Writer: James Robinson
Art: Cully Hamner
Letters: Todd Klein
Colors: Dave McCaig
Cover Art: Tony Harris
Editor: Will Moss
Publisher: DC Comics
To seek the mysterious Darnell Caldecott, to help further define himself, the Shade has traveled to Austrailia. After a brief encounter with local hero the Argonaut, Shade meets up with his old rival Diablo Blacksmith to help him find Caldecott – a quest that will take him to the depths of the Dreamtime.
This series is going in some odd directions, but James Robinson is definitely using it to expand the DC Universe. We meet some new characters here, and while neither of them have a huge part, they could easily lay in wait until they’re picked up by other writers, or by Robinson himself. Even though the Argonaut appears to be a bit of a parody, that’s how Lobo started too.
The Dreamtime stuff, the battle we see there, is the real meat of the issue, however, and it delivers well. Simply from a visual standpoint, it’s cool to see the Shade using his shadow powers to make himself a legitimate threat to a character that, physically, is a hell of a lot bigger than he is. On a less dramatic scale, the character’s personal journey is really being reflected in the story. The other characters don’t know what to make of the Shade – someone who historically was thought of as a villain but, in the past few years (DC time, nearly 20 years in the real world) has acted as a hero sometimes, but usually occupies a much grayer area. Even the Shade doesn’t really know how to classify himself anymore, and that’s one of the things that makes his story so compelling.
Cully Hamner’s artwork is cool, and Dave McCaig’s colors are vital to making this story work. The action takes place in the Austrailian outback, in desert terrain, in broad daylight. It’s not the Shade’s natural habitat. But it looks very good on the page and the contrast helps the story in turn.
This series is delivering for me, and big-time.
Title: The Return of Rhonda and other stories
Writer: Michael Gallagher
Pencils: Dave Manak
Inks: Marie Severin
Letters: Rick Parker
Colors: Marie Severin
Cover Art: Dave Manak
Editor: Sid Jacobson
Publisher: Marvel Comics/STAR Comics
Ah, I love ALF. Not so much the TV show, although I was a big fan of that when I was a kid, but moreso of the comic book Marvel produced in the late 80s and early 90s. Michael Gallagher and Dave Manak, the primary creators on the book for most of the run, produced some wonderfully funny, entertaining and surprisingly smart comic books that are still entertaining now, over 20 years later. And occasionally, they even brushed up against the Marvel Universe proper, as in this annual.
But that’s later. In the opening story, “The Return of Rhonda,” Alf and the Tanner family, the humans who took him in after he crashed in the pilot episode of the TV show, are visted by Rhonda, Alf’s girlfriend from his home planet of Melmac. Rhonda, who also escaped the destruction of his planet, has come back to Earth to bring him to “New Melmac,” a planet she has found with his old friend Skip. As Alf tries to wrestle with the decision of whether to go, the Tanners go through a gamut of emotions.
Without spoiling it, it seems clear that what Alf’s decision is, or the rest of this issue would be somewhat different. In the second story, “Back to Human Nature,” the Tanners take Alf on a camping trip – the rare vacation where he can accompany them without fear of being seen by other people. Of course, wildlife is another story. And in “Safe at Home,” Willie Tanner gets passes to his company’s private Skybox at Dodger stadium, enabling Alf to see his first live baseball game. It’s interesting, in retrospect, just how many of the stories in this series revolved around the Tanners attempting to keep other people from seeing Alf or Alf carelessly placing himself in a situation where that would be almost unavoidable.
“You Give Me Fever” is next, and it only briefly brushes on that topic. In this one, Gallagher strikes upon a much more potentially serious idea – Alf gets a Melmacian disease, and the Tanners are afraid of how to treat him, with nobody on the planet being trained in Melmac Medicine. This being a kids’ comic, of course, the disease has a much more humorous result than you’d get in, say, an episode of ER, but the brief moment of drama is there.
Finally, in “A Campy Approach,” Alf is horrified when the Tanners ship Brian off to summer camp, suffering from a drastic misunderstanding of what camps on Earth are like. This is a weaker story than most of the others, but it’s notable for bringing Alf face-to-face with the High Evolutionary himself. In 1988, Marvel Comics did the first of what would become a summer tradition for many years – a crossover event that went through the annuals for its assorted titles. In The Evolutionary War, Marvel’s various superheroes had to battle the High Evolutionary, who was trying to jumpstart the evolution of life on Earth. In this sort-of crossover, Alf encounters ol’ H.E. himself, who is stunned to find a Melmacian on the planet. The whole thing is structured so as to allow it to be a dream sequence, but it’s still really funny for all that.
