Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2

The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 2 by Steve Ditko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Action Heroes Archives, Volume 2, contains Captain Atom 83-89, Blue Beetle 1-5, Mysterious Suspense 1, Charlton Portfolio 9 and 10, and Charlton Bullseye 1, 2, and 5, all originally published by Charlton Comics Group, all with art by Steve Ditko.

In the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths and reading most issues of Who's Who, I was enamored with a trio of new DC characters I'd previously never heard of, namely Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, and The Question. While I enjoyed the DC versions of the characters, I started scouring flea markets and yard sales whenever I could, unearthing issues of Charlton Bullseye and reprints of Blue Beetle. Yes, I was a popular kid...

I didn't know what my attraction to the formerly Charlton characters was at the time but now I'm thinking it was that they were way more like Marvel characters than DC characters.

After reading a few stories in this volume, it was pretty clear that Charlton was the poor man's Marvel comics in its day. Captain Atom gets depowered and unmasked on TV a handful of pages into his second appearance. Likewise, the Blue Beetle gets his ass handed to him and arrested for the murder of the original Blue Beetle. Shit like that never happened in DC comics in the 60's.

You can almost feel Ditko's anger at Marvel in the artwork. It's more edgy than his work on Spider-Man and has more life than his final work at Marvel. Some of the poses are updates on poses he used in Spider-Man, like Ted Kord hunched over his work bench or Captain Atom straining to stop a menace with much of his power gone. There's a sequence where Blue Beetle battles an octopus underwater that I think is pretty spectacular for the time period.

The colors in this archive edition are really vibrant and a nice change of pace from the muddy coloring of the back issues I acquired over the years. The stories are simplistic by today's standards but on par with Marvel stories of the same time period. Captain Atom goes up against menaces like The Ghost and puppet themed Punch and Jewellee while Blue Beetle battles gangs of scrubs like The Squids and the Madmen. The Question's tales are short backup features and have a certain punchiness to them as he fights The Banshee and other menaces.

It's easy to see why DC would want to acquire these characters when Charlton went out of business but I have to think they would have fit in better in the Marvel universe. Also, I have to wonder how things would have gone differently for Charlton if they'd had a wider distribution, or, God forbid, social media at their disposal.

As a piece of Silver Age comic book history and a repository of seldom-seen Steve Ditko art, I have to rate this one pretty highly. Four out of five stars.



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Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a Beast

The Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a BeastThe Vision, Volume 2: Little Better than a Beast by Tom King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As The Vision's perfect family continues to unravel, Victor Mancha comes to town to spend some time with them. However, he has ulterior motives...

Tom King's run on The Vision comes to an end. We finally find out who the source of Vivian's brain patterns were, the source of some odd behavior on the part of the Vision over the course of the series, and whether or not The Vision is an ass-kicking machine that can take on the entire Avengers roster.

Vin's Shakespeare obsession foreshadows quite a few tragedies in the series. By the end, everything is in wreckage and the lives of The Vision and his perfect family are irrevocably changed.

The art team did a fantastic job on this volume, particularly Michael Walsh, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Jordie Bellaire, the tone perfectly matching the off-kilter, sinister, yet sometimes sweet feel of the series.

Too bad the series only went twelve issues. I could read about The Vision and his strange family for years to come. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wolverine: Old Man Logan

Wolverine: Old Man LoganWolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wolverine has been retired for fifty years and the world has gone to hell in a hand basket. Logan and his family are behind on rent when Hawkeye shows up, blind and needing a navigator for a cross country trip. Can Logan and Hawkeye cross a United States ruled by super villains?

I've been hearing about this one for years. However, Wolverine is not my favorite character and Mark Millar is a hack. Anyway, with Logan coming to theaters soon, I thought it was high time I read this. I was sold when the Spider-Mobile made an appearance.

Wolverine and Hawkeye drive across country, encountering the Hulk's cannibal grandkids, Moloids, dinosaurs, aging super villains, and all sorts of nastiness. When they get to New Babylon, all the pieces are on the board but the whole game changes.

This was a fun real from a coolness standpoint. However, as per usual, Millar changes the characters' personalities to serve his story. When was Mysterio ever that powerful? How was a gang of super villains able to defeat the heroes when it's been attempted hundreds of times before?

Still, once I pushed that stuff aside, I had a ball reading this. It's almost orgasmic once Logan finally unsheathes his claws and gets down to business.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan is part Mad Max, part Unforgiven, a really fun read as long as you don't look too closely. It'll be interesting to see how much winds up in the Logan movie. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Question, Vol. 2: Poisoned Ground

The Question, Vol. 2: Poisoned GroundThe Question, Vol. 2: Poisoned Ground by Dennis O'Neil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Question continues fighting crime in Hub City in his own way...

