Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Question: Welcome to Oz

The Question, Vol. 4: Welcome to OzThe Question, Vol. 4: Welcome to Oz by Dennis O'Neil
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Question continues his futile fight to clean up Hub City, first taking care of the makers of plastic firearms, then going to his high school reunion, and then trying to survive a tornado on election day...

Wow. While the Question beating the shit out of people is pretty exciting, his best conflicts are the ethical ones. How does Hub City's vigilante handle a politician running on a platform of hate without sinking to his level?

There are too many things to spoil in this volume so I'll keep it brief. Dennis O'Neil spent the first two years of the Question building toward the end of this volume. Unlike other comics, things will never been the same again. O'Neil was playing the long game and it paid off in a big way.

If I had to pick something to complain about, it would be that the art doesn't have the unified feel that the other three books had. Rick Magyar pencils one of the books and there are a slew of inkers. Also, the mullet is back.

It's amazing what Dennis O'Neil and Denys Cowan have done with The Question in 24 issues, taking him from being a Charlton character with only a few appearances under his hat to the headliner of DC's mature readers line. The fourth volume of The Question is the best I've read so far. Dennis O'Neil definitely wasn't afraid to shake things up. Five out of five stars.

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The Question, Vol. 3: Epitaph for a Hero

The Question, Vol. 3: Epitaph for a HeroThe Question, Vol. 3: Epitaph for a Hero by Dennis O'Neil
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While Myra Fermin runs for the mayor of Hub City, Vic Sage takes on a racist killer, a para-millitary group, and gun runners Butch and Sundance as The Question!

The Question continues his quest to clean up Hub City but he might as well be using a spoon to drain the Atlantic Ocean. While Vic Sage battles a wide range of foes, his true enemy is the apathy that let corruption infest Hub City. Myra Fermin's campaign for mayor has a lot of parallels with recent politics. People will do whatever they can to drag her name through the mud. Meanwhile, Vic Sage may be the last good man in town.

This book had a "Suggested for Mature Readers" label slapped on it when it was published and it's easy to see why. There is cursing, but more importantly, the threats The Question takes on are way more real than the things Batman goes after. Whereas Batman hauls the bad guys off to jail, the Question has to deal with the root of the disease rather than the symptoms. It's not nearly as escapist as most comics and the good guys don't always win.

The last story in the book was my favorite, a team-up with Green Arrow during the time period when he was also Suggested for Mature Readers. The Question reads Watchmen and wonders about Rorschach, funny since the Charlton version of The Question was the character who inspired him.

Something that I've never mentioned before about The Question is how smooth the transitions are between scenes. Also, Denys Cowan's art has improved quite a bit since the first volume. Vic Sage's mullet is thankfully gone.

While a lot of comics have been grim and gritty since Watchmen, The Question did it in an intelligent way. Dennis O'Neil and Denys Cowan crafted a groundbreaking series in 1988 that still holds up today. Four out of five stars.

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JSA: The Golden Age

JSA: The Golden AgeJSA: The Golden Age by James Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of World War II, the mystery men have largely retired. One of them, Tex Thompson, is now a celebrity with an eye on the White House and is instrumental in the creation of America's newest super hero, Dyna-Man. But things are not as they seem. Can the former super heroes rally to stop the greatest threat to America and the world?

This one has been on my radar for years since I'm a fan of James Robinson and the Justice Society. I snapped it up at MightyCon for $5 and it was worth the wait.

The Golden Age tells the story of the end of the golden age of super heroes. The Justice Society and the All Star Squadron are mostly retired. Green Lantern Alan Scott is managing his radio stations. Johnny Quick and Liberty Bell have divorced. Ted Knight is in a sanitarium. Paul Kirk is on the run, suffering from PTSD. The Tarantula has written a book about being super hero. When Tex Thompson starts making his push and things go down a dark path, the heroes have some difficult choices to make.

