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Comic Book Review: Marvel’s Infinity #2

Jonathan Hickman and the Avenger’s writing and editorial team are turning linewide crossovers into highly choreographed dance before our very eyes.

From the relatively staid Infinity #1 sprang Hickman’s own Avengers #18 and New Avengers #9 – one a space battle that forged unlikely allies, the other a civil war between Earth’s remaining mighty heroes. From Avengers #18 spun Kellie Sue DeConnick’s two-sided coin of Avengers Assemble #18 and Captain Marvel #15, following two Avengers Quinjets into and out of the battle through the eyes of two best friends separated by the gulf of space.

They were four highly enjoyable comic books. The coordination between Avengers, Assemble, and Captain Marvel was nothing less than extraordinary – each one mirrors scenes from the other to construct a prismatic view of the same battle.

That brings us to the second entry in the main event – Infinity #2. Would it play out yet another dimension of the same space battle? Would it breathe some life into the characters from the prior issue? Would the teenage angst of the art improve?

Let’s find out.

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Script and graphic design by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Jerome Opena & Dustin Weaver. Color art by Justin Ponsor.

Rating: 3 of 5 – Good

#140char review: Infinity #2: The plot picks up as a still impersonal story snaps between Earth & space but it’s Opena’s portion of art that makes this epic.

CK Says: Consider it.

Infinity #2 is a thriller from its opening pages, and writer Jonathan Hickman can’t even take all the credit.

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Marvel needs to back up a Brinks truck to the front door of Eisner-winning artist Jerome Opena to ensure his participation on big event books for many years to come. Surely his highly-detailed, cinematic art takes a steady hand and long hours to produce, but every damn frame of it in this comic book is utterly gorgeous – especially wall-worthy recaps of the battles shown in New Avengers. Justin Ponsor’s colors ground Opena’s lined work, adding to its depth and texture.

I suspect this is the sort of comic art movie-goers are hoping to find when they crack open an issue or buy it digitally. Marvel can’t afford to have this sort of weary realism grace the pages of every book – nor would that be appropriate. But it’s a welcome delight after events handled by the slick, animated style of Coipel and Immonen. When it comes to The Avengers and massive events, readers deserve the best of that style – and right now Opena is its pinnacle at Marvel (along with veteran Mike Deodato on Hickman’s Avengers books).

Not all of the book is Opena – after a low-orbit prologue, he sticks to the space battles, leaving two scenes of Earth-bound action to compatriot Dustin Weaver. Weaver, whose notable slowness has marooned a second series of Hickman’s SHIELD two-thirds of the way through, is in solid form in his two segments if not a match for Opena.

As with Cheung before him, he draws terrific architecture and monstrous aliens. However, he also nails all of the human figure-work and faces – at least, for the men he does. He can’t seemed to decide how to draw Inhuman queen Medusa from panel to panel.

(And, let’s face it – his marquee panel of a determined Black Bolt looks like Grumpy Cat.)

Overall, the art is just a mugging Inhumans away from five-stars, but how does the story fare?

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Hickman is in finer form here than in the first chapter, deftly playing between the scenes of the four tie-in issues that intervened. A brief prologue showing an armed infiltration of a S.W.O.R.D. satellite base is isn’t strictly necessary, but wisely frames the action on Earth that we saw in New Avengers #9 to draw it into the context of this story. Opena’s panel’s of Sydren are perhaps the best he’s ever looked (and I think I own his every appearance so far). Similarly, Hickman and Opena dispatch of the three-issue space battle in a single page that expertly weaves in the action we’ve missed.

Scenes in the Inhumans’ floating city shows why Thanos’s interest have suddenly turned to Earth while The Builders’ obliterate societies across the galaxy, while in the intervening pages we see The Builders’ plot of destruction is not as one-sided as we thought.

In getting there, we view a series of thrilling still-frames from a kinetic space battle that casts our Avengers (and Claremont-created Gladiator of the Shi’ar) as a new pantheon of powerful gods to replace our creators of old. What use does an adult society have with its progenitors? Once we are given life, how long must we show gratitude and deference before striking our own path? The Builders seem to be contemplating these same questions, as they send a sole Ex Nihilo (meaning “out of nothing” – a concept intrinsically linked with creation) on a mission that runs counter to his life’s purpose.

This is the Hickman I know and love – interlacing questions of determinism and theology amidst his punch-ups.

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Yet, even as Hickman hits his narrative stride, he shows that he’s still adjusting to story-telling on comics biggest stage. Both the space battle and the wake of the Nihilo’s action are narrated by a removed speaker, keeping the reader at a distance from the heroes we so desire to get close to. In particular, their humanitarian mission to the victims of the Ex Nihilo comes off as a maudlin waste of pages despite Opena in full gravitas mode. Just a word from Thor’s lips to pair with his actions could have loaned these scenes the narrative heft to match their imagery, but Hickman misses the chance.

A final Earth-bound sequence by Weaver is all exposition to get us to the issue’s big reveal. It’s a doozy in terms of Marvel continuity, but it would have been heavier if we could expect a Secret Invasion style “Who could it be?” surprise in the coming issues. Unfortunately, the mystery doesn’t have a very deep bench of characters to draw its answer from. It would have probably been more interesting to make the subject a mutant than an Inhuman, which would have also made the X-Men more relevant to the event. Alas, Marvel has other intellectual property to flog in 2014, and Hickman dutifully steers the story in that direction.

We end Infinity #2 in a far more interesting place than we began, questioning the motives of a pair of seemingly-unconnected but equally-complex enemies. It’s clear this crossover isn’t going to be the two-front bash-em-up its lead-up suggested. Yet, one-third of the way through the event, it’s a fair question to ask if Hickman will ever make these stunning images and surprising developments truly visceral. For all the barbs thrown at past event-pilots Bendis and Fraction, they each knew how to give voice to fan favorite characters and twist a personal knife amidst the destruction of battle.

Though the story of Infinity has now proven its intrigue, I fear Hickman might stay removed from the action for the duration of this series. Maybe that’s how it should be … maybe that’s how we avoid a disappointing event. Even so, it’s also going to leave each issue slightly unsatisfying as we finish it.

Comic Book Review: Marvel’s Infinity #1

Monthly comic books are a bit like the local nightly news.

Whether a day is exciting or not, or whether you care or not, your local nightly news will find something to say about it. I haven’t seen it for over a decade, but some people watch it daily. Others just tune in when there is a big story to report on.

Ongoing comic books are a lot like that. They just keep happening, issue after issue, while comic book publishers find new things about them to hype every month. Some people devoutly collect each one, while others only buy stories with their favorite characters or creators.

Both in news and in comics, every once in a while there is a big event. A big news event is the kind of thing that causes TV networks to break into their regularly scheduled programming with an update from the national news bureau, and might keep you refreshing Twitter or CNN all day long.

