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From the Archives: Superman #650

superman0650Up, Up, and Away! (part 1)

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Associate Editor: Nachie Castro
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Artists: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Cover Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

It’s been a year since Superman apparently disappeared, and the fine folks of Metropolis have moved on, though many take an evening to revisit the past, watching a retrospective on the life and times of their favorite son. Among the spectators are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, who discuss the authenticity of the retrospective with a couple different viewpoints. Shortly after, other familiar elements of the Superman story are reintroduced–Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Perry White. A familiar "villain" is introduced here as well–one that may be familiar to older readers, but I’m not sure this character has appeared in the Superman comics since the mid-80s reboot. As this villain is attended to, we as readers are clued into at least part of why Superman has been absent for a year.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this issue. I’ve been concerned at the idea of "my" Superman–that is, the character (re)introduced in Byrne‘s Man of Steel mini-series–being shuffled off to the side in favor of yet another/different reimagining of the character. While this is only the first of an 8-parter that re-establishes the character post-Infinite Crisis, the writing team of Busiek & Johns has assuaged some of my concerns as several aspects that have defined the character and supporting cast for the last 18+ years are re-established here. However, there seem to be a number of minor or subtle shifts that distance things from the past, settling the characters very much in a sort of "timeless" present.

Busiek wrote my favorite Superman story in 2004’s Superman: Secret Identity. Johns on the other hand has written some other very compelling stories that I have really enjoyed over the past several years (including pulling me into following The Flash for 30 issues after never previously caring for the character). That said, both writers have a lot to live up to in my eyes, and for the moment, I’ll cautiously advance the idea that yes, they have lived up to those high standards.

The writing here is clear and definitely gets across the idea first of the broad strokes of Superman’s history that just about anyone will be vaguely familiar with (whether you know the character solely from last month’s issues, the Christopher Reeve films, Smallville, Lois & Clark, a parent/grand-parent’s stack of older comics, or just picking up on elements from years of the character’s suffusion of popular culture. If this is the first-ever comic starring Superman that you’ve read, you’ve got yourself a good starting point. If you’ve been following these comics for 20 years, you’ve got a good read that revalidates the character for the present, showing that both the old and newer elements can come together in a single well-written manner that gives us a story of Superman.

Offhand, I am unfamiliar with Pete Woods‘ art, but this issue makes for a good introduction. Everything seems nice and clear/clean–reading along with the story, the art shows exactly what is going on and pretty much just does it’s job of enhancing the written word to contribute to the overall look and feel of the issue. The art’s not perfect–but very little is. The main quibble I have is the depiction of the S-shield; it comes across a bit too "shiney" or metallic for my own tastes.

However–whether in Woods‘ art itself or the coloring (or both)–this issue somehow has a "brighter" feel to it than a lot of recent DC issues–by design or not, this lends itself to this being an upbeat, bright start to a new "generation" of Superman.
I very much recommend this issue, whether you are a new, old, or an on-the-fence reader.

superman0650_blogtrailer

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Astro City (2013) #3 [Review]

astrocity003Mistakes

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color Art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Executive Editor: Shelly Bond
Published by: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’ve always quite enjoyed stories set in a superhero universe that focus on the “regular people” in the world; how they are affected by the mere EXISTENCE of the super-heroes; how their lives are different from ours, for that “reality.” And I’ve found no series more consistent at delivering that than Astro City, whoever’s publishing the title at the time.

While I thought #1 was starting a single ongoing story, it seems that was either a red herring or something to be revisited later, as last issue gave a whole different story, which is picked up again in this issue.

After realizing her mistake and what she seems to have set off–a huge war between Honor Guard and the Skullcrushers–that’s resulted in much collateral damage and loss of life, our heroine first goes home sick, before resolving to take action…self-imposed penance, essentially. She takes it upon herself to use what resources she has access to, to try to assist those negatively impacted by her mistake, though this leads to another unintended result for her…and inadvertently proves her worth to those she most assumes sees none in her.

