Sunday, December 19, 2010

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills Premiere Hardcover Review

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills
Marvel Comics
Premiere Hardcover
120 pages
ISBN 9780785127611

Contributors: Chris Claremont, Brent Anderson, Steve Oliff, and Tom Orzechowski

Reprints: Marvel Graphic Novel #5: X-Men - God Loves, Man Kills

Synopsis: A new evangelical anti-mutant fervor is gripping the country spear-headed by Reverend William Stryker.  Across the nation mutants are hated, feared, and turning up dead.  Magneto investigates the brutal slaying of two young mutants, while Professor Xavier faces Stryker in a television debate on the mutant problem.  After the broadcast Xavier is kidnapped by a clandestine group of armored individuals, springing the X-Men into action.  They form an uneasy alliance with Magneto when it becomes clear Stryker is behind the abduction and the mutant slayings, but Stryker has a secret weapon which could potentially defeat even the mightiest mutants. 

Pros: Beautiful hardcover edition, classic story/art, introduction by Claremont (from 2003), unused Neal Adams pages, covers from previous reprinted editions, and interviews with Chris Claremont, Brent Anderson, and Neal Adams

Cons: Smaller than original graphic novel size dimensions

Mike Tells It Straight: The X-Men boiled down to their most pure message of outcasts facing bigotry and oppression. This story was originally published in 1982 as one of the over-sized and less strictly regulated Marvel graphic novel editions.  It garnered critical acclaim and remains to this day one of the best, most well-executed X-Men stories of all time.  Claremont redefined the X-Men with his emotionally mature writing on the 'All-New, All-Different' relaunched team in the '70s and was allowed greater creative freedom (no comics code authority) in the graphic novel format.  Neal Adams was the original artist and drew six pages before being pulled onto another project. Replacement Brent Anderson was lesser-known, but allowed Claremont more influence over the visual storytelling where Adams' greater name and strong artistic style would likely have drastically changed the finished product (as one can see from his pages).  This story truly defines the X-Men as written by Claremont and explains their tremendous appeal across the decades.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority Review

Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
ISBN 9781563897696

Contributors: Mark Millar, John McCrea, James Hodgkins, Ian Hannin, and introduction by Warren Ellis

Reprints: Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Jenny Sparks, spirit of the 20th century, is dead after sacrificing her life to save earth and mankind from utter destruction.  Now take a ride through her 100-year life as written in her private journal.  Get a glimpse into the secret origins of the original members of the Authority as Jenny's path crosses theirs throughout history. 
  • Between the demise of Stormwatch and the formation of the Authority, Jenny convinces the Doctor to stop shooting heroin, playing video games, to get off his couch, and become a super-bloke! 
  • While they were still underground, Apollo and the Midnighter get their bacon saved by Jenny when she comes out of retirement
  • We get to see the origin of Jack Hawksmoor as he is continually abducted and operated on by aliens to prepare for an invasion from the future.  Jenny leads a superhero army into battle with absurdly high casualties
  • Back in the 1940s Jenny battles Nazi's to secure a mystical egg thought to contain an amazing creature (Shen)
  • We get to see the origin of the Engineer as she helps Jenny in the past to stop an invasion from Sliding Albion
Pros: Millar adds in some funny historical references like Jenny being friends with Adolf Hitler when he was a starving artist, Einstein and Hemingway regularly going on science adventures with her, it's nice to get glimpses into the origins of various Authority members, Shen and Jenny have a lesbian tryst (word!), includes variant cover by Hitch

Cons: McCrea's art isn't particularly dramatic or as widescreen as Bryan Hitch from the regular series

Mike Tells It Straight: Millar was the worthy successor of original creator Ellis and pens a nice final tale for Jenny encompassing her storied past.  This one-off mini-series is enjoyable for Authority fans and I consider it an extended #0 issue.  You must have a rudimentary knowledge of the team to fully understand the book and I recommend reading it after Jenny's death in issue #12.  In true Jenny fashion you better be knackered and smoking a ciggie the whole time.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Great and Secret Show - Clive Barker Review

The Complete Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show
IDW Publishing
Softcover Trade Paperback
300 pages
ISBN 9781600101212

Contributors: Chris Ryall, Gabriel Rodriguez, Jay Fotos, and introduction/original novel by Clive Barker

Reprints: Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show #1-12 (of 12)

Synopsis: Randolph Jaffe is a forgettable little man working for the United States Postal Service and given the mundane task of working the dead letter room in Omaha, Nebraska - where all the undeliverable mail for the entire country is stored. Sifting through the random articles of mail Jaffe slowly discovers an amazing secret world behind our normal one. He learns of The Art after finding a strange medallion and pieces together the existence of the Shoal - a secret society with some connection to The Art.

Soon his journey begins to discover and master The Art by finding the last remaining Shoal...which happens pretty quickly. Jaffe meets Kissoon and learns of the true secret of Quiddity -- the Dream-Sea which humans only experience three times in their lives. Kissoon attempts to trick Jaffe who escapes and renews his search in earnest for The Art -- a way to open the door to Quiddity. Jaffe enlists an academic drug-addict named Richard Fletcher to help him search and isolates the Nuncio -- a magical elixir bringing reality from consciousness. Realizing Jaffe is evil Fletcher exposes himself to the Nuncio, but too late. Jaffe too is exposed and the two gods-from-men battle through the skies before crashing down in Palomo Grove, California. The two grapple beneath the earth for years.

