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REVIEW :: Adventure Comics #1

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

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In a summer comic book season populated by blockbuster “event” stories and universe shattering mega-crossovers, it’s nice to read a comic like Adventure Comics #1.

The title, a revival of on old DC book of the same name, stars a newly resurrected Superboy (the clone version). But instead of showing him battling muscle-bound super foes (as he recently did in Legion of 3 Worlds), this first issue focuses on the kid getting settled back into life in Smallville. As a result, artist Francis Manapul — in an almost painted-looking style — has been called on to fill large panels and full-page spreads with pictures of quaint farms, wide wheat fields and lush mountains.

Now, in another creator’s hands, a superhero hanging out in small-town America would equal one boring comic. But writer Geoff Johns is — as I’ve said many times in this space — really good at what he does. And what he’s doing in this debut book is world building (remember when first issues used to do that?).

In this issue we see Conner hanging out with Ma Kent, flying with Krypto, registering for high school classes and the like — this is Johns introducing all the main players, setting up the locations, hinting at sub-plots … essentially piling up all the building blocks necessary to create a viable “universe” for Superboy to operate in. 

The backup second feature showcases the Legion of Super Heroes, so it’s a little more cosmic. This short tale stars the schizophrenic Starman, and I’m not really a fan of that character. Coming attractions to future stories, however, show a lot of promise. At the very least, this is probably the most stable home for the Legion in a long while. I’m confident that enough readers will dig this change-of-pace comic to make it a long-running series. 

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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REVIEW :: The Marvels Project #1

August 19, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

Folks who complain about the horrors of “decompression-style” comic book stories will be pleased with the first issue of The Marvels Project.

The eight-issue limited series — written by Ed Brubaker with art by Steve Epting — starts off with a bang, and jumps straight into a tale that will reportedly track the secret history of Marvel’s superhumans.

The comic is filled with a slew of the company’s most iconic characters, set against the backdrop of World War II. Be on the lookout for action-packed appearances by cats like Prince Namor and the Human Torch, among others. The first few pages even feature one of the coolest cameos I’ve seen in a comic in along time. (Fans of old Avengers comics will particularly be pleased.)

One has to wonder, though, does the comic try to show too much too soon? I mean, will a casual reader know enough about Marvel’s pantheon of heroes to digest all the cookies spread throughout the story? I’m willing to reserve judgment about that point until later. In the meantime, I’d suggest that any fan of Marvel — new or old — should snag a copy of The Marvels Project No. 1.

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REVIEW :: Secret Warriors #6

August 05, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

The latest issue of Marvel’s lone — to my knowledge — espionage comic, starring the long-running spy Nick Fury (former director of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and his band of superhuman secret agents, hit the stands last week.

I’ve been loving this book and acting as an evangelist for it since the first issue. Five more issues in, the comic is still great. So great, in fact, it’s hard to even remember that, not too long ago, Nick Fury was one of those Dr. Strange-type characters — good for a cameo appearance, but not interesting enough to hold down his own book. Well, those days seem done.

This version of Nick Fury works by shrinking the cast of characters to a manageable size and throwing a healthy dose of superheroics on top of the spy stuff. So, instead of faceless agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fighting faceless hordes of Hydra, we’ve got a small, fleshed-out group of superpowered “secret warriors” fighting big-time bad guys like Gorgon (from that cool Wolverine story arc). Add a splash of great dialogue and several really cool-as-hell character moments (like when Dum Dum Dugan says to Nick Fury, “You give me a month and I’ll deliver the baddest bunch of evil bastards this world has ever seen.”), and you’ve got one hell of a comic book.

Now, I will say that it took me a moment to get into the art by Stefano Caselli (it seemed a tad too cartoony for a shadowy, spy book), but now I’m lovin’ it.

Bottom line? Buy it.

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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REVIEW :: Captain Britain & MI13

July 31, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

Well Captain Britain and MI13 has come to a close … and I’m sad.

I don’t know if you had a chance to read it, but the comic — Marvel’s British-flavored super team series — did not deserve to die.

Of course, I hear many fans of canceled series say the same thing; although, honestly, most of the comics floating around the industry that get cut truly do suck. (Spider-Girl anyone? I’m just saying!) Captain Britain and MI13, however, was damned good.

The comic was that rare superhero book that didn’t focus on fight scenes that go nowhere and over-hyped characters — instead it reveled in witty dialogue and the development of smart stories.

Its last arc — which pitted the team against the legendary vampire Dracula and an army of the undead — was played out like an intricate game of chess. In this multi-issue tale, strategy was more important than things blowing up. That’s not to say that things didn’t blow up, but writer Paul Cornell forced you to pay attention to each move on his expansive battlefield — not just random acts of violence.