Comic books have the equivalent in line-wide event books. These limited-run titles signal the arrival of a massive, world-altering story too big in scope to contain in a single 22-page issue. However, much like big news events, sometimes comic events are a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, and after all the breathless coverage you wonder what the big deal was.

Which brings us to today’s topic…

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Script and graphic design by Jonathan Hickman. Pencils by Jim Cheung. Inks by Mark Morales with John Livesay, David Meikis, and Jim Cheung. Color art by Justin Ponsor.

Rating: 2.5 of 5 – Okay

#140char review: Infinity #1: Hickman reveals a long-term plot in steady pulses. As usual, Cheung’s heroes are all thin-lipped teens. Solid (if bland) set-up

CK Says: Consider it.

Jonathan Hickman excels at writing entire forests of plot and motivations, and in the end Infinity #1 is just a single tree.

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You can tell that important plot points are being set up here. You can feel that certain foreboding exposition is actually the punch line of a dark joke we won’t be told for several issues.

Yet, on its own Infinity #1 just doesn’t excite.

Part of this is a heavy reliance on alien concepts (literally and figuratively). While the Giger-eseque alien Outrider and an entire subjugated society of Ahl-Gullo are made from whole cloth, bringing Space Knights back from the brink of obscurity is a delight. However, the resultingly spare speaking panels full of heroes leaves this thick book feeling a bit light on content.

Of those, only Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Bolt get significant screen time here, and none of them are actually significant. The former two feel as though they appear just to appease whiners like me, though Black Bolt certainly makes his presence felt (and heard).

Jim Cheung is drawing both the bookends of this series, and those positions are likely the wisest choice. Cheung excels at creatures, cityscapes, gear, and explosions – all guaranteed in the opening and closing installments. His widescreen alien action will make you realize why comic book movies will never top the sheer audacity of settings and casting of actual comics.

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That said, films do have one up on Cheung: he’s merely average on faces. His heroes are no Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, handsome and distinct. Every last human being has the same thin-lipped, constipated teenager face – Cap’s just has a few extra wrinles. It made Cheung unmissable on Young Avengers and Children’s Crusade, but annoying here. His action is unclear, making the nimble escape of the Outrider a confusing muddle.

The real art-star of this book is colorist Justin Ponsor, who finds middle ground between Dean White reversed-white shading and Marvel’s infamously orange sunset color scheme. From the haunting red of the sunken eye-sockets of a tortured Caretaker to the dusty rainbow of superhero costumes pressed together in a chilly cargo hold, Ponsor finds the right tone for every page. It’s he who knocks it out of the park for the best splash pages of the book – the visceral vibration effect on Black Bolt’s seismic whisper and two full pages of Thanos’s shadowed face.

The lack of thrill in issue one isn’t a mood-killer. Hickman has yet to pen a disappointing arc of comics. The next two artists – Opena and Weaver – are two of the best in Marvel’s stable. And, in addition to five additional issues of Infinity, we’re also due for nine key Avengers issues to expand the plot – so, it’s likely Avengers #18 and New Avengers #9 will fill in the character beats I sorely missed in this issue. Plus, once we’ve traversed the entire forest, this particular tree will probably look much more interesting.

This isn’t a bad comic book, but you probably won’t go wrong simply picking up #2 when it hits in a few weeks.

PS: If you can, pick this book up digitally for a rather impressive Silver Surfer back-up story that isn’t present in the print edition.

Top 12 X-Men Collections of 2011 – New Material

Uncanny X-Men issue #534.1, from Uncanny X-Men: Breaking Point

Today I bring you a list of the best collections of new X-Men material released in 2011, which collect stories originally published over the last 18 months of comics.

Occasionally I wonder if comic collecting as an adult is merely a shameless attempt at recapturing our youth now that we have the budget to appreciate it properly – especially as I and many other fans (let’s be honest) fetishize premiere format reprints of the comics we coveted as a kids. (Last week’s post covered the best of those from 2011.)

Is there anything to this hobby other than rewarding our inner teenage geeks?

If there’s an answer to be found in X-Men comics, it must be on this list. These are the twelve new X-Men stories that captured my imagination like those old issues I still obsess over, and I categorize “the wonder of feeling like a kid again” separately from “trying to recapture youthful feelings with a dose of well-preserved nostalgia.” Read more…

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5. Uncanny X-Force: Apocalypse Solution
Collects Uncanny X-Force #1-4 & material from Wolverine: The Road to Hell

A team of 90s-popular hyper-killers plus a parody of a 90s hyper-killer sounds very … 90s. Right?

Wrong, when they are in the hands of breakout star writer of 2011, Rick Remender. Wolverine is deadly and deadpan, Psylocke and Archangel are both believably in love and reluctant to pull a trigger, Deadpool is simultaneously hilarious and murderous, and Fantomex is like Robert Downey Jr. playing James Bond playing Deadpool as a Frenchman. This opening arc fires on all cylinders and Jerome Opena’s art is beyond gorgeous. (Read my original review.)

Also available in paperback. If you like this, pick up the following arc, Deathlok Nation.

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4. Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine
Collects the six-issue limited series. 

Even more Wolverine? And how did this book get on here when I claim to dislike Jason Aaron?

As it turns out, Aaron is at his best when he’s at his most zany, which is maybe why I don’t enjoy him on straight Wolverine books. With Peter Parker as his narrator, a nonsensical cross-time caper as his backdrop, and the best-ever take on a classic scenery-chewing X-villain from artist Adam Kubert, he finds sure success. This book is madcap, requires little or no prior knowledge, and is repeatedly worthy of an actual LOL.

Also available in paperback. If you like this, you need to pre-order Aaron’s forthcoming Wolverine & The X-Men, Vol. 1 ASAP.

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3. X-Men: Age of X & X-Men Legacy: Aftermath
Collects Age of X: Alpha, New Mutants #22-24,  X-Men Legacy #245-247, and Age of X: Universe 1-2 & #242-244 and #248-249

Early previews of Age of X left fans a little cold – another alternate reality with twisted versions of our heroes? Leave it to Mike Carey, departing this month after a 70+ issue run on X-Men Legacy, to surprise us all by turning in a subtle, slow-burning alternate reality tale. Age of X is a quality mystery story that gets deep into the psychology of all of our favorite X-Men, plus features delectable art from rising star Clay Mann.

To fully appreciate the deft, self-contained world of Age of X, you also need the strong Aftermath, which bookends Age of X with a pair of significant stories that both benefit from and add depth to to the mysteriously twisted alternative world. Throughout, Rogue (and, to a lesser extent, Magneto) is star of the show. (Read my original AOX and Aftermath reviews.)

Both Age of X and Aftermath are available for pre-order in paperback. If you like the actual-reality of Aftermath, try X-Men Legacy: Emplate (HC or TPB). If you like the alternate-reality of Age of X, pre-order the massive forthcoming Age of Apocalypse Omnibus.

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2. New Mutants: Fall of the New Mutants
Collects New Mutants #15-21.