I’m glad I came across a cache of these old comics at a recent convention. I had a blast reading this old book again, and I look forward to getting back into the rest of them.
Somebody’s First Comic Book: Atomic Robo Vol. 1-Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne
Wondering what Somebody’s First Comic Book is all about? The explanation is on this page!
TITLE: Atomic Robo and the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne
Writer: Brian Clevinger
Art: Scott Wegener
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Jeff Powell
Publisher: Red 5 Comics
PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: Never heard of him. I’m guessing “Atomic Robo” is the robot with the gun who looks like he beat up the bigger robot with the skull head.
IMPRESSIONS: Holy crap, this book is insane.
In six chapters, we’re introduced to the world of Atomic Robo, an 83-year-old robot who has apparently fought in World War II, battled monsters and mad scientists for decades, and owns a company called Tesladyne with which he and a group of “action scientists” protect the world from ludicrous menaces, such as that pyramid in Egypt that got up and started walking away, blowing stuff up in the process.
I’m using words like “insane” and “ludicrous” here to describe the book, but you’ve got to understand I intend that in a totally complimentary way. The stuff Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener have come up with to populate the world of Atomic Robo are wild, out-of-this world kinds of menaces that work well in contrast with the hero himself. It’s like somebody mashed together Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and Buckaroo Banzai, then turned the result into a robot. Everything about this property reminds me of the blatant toy commercial cartoons of the 1980s, except that this is actually really good.
To be fair, it is kind of confusing. It’s obvious that Robo has a pretty rich history here, but we don’t see very much of it. Even the flashback sequences (such as the time his trip to Mars was sabotaged by Stephen Hawking, of all people) only give us glimpses to his past adventures. We know he was active in World War II because he gets a letter from the granddaughter of an old army buddy telling him that his friend has died. Beyond that, we don’t know much – where did he come from, who invented him, what’s his origin?
Fortunately, these questions are more tantalizing than frustrating. It would be easy to load a book like this one with a ton of things that are left unresolved and leave the audience unsatisfied, but that isn’t the case here. The questions that are raised are never central to the plot or the character’s role in the story, so we feel like we’ve got a complete, satisfying tale in and of itself, even as we want to know more.
And you’re telling me there are five more books in this series? So far? Awesome. Give me more Atomic Robo.
Title: When We All Lived in the Forest
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Chas Truog & Doug Hazlewood
Letters: John Costanza
Colors: Tatjana Wood
Cover Art: Brian Bolland
Editor: Karen Berger
Publisher: DC Comics
Animal Man has tracked down the rampaging B’wana Beast, whose grief-fueled rage has pitted him against S.T.A.R. Labs and, in the process, infected the hero with a genetically manipulated strain of Anthrax. This issue, the two face off – but how hard can Animal Man fight against a hero whose cause he agrees with?
The hero-fights-hero trope was even overdone in 1988, but Grant Morrison at least found a way to make us sympathize with both characters, making for a more compelling story. While B’wana Beast’s rage is justified, he’s a danger not only to himself but could potentially infect the entire state of California if the anthrax he’s carrying is transmitted. Morrison uses an interesting application of Animal Man’s powers here, something we haven’t seen too much of in recent years, and that’s probably to the good. If you followed this to its logical conclusion, Animal Man could theoretically be the most powerful superhero in the DC Universe, and that doesn’t really fit the perpetual B-list, underdog tone of the character. (Even now, when he’s once again become a critical darling, he seems farther removed than ever from the likes of the Justice League.)
Chas Truog’s wildly inconsistent art swings back to the good end of the spectrum in this issue. The fight between Animal Man and B’wana Beast is exciting, with some great action. It weakens when B’wana takes off his helmet – his unmasked face looks simply bizarre – but that’s not a big problem in context of everything else. And the last two pages, an epilogue to this opening storyline – are absolutely haunting, some of Truog’s best work on the title to date.
Now that Animal Man has been reintroduced and we’ve got a clear sense of his place in the DC Universe, I’m anxious to see what Morrison did with him next.
