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REVIEW :: JSA Vs Kobra

November 20, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

jsa-vs-kobra_01-fc_420pxI’ve always loved the Justice Society of America, but I haven’t been in love with the team’s ongoing monthly title for a hot minute.

The once great series started to kinda suck near the end of writer Geoff Johns’ run — during the way-too-long “Kingdom Come” story line. And, so far, I’m not totally sold on the new JSA creative team … or the idea that we need a whole ’nother JSA title (the upcoming JSA All-Stars).

At its best, the JSA focused on a core crew of legendary and legacy characters and excelled at getting to the heart of heroes that others thought of as lame. These days the book is filled with too many members — and many of them (like, uh, Magog) haven’t been adequately developed.

All that being the case, thank goodness for JSA vs. Kobra. A standalone six-issue limited series, it was probably one of the best JSA adventures in a while.

Sure the title was packed with a dozen or so superheroes, but Mr. Terrific and Power Girl took the spotlight in — as the title suggests — the team’s war against a new incarnation of the classic villain Kobra. On top of that, several other JSAers were given cool moments, offering them a chance to shine as well. The story is chock full of action and mystery, and mines new territory for the book’s good and bad guys.

Oh and the highly detailed art is by former JSA penciler Don Kramer, so flipping through the book is sort of a stroll down memory lane.

Anyway, take my word for it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll dig this new addition to the adventures of DC’s first super team.

Carlton Hargro is the Editor-In-Chief of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing free weekly newspaper. You can read more of his reviews on the magazines Comic Proportions blog.

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REVIEW :: Astonishing X-Men #32

November 13, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

astonishing-x-men_32-fc_420pxIf — like me — you weren’t blown away by Warren Ellis’ first arc on Astonishing X-Men, then you’ll probably love his brand-new story line, which marches on in issue 32.

Last go ’round, Ellis populated his scripts with tons of exposition and dialogue about outlandish pseudo-science crap. Fortunately, for this latest X-adventure, he’s chucked a good portion of that babbling and replaced it with copious amounts of action (such as Wolverine chopping up alien creatures and Emma getting smacked through a trolley car).

That’s not to say that all the big ideas are on the cutting-room floor; be on the lookout, for example, for giant morphing Sentinels made out of flesh and bone (instead of, you know, metal) who also have the ability to shoot Brood creatures from their fingers (yes, it’s very weird). It’s just that Ellis is showing us what’s happening here rather than telling us.

That said, 50 percent of the success of this book has got to go to new Astonishing artist Phil Jimenez, who packs his pages with oodles of kinetic energy and pretty-as-hell “widescreen” illustrations. Jimenez has come a long way from being a clone of George Perez — he now can stand on his own as one the most talented dudes in the industry.

What more can I say? You might actually be astonished by how good this book is. (Get it? Astonished? Yeah … not funny … I know. Buy the book anyway.)

Carlton Hargro is Editor-In-Chief of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing free weekly newspaper. You can read more of his reviews on the paper’s Comic Proportions blog.

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REVIEW :: Invincible Iron Man

November 04, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

While I’m not the biggest fan of writer Matt Fraction’s work on Uncanny X-Men (I get such a been-there-done-that feeling when reading his stories about Marvel’s merry mutants), I absolutely love what he’s doing on The Invincible Iron Man.

And, yes, I recognize how hard it is to create cool Iron Man comic stories.  I mean, how many writers penned really excellent runs on the book over the years? Doug Moench? John Byrne? Warren Ellis? And … yeah that’s my point.

Fraction succeeds where others have failed by building an interesting world around Tony Stark — one that’s filled with halfway-believable super science, political machinations, big business wheeling and dealing, and nods to our world’s ever-evolving media. Then, on top of that, he slathers heaping helpings of non-stop action, great characterization and clever dialogue. Moreover, let’s remember how much readers hated Stark not so long ago (Civil War anyone?). Fraction made us care about the hero again. Put all that together, along with the best art I’ve ever seen from Salvador Larroca and … voila! Marvel’s got a top-notch title on its hands.

All that said, from the way the story is progressing, it looks like the best stuff is yet to come. I say jump on now and enjoy the ride.

Carlton Hargro is the Editor-In-Chief of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing free weekly newspaper. You can read more of his reviews on their Comic Proportions blog.

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REVIEW :: Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire #1

October 21, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

ghost-riders_heavens-fire_01-fc_420pxOK, I’m officially digging the new Ghost Rider limited series “Heaven’s on Fire.”

I never thought I would ever find myself recommending a comic starring Ghost Rider; for me, the character has always been a great visual and nothing more. I actually picked up the book several times in its various incarnations over the years, but I’ve never been sold.

Well, writer Jason Aaron has sold me.