Yes, I will admit, the cast of MI13 (guys like the Black Knight, Pete Wisdom and Blade, among others) was far from a collection of A-list characters. Hell, it wouldn’t even be a stretch to call them lame. But if you read the book, you’d see they were utilized in ways they’d never been before. As the dust of the last issue clears, I’d go so far as to say that these heroes were left a lot cooler after the series than before.

At the very least, this comic brought Captain Britain’s “dead” wife Meggan back to the Marvel Universe … so those six Excalibur fans out there should be happy.

I’m not sure how much of this series will be collected in trade paperback, but hunt down the back issues for sure to enjoy this gone-too-soon series.

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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REVIEW :: Not Assessing Legion of Three Worlds

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

So, Legion of 3 Worlds is FINALLY over. And now that it’s over, it’s probably time to assess the general quality of the five-issue limited series.
I’ll say up front that I liked the LO3W — but for two specific reasons … which I’ll get to later.

Firstly, here’s what I didn’t like about the series:

Superboy Prime — The success of a blockbuster comic book rests on the shoulders of its villain, and Superboy Prime — though powerful — was just silly. Yeah, I sometimes found his dialogue freaking hilarious, but … err … that’s the problem. It’s hard to take a bad guy seriously when he’s cracking you up. (Except for the Joker and Superboy Prime ain’t nobody’s Joker.)

Too many characters — it seemed like a cool idea at first, but when you get hundreds of Legionnaires together it just seems like a big, anonymous mass of costumed dudes and dudettes. At the end of the day, only a few characters held the spotlight anyway.

Lateness — It’s bad when a book is so late, you know the ending before the last issue comes out.

OK, so that’s what I didn’t like. But, as I mentioned before, there are two reasons I think LO3W was actually an enjoyable tale: Conner Kent and Bart Allen.

Say what you want about the series and writer Geoff Johns and artist George Perez, but ultimately they brought two characters back from the dead who should never have died. So the ends justified every single page of the means.

And that’s it.

Can’t wait to read Adventure Comics!

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REVIEW :: Marvel Divas

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

OK, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend buying Marvel Divas #1 — because, as I flip through the pages of this four-part limited series’ debut issue, there’s stuff to like and stuff to hate.

First up, let’s talk about what I hate. For starters, the general concept is a little lame. I can almost hear the writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pitching this comic: “It’s like ‘Sex & the City,’ but with super heroes.” Not sure if that’s how it went down … but it’s corny, right? You’ve got to be one heck of a salesperson to convince an editor that gathering some of Marvel’s most well-known female heroes — Monica Rambeau (formerly Captain Marvel and Photon), Black Cat, Firestar and Hellcat — and have them sit around, drink mojitos and talk about boys will be a hot comic. But the book’s central idea comes off a trifle stale on the printed page.

All that witty banter about bad dates leads to my other most-hated section of the comic: the ending. The cliffhanger we’re left with is pure soap opera melodrama and something you’d see in a Lifetime movie, not a Marvel comic.

Now, putting those wacker elements of the book aside for a second, let’s talk about what I actually liked about Marvel Divas. Yes, the comic depicted a ton of “girl talk” scenes, but it was nice to see superheroes having conversations — especially ones about emotions and relationships — instead of just punching or shooting. In a weird way, it reminded me of old Marvel Comic titles where characters’ personal lives were regular fodder for stories. Look past the mojitos, and you’ll see some cool character developments and some cool in-continuity moments (like a scene showing Marvel’s black super people cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina).

On top of that, the art — by Tonci Zonjic — is done in a cartoony style that’s light on lines but heavy on emotion. It kind of comes across like a less-manic version of Amanda Conner’s work.

So, see: things to like and things to hate.

At the end of the day it was fun. If you are a fan of any of the heroes featured in the comic (or a fan of Sex & the City — oh you know you watched it!), you’d get a kick out of Marvel Divas.
Carlton Hargro is Editor-In-Chief of Creative Loafing. You can read more of his writing at their website.

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REVIEW :: Fantastic Four #566

June 25, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

Yes, I still like the Fantastic Four by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.

I heard a dude in the comic shop the other day say he hates this current incarnation of the FF and prefers Dwayne McDuffie’s version of the book. I just don’t get it.

As much as I liked having Storm and the Blank Panther hang around Ben and Johnny, McDuffie’s stuff relied on nostalgia for characters that not many people cared about (like Gravity). Millar and Hitch, on the other hand, are serving up a thoroughly modern and fresh take on a comic that is pretty hard to pull off. And, even after more than 500 issues of the series, the current creators are finding new wrinkles on the team and their supporting characters.

Now, on the other hand, I am looking for some closure on the whole “Thing getting married” storyline. Just tell me why his latest lady is crazy/evil already. And (SPOILER ALERT) how many times are we going to decimate Latveria? Living in Kazakhstan next door to Borat would be better, I think.