The art is clear and consistent as usual, the coloring and overall tone maintaining “the look and feel” I associate with Astro CityRoss‘ cover and ANDERSON’S interiors both.

The story feels like a “typical” sort, for this title in whatever its iteration (Wildstorm, Vertigo, etc)…which is to say it doesn’t blow me away in the way that, say, the #1/2 issue did from all those years back, but this is still darned good stuff!

This issue IS the second of a 2-part story, so while there’s plenty of context to “get” what’s going on in this issue, it’s likely far more appreciable if you at least snag #2 as well and read this in context of that…though you do not need to go all the back to #1.

Definitely recommended!

Astro City (2013) #2 [Review]

Astro City (2013) #2Welcome to HumanoGlobal

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Published by: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

$3.99 sucks. I’m really, really very tired of this price point. I think I’m going to keep making sure that’s extremely well-documented in these reviews and other blog posts until I eventually give up on new comics altogether.

That said, if you’re going to pay $3.99 for a single issue of a comic, there are few better series out there than Astro City. Even when you don’t know what the issue will be about or it deviates from the previous issue or whatever…it’s hard not to look back on a given issue without a bit of a smile and some disbelief at how much it was enjoyed and sheds different light on superhero stuff typically taken for granted or outright not often considered.

This issue focuses on a new employee of a hotline–said hotline turns out to be for a call center that weeds out the truly important calls for the Honor Guard, and in other cases outright makes connections allowing Honor Guard to be sent after villains/terrorists before they have a chance to enact plans that would otherwise leave the heroes reactive rather than proactive. We see bits of her training, the sorts of calls she takes, and the excitement with her teammates when they manage to catch a big call and be part of the overall “process” that leads to the saving of so many lives. Though they largely have to keep the true nature of their work secret from family and non-work friends, they find certain perks within their work…but also learn that one mistake can be very costly.

The art is strong as usual for an Astro City issue; everyone who should look familiar does, and those that don’t still look quite good. While the story itself isn’t your usual fare, the sequences with superhero action look as one might expect (if not a bit on the higher end quality-wise) while the normal people look…normal.

Story-wise, this is another great outing, showing that Busiek knows his stuff–and does very well giving us a look at the human side of things, as “normal humans” interact in a world filled with super-powered beings and threats, and how the culture itself is impacted by their very existence.

While I missed this issue on Wednesday and thought “oh well” I quickly realized that no, I actually really wanted to read this, and it became the entire reason of going back to a comic shop Friday rather than simply waiting and picking it up with next week’s books. There really aren’t many series that do that for me.

Provided you have any background at all with Astro City–I’d especially recommend the first TPB Life in the Big City (there’s even a new edition out now)–you’d actually be fine jumping in on this issue without even having read #1…which is another strength of this series: there are a lot of short arcs and done-in-one issues, rather than the “standard” fare from DC and Marvel necessitating 4-6 issues’ investment just for a single story.

I’d largely prefer to hold off for the collected volumes, but for now, this return of Astro City is such a welcome thing, I’m likely to keep going with the single issues for at least a few more months.

Superman Unchained #1 [Review]

Superman Unchained #1The Leap

Writer: Scott Snyder
Penciller: Jim Lee
Inker: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Sal Cipriano
Cover: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair
Assoc. Editor: Chris Conroy
Group Editor: Matt Idelson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $4.99

So…$4.99 for this Superman Unchained #1. It’s functionally a 20-page story with a 2-page “epilogue” or “backup” or “extra feature.” 22 pages for $4.99. BUT there’s what was billed as a “tipped-in POSTER” included. This poster is just a double-sided foldout allowing for two single images roughly 4x the size of a normal-sized page, the most “poster-like” loaded with caption boxes. Maybe technically this counts as an extra 8 pages…but that STILL only brings the pagecount to 30…for $4.99. Removing this so-called “poster” involved peeling it off a bound-in piece of tagboard–something which I would assume complicated the printing/binding process in itself to put in, plus the folding, placement of the glue, and the placement of the “poster.” And the “poster” itself had a couple dots of this glue, keeping it from flapping open.