You know that old saying: “There’s no such thing as bad characters, just bad writers?” Aaron proves that in “HOF” What’s the secret of his success? One word: fun.

Aaron approaches the series with the knowledge that GR is a goofy character. That self-depricating style reminds me a little of how Joss Whedon made Buffy must-see TV — by “winking” at an audience that’s probably consumed tons of pop culture and is not interested in suspending disbelief unless absolutely necessary.

Now, that’s not to say “HOF” is one big joke. This isn’t Metal Men or anything like that. Beyond all the crazy villains (like the infamous Big Wheel and —my favorite — The Orb) and hilarious dialogue are well-developed characters and real stakes (like the fate of the world and some folks’ eternal souls) on the line.

Need a break from Norman Osborn? I’d suggest searching the stands for Marvel’s friendly neighborhood flaming skull.

Carlton Hargro is Editor-In-Chief of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing free weekly newspaper. You can read more of his comics reviews at the magazines Comic Proportions blog.

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REVIEW :: Batman #691

October 15, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

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Judd Winick did such a terrible job writing DC’s Titans and Green Arrow and Black Canary, I wasn’t expecting much of anything when I picked up the first issue of his run on Batman. Surprisingly, I was quite pleased with his short stint, which ended with the current issue 691.

The thing I dug most about Winick’s few issues on the book is that he really portrayed Nightwing as a competent professional who has what it takes to be Batman; honestly, I predicted Winick would do a “Roy Harper” on Mr. Grayson.

Sure, there were a few missteps — like the whole “I can’t operate with this heavy cape” crap. Dick has been Batman before and didn’t freak out over such issues — so why now?

Winick, however, made up for Dick’s uncharacteristic whining by illustrating the differences between the new Batman and the original. For example, Grayson — it was explained in this arc — does a better job at leaving behind evidence for police (since he was a cop before), is more acrobatic than Bruce and even (gasp) smiles from time to time. All these nods to Nightwing’s past have me thinking twice about Winick, who hasn’t exactly earned a rep for honoring continuity.

Carlton Hargro is Editor-In-Chief of Charlotte’s Creative Loafing free weekly newspaper. You can see more of his reviews at the magazine’s Comic Proportions blog.

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REVIEW :: Green Lantern #46

October 07, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

green-lantern_46-fc_thumbAfter reading Green Lantern #46, one thought popped in my head: “Wow, it’s hard to believe that this character used to suck.”

Am I the only person thinking that these days?

I mean, I’ve been loving what Geoff Johns has been doing with GL since he relaunched the property in “Rebirth” a few years ago. Month-in and month-out, GL is the most consistently high-quality book published by DC Comics. (number 46 was awesome, by the way.) The current GL-centric “Blackest Night” limited series is a testament Johns success in turning around the entire GL mythology.

But, remember folks, this is a relatively new development. For most of GL’s long life, he was a pretty lame cat.

Yes, he’s always wielded the most powerful weapon in the universe and was a member of an intergalactic peace force, but, sadly, no one really knew what to do with the guy.

Go back down memory lane and reflect on all the corny constructs GL created with this “powerful weapon” — you know, the giant boxing gloves, mousetraps and crap like that. And think back to the lame-o villains they’d throw his way (Sinestro, for example, was just a dude with a big head and Black Hand used to be a cornball). Then, focus on how folks came to look at the members of the cool-as-all-get-out Green Lantern Corps as something that made Hal Jordan “redundant” — which ultimately led to them all getting assassinated back in the 1990s; folks just didn’t what to do with them.

It’s so bad that, when I was recently telling someone how cool the main GL series was, they said to me: “You mean that corny dude from the Superfriends?” Ouch.

Suffice to say, Johns has brought the green-leotard-clad do-gooder a mighty long way. If you’re not reading the book, you really are missing some incredible superhero stories.

Be sure to check out Carlton’s regular comics reviews on the Creative Loafing Comic Proportions blog as well!

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REVIEW :: Captain America Reborn #3

September 24, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

I’ve gotta admit it: Captain America: Reborn has me pretty confused.

The Marvel Comics limited series that promises to bring Steve Rogers back from the dead is filled with crazy time travel, talk of “the constant,” and other pseudo-science babble that I don’t understand. One thing is for sure, though: I really dig this comic.

Part of my enjoyment is just the sheer guilty pleasure of seeing the Falcon in action. He shows up in the latest issue (No. 3) and kicks a lot of booty. It’s funny how Sam Wilson is depicted as a chump sometimes (ala that issue of the Avengers when he got spanked by the Grey Gargoyle, even though he fought him to a standstill years before in an issue of Captain America and the Falcon) and other times he’s shown as surprisingly competent and tough (like that old Jim Owsley penned Falcon mini-series from the 1980s). I like to think of him as a guy who gets overlooked, but is obviously a bad dude; why else would Cap make him his partner? Taking all that into consideration, it’s great seeing the Falcon show up and beat up bad guys.