Now the true story begins! Four teenage girls take a dip in a runoff lake formed after a summer storm. They are mysteriously accosted by a strange force beneath the water. Sound familiar? The girls vow never to speak of their violation, but soon begin exhibiting strange behavior -- yes, they turn into super-freaks and end up pregnant (or crazy). Sixteen years later the offspring of Jaffe and Fletcher come home to Palomo Grove as a supernatural war threatens to explode. Will Quiddity remain unspoiled or will the monstrous giants living beyond it's shores invade the real world?

Pros: An epic story with lots of twists and turns, Rodriguez's art is immersive and creative, mature themes with nothing held back (I wouldn't expect less from Clive Barker) and thankfully no censorship, nudity, lots of extras including sketches (some by Barker himself), covers, and some director's commentary

Cons: Rodriguez's character art has some proportional inconsistencies (although I stopped noticing once I got into the story) with too-large heads on small bodies, a lot of information from the novel is condensed into this book and character backgrounds were left out when they could have been interesting, we have to wait for the sequel Everville to be adapted into graphic novel format!

Mike Tells It Straight: Let me start by saying I've never read the original novel The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. Based solely on this graphic novel and without any foreknowledge of the series I can say it was rather enjoyable and filled with interesting concepts compared to a lot of other graphic novels on the shelves today. Any adaptation of a book into another media will fall short of the original whether it be film or graphic novel. Our imaginations are far more powerful than any physical tools after all. I will say Ryall and Rodriguez had a daunting job to accomplish in this adaptation based on the detail contained in Barker's novels, but they did a fine job (as Barker himself extols in his introduction). Despite feeling a bit rushed the story takes the reader on a wicked ride and compels them onward to the finish (which is really just the beginning).

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Darkness Compendium Vol. 1 Review

The Darkness Compendium Vol. 1
Image Comics - Top Cow
Softcover Trade Paperback
1280 pages
$59.99 ($99.99 hardcover edition)
ISBN 9781582406435

Contributors: Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins, Joe Benitez, Dale Keown, Michael Turner, David Finch, Billy Tan, Whilce Portacio, David Wohl, Malachy Coney, Randy Queen, Matt "Batt" Banning, Brian Haberlin, Steve Firchow, Dennis Heisler, Cedric Nocon, Richard Isanove, Stephen Platt, Christina Z, Clarence Lansang, Joe Weems, Jonathan Livesay, Ken Lashley, Scott Lobdell, Keu Cha, Brian Ching, Clayton Crain, Mark Pajarillo, Brett Booth, Sal Regla, and Mark Texeira

Reprints: The Darkness (1996) Prelude, #1/2, 1-40 (of 40); Tales of the Darkness #1/2, 1-4 (of 4); The Darkness: Wanted Dead; The Darkness/Witchblade #1/2; The Darkness (2002) #1

Synopsis: Jackie Estacado is your typical hot-blooded mob hitman - he's made, good at his job, drives the flashy cars, and beds a different woman every night.  His childhood friend, Jenny tends bar at an upscale club, but secretly harbors feelings for him.  On his 21st birthday, Jackie inherits the Darkness power, an elemental force of evil and granting the bearer near-limitless power in the shadows. 

The power comes at a price as Jackie discovers he will drop dead the instant he impregnates a woman and the offspring will similarly be granted the power when they come of age.  Many groups and individuals are interested in Jackie for their own reasons: the Angelus is the exact opposite of the Darkness and seeks his destruction, the Witchblade is a cross between both forces, the Vatican sends their enforcer the Magdalena to eradicate the Darkness, the Brotherhood of Darkness led by Sonatine wish to control the Darkness bearer, and Jackie's Uncle Frankie is disgusted by his nephew's strange power, but can't help exploiting it.  Only one person has been a constant and means something in Jackie's life, but can he keep Jenny safe amid the insanity that rules the Darkness?
Pros: Beautifully dark art by some of the best artists in the field, great colors, more bang for your buck with the entire first series + peripheral Tales, high-quality paper (makes it heavy!), great extras including all the variant covers and pinups

Cons: Massive 'phonebook' style trade paperbacks suffer from being too heavy and fragile to read - mine quickly developed curling on the cover and a crack down the middle, Witchblade crossover issues are not included

Mike Tells It Straight: I love these compendium (omnibus) editions, but if you're going to buy one then splurge on the hardcover edition.  The paperbacks are too big and heavy for their own good.  My copy almost broke in half while I was reading it - a small spine split which became progressively worse until pages began to detach themselves.

This book is more about the pretty pictures and action than plot despite the involvement of Garth Ennis.  He writes the first arc, but then ghosts and we get a revolving door of new creative teams.  Frequent writer and artist changes cause the story to become convoluted and unfocused.  All the characters are shallow and extremely single-note, but the pictures are pretty, oh so pretty. 

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Iron Man: Doomquest Premiere Hardcover Review

Iron Man: Doomquest
Marvel Comics
Hardcover - Premiere Edition
144 pages
$19.99 (2008)
ISBN 9780785128342

Contributors: David Michelinie, Bob Layton, and John Romita Jr.