All this hassle, and it’s basically for one side of a “poster” being this huge image of Superman crashing through a satellite, and then an extra-large image of him narrating the situation on the other side. Hardly something that would really make sense on the wall as a poster, more just some comic page pulled out of an issue and stuck on the wall.

$4.99. Five dollars. And while I read the first arc of Superman when the New 52 began–so have a BIT of context of Lois, Perry, and Clark’s relationships…I’m not even that clear on what things are here. And the issue’s big “reveal,” the thing that’s such a big deal, isn’t. Not to me. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t change things.

So, objects are falling to Earth. Superman’s trying to stop them, letting one go since he sees it’ll fall “harmlessly” while he stops this huge “Lighthouse” satellite that’s gonna hit like a gigantic nuclear bomb. He confronts Lex Luthor, who has an alibi, and as he seethes over this, learns someone stopped that object he’d let go–but if it wasn’t him, Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern–then who, exactly, WAS it that stopped the thing? We learn of General Lane’s involvement, and of a secret weapon against Superman that goes back to the beginning of things.

Visually…the art’s good. It’s Jim Lee, whose art I’ve tended to almost always enjoy. Maybe I’m just irked about the “poster,” and/or the price and/or my own lack of context for not keeping up with Superman the last 15 months, but the art doesn’t blow me away. It’s good, but it’s not the “great” that I’d’ve hoped for. It’s not the Jim Lee art that a decade ago prompted me to NOT drop the Superman titles but rather keep up a few more months until Lee‘s run on an Azzarello story would begin.

Story-wise, I’m just not interested. I know a lot of people are loving Snyder‘s work, and will consider this to be great Superman…but unfortunately, this is NOT “my” Superman. Perhaps the collected volume(s) will end up being my thing, if I myself hear enough good about it to warrant checking them out. But for now…this issue just doesn’t do anything (positive) for me.

I have no intention of grabbing the next issue, and it’ll depend on others’ reviews whether or not I even bother returning to this title in any form, outside proper bargain bins. For your page count, you’d be better off grabbing the first Superman: Earth One graphic novel and reading that, especially if you’re looking for a specific tie-in to the Man of Steel film.

Astro City (2013) #1 [Review]

Astro City (2013) #1 [cover]Through Open Doors (Part One)

Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Cover: Alex Ross
Lettering & Design: John G. Roshell & Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft
Color Art: Alex Sinclair
Editor: Kristy Quinn
Assistant Editor: Jessica Chen
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

I’m pretty sure it’s been a few years since I’ve read Astro City. The last I recall, I left off during the Dark Age saga: as I’m typing this, I don’t even recall why I never finished. Might be I’d grown bored; maybe I was “protesting” a cover price if they were $3.99, whatever.

This new #1 is $3.99, but since it seems EVERYTHING is $3.99…I’d really have to just give up comics entirely, now, to “protest” the price point (and I am a lot quicker to find any “excuse” to outright “drop” a title as a result).

But Astro City! The series is back–after awhile under Image/Homage, then the Wildstorm banner and limbo when Wildstorm was terminated, I’d wondered where we’d see the series pop up. And now it’s under Vertigo, which while I wouldn’t consider this a title exactly fitting with Vertigo (moreso that I wouldn’t limit this series to the older crowd) means it’s still under DC, which is what it is. And as a new #1…I’ll bite for the first issue…particularly given the nostalgia factor and that I’ve generally enjoyed Astro City stuff that I’ve read.

We open with a strange man speaking to us of some looming threat, and we’re introduced to American Chibi, a sort of “overlooked” heroine of Astro City (that when you focus on the big ones, obviously some are going to be missed). We’re re-introduced to some familiar faces as well as new; see the city introduced to some powerful new alien, and a “common citizen” chosen to befriend him and be his guide to understanding the Earth. And finally, against his protestations, we learn a potentially disturbing fact about our narrator that can cast the whole story in a new light.