While trying to clean up Hub City, The Question encounters a Russian gypsy gangster named Volk, a vigilante named Mikado, a drug ring peddling a new hallucinogen, and the guy that shot him in the head in the first volume, The Question, Vol. 1: Zen and Violence.

I didn't enjoy this as much as the first volume but it was still good. The creative team of Dennis O'Neil and Denys Cowan created a comic book well ahead of it's time, somewhere in the middle ground between the typical comics of the late 1980s/early 1990s and the decompressed comics of today.

While the Question shares the same pulpy roots as Batman, like The Shadow, he's a far more complex character, pondering his Zen philosophy while driving around in his VW beetle and dishing out justice with his fists. He also takes a beating in every issue and sometimes doesn't defeat the bad guys.

I think this one didn't work for me because O'Neil and Cowan had The Question leave America's Asshole, Hub City, behind for a couple issues. Also, some of the newness has worn off and a lot of the time period smacked me in the face, like The Question's god-awful mullet. I guess this one just didn't age as well as the previous volume. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Question: Zen and Violence

The Question, Vol. 1: Zen and ViolenceThe Question, Vol. 1: Zen and Violence by Dennis O'Neil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Victor Sage, aka The Question, fights crime in Hub City, possibly the most corrupt city on Earth.

Prior to this volume, most of my exposure to The Question was in Modern Comics reprints of Charlton comics stories and the weekly 52 miniseries. The Question has been held in high regard for years so I finally gave it a shot.

Dennis O'Neil's run on The Question stems from DC creating a mature readers line before later creating the Vertigo imprint. It's a tale of a man facing an insurmountable tide of corruption in his home town.

The Question started as a backup feature in Blue Beetle, a Steve Ditko character who shared much of his creator's Randian philosophy. O'Neil and team gave The Question a near death experience and a new Zen lease on life, making him a much more viable character.

Now that the history lesson is over, this was some good shit, especially considering it's 30 years old at this point. While it's wordier than most of today's comics, O'Neil was way ahead of the curve. There aren't a lot of comics that feature the hero floating face down in a river after a gunshot to the head and that's just in the first issue.

The Question's journey sees him learning from Richard Dragon, 70's DC kung fu hero, now confined to a wheelchair. When he returns to Hub City, everyone has hell to pay.

Deny Cowan's art suits the story perfectly. I was skeptical at first since I wasn't a fan of his work on the Superman books in the 1990s but it had an understated, cinematic feel. There were a few wordless fight scenes that I'd put up against anything today. As always, Bill Sienkiewicz was marvelous on the covers.

O'Neil, Cowan, and the others had a good thing going with The Question, a dark crime comic that paved the way for a lot of others down the road. Four out of five stars.


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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Doctor Strange, Vol 1: The Way of the Weird

Doctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the WeirdDoctor Strange, Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird by Jason Aaron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sorcerer Supremes are being killed across dimensions and magic itself seems to be dying. Can Doctor Strange get to the bottom of things?

The Way of the Weird collects issues 1-5 of the current run of Doctor Strange.

First off, I love the art. Since they couldn't get Steve Ditko from the late 1960's to illustrate, Chris Bachalo is the next best thing. I loved his run on Shade the Changing Man during the 1990's and he's a perfect fit for Doctor Strange's dimension-spanning adventures.

The story is pretty good as well. Magic is going haywire and someone is killing off the wizards across the multiverse one by one. The menace of the Emperikul has me jonesing for the next book. I love the Bar Without Doors and the addition of Zelma to the supporting cast. I also like what secret things Wong has been doing in the background.

However, I couldn't justifying giving this more than a 3.5. Structurally, the plot seems really similar to Aaron's plot in Thor: God of Thunder, Vol. 1: The God Butcher. Also, I didn't feel like a whole lot actually happened, mostly setup for future volumes. Some kind of payoff would have been nice.

3.5 out of 5. It was good and I'll read the next volume but I'm not looking forward to it as much as the next Vision trade.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Vision, Vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man

The Vision, Vol 1: Little Worse Than A ManThe Vision, Vol 1: Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Vision builds himself a family and moves to the suburbs with them. Things are great until they aren't.

After reading the first issue of The Vision via Marvel Unlimited, I knew I wanted to read the rest. Little Worse than a Man collects the first six issues.

