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Action Comics (1938 Series) #775

June 12, 2012 Leave a comment

June 12, 2012

Title: What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?

Writer: Joe Kelly
Pencils:
Doug Mahnke & Lee Bermejo
Inks:
Tom Nguyen, Dexter Vines, Jim Royal, Jose Marzan, Wade Von Grawbadger, Wayne Faucher
Letters:
Comicraft
Colors:
Rob Schwager
Cover Art:
Tim Bradstreet
Editor:
Eddie Berganza
Publisher:
DC Comics

With the new DC animated film Superman Vs. the Elite coming out today, I thought I would go back and reread the comic book that inspired it. This 2001 story by Joe Kelly was one that I remembered really enjoying when it was first released. Now, over ten years later, does it still hold up?

Hell, it’s more relevant than ever.

In “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” Superman is shocked when a new group of metahumans arrives on the scene. The Elite, led by Manchester Black, is a quartet of extremely powerful individuals who hand out their own form of brutal, murderous justice to criminals, often with no concern about civilian casualties or collateral damage. Public opinion of the group, remarkably, begins to rise, and Superman is suddenly faced with the question of his own relevancy.

This book was written as a response of sort to the growing popularity of comics like Wildstorm’s The Authority, itself a book initially conceived as the Justice League taken to brutal extremes. Then, like now, people questioned whether Superman could fit or belong in a darker, harder world. The thing that Joe Kelly did so perfectly in 38 short pages was show just why it was vital that a character like Superman refuse to cross the line the Elite trod upon. The final sequence of the story, the showdown between Superman and the Elite, is one of the hardest, most gut-wrenching sequences I’ve ever seen in a DC Universe comic book, but it isn’t gratuitous or shallow. It makes the point, it reminds us who Superman really is and why he’s important, and why characters like Black and the Elite are, ultimately, taking the easy way out.

The artwork here isn’t bad, with two strong pencillers and a tag team of talented inkers, but it does lack a bit of consistency, shunting from one style to another with more frequency than one would want. It tells the story well, though, and that story is strong enough that any glitches moving from one art style to the next can be easily forgiven.

If you’ve never read this comic before, it is currently available from the Comixology store (and if you’re reading this review on the date it’s published, it’s currently part of a 99-cent Superman Vs. the Elite sale). It’s well worth checking out before you watch the movie. It’s truly one of my picks for the greatest Superman stories of all time.

Rating: 10/10

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Astro City: The Dark Age Book II #1

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

November 25, 2006

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: A Cold Wind Blowing (Eyes of a Killer Part One)

Charles and Royal’s story continues in the sizzling 70s!

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Brent E. Anderson
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: John Roshell of Comicraft
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm

After too long a break, Astro City: The Dark Age returns. Book Two (subtitled “Eyes of a Killer”) picks up a few years after the first ends. Charles Williams is still a police officer. His little brother Royal, still a crook. But things are changing in the world around them. Heroes are no longer the objects of trust they once were, things are becoming strained between Charles and his wife, and both Charles and Royal are facing real dangers on the job, as it were.

This series starts in 1976, and Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson have done a fantastic job of emulating that 1970s comic book feel. Gleaming heroes like Samaritan, Silver Agent and the First Family are either absent or reduced to cameos, while characters in the kung-fu/pseudo-mystic vein take the forefront. We also see a lot from Street Angel, once a brighter character who has embraced a darker side (not unlike a popular JLA member who underwent a Bronze Age reinvention).

As always, though, Astro City isn’t about the superheroes as much as it is about life in a superhero universe, and the unique difficulties faced by Charles (a cop) and Royal (a criminal). Things feel very ominous for both of them, and you definitely get the feeling this issue that the current state of their relationship, not to mention their lives, will be drastically changed by the time this four-issue miniseries reaches its conclusion.

Brent Anderson, as usual, does a fine job on the artwork, and Alex Ross pulls off a particularly unique cover. While still using his regular linework and techniques, he’s dropped back to a muted color palette, doing the entire thing in shades of blue and pink. It makes for a very eye-popping cover, as well as a very unusual one for him.

This first issue is very promising, setting up a lot of things and showing us yet another invention of the Astro City universe.

