprehending the killer without tampering with the timestream. It’s the sort of thing Doctor Who does better than anyone. I’m not wild about Tim Hamilton’s artwork. His human faces are kind of sketchy. I do, however, like his interpretation of the Re’nar alien. It’s a pretty horrible image, and oddly evocative of weird, 50s-era sci-fi monsters, which is just a lot of fun. Artwork aside, I really liked this issue, and I think this run is shaping up to be a good one.
Quick Rating: Excellent
Title: And We Are Legion
In a future with no heroes, a group of young warriors return to the traditions of old!
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Barry Kitson
Inks: Barry Kitson & Mick Gray
Colors: Chris Blythe
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: Barry Kitson
Publisher: DC Comics
For those of you who have always wanted to try the Legion of Super-Heroes but didn’t know how to get into it because you were afraid it was too continuity-intensive, you no longer have any excuse. There are two things about this issue that say every fan of classic superhero comics should be reading it:
1. Mark Waid and Barry Kitson have crafted a new, innovative, energetic and totally continuity-free vision of the 31st Century.
2. This is one damn, damn good comic book.
It’s 1000 years in the future. The superheroes of the past succeeded in their mission. Evil was defeated. Earth was made safe. And now, it’s a boring, boring place. People have grown apart. Human contact is kept to a minimum. Even people in the same room with one another prefer to communicate through a viewscreen rather than face-to-face. So naturally, when a group of thousands of superpowered teenagers start wearing outlandish costumes, adopting ludicrous names and begin to imitate the legendary heroes of the 21st century, the grown-ups are put out.
This is a version of the Legion that does not adhere to any previous continuity – although many of the classic characters are present, one need never have read any other Legion title to understand what’s going on. For those who have read the Legion, though, those who do love the rich history and vibrant characters that have had a hardcore following since the late 1950s, you have nothing to worry about. This is a version that is smart, engaging and respectful to those tales of the past.
Barry Kitson, as I said in this week’s JSA: Strange Adventures review, is one of my favorite artists for sci-fi superhero comics, and this is him at his best. He has redesigned every member of the Legion, but beyond that, he’s redesigned their entire world and made it a place we can imagine our own world may turn into 1000 years in the future. Along with some fantastic coloring and effects by Chris Blythe, this may be the best the Legion has ever looked.
This is a fantastic comic. It’s got great heroes, great characters, and no ties to the past to hold you back. It has beautiful artwork. It has great writing. It has 40 pages of comics for the price of a standard 32. And for at least the first year, every issue is going to be a done-in-one story. You have no more excuses. Try the Legion of Super-Heroes. See what superheroes really can be.
Writer: Erik Burnham
Art: Kyle Hotz
Colorist: Dan Brown
Letterer: Chris Mowry
Cover: Kyle Hotz
Editor: Tom Waltz
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Between the storm of zombie energy loosed from the Infestation and the leak in the Ghostbusters’ containment unit, things are getting pretty heated in the great city of New York. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man has been cut loose and is tearing through town again, but Egon has a plan. Zombies seem to act as a natural ghost containment unit.. what if they combine Stay-Puft with the marauding zombies?
Well, it ain’t nothing good.
Erik Burnham and Kyle Hotz have come together to give us hands-down the best installment of the Infestation crossover. The Ghostbusters are great characters in their own right, of course, but this particular creative team is really adept with them. They depict the characters in a way that’s perfectly consistent with the films, tremendously funny, and just a little bit menacing in the first place. Hotz’s artwork is just what this title needs. He managed to evoke the original actors very nicely, and the zombie Marshmallow Man is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. The book is great, and I’m tremendously excited by the news that a new ongoing series is in the works for later this year.
Quick Rating: Great
Title: Carnage Part Four
Peter Parker comes home… to face the unthinkable.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Mark Bagley
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: J.D. Smith
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Cover Art: Mark Bagley & Richard Isanove
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I hate Brian Michael Bendis. I do. And the reason I hate him is that he makes it so hard to hate him when he makes a comic that drives me this bonkers, but it does it so well. Last issue, the creature that Curt Conners was creating using Spider-Man’s DNA went on a tear, slaughtering innocent people in a grotesque, vampiric fashion, and finally striking close to someone Peter loves.
This issue is almost entirely aftermath – Peter and the other characters finding out what has happened, the requisite police investigation scene, the required slow, silent pondering of the universe, the obligatory heart-to-heart among those struck by the tragedy. Nothing terribly groundbreaking. But it is all done so well. Without ever really breaking far from the formula, Bendis shows a whole range of emotions – grief, rage, guilt, and he does it all perfectly in character. We get some more details in this issue as well, as Peter learns the truth about the creature that’s causing all of this sorrow… and the truth has a little tweak that I haven’t heard anyone theorize.
Mark Bagley, as good an artist as he always is, gets bonus points for handling such a delicate issue. If anyone ever doubts his incredible talent as an artist, they need only look at the single, wordless page in this issue where Peter rips open his bag, revealing his costume, tears appearing heavy in his eyes. Sometimes I criticize Bendis for being over-wordy, but he reminds us here that sometimes he knows when to step back and allow the art to tell the story all by itself.
Again, I’m still furious over the direction this storyline has taken… but that’s okay. In fact, that’s really a good thing. The fact that I can get furious over a storyline like this is a solid reminder of how well-done this comic book is, and a testament to the creative team and this issue in particular. Love it or hate it, this is as good as Ultimate Spider-Man has ever been, and that’s saying a lot.