The tone of this piece is perfect for the time period. When the Red Scare is in full effect and communists are allegedly hiding behind every corner, you never know who is on your side. The writing hits all the right beats for me, with the paranoid tone and the dark political climate. When Alan Scott is brought before the Senate's Unamerican Activities Committee, you know shit has gone wrong in a big way.

The Golden Age is definitely a slow burn. The villains aren't revealed until near the end and then it's the big beat down. Not everyone walks away. Starman and Green Lantern step up, and the death blow is dealt by an unexpected character. It was one hell of a satisfying read for a rainy Sunday morning.

I would give this a five but the artwork seemed over-inked and murky and the coloring didn't help matters. Also, whose bright idea was it to put the black lettering in Paul Kirk's dialogue on top of maroon so it was almost unreadable?

It's a shame this was an Elseworlds tale because it would have been a great way to end the saga of the Justice Society. Although some of it made it's way into James Robinson's Starman run so it can't be entirely out of continuity. Or wasn't before the six or seven reboots since.

JSA: The Golden Age was a fun, well-written read and a must-read for fans of the Justice Society. Four out of five stars.

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Superman: The Adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird

Superman: The Adventures of Nightwing and FlamebirdSuperman: The Adventures of Nightwing and Flamebird by Paul Kupperberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

By day, Van-Zee and Ak-Var are scientists in the bottle city of Kandor. By night, they fight crime as Nightwing and Flamebird!

Nightwing and Flamebird, Kandorian analogues of Batman and Robin, are an interesting footnote in the Bronze Age Superman's history. I first learned about them in Who's Who as a kid but never had the opportunity to read their adventures until I stumbled upon this trade in a $5 bin at MightCon.

Nightwing and Flamebird started as the alternate identities of Superman and Jimmy Olsen when they visited Kandor. Eventually, they handed off the identities to Superman's identical cousin Van-Zee and reformed Kryptonian criminal Ak-Var. In this volume, they battle Braniac, giant germs, Kandorian seperatists, and Phantom Zone villains. Not bad for the Dynamic Duo of Kandor.

Paul Kupperberg handles the writing in the bulk of the tales and it's good bronze age fun, although the stories are fairly simplistic since they had to squeeze into a slot in Superman Family rather than being given book length adventures.

The book contains Superman Family 173, 183-194. I would have preferred more of Superman and Jimmy's adventures as Nightwing and Flamebird. #173 is the only one, although they team up with the second Nightwing and Flamebird in one of the other tales. Hell, they could have included the Batman and Robin team-up since it's what inspired Dick Grayson to take the Nightwing identity pre-Crisis.

Some of the stories were evidently part of crossovers and the connecting stories aren't provided, making for an unsatisfying read at times. Still, I can't complain that much since I only spent five bucks on it.

Superman: The Aventures of Nightwing and Flamebird is a fun Bronze Age read and a nice glimpse of a largely forgotten time in Superman's past. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, Vol. 2

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, Vol. 2Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, Vol. 2 by Stan Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, Volume 2 contains Daredevil #12 to #21.

In this volume, Daredevil takes on The Plunderer, Ox, the Masked Marauder, the Gladiator, and the Owl and has classic super-hero misunderstandings with Spider-Man and Ka-Zar. Oh, and Foggy is pretending to be Daredevil to impress Karen Page. Nothing can go wrong with that...

The stories aren't as good as volume two. I'll just say that right off the bat. The Marauder and The Gladiator took up entirely too much of Daredevil's time. The art, however...

The art in this volume is spectacular for the time period. Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Gene Colan each take a hand at penciling old horn head. While I love me some Kirby and Romita, Gene Colan's Daredevil is the Daredevil I picture in my head, the same way Jim Aparo's Batman is the first Batman to come to mind.

I say the art in this volume was easily worth the $15 bucks I paid. The story, not so much. Stan Lee was stretching himself thinner than Mr. Fantastic at this point in time. Three out of five stars.

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Came the Dawn and Other Stories

Came the Dawn and Other StoriesCame the Dawn and Other Stories by Wallace Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Came the Dawn and Other Stories is a black and white collection of all of Wally Wood's crime and horror stories from EC Comics.