Rating: 8/10

Action Comics #820

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

October 10, 2004

Quick Rating: Average
Title: Wail of the Banshee

The Silver Banshee returns for a face-off with the Creeper.

Writer: Chuck Austen
Art: Carlos D’Anda
Colors: Guy Major
Letters: Comicraft
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Art: Joyce Chin & Arthur Adams
Publisher: DC Comics

First, the good news: this is not nearly as bad as the last several issues of Action Comics have been. The bad news, though, is that the reason it’s not as bad is because Superman barely appears in it. This is a Creeper story, with Superman making a cameo appearance as a deus ex machina which, when you consider the number of cancelled series the Creeper has left in his wake, is clearly what the readers were clamoring for.

The Silver Banshee returns this issue, securing a new human host. For some reason, this gives her a tongue longer than Gene Simmons, which she uses for various attempts at sexual innuendo, which has never exactly been a character trait she has exhibited before. She has no particular plan in this return, she just distracts Superman enough that he won’t be bothering her then walks around asking people to be afraid of her, at which point the Creeper shows up and obliges her.

Carlos D’Anda’s guest artwork works fairly well for this issue. He and Guy Major cast a dark, disturbing pallor across the comic that works with the frightening atmosphere the Banshee is intended to convey. They even manage to put Superman in this world without compromising the visual integrity of the character, which isn’t easy. As usual, it’s the artwork that elevates this issue.

In the end we get an epilogue that promises the return of a villain most readers were sick and tired of about ten years ago, and although there appears to be an attempt at putting a twist on him, it’s a twist that has been tried before and failed to make him any more interesting.

I imagine this was the Superman crew’s effort at a Halloween story this year. It could have been worse, but it could have been a lot better, too, which is something I find myself saying quite a bit these days.

Rating: 5/10

Outsiders (2003 Series) #10

August 2, 2011 Leave a comment

March 20, 2004

Quick Rating: Good
Title: A Family Matter (Devil’s Work Part Three)

Captain Marvel Jr. throws down with Sabbac, with the Outsiders for backup.

Writer: Judd Winick
Pencils: Tom Raney
Inks: Scott Hanna
Colors: Gina Going
Letters: Comicraft
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover Art: Tom Raney
Publisher: DC Comics

Last issue the Outsiders and Black Lightning faced off with the all-new, all deadlier Sabbac. At the last second, Captain Marvel Jr. showed up to help take down the villain who killed his old foe.

This issue, although it still says Outsiders on the cover, is mostly Marvel’s show. He faces Sabbac almost solo as the Outsiders mix it up with an army of lesser demons and the father-daughter duo of Black Lightning and Thunder learn some very important things about each other. People who like the Shazam! family less than I do will find these scenes the best parts of the issue, as those are the only segments that really develop the stars of this book at all. I like any screentime Captain Marvel Jr. gets, but to be fair, this isn’t his title and he really hogs this conclusion of the “Devil’s Work” story arc.

Tom Raney steps up where Judd Winick stumbles here. The artwork in this issue is just plain beautiful. Raney has a rare talent to draw a lot of costumed types in a jam issue without anyone really overshadowing the others and making every character really good. The art team also does some nice work with Black Lightning, giving his electrical powers what must be a computerized effect that makes his lightning bolts almost three-dimensional. You can really picture the arcs of lightning leaping from his hands to shock the heck out of Sabbac’s demons.

While I’m still not of fan of the behavior Black Lightning has distributed since Winick started writing this title and Green Arrow, in this issue he is at least consistent with the current version of the character and gets some nice development, including a scene at the end that took me by surprise. Every so often in a book that’s part of a shared universe, you get a little reminder that events aren’t taking place in a vacuum – this is one of those instances.

This is a solid superhero title, but not a great one. Not yet, anyway. Still, it’s built an audience and that audience won’t be disappointed in this issue.

Rating: 7/10

Astro City: Samaritan #1

July 24, 2011 Leave a comment

July 24, 2006

Quick Rating: Great
Title: The Eagle and the Mountain

Samaritan faces his arch-enemy Infidel… for dinner?