Since it’s 2009 debut New Mutants has been a fun read, but its first year of issues read like an overflow pan for plots too periphery for Uncanny X-Men to deal with. Here the book not only gets its own unique story, but it is a gripping, daunting action-adventure with high stakes that stretch all the way back the Inferno saga of the 1980s!

Spider-Man writer Zeb Wells nails the characterization of the entire team (even oft-ignored Karma!) and Leonard Kirk draws engaging comic art without the fussy overly-detailed photo-reference of his peers. Together, they plunge the team into one of their most desperate positions (and that is saying a lot for this group of characters!), which makes the shocking resolution even more satisfying! (Read my original review.)

This directly precedes Age of X (above), and should absolutely be read beforehand if you plan to pick up both. Also available in paperback. If you like this, try X-Infernus (HC or TPB) or New Mutants: The Return of Legion (HC or TPB) – both of which are key setup for this arc.

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1. Uncanny X-Force: The Dark Angel Saga: Book 1 (& 2!)
Collects Uncanny X-Force #8-13 (& 14-18 or 19)

Do not be surprised when every year-end X-Men list names this as the storyline of the year. Or decade. Or “ever, since Dark Phoenix.” Writer Rick Remender finds layers in his kill-squad of Deadpool, Psylocke, and Fantomex that never existed before and somehow finds a way to make Wolverine not the main character, all while crafting Angel into the best villain the X-Men have faced in years (decades?) (since Dark Phoenix?).

Yet, this Saga isn’t all endless piles of over-dramatic continuity porn – it starts off with two killer one-shot issues before beginning its sickening ascent up a rollercoaster of plot that pays off with insane loop-to-loops in the forthcoming Book 2. Together they form the story named by a vast majority of X-Men fans – including your author – as the best of 2011.

Plus: the original Dark X-Man, Jean Grey … but not how you might have expected. 

Just trust me on this one. Both Book 1 and Book 2 are available for pre-order in paperback. If you like this, read The Dark Phoenix Saga (duh).

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Whew! That’s a lot of X-Men comics! For my fellow fans – do you agree? What 2011 new releases have I left off that no true X-Fan should be without? Leave a comment with your reasoning!

I’ll get back to my collections-of-the-week series soon, but first I’ll be back next week with a preview of the best upcoming collections announced for 2012 in both new and reprinted material.

From the Beginning: Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park

I never owned a Bruce Springsteen album as a kid. All I know about him are his cartoonishly overblown 70s and 80s hit singles. I thought it would be fun to experience his records in the original order to try to understand why so many people in my life love his music.

Bruce Springsteen – Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
released January 3, 1973

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is Bruce Springsteen marking his journey from teen punk to struggling adult. It captures that very moment where a young man looks past the haze of his dreams to realize he may never escape the gravity of his small town. Even in that instant he knows that soon his recognition will fade as he, too, becomes a part of the unchanging scenery that surrounds him.

It is a bleak place to live. Welcome to Asbury Park.

There is desperation here as Springsteen tries to record the true faces of the icons of his youth – a series of greasy burn-outs and painted ladies – before he joins their sad chorus. “Blinded by the Light” is both the beginning and the end of the story. It functions as a Rosetta Stone for the record. A hopscotching bass line leaps between crazed blasts of saxophone and Bruce’s non-stop artillery of lyrics as he wonders if it’s worth it to be hobbled by the simple pleasures that surround him.

If the album was merely a time capsule of a long-since extinct mainstreet USA it would be a pleasant artifact. It is more than that thanks to the musical savvy of this nascent version of  Springsteen. He fuses the sounds of his contemporaries into something kinetic and occasionally terrifying. He rambles and yowls squeakily like Dylan, treads Van Morrison’s more soulful take on folk (especially on “Spirit In the Night”), and matches Don McLean’s obsessive need to paint every corner of a story with words.

Oh, the words. Springsteen has so much to say that he rarely pauses to repeat a refrain. Songs like “Blinded by the Light” and “For You” threaten to smother your ears in sheer alliteration, growing increasingly absurd under their own lyrical weight. As it turns out, young Springsteen had yet to master the efficacy of a few cutting phrases, which means this LP yields no anthemic choruses in the mold of “Born to Run.”

You have to start here to get there. Springsteen had to empty his mind of an indelible image of his home town and the distractions of youth, as on “Growin’ Up.” That broader, metaphorical version of him is teased here, as on the elegiac “Mary Queen of Arkansas.” It is a ballad for a figure not entirely of the world he inhabited by day, but borne of dreams of a wider America, unseen.

I’ll confess, I don’t like the album very much, yet I can’t deny that it transports me to Asbury Park, circa 1973. I see a town shattered in the shadow of the Vietnam War, full of losers and junkies trying to achieve orbit on a fistful of dope and broken dreams. “Everyone’s drunk on main street, drunk on holy blood,” Springsteen intones on the cutting “Lost in the Flood.” He wonders about the anesthetized figures that surround him, “Did you lose your senses in the war, did you lose them in the flood?”

Asbury Park is not a terribly cohesive album, but it paints a specific time and place. As his contemporaries transformed themselves with each record, Springsteen honed his rangy, biographical songwriting from cascades of words into a tool that could be held by anyone. He redefined the concept of folk troubadour, at points seeming to sing with the voice of America itself like Pete Seeger before him.

Is that so different than singing in the voice of his town? Could those later songs have emerged from the lips of a man who did not come of age afraid he would never escape? That tension between stay and go, settle down or explode has been with Bruce Springsteen for his entire career. It is as much as a part of him as the alleys and main drags of Asbury Park.

Top 12 X-Men Collections of 2011 – Reprinted Material

Welcome to 2012 – I am still a comic book geek.

Specifically, the X-Men.

Yep. That's a lot of comic books.

Specifically, I own something like 95% of every X-Men comic book ever reprinted.

On New Years’ Eve I said to myself, “You dashingly handsome scoundrel, how can you use your obsession to aid people who like the X-Men a normal, healthy amount – unlike you?”

The answer? I will count down for you the top twelve collected editions reprinting X-Men comics originally released before 2010. There’s a vast world of thousands of X-Men comics that have been released since 1963, and not all of them are readily available to buy in book format. These reprints mean that hard-to-get, or never-before-reprinted issues can be bought in handy collections with better reproduction of the line art than original issues.

(As for new X-Men material from 2011, that will require a whole new post to cover!) Read more…

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4. Uncanny X-Men Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 7 HC
Collects Uncanny X-Men #151-159, Annual 5, and Avengers Annual 10.

We’d be kidding ourselves if a new edition of UXM Marvel Masterworks didn’t make the list every year, but it’s for a good reason – these are premium quality, carefully preserved reprints of X-Men material that has rarely ever seen reprint in the past.

This edition sees the return of the amazing Dave Cockrum to art duties, and the return of the vicious Emma Frost to the rogues gallery. Plus, the X-Men return to space for the first time since Dark Phoenix, and Rogue makes her debut in the pages of the Avengers! (Not previously collected in full.)