My teaser sums it up pretty well. Came the Dawn presents Wood's crime and horror works in chronological order in stark black and white. While I prefer Wood's science fiction work for EC, it's damn good.

It's interesting watching Wood improve as an artist as the collection rolls forward. The stories all have the trademark EC "bite you in the ass" ending. Some of the stories, particularly the early ones, are only average. The title story is one of the standouts, the tale of a man arriving at his woodland cabin to find the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. But there's also reports of a woman having escaped from an insane asylum nearby...

Some of the stories are a product of their time, with the women being femme fatale liars, but there are a handful of progressive tales that still have an impact today. Bill Gaines wasn't shy about pointing out the evils of racism and ignorance. Anyone who says the comics of yesteryear weren't political needs to read this collection.

I've seen some people put off by the black and white artwork but I think stripping away the color shows how good Wally Wood's artwork was. He was as at home drawing rotting corpses as he was buxom women. His use of perspective was great and he also drew some realistic looking '50s cars. Basically, the man could do it all and did a lot of it in this volume.

Fantagraphics did a great job with this so I'll be seeking out the rest of their EC reprints. Came the Dawn is an easy four star book.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection vol. 1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 by Kevin Eastman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young boy knocks an old blind man out of the way of a truck and is hit by a canister falling off the truck, striking him blind but amplifying his remaining senses. But the canister didn't stop there, it shattered as it struck a fishbowl containing four turtles and fell into a sewer. Now, fifteen years later, the turtles have returned to the surface as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

I've been a comic nerd my entire life but somehow I never got around to reading the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics until now.

As you can tell by the intro, I knew Eastman and Laird pinched Daredevil's origin and bolted TMNT's origin on to it. I also knew the general beats from the 1980s cartoon and the movies that came shortly thereafter but was surprised by all the differences but I'll get to that in a minute.

The first thing about the first issue was how murky and overdone the art was. I was actually more impressed with the writing. Secondly, the art style wasn't what I expected either, showing more of a Richard Corben and Robert Crumb influence than anything else. The layouts had some Marvel influence though, showing some dynamic, Kirby-style action. As the series progresses, and the guys get more comfortable, the art improves dramatically.

Quite a bit happens in the eight issues contained in this volume. The turtles emerge from the sewers to confront the Foot Clan and its master, The Shredder. And he dies in the first issue. See what I mean about differences? Not only that, April is a lab assistant to mad scientist Baxter Stockman, who is black in this iteration and not a human fly at this point.

Anyway, there's Baxter Stockman holding the city ransom, Splinter going missing, Raphael having a solo adventure with Casey Jones, and an interstellar saga that reminds me of early Fantastic Four issues. The double page spread on pages 2-3 of issue #6 is spectacular.

The comics are quite a bit different than the cartoons and the movies. The turtles all were red masks. Michelangelo isn't an annoying surfer dude, there is no mention of pizza, and the guys kill quite a few people. It's good shit!

There are notes by Eastman and Laird after each issue, giving extra insight into what went into them and vindicating me when I mentioned Richard Corben being one of their influences. I find it crazy that these guys were making a living putting out four comics a year and that a cultural phenomenon started with a self-published black and white comic.

By the end, I was hooked. It was great seeing the characters develop but I think I enjoyed watching Eastman and Laird getting more confident as artists even more. I'm in for another volume at least. Four out of five stars.

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World's End Harem vol. 3

World's End Harem vol. 3World's End Harem vol. 3 by Link
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shota, the third man released from cryosleep, goes to a private school where every woman wants his junk in a big way. Meanwhile, Reito is hard at work finding a cure for the Man-Killer virus when he gets a new pair of caretakers. Will Shota be able to resist the teacher he has lusted after for years? Will Reito finally mate with someone?

World's End Harem volume 3 is the most boobilicious volume yet. The smut is dialed up and the plot didn't advance a whole hell of a lot, although Shota is adjusting pretty well to his position as the only boy in school very well.