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Brent E. Anderson
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: John Roshell of Comicraft
Editor: Ben Abernathy
Cover Art: Alex Ross
Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm Signature Series

Boy this one was a long time in coming. Many years ago, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross did a special feature for Wizard magazine to demonstrate how an Astro City character was created. The result of that feature was the Infidel, arch-enemy of Astro City’s premiere hero, Samaritan – and Astro City fans have been waiting for Infidel to show up ever since. Since we’ve been promised a standalone special in-between arcs of The Dark Age, this seems a great time to bring him in.

As Samaritan and the Infidel meet for their annual dinner together, the Infidel reflects on his own origins and how they brought him so deeply in conflict with Samaritan, eventually culminating in their unique understanding. Now the idea of a hero and his arch-enemy meeting for a truce periodically isn’t exactly new – I seem to recall a Fantastic Four story about Reed Richards and Doctor Doom meeting for a drawn-out chess game, for instance – but like all great Astro City stories, Busiek takes a convention of the superhero genre and gives it a nice twist. The reason for the meetings between Samaritan and Infidel are pretty clever, as are the conclusions reached at the end of this special. And if you’ve never read an Astro City comic before, fear not – this issue is totally standalone, and the archetypes are so familiar there’s no way any comic book fan could get confused.

Anderson steps up yet again with his classic artwork. His art style has a real timeless quality to it – there are Silver Age elements, to be sure, but nothing that looks out of place in a modern comic or a superhero tale of any genre – sci-fi, fantasy, horror… his style works with everything. Alex Ross contributes his usual snazzy cover, with a nice design to it that harkens back to a classic pulp magazine in a way that I like very much.

You can’t go wrong with Astro City, gang. Pick this one up.

Rating: 9/10

Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin #2

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

October 2, 2007

Quick Rating: Good
Rating: A

Iron Man faces the Mandarin in their first battle!

Writer: Joe Casey
Pencils: Eric Canete
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Comicraft
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Art: Eric Canete
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Joe Casey’s career path seems to have lead him to a comfortable niche in the past, telling stories of the early years of various Marvel characters, and Enter: The Mandarin is proving to be a quite worthy addition to that line-up. This issue, Iron Man meets his arch-foe, the Mandarin, for the first time, and the battle doesn’t necessarily go the Golden Avenger’s way.

The story isn’t bad (although, like I mentioned last month, I still question the real need for a Mandarin miniseries), but for me, the artwork is the real selling point. I really like Canete’s work – beautiful, fluid and full of energy. He has a distinct retro feel, but whenever he brings in modern elements like Tony’s high-tech lab, or even the series of e-mails he trades with Pepper Potts, it doesn’t feel out of place.

While it’s unlikely that anyone but serious Iron Man fans (if there are any left) will pick up this miniseries, it’s a fun little book that’s worth looking at for anyone who enjoys a book with a nice Silver Age/early Bronze Age feel to it, and particularly satisfying for those of us unhappy with the way Tony’s being portrayed in the modern comics these days.

Rating: 7/10

Superman (1939 Series) #712

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

June 23, 2011

Title: Lost Boy: A Tale of Krypto the Superdog

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Pencils:
Rick Leonardi
Inks:
Jonathan Sibal
Colorist:
Brad Anderson
Letterer:
Comicraft
Cover:
Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Dave Stewart
Editor:
Matt Idelson         
Publisher:
DC Comics

Well… this is odd. With just three issues left in this run of Superman, DC decided to pull the scheduled story for this issue, and instead replaced it with the long-lost but never-seen Krypto story that Kurt Busiek and Rick Leonardi write about five years ago. This issue is set shortly after the events of Infinite Crisis. Superboy is dead, and Superman is coping with the loss of his powers. Back in Smallville, the last superhero from the Kent farm, Krypto, is in mourning.

This is actually a really good issue. It’s mostly wordless, showcasing Krypto’s true loneliness. I wasn’t really big on Rick Leonardi’s previous work with the Superman family, but he absolutely nails this issue. He draws a great Krypto, first of all, and ha manages to get across the emotional impact of his loss. You look at this poor dog and feel the pain, the agony that he’s left in, with both of his masters gone. The final panel is one of the saddest moments ever drawn into a comic book, and the fact that it feels so sad is exactly what makes it so good.

But man, it’s an odd choice to put here. First of all, why didn’t they run this five years ago, when it would have still been relevant? And second, why run it now at all? As much as I enjoyed it and as much as I’m glad we finally got to see it, it still feels oddly out of place.

Rating: 8/10