The Vision and his family experience prejudice from their human neighbors, Viv and Vin's classmates, and later, the cops. Virginia lies to the Vision once and it snowballs, sending their quiet suburban life out of control. I saw someone refer to The Vision as the Breaking Bad of the Marvel Universe and I can definitely see it heading in that direction.

The subdued art fits the story perfectly, and Tom King is going to be a big name in the future. The story's unknown (at first, anyway) narrator gives the book a tone not often seen in super hero comics. It raises questions about family and what it means to be human.

Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta have produced one of those quirky, powerful books I can't imagine Marvel taking a chance on ten years ago. I can't wait to see what the next volume holds. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Neonomicon

NeonomiconNeonomicon by Alan Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Courtyard: When federal agent Aldo Sax goes deep undercover to find a mysterious drug called Aklo, he gets snared in net of Lovecraftian craziness with Johnny Carcosa at the center.

Aside from being peppered with racial slurs, I thought this was a pretty good tale. Aldo Sax encounters cosmic horrors and flips his shit. Moore seeded the text with plenty of Lovecraftian references, like The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Horror at Red Hook, Zothique (actually a Clark Ashton Smith), and Randolph Carter.

I like the direction Moore is going with this one.

The Neonomicon: After visiting Aldo Sax at the sanitarium, Agents Lamper and Brears pick up where he left off and head to Salem.

There was some sick shit in this, much more extreme than Lovecraft but still true to the spirit of the mythos. I had a feeling things would go the way they did with Brears. This one was definitely not for the squeamish.

Moore's take on the Cthulhu mythos in Neonomicon makes me anxious to read his next Lovecraftian offering, Providence. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Catwoman: Selina's Big Score

Catwoman: Selina's Big ScoreCatwoman: Selina's Big Score by Darwyn Cooke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flat broke, Catwoman learns of a train carrying twenty-four million dollars of drug money, her ticket back to the big leagues. But she'll need help to pull off the heist, help of her old mentor, a planner named Stark. Can they trust each other and get the money without being killed?

So this was pretty bad ass. Darwyn Cooke writes a team-up between Catwoman and Richard Stark's Parker, for all intents and purposes. I have to think Darwyn Cooke had no idea he'd later be adapting The Hunter and this was an homage to the Parker books. It even does the cutaway sequences like the Parker books.

The art was Darwyn Cooke's signature style and well-suited to the task at hand, 1950's style but someone gritty as hell. The writing felt just like one of the Parker books.

Cooke did a great job writing about Selina's complicated relationships with the men in the book, namely Stark and Slam Bradley. There were enough twists to keep things interesting. Right up until the end, I wasn't sure who'd walk away with the money.

Selina's Big Score was another winning entry in my post-mortem examination of Darwyn Cooke's body of work. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

DC: The New Frontier - The Deluxe Edition

Absolute DC: The New FrontierAbsolute DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An alien menace threatens the earth in the late 1950's and it'll take every hero humanity has to stop it.

Confession time: While I'd heard of The New Frontier, I didn't pick it up until after Darwyn Cooke's death. Now that I've read it, I wish I'd picked it up sooner.

The New Frontier is the story of the transition of the DC universe from the Justice Society era through the 1950s to the formation of the Justice League. Pretty much every DC character from pre-1960 is in it. Unlike how things originally went down, The New Frontier links characters from DC's war comics, their supernatural comics, and their super hero comics.

I knew this was going to be something different when the first few pages had The Losers fighting dinosaurs. The story is pretty much a love letter to the DC comics of the late 1950s. In addition to old favorites like the Justice League, some without their powers for most of the book, Darwyn Cooke dug up King Faraday, Slam Bradley, the Challengers of the Unknown, Adam Strange, and many others.

Rick Flag and Task Force X, aka The Suicide Squad, played a prominent part in safeguarding America once the Justice League went into retirement. I loved seeing a pre-Green Lantern Hal Jordan paling around with Rick Flagg and Ace Morgan. The early days of J'Onn J'Onnz, aka the Martian Manhunter, were really cool as well.

I thought it was great that Darwyn Cooke didn't focus on the icons like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, instead giving a lot of time to Hal Jordan and the Challengers of the Unknown. The Flash and Green Arrow could have had more to do but Cooke only had so much room to tell his tale.

While the story was great, I loved the art. Cooke's retro style did a good job of evoking the 1950s period it was depicting. It was Silver Age with a modern touch and quite something to behold. I'll definitely be tracking down more of his work.

I could gush about this book all day. Instead of talking about Kingdom Come with reverence, this is the DC book people should be holding on a pedestal. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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