Writer: Erik Burnham
Art: Dan Schoening
Letters: Neil Uyetake
Colors: Luis Antonio Delgado
Cover Art: Dan Schoening
Editor: Tom Waltz
Publisher: IDW Publishing
The first story arc of the new Ghostbusters series comes to a fine conclusion. Ray has been taken by the minions of Gozer, and is being asked (again) to choose the form of the Destructor. But Ray’s spectral buddy has a little advice for him, even as the Ghostbusters continue to seek their missing comrade.
Erik Burnham has really nailed this title. He knows the characters very well, playing on Ray’s gentle naivety, Venkman’s cynicism and the character traits we love from the films to have them act in a way that’s consistent with what we expect, but still set in a very fresh story. Even going back to the villain of the first movie hasn’t made the book seem stale. Instead, Burnham has approached Gozer in a different way and used it to tell a different kind of story than the first film. Burnham also manages to end this issue with a nice hook that will lead us into a second story arc that seems to have a premise utterly unlike anything we’ve seen done with these characters, even (as far as I can remember) in the cartoon.
Speaking of which, I again have to praise Dan Schoening for finding a style that’s very animated, very evocative of the actors that created the characters, but doesn’t mimic the cartoon or any other style that we’ve seen the Ghostbusters depicted in.
The book is a fine, fun title and I’m really happy to see it doing as well as it is.
Quick Rating: Fair
Title: Bad Seed Part Two
Tefé finds help in strange places, while the Swamp Thing declares his separation from humanity.
Writer: Andy Diggle
Art: Enrique Breccia
Colors: Martin Breccia
Letters: Phil Balsman
Editor: Will Dennis
Cover Art: Enrique Breccia
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo
As Tefé’s body literally gets up and walks out of the morgue, Swamp Thing and Abby share a tender little moment where he announces his disdain for humanity.
While I do enjoy this title more than Andy Diggle’s work on Losers, I have a similarly blasé reaction to it. There doesn’t seem to be anything exciting, anything that pops and makes me want to keep reading. The elemental who hates humankind scheme has been done and done and done some more, and Tefé’s plotline is just plain confusing. I do, however, give Diggle credit for bringing back an old character that was pretty well forgotten – that’s something I’m always in favor of.
Enrique Breccia’s artwork has both its high and low points. He does a fine job with the otherworldly elements like Swamp Thing himself or the reanimated corpse of Alex Hammond. His human characters don’t work as well, though, including a few police with blank faces that look like they were peeled right out of an old John Severin Mad comic book.
This is a book that will mostly appeal to old Swamp Thing fans, and while most people will find something or other to like, the casual reader probably won’t find enough to come back month after month, not necessarily because there’s anything wrong, but because there’s a lot of other stuff out there that’s a lot better.
Title: Chapter One-The Thief and His Apprentice
Story: Robert Kirkman
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art: Shawn Martinbrough
Letters: Rus Wooton
Colors: Felix Serrano
Cover Art: Martinbrough & Serrano
Editor: Sina Grace
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound
Meet Redmond and Celia, two expert thieves – or, at least, one expert thief and a thief in training. This issue not only introduces us, but flashes back to the day they met, and how they began their odd journey together, with Redmond teaching her how to become a master thief. But despite the allure of his lifestyle, just how satisfying a life does Redmond really lead?
I tried this first issue for several reasons. Foremost, I like the creators involved. Nick Spencer is a fantastic writer, Shawn Martinbrough a great artist, and Robert Kirkman has proven himself to be an important creator behind-the-scenes of the comic book world, trying harder than anybody else I can think of to expand the boundaries of what the medium can offer in terms of different kinds of stories, not just doing the same thing over and over again. For that, if nothing else, I’m inclined to at least sample anything he’s willing to lend his name to.
Thief of Thieves #1 isn’t bad. It’s got wonderful art, and interesting characters with a dynamic that doesn’t feel like most other comic book partnerships. The fact that these are criminals instead of heroic characters further places this book outside of the norm, and the way the two of them meet is funny and entertaining.
That said, I’m not sure I’m sold on this book’s longevity. The first issue is good, but I have trouble seeing what’s going to happen long-term. At the moment, it feels like the beginning of a miniseries (which is actually what I thought it was when I read it, until I got to Kirkman’s text piece at the end). And it could be a great miniseries. But it’s a harder sell as an ongoing, and instead of simply finishing the story, the next few issues instead will have the task of convincing me to devote three dollars a month to this title long term. Fortunately, this is a creative team good enough to do that. Hopefully, they’ll pull it off.