There's hasn't been a whole lot of forward momentum since the first volume but I think the series turned a corner at the end of this volume. We're over the hump, pun intended, and there are still three volumes to go.

I maintain my position that there are dirtier things on Cinemax than this book. If I was a teenage boy, I'd be all over this. As a 40 year old, it was still dirty fun in a "last man on earth fantasy" sort of way. Lots of T&A but I don't think anyone is honestly reading it for the overall plot. Four out of five nipples.

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Marvel Masterworks Daredevil Volume 1

Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, Vol. 1Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, Vol. 1 by Stan Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After being blinded in an accident, Matt Murdock finds that his remaining senses have been heightened to superhuman levels and he uses them to fight crime as Daredevil, The Man Without Fear!

I originally read most of these eleven issues of Daredevil on Marvel Unlimited a couple years ago. When I found the first two hardcover Daredevil Masterworks volumes on sale for $15 each, I decided it was time for a reread.

In this 250 page tome, Daredevil takes on The Fixer, Electro, The Owl, Stiltman, The Matador, Mr. Fear, Namor, The Purple Man, The Organizer, and his biggest enemy of all, his feelings for Karen Page, his secretary! The stories are a product of the silver age and aren't anything spectacular by today's standards but they're easily on par with the other super hero titles at the time.

The title was a revolving door of artists in the early days, from Bill Everett to Joe Orlando to Wally Wood to Bob Powell. Orlando and Wood on the title back to back gave the early issues a little of an EC comics feel. Hell, Bill Everett was no slouch, either, and I kind of like the original yellow Daredevil costume.

Wally Wood's art was easily my favorite. Marvel catches a lot of hell for not giving artists enough credit during the Silver Age so it's kind of a surprise that Wally Wood's name is plastered on the front cover of Daredevil #5.

This volume contains my favorite comic of the silver age and probably the comic I've read the most times over the years: Daredevil #7. While it shows it's age a little, it perfectly encapsulates everything good about Daredevil. He takes the shit-kicking of his life from Namor and still keeps coming. Eventually the sea king gives up rather than having to kill Daredevil to stop him. It's also the first appearance of the iconic red costume.

The first run of Daredevil stories was a little uneven but still quite enjoyable. Daredevil's abilities and handicaps give him a bit of a Spider-Man feel but I think Matt being a lawyer is what helps differentiate Daredevil from the web-slinger. I think Stan was spreading himself a little too thin at this point. Half of Daredevil's enemies are sloppy seconds from Spider-Man or the Human Torch. The Purple Man and Stiltman are really the only soley Daredevil villains in the volume that have stood the test of time, Stiltman for the wrong reasons.

I do not regret my purchase of this volume in the least. Daredevil's silver age adventures are a fun look back to the beginnings of the Man Without Fear. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection Vol. 2

Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection Vol. 2Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection Vol. 2 by Leiji Matsumoto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Space Pirate Captain Harlock continues his war against the Mazon, whether Earth deserves his help or not...

While I wasn't blown out of the water by Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection Vol. 1, I was interested enough to continue and I'm glad I did. Whereas volume 1 was mostly setup, there was a lot of meat to this one. The Arcadia goes from battle to battle, learning more about the Mazon and narrowly escaping death. The crew gets closer to some of Harlock's secrets and the Mazon threat is more resourceful than anyone thought.

Some of the gender politics in this book were ahead of their time and once again Harlock rails against humanity's complacency. You have to wonder if he won't wind up blasting earth himself in the final volume.

Mimay continues to be my favorite character, an alien female who subsists on alcohol. Daibo is coming along. Harlock's still mysterious. I do wonder if his background will be revealed in the final volume. The Mazon have a lot more depth than was apparent in the first volume.

Captain Harlock: The Classic Collection Vol. 2 was vastly more enjoyable than the first volume. To paraphrase Arnold Rimmer it has better art, better writing, bettter... better. Just better. Four out of five stars.

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