Reprints: Iron Man #149-150, 249-250

Synopsis: Two powerful men encased in armor collide in a most unexpected way.  Dr. Doom seeks to save the soul of his mother and attempts to master the arcane arts from sorcerers throughout time.  He must assemble a time machine and steals vital parts from Stark Industries.  Iron Man confronts Doom and they are thrown into the past - to the time of King Arthur!  Iron Man joins Arthur and Doom sides with Morgan Le Fey to learn her secrets.  Good triumphs in the battle causing Le Fey to flee and the two foes must form an uneasy alliance in order to return to their proper time.

Fast forward several years when both Iron Man and Doom investigate a mysterious artifact that appears before them.  They are mystically transported to the year 2093 where Merlin enlists their aid to save the realm once more.  Arthur has been resurrected, but into the body of a child and unable to confront the doomsday weapon threatening the world.  Tony Stark battles his misguided descendant Arnos Stark, while Doom faces his future self - an evil being more machine than man. 

Pros: Beautiful hardcover edition, introduction by David Michelinie, interesting match-up between two armored super-scientists

Cons: Not much extras - just an unused cover and cover to original trade paperback, only four issues, art is just decent

Mike Tells It Straight: These two Stark/Doom confrontations are classic Marvel reading.  Although the characters of Arthur, Merlin, and Morgan Le Fey are only plot devices with little to no action.  The Marvel Premiere Editions are absolutely gorgeous - great paper and covers.  Both stories are a bit corny at times (in the past Le Fey raises an army of the dead a la Army of Darkness - in the future Iron Man buys his parts at Radio Shack), but they deliver on the characterization of both leads.  The battle with Iron Man 2093 and Doom's interaction with his possible future self are worthy.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Spider-Man: Breakout Review

Spider-Man: Breakout
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
120 pages
ISBN 9780785118077

Contributors: Tony Bedard, Manuel Garcia, Raul Fernandez, Cory Petit, Chris Sotomayor, and Mike Deodato

Reprints: Spider-Man: Breakout #1-5 (of 5)

Synopsis: Two years ago at the Vault an escape plan was thwarted by Rozalyn Backus, program administrator, setting Crossfire and Vector of the U-Foes at odds.  Fast forward to the present and the massive breakout at the Raft during New Avengers #1 dumps a slew of escaped criminals into New York.  Two groups led by Crossfire and Vector are on a collision course to get revenge on Backus.

Spider-Man helped Captain America during the initial breakout and heads into the city alone to pursue more criminals.  Can he possibly stop the two groups from getting their revenge and how many innocent bystanders will be caught in the crossfire?

Pros: Bedard gives the villains more personality and sets up a complex story

Cons: Art is a little inconsistent, lots of characters and not many explanations, New Avengers #1 is essential to understanding what is fully going on here

Mike Tells It Straight: This book is barely a side story to the first New Avengers arc and doesn't expand on those events in the slightest.  Continuity relevance aside we get a deep look into the motivations of the villains in this story - a welcome trend in recent years.  Spidey barely even registers here as the criminals take center stage and the ending is a bit unsatisfying.  Interesting, but not highly recommended.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

X-Force and Spider-Man: Sabotage Review

X-Force and Spider-Man: Sabotage
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
64 pages
ISBN 071486012054

Contributors: Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Fabian Nicieza, Chris Eliopoulos, Greg Wright, Joe Rosas, and Brian Murray

Reprints: X-Force (1991) #3-4, Spider-Man (1990) #16

Synopsis: Black Tom Cassidy kidnaps and blackmails some billionaire executives into freeing the Juggernaut from another dimension.  Then X-Force and Spider-Man show up to get their asses kicked.  Cable shoots Black Tom, Juggernaut loses his helmet, and Deadpool teleports the two baddies away. 

Pros: Um, yeah...McFarlane's art is somewhat more detailed and slightly less disproportionate

Cons: Where do I start?  Oh yeah, Rob Liefeld's art, Rob Liefeld's writing, Rob Liefeld was involved in this, two of the issues are sideways which actually kinda sucks

Mike Tells It Straight: Oh no he di-unt!  Oh yes, I this terrible affront to the world of comic-dom.  Let's take a quick hot tub time-machine ride back to the early 90s for a minute (which is how long it took to read this story).  Back when art eclipsed stories and a talent-less comic artist could rise to famedom (and land a Levi's commercial) on hype alone.  Enter the bubble world of Rob Liefeld (and Todd McFarlane, although his bubble survived longer before bursting horribly along with the bloated action figure toy market in the late 90s).  The writing is terrible and the plot makes no sense - at no point is it revealed what Juggernaut and Black Tom Cassidy are doing.  They just take some hostages then get in a fight with X-Force and Spider-Man.  They then escape and everyone leaves.  Nothing of any real value happens here.  Never read this story - promise me!

All Rob Liefeld haters and enthusiasts must read this article to truly understand:

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barnes and Noble FINAL Update

The FINAL update on the Barnes & Noble price glitch does not have a happy ending.  Only one "live" book remained of my pre-orders - X-Men: Inferno Crossovers hardcover (MSRP $75.00) originally scheduled to ship in June 2010, but pushed back to August. 