The other part of my enjoyment of Reborn is just counting down the issues until Steve Rogers comes back.

Sure, I love the Bucky version of Cap, but I miss Steve — and I really didn’t know how much until writer Ed Brubaker murdered him.

Then again, I guess that was the point, eh? Well, mission accomplished.

Two more months to go until the series ends and Steve dons the chain mail once again. Can’t wait.

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REVIEW :: Red Robin #4

September 16, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

red-robin_04-fc_thumbI read the first issue of Red Robin a few months ago, and I was mildly entertained — but not intrigued enough to keep picking it up.

I guess I was too caught up in some of the other new Bat titles — specifically Batman and Robin and Streets of Gotham — to really consume RR on a monthly basis.

Or maybe I wasn’t enthralled by the book, which focuses on Tim Drake’s search for the very-alive Bruce Wayne, because out of all the revamped Bat-centric books, this one seemed the most finite. I mean, I KNOW that all titles will drastically change when Bruce comes back from the “dead,” but only RR has a definite end: the return of the original Batman. Everything until then is just smoke and mirrors, right? So whenever I thought of picking up the book, my inner comic geek said, “Call me when it’s over.”
Luckily, I ignored that voice and grabbed the latest issue — No. 4 — because now it seems like the book is getting good.

This month’s edition worked for me partly due to a guest appearance by the Dick Grayson version of Batman. His presence added a good deal of emotional resonance to the proceedings and helped to move the pair’s relationship in a more positive direction … well, you know, since their “breakup.”

I also enjoyed Drake’s inner dialogue this issue — the exposition did wonders to transform what sometimes appears to be a bitter, jilted sidekick into a driven, focused hero … who’s actually smarter than everybody else.

On top of that, the violent ending — replete with blood-red finality (or as much as you can get in a superhero comic) — caught me by surprise. And I loooovvve surprises.

All in all, good stuff; I think I’ll come back for No. 5.

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REVIEW :: Magog #1

September 10, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

magog_01-fcLast week in this space I talked about how I surprisingly liked the first issue of the new DC Comics limited series Batman: Widening Gyre. Well, this week I’m surprised yet again by the quality of another first issue of another new DC series: Magog.

And, look, I was really certain that I would hate this one; I was not a fan of the character as he was portrayed in the pages of JSA. As far as I was concerned, he was a boring dude with undefined powers and an ugly costume. So, him in his own series — I was thinking — was a bound to be a disaster.

Well, looks like I was wrong (again).

Magog #1 was an entertaining read — and that’s mainly because writer Keith Giffen found a way to make the character interesting. In place of the tabula rasa-esque hero he was, Giffen paints a picture of an ultra-tough guy — who also possesses an accessible touch of humanity —at odds with his teammates, but dedicated to his mission.

The plot, something about illegal high-tech weapons, is nothing new. And the general concept of the comic is sort of being done in Marvel’s War Machine. And the art, by former JLA penciler Howard Porter, is good — though not mind-blowing (it is nice to see his work again). The real draw here, however, is the star of the book himself.

For my money, if you’re looking for a new superhero comic, I’d suggest picking up Magog #1.

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REVIEW :: Batman: Widening Gyre #1

September 04, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

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I didn’t really expect to like Batman: The Widening Gyre — the new limited series written by film director/occasional comic book scribe Kevin Smith.

It’s not that I hate Smith’s work; on the contrary, I usually enjoy what he does — in the movies and in comics. I especially loved his run on Green Arrow from a few years ago.

But, I didn’t dig his last DC limited series, which also starred Batman (and was drawn by Widening Gyre artist Walter Flanagan). That particular series, Batman: Cacophony, just seemed self-serving in that it focused on a villain Smith created during his run on Green Arrow named Onomatopoeia. Honestly, Onomatopoeia was lame as hell and really didn’t deserve to be brought back. As a result, I felt trepidation about the notion of reading this latest series, which was designed to showcase yet another Smith creation — this time what appears to be a new hero aptly named Gyre.

My fears, however, were laid to rest once I read the first few pages of the book. The comic is jam packed with heroes and villains from all over the Batman pantheon of characters, effortlessly diving back and forth from the past to the present to tell a fairly tight, action-packed story. And, underneath all the fighting and dismembering, Smith even manages to serve up some great character exploration, analyzing the notions of legacy and death.  

It’s good stuff so far. I’ll stick around to see if the quality stays consistent.

Carlton Hargro is Editor-In-Chief of Creative Loafing. You can read more of his writing at the magazine’s Comic Proportions blog.

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