Still — while I know writer Jonathan Hickman is gearing up for his run on the book right now — Millar and Hitch are creating some cool stories and pictures every month.

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REVIEW :: Punisher #5

May 29, 2009 By: Carlton Hargro Category: DISCUSS, Reviews

I never thought I could actually enjoy a comic book that follows the adventures of the Punisher in the regular Marvel Universe.

I was a big fan of Garth Ennis’ Max Comics version of Frank Castle; his take was pure — gritty, dark, violent and as realistic as a funny book can get. So the idea of the big guy with the skull on his chest running around with superhuman superheroes just seemed silly. And yes I know that’s how he started out — back in the pages of Spider-Man — but after Ennis amped up the real-world elements, I just couldn’t see the point of going back to “Fantasy-land.”

My trepidation about the wackness of a Marvel U.-based Punisher was realized when Matt Fraction launched his super-duper edition a year or so ago. Fraction played the book for laughs, but the lack of seriousness made it hard to care about the stories. Ultimately, it didn’t work.

These days, however, there’s another Punisher comic on the stands; this one is written by Rick Remender and the art is by Jerome Opena. And this one is actually good.

From a story standpoint, Remender’s approach to Castle is similar to Ennis’ … in that he’s stripped the character down to his purest form. The dialogue is sparse and to the point. His actions are portrayed as deliberate and methodical. His emotions don’t register. This isn’t the Punisher played for laughs. This is a “normal” guy on a mission to murder some abnormal bad guys. (It’s particularly cool how the Punisher uses some iconic Marvel-style weapons to battle a cadre of villains.)

From an art standpoint, Opena renders everything in a gritty, rough, shadowy style — and that further helps to ground situations that could easily turn ultra-fantastic. Honestly, Opena is one of the best artists drawing comics today. I can see this guy moving to more high-profile Marvel books soon. For now, you can enjoy his handiwork in these blood-soaked pages.

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REVIEW :: Destroyer

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

So, who’s reading the new Robert Kirkman comic Destroyer?

I get the feeling this is a book that — because it doesn’t star an A-list character and because it’s a coming from the sometimes overlooked Max mature readers line — folks can and will easily pass up. But, really, you should pick it up. It’s an entertaining read, and if you like Kirkman you’ll really dig it.

Two issues into the five-issue limited series, Destroyer tells what appears to be an out-of-continuity tale about the old Timely Comics hero called Destroyer who, now a senior citizen, is dying from some kind of heart problem. But on his way to the grave, he plans to take some bad guys with him. Simple story, eh? Well, that simple story works perfectly with Kirkman’s easy-going writing style. The scribe is no Alan Moore but, with minimal captions or thought balloons for exposition, his approach to writing is ultra-economical; he basically gets out of his story’s way and lets it tell itself. Other writers could learn a lot from Kirkman’s skill.

The script’s simplicity is outdone only by the art’s simplicity. Artist Cory Walker is from that “clean” school of drawing, only leaving the most necessary marks on the page to illustrate a panel. And the lines Walker does decide to put down are some of the most confident strokes in the business.

Take my word for it. Buy this book.

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REVIEW :: New Mutants #1

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

I used to loooooovvve the original New Mutants series waaaaayyy back in the day (I’m old enough to have actually read the book as it came out).

I fondly remember issues featuring stuff like the Demon Bear, the Mr.T-esque villain Axe and even a guest appearance by Team America, among other cool items from the first series. Sure, it was a little cheesy (cheese, by the way, is tasty), but the stories were solid (this was Chris Claremont on his “A” game) and the art, by Bob McCleod, was tight.

That said, simple nostalgia over the old series would not get me to like New Mutants No. 1 if it sucked. Luckily, it doesn’t suck.

The first issue of the team’s newest incarnation is right on the money in terms of tone, direction and respect for current X-Men continuity. I especially love how well writer Zeb Wells handles the relationships between the team members; it’s obvious that they respect and actually like each other — which makes their re-teaming even more logical.

One other thing I dig about this comic is that it shows some of the more administrative aspects of being on a X-Men team. In one scene, Cannonball fills out a “roster request form.” And in another scene, we see Beast handling design and creation of the group’s uniforms. Maybe I’m the only one who gives a crap about Cyclops’ paperwork, but mundane stuff like that just makes the comic experience more “realistic” for me.

On the art-side of things, Diogenes Neves does an outstanding job of rendering great human figures, emotion-filled facial expressions and detailed backgrounds. I’ve never heard of this artist, but I’m impressed by the work here.

All in all, speaking as an old fan, I can honestly ay I’m excited about the promise and potential of this new series.

Oh, and Team America rocks!

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