B&N charged my card (approx. $12) on file in June ten days prior to the original expected release date - then refunded it when the date was moved to August.  Ten days before the August release date B&N did the same thing, but this time the card on file didn't go through (it was linked to my Paypal account which didn't have any funds in it at the time).  They subsequently emailed to inform me my pre-order was cancelled.  Noooooo! 

The B&N price glitch had a higher markdown ratio compared to the Amazon glitch (69% vs. 60%), but the books received weren't as high on my want-list.  It was still a historic event and I was better prepared (more savvy) after the Amazon incident.  Respect to the Bleeding Cool website for making the B&N glitch news available for this fan to capitalize on.   

Camelot 3000 Review

Camelot 3000
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
312 pages
ISBN 0930289307

Contributors: Mike Barr, Brian Bolland, Terry Austin, Bruce Patterson, John Costanza, and Tatjana Wood

Reprints: Camelot 3000 #1-12 (of 12)

Synopsis: King Arthur is prophesied to return when England needs him most.  Well, the Earth is being invaded by aliens in the year 3000 and its pretty good time for him to come back.  The governments of Earth are pathetically crippled by bureaucracy and unable to rally against the invaders.  It looks like the planet is doomed until young Tom Prentice awakens King Arthur under Glastonbury Tor.  Soon Arthur retrieves Merlin from Stonehenge and Excalibur from the Lady in the Lake (now the Lady in a Nuclear Coolant Bath).  They unite the reincarnated Knights of the Roundtable.

Things are different with the Knights as their reincarnations take odd turns - Guinevere is American military commander Joan Acton, Lancelot is French industrialist Jules Futrelle, Galahad is a Japanese bushido samurai, Percival is transformed into a monstrous Neo-Man, Kay is a degenerate gambler, Gawain is a South African family man, and Tristan is a woman about to be married.

Arthur returns to save the land, but all is not as it seems.  Given a second chance can Lancelot and Guinevere contain their love for one another?  What link with Arthur does the aliens' strange master have and how can the Knights stand against the power of the Holy Grail wielded by a reincarnated Modred?  Tristan rails against being reincarnated as a woman - will he betray the Knights to regain his manhood and be reunited with Isolde? 

Pros: Quirky take on the King Arthur legend, bold story at the time with Sir Tristan's gender-bending ordeal, girl-girl action with Tristan/Isolde (and Tristan constantly being pursued by a horny Tom Prentice)

Cons: Bolland's art is much better when he self-inks and doesn't come across as very polished here, aliens are pretty pathetic, story is not terribly sophisticated, Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur love triangle is tired

Mike Tells It Straight:  This series broke new ground back in the 80s with direct market availability, high-quality paper, and became the first maxi-series. It was a finite story, outside of regular DC continuity, and intended for mature readers (no Comics Code Authority seal of approval).  Arthurian legend was heavily researched by Barr for the story - a mix of mythology, science fiction, and politics. 

Being first at anything doesn't guarantee greatness and this book is a prime example of it.  The story comes across a bit corny and cliched, while Bolland's art is ruined by the inkers.  I must give Barr credit for having gay (lesbian) subject matter with the female Tristan and Isolde.  Overall not a high recommendation and has become a bit dated

2008 saw the release of a luscious hardcover edition of Camelot 3000, which is an absolute must-have for fans of this series.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Alan Moore: Wild Worlds Review

Alan Moore: Wild Worlds
DC Comics - Wildstorm
Softcover Trade Paperback
320 pages
ISBN 9781401213794

Contributors: Alan Moore, Scott Clark, Sal Regla, Carlos D'Anda, Richard Friend, Olyoptics, Al Rio, Michael Lopez, Adam Hughes, Mike Heisler, Jim Baikie, Alex Sinclair, and Travis Charest

Reprints: Spawn/WildC.A.T.S #1-4 (of 4), Voodoo #1-4 (of 4), Deathblow: By-Blows #1-3 (of 3), Wildstorm Spotlight #1, and WildC.A.T.S #50

Synopsis: Five different tales by Alan Moore including:
  1. Spawn/WildC.A.T.S - Future WildC.A.T.S Zealot and Grifter arrive in the past and attempt to assassinate Spawn.  Zealot is unable to fulfill the mission at the last minute and a new plan is hatched.  Spawn accompanies the current WildC.A.T.S into the future to stop his future self who has killed/stolen the Malebolgia's powers and enslaved the planet.  What fate has befallen our heroes future selves along with the rest of the superhero community?  Can the C.A.T.S and Spawn stop a nightmare from happening?
  2. Voodoo leaves the WildC.A.T.S and moves to New Orleans where she gets a a stripper!  She falls into the otherworldly battle of opposing deities and an evil dead preacher trying to claw his way back to life.  
  3. Deathblow - On a bizarre planet-scape a woman hatches from a bio-egg and finds a set of dog tags with the name Genevieve Cray #08 on them.  She encounters a cyborg named Klaus who tries to kill her and then a boy named John-Joe Cray.  They find several other Crays hatched from bio-eggs with their heads cut off.  Who is behind the murders and where/who are they?  Michael Cray (Deathblow) of Team 7 died at the end of Fire From Heaven and what is her link to him?  The answer will surprise you.
  4. Majestic endures to the end of time where entropy claims the universe.  He lives out the final time with a strange and ever-dwindling group of immortals.  All organic life has perished, the stars have gone cold, and darkness is all.  What awaits at the end of the universe?
  5. The new WildC.A.T.S are gabbing at Halo headquarters when the building attacks them in the form of Maul.  They realize it's Mr. White who has bonded with the building.  Majestic whips up a gizmo to detach White's molecules from the structure and they call it a day.
Pros: Travis Charest's art is superb, Majestic story is really unique and interesting, Deathblow and Voodoo stories were decent