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3. X-Men by Claremont/Lee Omnibus, Vol. 1 HC
Collects Uncanny X-Men #244-269Annual #13, X-Men Classic #39

Take two parts Chris Claremont, the writer of ever X-Man tale for over a decade. Add one part the savagely beautiful detailed line-art of Marc Silvestri, and one part explosive newcomer Jim Lee settling in for his first lengthy run on an ongoing title. Lee is renowned as the best comic artist of a generation, and here you can see him grow by leaps and bounds with every issue – which seems to also inspire Silvestri to improve his craft.

Many fans have whined that this is really the Anti-X-Men – the book opens with the team dissolving, and it never truly comes back together in this edition. I say, shove it. This disparate group of stories served to lead into the amazing creative crescendo of Claremont/Lee spending an unbroken year churning out classic issues before both of them jumped ship and the X-line got hijacked by constant gimmick events. (Not previously collected in full.)

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2. X-Men Omnibus, Vol. 2 HC
Collects X-Men #32-66, Avengers #53, KaZar #2-3, and Marvel Tales #30.

While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby laid the bedrock of what it meant to be a mutant, it is this volume that presaged the amazing scope and drama of the X-Men stories that would be told over the next forty years.

Here the original five start to transform from teens to team, and we get the incomparable creative pairing of Roy Thomas with Neal Adams. While this was the period that lead to the X-Men going on hiatus, on re-read you can hardly fault the adventurous plots that ensue. (Also collected in HC and TPB Marvel Masterworks.)

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What could be more classic than Classic X-Men, and more beautiful than early Jim Lee? Well, nothing. But the this next book wins just about every other award there is for X-Collections in 2011 – Most Surprising, Best Complete Saga, Most Shocking, Best Run from a Single Creative Team, Most Mammoth – the list is nearly endless.

…and, my number one collection of the year is…

1. X-Statix Omnibus
Already SOLD OUT at Amazon in just two months – try Cheap Graphic Novels or Tales of Wonder. Collects X-Force#116-129, Brotherhood #9; X-Statix #1-26; Wolverine/Doop #1-2; Dead Girl #1-5; and material from X-Men Unlimited #41, I <3 Marvel, and Nation X #4. 

X-Statix is really weird. Do not think of it as an X-Men comic, or even a Marvel superhero comic, as it relies very little on foreknowledge of either.  It is an indie comic about a deadly and incredibly popular reality television show that happens to star a team of lethal mutants with short life expectancies. There are no “villains” to speak of, though the team certainly faces ongoing challenges.

Instead, think of it as something like Reality Bites or Chasing Amy - or even Hunger Games - a self-aware piece of fiction that constantly comments on the real world culture it is woven within. It is a comic dissecting the convention of superheroes, much in the tradition of Watchmen. Except, instead of a dystopian 1984 we get a celebrity-as-reality obsessed modern day with absolutely no overarching plot.

With no villains and no major arc, you might wonder: what is this 1000+ page book even about? Sex, sexual identity, racial identity, celebrity, drugs, suicide, ethics of pharmaceuticals – you know, the same things our lives are about. It just so happens that each struggle is framed in terms of what it would mean to be a superhero struggling with that incredibly common human condition.

(Previously collected as a series of HCs and TPBs.)

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That’s my countdown! Have I left off any of your major favorite reprints of 2011? Chime in with a comment, and tune back in next week (really!)  for 2011′s top 12 collections of new material.

DC New 52 Review: Superman #1

Superman has been dangled like a carrot over readers’ noses all through DC’s 52 debut month, from his hot-headed flashback appearances in Justice League and Action Comics to his benevolent present day cameos in Swamp Thing and Supergirl.

The promise was implicit: you’ll get your full dose of Superman in the title with his name on it. Not only that, but that his modern depiction would help to contextualize the superheroes that appeared throughout all 52 books.

Well, we’ve arrived. 51 books later and it’s time to unveil the boy in blue in the present tense – in the capable hands of comics veteran George Perez.

Superman #1

Script & breakdowns George Perez, pencils & inks by Jesus Merino

Rating: 2 of 5 – Uneven

In a Line: “Superman, however, was occupied with other matters.”

#140char Review: Superman #1 is all the reasons modern readers mock 80s comics. Perez way overdoes it on script in this tangled one-shot plot.

CK Says: Skip it

Superman #1 under-delivers, focusing on every possible detail except for Superman. Classic creator George Perez over-scripts this allegory about print media living past the digital wrecking ball. Despite keeping this plot confined to a one-shot and fitting in a super-brawl, this issue was a chore to read.

This issue is too obsessed with text. Do we really need to know all the ins and outs of the Daily Planet’s newfound home in a major media empire? Perez chooses to defray his heavy-handed narrative voice-over by assigning it to in-story speakers, but it just makes things worse.

From the mayor’s overbearing introductory speech to a nonsensical newspaper article that reads like a bad blog post fraught with grammatical errors, Perez presents an unfortunate example of why modern comic readers tend to mock the overly-narrated issues of the 70s and early 80s.

If there is one aspect of the issue safe from criticism, it’s the artwork. Perez’s breakdowns guide artist Jesus Merino to fine issue of art – where’s it’s not obscured by text balloons, that is. A Courtney Cox inspired Lois winds up the star of the issue, and like Cox she’s an ageless blend of leggy starlet and purring cougar.

A one page diversion that sets up Stormwatch makes no more sense here than it would in any other title, except this is the ostensible present-day super-flagship. It’s still awkward.

In a graphic design nitpick, center-aligned narration boxes that contain entire paragraphs are a bad move. Readers don’t want to drag their eyes down a ragged left margin of text in a box. It’s confusing.

Superman #1 is a disappointing delivery given the buildup we’ve seen all month. While I’d welcome a series of one-shot stories showing the Man of Steel in action, I don’t think Perez’s narrative style jibes with Metropolis – especially when the ultra-efficient Grant Morrison is the other scripter in town.

DC New 52 Review: I, Vampire #1

Comics have been cashing on on vampires since long before Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or even Interview with the Vampire.

When interest in super-hero comics began to decline after World War II (and was further assaulted by Frederick Wertham) horror magazines were part of what kept the medium alive. Even after horror comics were censured by the Comics Code, classic monsters still turned up in comic plots.

Marvel’s 1970s title Tomb of Dracula was a mammoth soap operatic battle between Dracula and a bevy of would-be slayers. The 90s brought indie babe Vampirella to popularity, an Elvira-esque busty vampiress.

Marvel and DC have been dipping their toes back into blood for the past few years to see if the time is right to re-capitalize on vampire stories, but neither has quite struck gold. Has the fanged moment passed, in favor of the suddenly hip zombie movement of the past few years? Who knows, but DC and Marvel are both launching a new vampire ongoing this fall to find out.