The creative team behind this issue is quite familiar, lending a continued consistency to the title as it’s been bounced from imprint to imprint: the cover logos may change, but the story, the art, the characters–those remain constants, creatively.

As the art is “standard” Astro City art by Anderson, everyone who should look familiar does, and I had no trouble following along…and there was no weird anatomy to throw me off with anyone (well, no weird anatomy that shouldn’t be there), no weirdly constructed pages/panels to leave me scratching my head. Basically, the visual side was a smooth ride all the way through the issue, with nice detail and all the right “touches” I expect of an Astro City comic.

The story left me a bit hesitant at first, but quickly drew me in. I quickly found myself first thinking of this narrator in terms of Doctor Who, which (to me) was rather amusing in a way, and then another sort of familiarity set in, and just when I felt I was getting to “know” the him, the end of the issue changes things rather dramatically.

Overall, the issue does what I’d want in a first issue, especially one like this where it’s an older, continuing property, but the RETURN of that property after several years’ hiatus. We get new characters and old; and we get the details pertaining to the story, that we need, in the story. Having a “history” with Astro City, I pick up on allusions to other stuff, other characters–but even so, I haven’t read any of those in years myself, so I’m foggy on details. But that in no way hinders this story; if anything it just makes me want to go back and re-read some older Astro City stories.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a great return to the series’ existence. I’d originally thought to just try this first issue, “for old time’s sake,” and let that be that…but I’m pretty likely to actually go ahead and snag the next issue.

The New 52! #1 [Review]

The New 52! #1

Writer: Geoff Johns
Art: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Kenneth Rocafort, Gene Ha
Color: Alex Sinclair, Rod Reis, Blond, Art Lyon
Cover: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair
Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Assistant Editor: Kate Stewart
Editors: Dan Didio & Eddie Berganza

This issue is mostly teaser, and seems especially designed more for those following DC‘s The New 52 for the past 9 or so months moreso than a brand-new reader that might be sucked in for Free Comic Book Day 2012.

We’re shown a sentencing for a trio of characters, all of whom–if not off the bat, then by their fates–have a certain familiarity, as we see the origin of “Pandora,” who we see here has a much larger role to play in the new DCU in the near future. These three characters have been condemned by The Wizard (as in Shazam), punished for contributions to harm of mankind. In the present day, Pandora stirs up some trouble stealing back her box as she seeks to unravel her curse, and we’re then shown a glimpse into the near-future of the DCU, and the coming “event” due out “next year.”

There’s a whole mix of art to the issue, culminating in a fold-out posterlike 4-page spread by Jim Lee spotlighting the main Justice Leaguers in the “near future.” Overall, given this is essentially a sampler issue and I had no idea what to expect of it, the art didn’t stand out all that much to me. Some characters are familiar, others not so much, and I’m not sure if the unfamiliarity I have is with the New 52 in general, or with concepts being “introduced” in this issue.

Story-wise, there’s not a whole lot; this is like having the “origin” of Pandora (and a couple other characters) thrown in front of us to pull one in, like “hey, remember these guys? Here they are! See! Now you HAVE to read the coming event!”

As a free issue…yeah, this is worthwhile. If it weren’t for the credits taking up much of the bottom of the image, I’d be inclined to pull the center out of the issue and stick it on the wall as a small poster, at least. Almost half this issue is a section of 2-ish page “previews” of the second wave of DC titles, and I skipped over ’em. I already bought Earth 2 #1, and NOT being an art person, have no interest in the 5-7+ page previews DC‘s often stuck in the back of its books, and 1-2 pages mean even less.

Probably for the worse (to me), this issue makes it clear that The New 52 is building toward some huge event (coming next year, though), and since I’m not willing to invest in a bunch of titles as-is, I have even less interest now.

Story: 4/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 6/10

Earth 2 #1 [Review]

Full review posted to cxPulp.com.

Story: 3.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5

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