Cons: Art was a mixed bag, Al Rio was still a bad clone of Jeff Campbell (Gen13)

Mike Tells It Straight: Alan Moore is an amazing writer, but these stories run a wide range of quality and interest.  Spawn/WildC.A.T.S was essentially terrible due to the fact the characters had no depth and there was no time to develop them over the course of four issues.  Voodoo was a decent story, but the original artist Michael Lopez dropped out of the project halfway through and his replacement's (Al Rio's) art was radically different (and bad).  Deathblow was an off-beat story with an interesting twist ending (it would be funny to see Genevieve Cray resurface at some point).  Majestic's tale was a real winner due to it's quirkiness (he ends up at the end of time with a vampire queen and a sentient syphilis virus as his only companions).  The new WildC.A.T.S by Charest are always good.  Overall I would rate this non-essential reading and steer you toward Alan Moore's Complete WildC.A.T.S instead (it does include the new WildC.A.T.S story).

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born Hardcover Review

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born
Marvel Comics
240 pages
ISBN 9780785121442

Contributors: Peter David, Robin Furth, Jae Lee, Richard Isanove, foreword by Ralph Macchio, and afterword by Stephen King

Reprints: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1-7 (of 7)

Synopsis: Roland is the youngest to ever pass the test and become a gunslinger in Gilead on Mid-World, a land that is moving on and the last refuge of civilization.  The lands are in danger of falling to "the Good Man", an evil man named John Farson.  Roland and two companions are sent to Hambry in order to gauge the allegiance of the town.

They discover the town leaders have switched sides and the trio are targets of the Big Coffin Hunters, assassins working for Farson.  Roland falls in love with Susan Delgado, a girl promised as a concubine to the mayor of Hambry whose wife cannot bear child.  The ka-tet must play out their tragic destinies in this first chapter of The Dark Tower prequel. 

Pros: Great story, amazing art by Lee, wonderful colors by Isanove, tons of extras including sketchbook, variant covers, pinups, and more

Cons: Lee's art can be a little stiff at times, a lot of splash pages and unrendered backgrounds (filled with pretty colors)

Mike Tells It Straight: This first The Dark Tower graphic novel presents a retelling of the events in The Gunslinger and Wizard and Glass concerning Roland's coming of age and the fall of his homeland, Gilead.  The art is somber with beautifully rich colors and lending itself perfectly to the story.  A wonderful fantasy masterpiece running to a tragic conclusion.  Highly recommended, thankee-sai.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 3 Review

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 3
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
160 pages
ISBN 9780785109518

Contributors: Zeb Wells, Duncan Fegredo, Ron Zimmerman, Sean Phillips, Steve Buccellato, Brian Azzarello, Scott Levy, Guiseppe Camuncoli, Paul Pope, Daniel Way, Jason Pearson, and Leandro Fernandez

Reprints: Spider-Man's Tangled Web #12-17

Synopsis: Five different stories featuring five different creative teams:
  1. I was a Teenage Frog-Man - Leap Frog is out of prison and turning over a new leaf, but his son can't take the embarrassment of having a loser former super-villain for a father.  The kids at high school are constantly making fun of him until he takes matters into his own hands - and becomes the new Frog-Man!
  2. Double Shots - A group villains get together at a super-villain bar and tell stories of their battles with Spidey.  Kraven (the son) and the Vulture tell their stories until Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) trumps then all with his story
  3. The Last Shoot - We get the story of Crusher Hogan before the fateful night he challenged all comers and wound up against a masked teenager who would become Spider-Man
  4. The Collaborator - A teenage girl idolizes Spider-Man and gets yelled at by her dad.  She sneaks out and witnesses a new super-villain battle the cops until Spider-Man shows up.  Then she realizes who the new super-villain is - her dad!
  5. Heartbreaker - Tombstone has a bum ticker and gets sent to prison where he's in danger of having a heart attack at any moment.  The Kangaroo takes a special dislike to him and he may never make it out of prison alive
Pros: Cover to issue #12 of the Frog-Man story was easily the best of the entire series, excellent set of writers, the Kangaroo's Aussie accent is hilarious

Cons: Art can be a bit rough, but works with the gritty crime angle to the stories

Mike Tells It Straight: This third volume of Tangled Web explores the darker side of the street by focusing on Spidey's villains.  It's a refreshing set of gritty stories with surprising appeal and much better than the second (even the first) volume.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 2 Review

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 2
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
ISBN 9780785108740