I, Vampire

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, art by Andrea Sorrentino

Rating: 3.5 of 5 – Great

In a Line: “Normally I’d lock you away somewhere until I could find your sire. But, well, y’know…”

#140char Review: I Vampire #1, a bitter Twilight divorce tracks bad romance between noble vamp & lover who wants to consume the world. Unexpectedly arresting

CK Says: Consider it.

I, Vampire #1 is like Twilight written by Anne Rice, disposing of the sappy pursuit of undead teenage love and focusing on the eventual bitter fallout – and how the results can be deadly in the form of a 400-year-old scorned lover who wants to take back the night (and the entire human race) from a plague of superhero do-gooders.

I know that vampires aren’t for everyone, and even the people they ARE for might be a little tired of them after the past few years. That doesn’t change the fact that Joshua Hale Fialkov delivers on both gore and romance as he kickstarts this story from square one.

We get modern day vamp-on-vamp violence of race-traitor Andrew as his vampire slaying is narrated by his recent break with lover Mary. Andrew and Mary have already done the star-crossed thing, and the immortal lovers thing, and now they’re at the point of an ideological divide. Their debate? If you could be a young beautiful superhuman every night for the rest of your life would you content yourself with drinking cow’s blood and working the night shift forever, or would you rather try to take over the world from the masked men who have brightened its corners?

Yeah, it’s a little more complicated than your typical lover’s quarrel, and it has terrifying ramifications for the warm-blooded population of America.

Try to get past the twinkling nearly-nude hot bodies on the cover, which are probably keeping some readers who would dig this title at a distance. The interior art is the ash-colored world of a war comic or Walking Dead, bringing a bombed-out look to Boston at night – where the rubble is a heap of discarded bodies. Despite the loverly narration, we get hints that Andrew is going to be an acerbic post-Whedon anti-hero as he apologizes to fresh vamps for staking them.

The conversational narration has some moments of melodrama, but I felt like they were defused by the illustrations they hovered over. I’m duly impressed with artist Andrea Sorrentino. In the present we have Andrew’s grim vampire hunt through a tangle of limbs. In the past we have a romantic moonlit night that bears the same heavy shadows as the terrifying street scene. Sorrentino likes to draw some horror and revenge into love, Lady Gaga style.

I wasn’t expecting much from this fanged title in DC’s relaunch, but it wound up as one of my favorite books. Whether it’s superheroes or vampires, there is delight in finding a fresh spin on an old story, and I think Fialkov and Sorrentino succeed in this first issue. Yes, reluctant vampires and blood-thirsty lovers have been done before, but not in a superhero universe and not with this tone. It will be interesting to see where they head without the narrative frame they use to keep this one standing, but this bad romance is worth a read.

DC New 52 Review: The Flash #1

I always wonder – are simpler superheroes simply better?

Take The Flash, for example. On one hand, it’s a snap to translate him across mediums. No dark origin. No alien lineage. No link to Greek gods or convoluted weakness. The Flash is super-fast. That’s all you need to know.

The problem that arises is which way writers take that simplicity. Make a simple hero too pedestrian and he’s effectively a beat cop. try to craft too much mad science and mythology around a simple hero and the concoction collapses under its own way.

DC has visited both sides of the spectrum with The Flash, most recently using him as the impetus for their line-wide relaunch with their special event, Flashpoint. I have no interest in that Flash – running through time with his super-speed.

I refuse to believe that there aren’t enough challenges on Earth a little more complex than bank robberies but still not a synch to solve with super-speed alone. Surely there’s a place for a straightforward hero without making him boring or unbelievable.

The Flash #1

Written and illustrated by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

Rating: 4.5 of 5 – Remarkable

In a Line: “Somebody please tell me I don’t have a homicide with Flash’s fingerprints on it!”

#140char Review: Flash #1 is a magnetic fast-paced tale worthy of its charming hero, w/gorgeous art that’s still comic-y & glows on the page. Good clean fun.

CK Says: Buy it!

The Flash #1 is a beautiful, energetic, fun first issue that frames The Flash as both a hero and a human, who is caught within tricky mystery his speed cannot immediate solve.

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato write a seemingly simple story that’s full of deft turns, introducing Barry Allen’s world in layers. First they set the place, then a name, then the nature of their hero, before finally evoking the red frictionless suit to get the adventure underway. You go from zero to Flash expert in a matter of pages – or, at least, expert enough to never feel left out even without a coddling origin story.

I realized all of that after my read was through. What struck me in just a single panel is the beautiful art of Manapul and Buccellato and the intrinsic, compelling link between the art and the script.

The issue practically glows, and I can’t explain why. It’s the mix of Manapul’s background elements that don’t seem to have any lines at all with slick foreground characters rimmed in thick black lines like mascara. They fairly leap off the page.

Meanwhile, Buccellato’s colors don’t look like typical comic colors, but instead seem like color pastels rubbed onto the page and then illuminated from below with a lightbox.

Maybe it’s the gala event Barry is attending at the beginning of the issue, but Manapul’s character designs have the retro simplicity of Mad Man – or, at least, their animated Mad Men Yourself app. His Flash is attractive out of costume, but stunningly handsome in it – a blue-eyed everyman Adonis you can’t help but cheer for.

Flash might be the fastest man on Earth, but that doesn’t make his world any simpler. His hot nerd first date with co-worker Patty Spivot is interrupted by masked mercenaries and he’s being hunted in and out of costume by persuasive reporter Iris West, but first he has to do his job and crime-scene-investigate the merc who mysteriously died after Flash kinda saved him from a deadly fall by throwing him through a building, except for the dead guy is an old friend of Barry’s, which makes their next conversation a little complicated.

Got it? And that’s just in the first half of the issue.

The Flash lives up to its hero’s name with a kinetic first issue that’s easy to consume in a blink, but both the story and the art warrant a more slow-motion read. It sets up a mystery without being a major brain-teaser like some of the other amazing books out from DC this month. What it is is good clean fun in comic form that you can love equally as a kid or an adult – which is exactly the best way to frame a Flash comic. Manapul and Buccelatto seem like they were born to bring this hero to life.

DC New 52 Review: Voodoo #1

Busty woman have always been a part of the draw of comics, but in the late 80s and 80s it went completely overboard.

Already attractive female characters has their breast sizes increased to the point of physical impossibility as their waists collapsed and costumes became increasingly skin-tight (or, just skin). This trend was perpetrated hugely by Image’s superstar artists, so of course when they launched their own line of books they featured a bevy of those scantily dressed females.

The problem (beyond the obvious objectification) is that when female characters are babes from the concept stage, their origin stories become intertwined with their curves. Voodoo was originally conceived as a regular girl with the super gift of seeing aliens in human bodies … who happened to be an exotic dancer. Her tight outfits, slick figure, and crazy boots were part of her identity.