Contributors: Bruce Jones, Lee Weeks, Kaare Andrews, and Darwyn Cooke

Reprints: Spider-Man's Tangled Web #7-11

Synopsis: Three different stories featuring three different creative teams:
  1. "Gentleman's Agreement" - A hack in NYC gets some bad news - cancer, the terminal kind.  He stumbles onto a secret that could save his life - Spider-Man's secret identity.  Will he betray the trust of a hero to save himself?
  2. "Ray of Light" - Two boys idolize Spider-Man, but one of his battles spills into their home and threatens their lives
  3. "Open All Night" - Spider-Man battles the Vulture on Valentine's Day, but this battle is nothing compared to Peter Parker's dilemma - he's double-booked with two lovely ladies!  The Parker luck strikes again!
Pros: Some decent creators

Cons: Andrews' art attempts to be photo realistic and ends up falling short (too much black background), Cooke's art/story is uber-cartoony, Jones' storyline is somewhat convoluted and hard to follow

Mike Tells It Straight: This second volume of Tangled Web didn't interest me as much as the previous one.  The first storyline was decent with a twist ending, but Andrews' one-shot fell flat.  His liberal use of pitch black background seems like a convenient way to avoid drawing backgrounds.  Cooke's story was lively and entertaining, but his style is a bit too cartoony.  Overall this volume is somewhat entertaining, but utterly forgettable.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 1 Review

Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 1
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
144 pages
ISBN 9780785108030

Contributors: Garth Ennis, John McCrea, James Hodgkins, Glenn Fabry, Greg Rucka, Eduardo Risso, Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo

Reprints: Spider-Man's Tangled Web #1-6

Synopsis: An anthology series featuring three different stories and creative teams:
  1. "The Thousand" - Someone has discovered how Spider-Man got his powers.  They attempt to replicate the results, but suffer horrible consequences and seek out Spider-Man for revenge!
  2. "Severance Package" - One of the Kingpin's lieutenants has failed and now it's time to see the boss for the last time
  3. "Flowers for Rhino" - A spin on "Flowers for Algernon" starring the grey behemoth as he gets smart only to realize it's not what he expected 
Pros: The art and writing across the three stories is pretty good, McCrea shows a much different style than usual (possibly due to Hodgkins' inking)

Cons: Stories are amusing, but have no lasting effect on continuity

Mike Tells It Straight: Three solid stories by some great writers and artists.  By no means are these stories essential Spidey reading, but worth the time if you dig the character and his peripherals.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Superman vs. Predator Review

Superman vs. Predator
DC Comics/ Dark Horse Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
160 pages
ISBN 761941226774

Contributors: David Michelinie, Alex Maleev, Matt Hollingsworth, and Bill Oakley

Reprints: Superman vs. Predator #1-3 (of 3)

Synopsis: A S.T.A.R. Labs expedition uncovers an ancient derelict spacecraft in the jungles of Central America.  Superman investigates the ship and catches an alien virus which cause his powers to fluctuate wildly.  The group is captured by a band of mercenaries working for a clandestine scientist.  He plans to use the alien technology to facilitate selective global genocide based on genetic sequencing, but he didn't count on one thing - the meanest alien hunter in the galaxy!

Pros: Maleev's art shows promise, he draws the most realistic boobs on the head S.T.A.R. researcher I have ever seen in a comic

Cons: Michelinie's scriptwork is weak, Superman's powers fluctuate yet always work when he needs them most

Mike Tells It Straight: A few decent story points, but overall very standard Superman fare.  Uncompelling story aside, Maleev's art is interesting and shows the potential which got him paired with Bendis on Daredevil.  The boobs in this book are amazing - never have I seen more realistic gravity-obeying cleavage!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Daredevil: Yellow Review

Daredevil: Yellow
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
152 pages
ISBN 0785109692

Contributors: Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, Matt Hollingsworth, and Richard Starkings

Reprints: Daredevil: Yellow #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: A retelling of Matt Murdock's origin focusing on his first outings as the masked crimefighter Daredevil.  His relationship with Karen Page and first superhero battles with Electro and then the Owl are highlighted.

Pros: Wonderfully detailed art by Sale, excellent story/script by Loeb, great color by Hollingsworth, and cover gallery

Cons: Sale's rendition of Matt Murdock is too cartoony (especially his profile), the story has no real surprises

Mike Tells It Straight: The Loeb/Sale team scores another touchdown with this book and adds Daredevil to their library of captivating, touching stories.  They showcase the fledgling days of Matt Murdock's superhero career when he was still full of innocence and naivete.  Especially poignant is the budding relationship with Karen Page.  A quality read and must-have for Daredevil fans.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wolverine Origins Vol. 1 Born in Blood Trade Paperback Review

Wolverine: Origins Vol. 1 - Born in Blood
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
ISBN 9780785122876

Contributors: Daniel Way, Steve Dillon, Joe Quesada, Michael Turner, Dan Kemp, and Richard Isanove

Reprints: Wolverine: Origins #1-5

Synopsis: Wolverine has regained his lost memories and finally remembers he wants revenge!  He goes straight to the top and stages a daring infiltration of the White House, but his presence triggers a Shiva robot to intervene.  Wolverine has made someone nervous and they reactivate Nuke to take him down. 