When a female hero was conceived as a vapid sex symbol, does she really merit their own titles? Like anything else, it has to do with good writing. DC’s relaunch already pilfered a large part of Voodoo’s prior origin – they handed her ability to see aliens walking around in human skin to the rebooted Grifter.

Art previews of the issue revealed many scenes set in a strip club. Did scribe Ron Marz find any other aspects of Voodoo to write about, or are we getting a book about a stripper who … strips?

Voodoo #1

Written by Ron Marz, art by Sami Basri

Rating: 1.5 of 5 – Weak

In a Line: “We don’t need to be doing it from a ringside seat.”

#140char Review: Voodoo #1 wastes intriguing setup & capabilities of Sami Basri art on too many pages lingering in a strip joint. Embarrassing to read. Gross

CK Says: Skip it.

Voodoo #1 is an embarrassing waste of an interesting character concept and an artist who is clearly capable of so much more than nudie pinup pics.

The blame rests mostly on writer Ron Marz’s shoulders. Yes, we get that part-alien Voodoo is a stripper because men can’t resist her and she wants to study their behavior. That doesn’t mean we need to spend an entire issue in a strip club with panels so revealing that I was terrified of reading this comic on the bus.

I choose not to implicate artist Sam Basri too much – he’s just drawing what he’s told. There are only so many non-lascivious ways you can draw a piece of script that must have read, “Voodoo crawls forward on the stage, her bosom practically escaping her skimpy bikini top.” Although, I guess when the background of a panel has a man waving a dollar bill at the ass of a woman hanging from a stripper pole that’s mostly the artist’s prerogative – so I suppose he’s complicit.

When Basri gets a break from drawing cheesecake, his clothed figures are really super – they have the illustrated-from-life effect of the art of Buffy without looking traced from photo references.

There is a story beneath the grossness here, and it’s potentially interesting. A pair of secret agents have been tapped to keep an eye on the clearly otherworldly Voodoo, but one of them is a little impatient to get to the bottom of her mystery.

Unfortunately, the getting to the bottom takes the literal form of a pages long lapdance.

That’s the entire problem with this issue. You can set a story in a strip club without it being disgusting and exploitative. There are panels here that never needed to be seen, even with the script staying entirely intact.

I can’t call this terrible, because of Masri’s engaging artwork and the interesting core concept of Voodoo as a character. I’ll probably check back in for a second issue based solely on that and hope that Marz and Basri have cleaned up their act, but based on this introduction I don’t have a lot of hope for their take on Voodoo.

DC New 52 Review: Aquaman #1

Aquaman is the Rodney Dangerfield of DC Comics – he doesn’t get any respect.

Mostly it’s about overlap. Aquaman has super-strength and he’s bulletproof, but so is Superman. He’s the rightful sovereign of a mythical kingdom, but so is Wonder Woman.

Where does that leave him? He swims fast and talks to fish. Or, at least, that’s the mocking media narrative that has emerged from Gen X fans who grew up having Aquaman lose every fight they staged with their Super Friends toys.

That’s not to say he hasn’t starred in some fantastic stories in the modern comics era. In fact, Aquaman’s under-the-radar status has allow authors like Peter David to completely reimagine his personality for the purpose of telling exiting, innovative stories.

Here the pen is held by DC’s major architect Geoff Johns, who reinvigorated the Green Lantern franchise but has proven a bit of a bore so far this month. Which way will he take our seaborne

Aquaman #1

Written by Geoff Johns, art by Ivan Reis & Joe Prado

Rating: 3 of 5 – Good

In a Line: “Fish don’t talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation.”

#140char Review: Aquaman #1, our hero is mocked from all sides & decides to quit the sea. Funny, mostly saved by great art, no-telling if #2 will be any good

CK Says: Consider it.

Aquaman #1 is self-aware to a fault, giving readers the catharsis of getting all their Entourage-fueled mocking on their hero out on the page where we can all see it.

It’s an amusing approach from deconstructionist Johns, but forcing the real world’s obsession with making fun of Aquaman into a comic is a cheap trick. It’s fun while it lasts, but gives no hints as to why we should come back for actual adventuring in the next issue aside from a few pages about incredible hungry piranha people.

We’re effectively along for the ride in a day of the life of our hero, who is starting to feel the public’s lack of appreciation for him. He foils a bank heist, though the robbers try to run him over and gun him down in the process – apparently unaware that neither will work. The cops don’t understand why he showed up, since no fish were at risk. Later, he stops by a restaurant only for them to balk at him ordering fish – isn’t that like cannibalism?

The utterly pedestrian vibe of the issue has a saving grace in the attractive artwork of Ivan Reis and a bright, colorful set of colors from Ann Reis. The Reises make Aquaman out to be a golden-haired hunk, and manage to render his gold and green swimsuit as credible superhero armor (thanks in no small part to his rather fierce rendition of the trident). Regular people in a restaurant are a realistic mix of dumpy and cute, but Aquaman’s lover Mera is a knockout – their two pages together will almost make you wish this was a romance comic.

While I enjoyed this debut issue for its information dump and poking fun at our hero, it’s just another boringly “different” plot from DC workhorse Johns. While I’m sure he’ll lead this awkward plot to water and the foes within sometime soon, I wish one of the more ACTUALLY transgressive writers in the relaunch drew this straw. However, I can’t deny that Johns’s script delivers some zingers, which together with Reis’s artwork is strong enough to lift this one past average.

DC New 52 Review: Batman #1

In Marvel comics it has become an ongoing, in-universe joke that Wolverine appears in more titles each month than would seem to fit into the life of any person, super or not. You’d almost think he shares the super-power of duplication with Madrox, or at least occasionally borrows Hermoine’s time turner.

Batman shares a similar status (eight and counting this month), but his multitude of appearances typically occur in and around Gotham. It’s not much of a stretch to picture him swinging through Batwoman on his way from Detective Comics to Batman & Robin.

Super-scheduling aside, the challenge facing any over-saturated hero is differentiation – how are the appearances different, and appealing to different audiences? Wolverine has it in spades – some books with X-Men, others solo, more with Avengers. Spider-Man gave up on it, and now he’s down to one main title that comes out constantly. There’s a new issue, like, every other day.

Batman is presently supporting three solo titles (four, if you count Robin), and I honestly don’t see much point in that beyond Bat-saturation. Batsuration? I’m definitely Batsurated, and it’s only week three. Why not move to the Spider-Man model?

Batman #1

Written by Scott Snyder, art by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion

Rating: 3.5 of 5 – Great

In a Line: “Are you asking me if you were convincing as a homicidal maniac?”

#140char Review: Batman #1 treads lightly between gory DC#1 & goofy B&R#1 w/a solid mystery & fuller cast. Capullo’s art is perfect. Expect more good things

CK Says: Buy it.

Batman #1 packs a fun meaningless brawl, a portentous business move, and a grim mystery into one tidy debut issue that wisely cedes the “thrill-a-minute” crown to other Batbook debuts in order to sketch a fuller picture of Bruce Wayne and his cast of characters. Scott Snyder hits all the right beats and keeps Bruce in costume for just enough pages.

I love the device Snyder uses to set the tone, with Batman distractingly narrating a relatively rote mission with an editorial about the Gotham Gazette. If it’s a little glib it can be excused for being such an effective device for setting the stage of Gotham, as well as Bruce Wayne’s intentions for it as both a philanthropist and a superhero.

Greg Capullo is absolutely perfect for Snyder’s grim Gotham with a sliver of hope. His textured work never gets too dark thanks to inker Jonathan Glapion and a subdued set of desaturated colors from FCO Plascencia. I might even prefer his monstrous, deranged Joker to the lithe asexual one in Detective.

While villains get tons of line-work and toothy grins, Batman is portrayed simply – black cowl, lantern jaw with a slash of a mouth and a tiny furrow for a chin. The rest of Capullo’s Bat family is all dashingly, boyishly handsome. His version of the cave is expansive, but still claustrophobically hemmed in by columns of rock. His brightly lit ballroom scenes aren’t as striking, but they shouldn’t be – and I got a visceral thrill from the first scene of Bruce back in costume.

It’s hard to make an always grim Batman anything but flat and predicable – the issue becomes about gadgets, villains, and violence. Snyder’s Batman has dimension and a sense of gallows humor. In Detective it was all gallows and no laughs, and in Batman & Robin the latter was all maniacal giggles all the time. Only here does the millionaire playboy turned city defender really come through in the personality of our hero. While he’s not a wise-cracking Spider-Man, that doesn’t mean he has to be a humorless soggy cape, either.

Should you buy Batman #1? I say yes. Detective Comics was more of a classic and Finch might be more of a scorcher on art this week, but Snyder and Capullo find a comforting middle ground that pays homage to all of the versions of Batman we’ve grown up with. Perhaps devout Morrison fanatics will find this too plain-jane in anticipation of the return of Batman Inc, but otherwise it’s sure to please.

DC New 52 Review: Supergirl #1

While I love female superheroes – as evidenced by their ratings so far this month – I don’t always love the “-girl” versions of male heroes.

The practice of creating female (and teen) (and dog) versions of popular heroes is a decidedly DC habit, as Marvel never did anything of the sort with their core slate of heroes with the possible exception of She-Hulk. (Yes, you could argue more recent versions like X-23 and Rescue fill the same role, but they are separate characters with established stories – not Wolvergal and Iron Woman).

The problem with these matching woman heroes is they have to be altered with every reboot of their male counterparts. In fact, one of the major outcomes of Crisis on Infinite Earths was to remove Supergirl from continuity so Superman could truly be the last son of Krypton again.

The removal didn’t last for long. She came back as a peculiar amoeba-in-the-shape-of-a-girl courtesy of Lex Luthor, later merged with a mortal teenager, and was subsequently discarded in favor of a standoffish Kryptonian cousin – not to mention the massively popular Power Girl.

That puts us on version six of Supergirl with this debut issue. That’s a lot of girls to remember, but DC’s reboot says we can forget all the past iterations and focus on this new one.

Supergirl #1

Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson, art by Mahmud Asrar & Dan Green.

Rating: 3 of 5 – Good

In a Line: “I know it’s a dream because there hasn’t been a blizzard on Krypton since I was barely old enough to walk.”

#140Review: Supergirl #1 has great art & provides the 1st super-strength bash of a fight this month, but skimps a bit on story

CK Says: Consider it.

Supergirl #1 is an act of delicious contrition – the first out of three dozen DC relaunch books that’s all of an origin story, an exhibition of powers, plus a knock-down, drag-out super-powered fight.

This book teases so many things that people may have wanted or even expected from a Superman relaunch. We get an opening shot of meteors descending over the midwest. We have an egg-like spaceship of Kryptonian origin. We even get a set of super-powered fisticuffs! We also get an unveiling of killer heat vision that evokes Cyclops’s lack of control over his powers.

Except, we know all of that about Clark, so what’s the fun of it? Rehashing the origins of established heroes feels rote and deliberately padded. Yet, Supergirl is a heroine who doesn’t haven a singular definition. With her, every new display of power evokes a nod of our head, “Yes, of course she can do that. Very interesting.”

Writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson do a good job of threading internal monologue through brisk, easy-to-follow action beats, playing Kara’s bewildered reactions true to someone who woke up on another planet. That only a little story elapses around the action is forgivable.

I enjoyed the art, as much for Asrar’s pencils as for the beautiful palette of colors from Dave McCaig. The pair of them seem to ramp up the Super iconography through the issue until it reaches a thrilling crescendo in the last panel. All the while, Asrar draws Supergirl as young and lithe – not an overly-muscled, overly- breasty babe. (It’s a pity he didn’t fix her awkward face on the cover, it’s nearly classic.)

McCaig’s coloring style on early pages evokes watercolor, with seemingly liquid-stained patches of light and dark. It helped to maintain the in-a-dream mood of Supergirl’s narration, which is shattered by the bright lights of the squad sent to collect her. As dawn breaks over the battlefield, McCaig shifts into a more standard set of superhero colors. It’s a genius transition that I didn’t entirely pick up on until my third read.

While I’m concerned they’ve boxed themselves in with an immediate introduction of Superman, all the positives neatly erase the slightness of the issue. If writers Green and Johnson can carry the philosophical bent of Kara’s narration as a stranger in a strange world into upcoming issues, Supergirl will be a welcome second-string Kryptonian title to Morrison’s Action Comics.

DC New 52 Review: Legion of Super-Heroes #1

In my opinion, the entire endeavor of writing for and reading comic books is about continuity. The comics that appeal to me the most are the ones with the longest continuity. That’s part of why I love X-Men and avoid DC – X-Men refers back to 1963, while DC restarts or erases whenever they hit a tangle.

Given my predilection for continuity, I’m almost universally disinterested in alternate timelines and possible futures. What’s the point if it has nothing to do with the other thousands of comics I’ve read?

Legion of Superheroes presents an interesting wrinkle to my rule. Yes, it takes place in the 31st Century with increasinly less frequent interactions with Superman and Superboy, but it has been around for hundreds of issues – it has its own far-flung future continuity. However, in a wrinkle to the wrinkle, since Legion’s 1958 introduction this is the fifth version of the team.

Sounds way too convoluted. But, more importantly, is it any good?

Legion of Superheroes #1

Written by Paul Levitz, art by Francis Portela

Rating: 2.5 of 5 – Okay

In a Line: “You sure this isn’t a training mission?”

#140char Review: Legion of Superheroes #1 tosses readers in the deep end of 31st Century. Enjoyable, but overload for new readers w/ too few emotional beats.

CK Says: Consider it.

Legion of Superheroes #1 plunges forward with careless glee, its only concession to new readers being a set of attractively designed introductory captions explaining the homeworlds and powers of the many, many heroes we meet.

The story on the ground doesn’t need too much more introduction. Chameleon Boy leads a team to infiltrate a militarized planet that broke contact with the outside world. Levitz offhandedly gives the idea that all Legionnaires are well-publicized, which helps establish quite a few facts about the intergalactic heroes and the culture they operate in. Otherwise, their infiltration mission is fairly rote until they hit an obstacle at the end of the issue.

It’s the B-plot back at the ranch that drags. We meet a slew of people tossing around references that make no sense at all. While introducing tons of heroes on panel helps set the scope of the book and probably delights longtime readers, it was overload for me – especially because many of them barely had a line.

It’s all par for the course for a book with a big cast steeped in continuity, but Levitz makes the critical mistake of tying all of our emotional beats to knowing what the characters are talking about. We aren’t given any reason to care about anyone just based on their action in the present.

From there I quickly turned off to this issue. It’s a rare case where I would have rather watched brawl with less running commentary, as Francis Portela’s art is bold and sure throughout. He makes this set of strangers out to be iconic heroes, but I can’t find a reason to care about any of them. (I was slightly put off by a close-to-verbatim ripoff of X-Men’s Thunderbird/Warpath, but who knows – maybe this costume came first?)

It’s a shame Legion verges on unintelligible for new readers like me, because I think there is a lot to enjoy in this re-debut. This issue could have presented more of a primer on what the Legion is and the purpose they serve in the 31st Century. Without that, I doubt it will attract many new fans.

DC New 52 Review: Birds of Prey #1

Birds of Prey is a team that’s crossed over to many other forms of Bat media. It’s a largely all-female team of costumed crime-fighters centered in DC’s major urban meccas.

It’s not so hard to grasp, and generally one of my favorite types of comic to read. Yet, I managed to be completely ignorant of the team aside from one key facet – that Barbara Gordon acted as team captain from her wheelchair as Oracle.

With the reboot sweeping Gordon’s Oracle off the playing field, I wasn’t so sure of what to expect from Birds of Prey. Add to that writer Duane Swierczynski, who I think of as the kind of guy who writes stoic male characters, and an DC-exclusive artist I’ve never heard of.

The result? Not a clue of what to expect from the cast or script of this book.

Birds of Prey #1

Written by Duane Swierczynski, art by Jesus Saiz

Rating: 4.5 of 5 – Remarkable

In a Line: “Can’t help but like her. She’s a natural born hellraiser.”

#140char Review: Birds of Prey #1 is a pitch-perfect debut for the lady mercs. Duane scripts each well & crafts puzzles within puzzles. Want the next ish now

CK Says: Buy it!

Birds of Prey #1 is one of the best first issues out from DC this month, and that’s coming from a reader who has never heard of or seen these characters ever before reading. Afterwards? Totally hooked.

I was concerned that Duane Swierczynski, who I think of as a hard-bitten guy-with-gun writer, wouldn’t have the hang of a slightly funnier female-driven book. I was entirely incorrect. He keeps the dialog brisk and to-the-point but still gets the tone of his pair of deadly heroines just right.

He also makes perfect use of intercut flashbacks, which artist Jesus Saiz’s cannily matches frame for frame to their lead-in from the present day. In an action-filled issue that’s decidedly NOT an origin story he still managed to clue me in as a totally clueless new reader.

As for Saiz, his pencils are ace. From the first panel of a dilapidated church seen through driving rain I knew we were in for something special. I’m simply in love with his art. Backgrounds are detailed with sharp details and textures, but characters don’t try too hard to be photo-real. Nei Ruffino’s colors help each character pop off of the background of the page. There are only a couple of instances where I couldn’t quite follow action from one panel to the next, and a few panels where Starling looks rushed.

Black Canary seems like the coolest gal friend to have as well as the most efficient non-lethal merc you can hire. Maybe that makes her a bit of a Mary Sue, but I didn’t get the sense she’s infallible. In fact, though she’s capable throughout, a mid-issue cliffhanger as well as the issue’s climax hinge pretty exclusively on her lack of foresight.

Meanwhile, Starling comes off as a deadpan suicide girl, tatted up and quick to act in a crisis. A Batgirl cameo was a thrill for me as a new reader, and seemed like a knowing reference to some post incarnation of the title.

It only took one issue for Swierczynski and Saiz to find the right formula for this action-packed, adventurous book. If they keep it up Birds of Prey will be one of the premiere titles of DC’s relaunch.

DC New 52 Review: DC Universe Presents #1 – Deadman

There are DC heroes I’ve played with as toys, or seen in cartoons, or have some general inkling of the existence of.

Then there is Deadman. I’ve got nothing except for open contempt for writer Paul Jenkins, who seems to have the uncanny ability to let interesting plots lie just beyond the tip of his pen while he jots down page after snoozy page of circular interior monologues.

Even if he upholds his soporific reputation here on DC’s new superhero anthology title, at least we’ll only have to sit through it for a few months.

DC Universe Presents #1

Written by Paul Jenkins, art by Bernard Chang

Rating: 1.5 of 5 – Weak

In a Line: “And so Johnny Foster becomes yet another living brick on my path to enlightenment.”

#140char Review: DCU Presents #1 features Deadman & way too much interminable chatter in the hands of Jenkins, who couldn’t find a plot w/a compass in hand.

CK Says: Skip it!

DC Universe Presents #1 features Deadman in an issue that is totally dead on arrival.

There is recapping a character’s origin, and then there is over-explaining. There is using caption boxes to good effect, and then there is needing an editor to intervene. Welcome to the world of Paul Jenkins. He achieved the same soporific effect on this summer X-Men: Prelude to Schism mini-series.

Despite a witty introduction, this comic is one unending stretch of Jenkins’s dull version of Deadman’s internal monologue. Yet, after notching what is surely the highest word count of every new DC book so far, he doesn’t even manage to appropriately explain what Deadman’s power actually does. Sure, he can inhabit bodies and influence their actions, but is he in complete control? When he enters a body he’s assigned to can he leave willingly, or is he stuck like Scott Bakula on Quantum Leap? I’m not saying a first issue should try to explain everything – I’m just saying a first issue that does this much explaining should try to explain something the readers actually care about.

Instead, we get Deadman’s existential angst, worrying that haunting people isn’t as fun as it used to be, a four page chase scene to introduce a minor plot mcguffin, and a two page montage of previously inhabited bodies that just won’t end.

It’s a pity Jenkins writes this one into the ground, because Bernard Chang’s art is attractive. Or, it would be, if not for the overbearing, too-shiny colors. The colors make Chang’s pencils seem overly glossy, when they’re clearly pretty textured – at points evoking John Romita Jr. Only on Deadman’s otherworldly benefactor do the colors hit their mark.

Maybe Jenkins has a thrilling plot in mind for this opening arc of DCU Presents, but his recent track record points to a probable flatline. I don’t think I could stand to read through another overly-written issue.