The two battle, but it's really a one-sided contest.  We get a glimpse into Wolverine's involvement in Nuke's origin.  Captain America shows up to halt his rampage along with several X-Men.  Emma Frost is among them and probes Wolverine's mind revealing a startling secret -- he has a son!

Pros: Covers by Quesada (except the flag-face one), Way's plot twists, Captain America vs. Wolverine, includes all the variant covers

Cons: No-prize alert -- Way writes Cyclops' optic beams as hot, but they're not (unless it just got retconned), Dillon's art doesn't mesh well with flamboyant superheroics

Mike Tells It Straight: The return of Wolverine's memories reestablished one of the character's most endearing traits from his early days -- that of the failed samurai filled with shame and regret.  Way writes a complex story, but Dillon's art is too straightforward.  The chance to see Wolverine's sordid past may be too much to pass up.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Punisher War Journal Vol. 3 Hunter/Hunted Review

Punisher War Journal Vol. 3 - Hunter/Hunted
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
152 pages
ISBN 9780785126645

Contributors: Matt Fraction, Ariel Olivetti, Cory Walker, Dave Stewart, Scott Wegener, and Howard Chaykin

Reprints: Punisher War Journal (2007) #12-17

Synopsis: World War Hulk lands in NYC with the Punisher goes head-to-head with an alien badass.  Stuart gears him up with some serious toys to even the playing field. 

Kraven's son has assumed his father's legacy and gone a step further -- he's caging animal-themed heroes and villains to create his own warped menagerie.  Frank goes in search of the Rhino and ends up being the hunted.

The Gibbon survived the Punisher's bombing at Stilt-Man's wake from issue #4 and vows revenge.  He's building up the nerve to take down the Punisher, but is he really hardcore enough to make the attempt?

Stuart "Rampage" Clarke is approached by his ex-wife -- Sunset Bain.  Sound familiar?  She's a major tech player in future-themed stories and a thorn in Tony Stark's side in the present.  Stuart helped rebuild the War Machine armor and send it after Iron Man, but now the armor has resurfaced and Bain wants it.  She'll do anything to manipulate her former lover into doing her dirty work. 

Pros: Fraction's script work, Chaykin's art

Cons: Four different artists with completely different styles

Mike Tells It Straight: Fraction's writing goes up a notch as he offers us four very different stories.  He shows a lot of range by mixing humor with extreme violence.  His Punisher remains a decidedly sillier incarnation of the character, but it's a fun ride regardless.  The Rampage/Sunset Bain story by Chaykin is by far the best of the four.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Punisher War Journal Vol. 2 Goin' Out West Review

Punisher War Journal Vol. 2 - Goin' Out West
Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
168 pages
ISBN 9780785126362

Contributors: Matt Fraction, Ariel Olivetti, and Leandro Fernandez

Reprints: Punisher War Journal (2007) #5-11

Synopsis: The world reels at the news of Captain America's assassination.  Frank Castle heads to the US-Mexican border to investigate a deadly militia terrorizing immigrants on both sides.  He discovers the Hate-Monger has designed a Captain America-inspired uniform and Frank designs his own to honor the fallen Steve Rogers.  Severely outnumbered does the new "Captain America" stand a chance?

Meanwhile G.W. Bridge is still hot on the Punisher's trail.  A certain Winter Soldier with ties to the original Captain America investigates the rumors of a new Cap.

Pros: Olivetti's art evolves a bit as he includes more real-world photographs, Fraction does a good job pacing the story, one page of sketchbook material

Cons: Art by Fernandez is pathetic on issue #11, Punisher interacting with other heroes/villains still doesn't quite work

Mike Tells It Straight: Fraction milks the idea of the Punisher becoming the next Captain America surprisingly well here.  His Punisher takes a slightly more serious turn in this storyline.  It's a somewhat enjoyable read and a lot of effort obviously went into it, but ultimately it's just another "Frank Castle infiltrates a gang/militia to take it down from the inside" story.  Pass.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Punisher War Journal Vol. 1 Civil War Hardcover Review

Punisher War Journal Vol. 1 - Civil War
Marvel Comics
144 pages
ISBN 9780785127758

Contributors: Matt Fraction, Ariel Olivetti, Mike Deodato, Dean White, and Rain Beredo

Reprints: Punisher War Journal (2007) #1-4 and #1 black-and-white edition

Synopsis: The Punisher's war on crime crosses paths with the superhero civil war.  G.W. Bridge is out of retirement and helping SHIELD take down Frank Castle.  Meanwhile Castle puts the finishing move on Stilt-Man and hooks up with the newest "Micro" - former villain Stuart "Rampage" Clarke.  He's got a mad-on for everything Tony Stark and is only too willing to help.  Now outfitted with anti-SHIELD devices the Punisher is back in business.  He quickly gets a seat at Captain America's table after saving Spider-Man's life, but how long can the Punisher's methods be ignored by Cap?

Next the wake for Stilt-Man is held and all the villains in New York show up to pay their respects (or hit on his widow).  What better time for the Punisher to make a hit of his own?

Pros: Good art by Olivetti and Deodato, interesting story by Fraction which fits seamlessly into the Civil War crossover, stories are fun and irreverent, but completely deadly, sketchbook

Cons: Punisher existing with lame villains lessens him, black-and-white edition - who really cares?, price tag is expensive for only four unique issues (paperback is probably cheaper)

Mike Tells It Straight: Fraction writes a decent Punisher, but the stories here are much tamer than the MAX version by Ennis.  Here we have Frank running around killing losers dressed in Halloween costumes and interacting with heroes dressed much the same way.  He's still ruthless, but there's a humor and juvenile fun to it all.  If you want an entertaining, but slightly less serious Punisher then you're in the right place.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

DC/Marvel Crossover Classics IV Review

DC/Marvel: Crossover Classics Vol. 4
DC Comics/Marvel Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
224 pages
ISBN 761941240213

Contributors: Ron Marz, Darryl Banks, Terry Austin, Chris Eliopoulos, John Byrne, Rick Taylor, J.M. DeMatteis, Graham Nolan, Karl Kesel, John Costanza, Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Greg Wright, Bill Oakley, Alex Ross, and Ed McGuinness

Reprints: Green Lantern/Silver Surfer: Unholy Alliances, Darkseid/Galactus: The Hunger, Batman & Spider-Man, and Superman/Fantastic Four

Synopsis: Collecting another round of DC/Marvel crossovers:
  • The Silver Surfer encounters a planet destroyed by the Cyborg [Superman].  They battle and Parallax appears to help defeat the threat.  On Earth Kyle Rayner fights Terrax and is aided by Thanos.  Both heroes are convinced to lend their power to the new strangers for a seemingly beneficial end.  We know both Parallax and Thanos are the last entities in the universe who should receive more power, but our naive heroes must learn the hard way!
  • Galactus the Devourer selects Apokolips for his next feast!  Darkseid defends his home from the most fearsome attacker yet.  How will he repel an undeniable force in the universe and will New Genesis allow their destruction?  The Silver Surfer heralds his master's arrival and Orion joins the fray for a showdown we never thought we'd see!
  • Ra's Al Ghul continues his plan for worldwide purification in order to save the human race from itself.  His daughter Talia visits New York to enlist the cooperation of the Kingpin of Crime.  Batman follows and quickly meets up with our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  Talia informs Wilson Fisk of The Demon's next target - NYC!  Ra's offers the one thing Fisk cannot refuse - a cure for his wife Vanessa's cancer.  The Caped Crusader and Spidey join forces for the second time to save the city.
  • Galactus observes the final moments of a dying planet along with the tiny spacecraft carrying the sole survivor rocketing toward Earth.  The survivor is Superman and in the present time he discovers a link between the death of Krypton and the World Devourer.  He travels across dimensions to visit the Fantastic Four.  The Cyborg Superman tags along and assaults the Four in order to gain access to the wonderful technology of Galactus.  When the real thing appears on Earth he chooses a new herald -- Superman!  Can the FF possibly defeat a cosmic-powered Superman in thrall to Galactus
Pros: Byrne's work on Darkseid/Galactus, painted cover by Alex Ross over Jurgens' pencils on Superman/FF, inks by Thibert

Cons: Weak cover by McGuinness, art by Banks/Nolan/Jurgens

Mike Tells It Straight: Four separate tales with varying degrees of quality.  An absolute classic is the Byrne tale of Galactus attempting to devour Apokolips -- his obvious love and understanding of the characters shines through in every page.  The other three stories are not very well crafted or memorable.  Only the Superman/FF story has any redeeming qualities with Supes becoming herald to Galactus and the Ross cover.  If price is an issue or you're looking for quality stories - just buy the one-shot by Byrne and skip the rest.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Superman Versus The Terminator: Death to the Future Review

Superman Versus The Terminator: Death to the Future
Dark Horse Comics/DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
96 pages
ISBN 9781569714768

Contributors: Alan Grant, Steve Pugh, and David Stewart

Reprints: Superman Versus The Terminator: Death to the Future #1-4 (of 4)

Synopsis: In the modern day Sarah and young John Connor are passing through Metropolis when they are attacked by a Terminator.  Superman intervenes and rescues them, but the Terminators remains are discovered by the Cyborg.  He wants to help bring about the future where the machines rule and mankind is destroyed. 

Meanwhile more Terminators with increasingly enhanced weaponry are appearing in the present.  During a battle Superman is transported to the future where he meets Steel, who has joined up with John Connor's forces.  Superman and Steel take on Skynet to save the human race. 

In the past, Superboy and Supergirl battle a seemingly endless flow of Terminators.  They enlist Lex Luthor's help and he actually agrees because he *shock* gives a crap about humanity! 

Pros: Nice painted covers by Pugh

Cons: Story is weak, no real sense of danger (no characters die), surprisingly boring

Mike Tells It Straight: This crossover fails miserably.  Alan Grant wrote a lot of really mediocre Batman stories and he drops the ball here too.  The Terminators are pathetic and Superman/boy/girl dispath them with ease.  I can't believe Grant missed the opportunity to kill off major characters (like the Justice League or even Superman's supporting cast) in a time-travel story where you can change the present and reverse all the deaths.  I have to believe the editors and corporate gave him strict guidelines forcing him to write this terrible story.  He even left it open for a sequel.  "Death to the Sequel!"

TO BUY and Recommendations: