Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gotham Academy #1 review

It's the first day of term for Mia 'Maps' Mizoguchi and second-year scholarship student Olive Silverlock is assigned to show her around posh boarding school Gotham Academy. Olive has been dating Maps' big brother and fellow pupil Kyle and is trying to break up with him; something happened over the summer, apparently involving her mother, and it's changed Olive. She's becoming a darker person, and she doesn't like it.

Maps is fascinated by talk of a ghost in the North Hall, which headmaster Hammer deems off limits due to an 'incident'. So of course, she can't wait to go there. Olive isn't stupid enough to ignore a direct warning of danger but, apparently needing a distraction from her gloomy thoughts, she offers to take Maps - so nicknamed because she likes to know the lay of the land - to check out 'the creepy parts of the old chapel'.

Up in the chapel loft, Maps can see across to the North Hall. She thinks she spots something spooky. Soon the girls are climbing up to the belfry and ... may I refer you to that superb cover, above?

There's been a buzz about this new series since it was announced a few months ago - Hogwarts meets Nancy Drew in Batman's backyard with the involvement of fan favourites Becky Cloonan and Karl Kerschl. Well, it's here and it's fun. Lots of fun.

Cloonan and co-writer Brenden Fletcher are smart to focus on just two of the cast members this time, the space allowing them to quickly make Maps and Olive people we can care about. We see enough of the other students - tennis god Kyle, Heathers wannabe Pomeline, bad-ish boy Colton, nervous Lucy - to intrigue, and I look forward to getting to know them. Then there are the teachers - principal 'Hammerhead', history teacher Prof Macpherson, walking Easter egg Ms (Aunt) Harriet ... who likely come with their own mysteries. And is that longtime Bat-baddie Professor Milo in the lab? Former pupil and benefactor Bruce Wayne shows up to make a speech, bringing with him a hint that Olive's been traumatised by some Batman-related incident.

The fast-paced script does a sterling job of setting a tone for the series, with only the teen dialogue grating ... but that's not a negative criticism, I'm a grown man in the UK, not a teenager in the US. It's likely authentic as all get out, and if it helps the book connect with a younger audience, brilliant.

Because this series could be a fine entry point to the DC universe for younger readers - it seems to me accessible, it's smart, and funny ... the belfry scene, for instance, is wonderfully dramatic, while remaining organic to the characters and setting. Sure, Maps and Olive are in danger, but what young reader wouldn't love to dive right into these pages and join them?

And it's all beautifully illustrated by Kerschl and colour artists Geyser and Dave McCaig. From the looming walls of the academy to the superb 'character acting' of the kids - the super-expressive Maps is a standout - via the dynamic design of the action sequence, this is a beautiful book. A cutaway spread during the girls' tour of the grounds gives us a glimpse of the setting and the students who, happily, aren't sexualised. And as the backgrounds are packed with detail, this is a book that rewards multiple reads - longtime Bat-fans, for example, will get a kick out of the Basil Karlo poster on Lucy's wall which, to newbies, is simply fun set-dressing.

And there are subtleties that may be missed on first reading, such as the implication of the carry-over of Olive's narrative box onto an image of rival Pomeline.

There's an immediate synergy to story and art which makes me want to explore Gotham Academy. I don't know what DC's marketing plan is for the series, but they have something great here and need to find ways to get it in front of younger readers. A free download with whatever the teen equivalent of Entertainment Weekly is? A mini-comic given away with some Warners teen TV DVD? I dunno, but there are a lot of kids out there reading other things who might enjoy this sideways take on the world of Batman. And adults too.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Superman: Doomed #2 review

It's been a long time coming. Civilisations have risen and fallen in the time the Superman: Doomed storyline has taken. But here it is, the final confrontation between the monstrously transformed Superman and the Collector of Worlds, Brainiac.

To say this storyline has been uneven is to understate massively. Good chapters have been followed by meagre fare. Plot points have disappeared for issues at a time. Superman's ability to fight the Doomsday infection has varied according to the needs of the instalment.

The biggest bump in the road has been the lack of a compelling antagonist. We've known for awhile that Brainiac has been behind the attacks on Earth, that he engineered the fight that made Superman believe he had no choice but to tear Doomsday in two, opening the door to his becoming 'SuperDoom'. But the villain with the computer brain has been largely on the sidelines.

In this final chapter, though, that all changes.

Superman has embraced the Doomsday body and personality as the only way to beat Brainiac, and free the enslaved minds of Earth's billions of inhabitants. He's loaned support by Lana Lang and Lois Lane via the latter's Brainiac-gifted mental powers. No longer a slave to the Coluan, Lois gets to be cheerleader-in-chief, while Lana advises Superman, for the good of Earth, to just 'kill that sonofabitch'. Given he's possessed by the spirit of an alien berserker, it's advice he may not need.

Somewhere inside SuperDoom, the personality of Clark Kent survives. It's this speck of humanity that Brainiac appeals to, after first pretending to be Perry White; if Superman understands his plan, he'll surely get behind it. He explains that he wants the mental energy of Earth's people not to enslave, but to free. He aims to reimagine the universe, give everyone their ideal lives. Lana, for example, could find happiness as the bride of Steel, partner protector of Metropolis. Superman would so inspire the world that the will to commit crimes would gradually disappear and the Batman could retire.

But Clark isn't buying any real estate on this mental plane, he doesn't for a minute consider joining Brainiac's gang. Brainiac doesn't help his case by threatening Kara, saying that if he doesn't sign up to his plan, Supergirl - currently fighting his lackey, the Cyborg Superman, alongside the last surviving heroes of Earth - will become SuperDoom 2. The scenario allows Superman to state, unambiguously and out loud, just how much faith he has in his cousin. Sure, she's been a hellcat at times, but she's a good person and wouldn't be taken over by bloodlust. And just look at that beatific expression on his face - in the midst of a massive crisis, love for his cousin has given Superman a moment of peace.

(The scene also gives Superman knowledge Kara lacks - that the Cyborg Superman is her own father, transformed and mindwiped ... there's a ticking plot bomb if ever I saw one.)

One area in which Brainiac has succeeded, though, is in gaining access to heroes - by making Superman think about Lana, Supergirl and Batman, he's opened a path that lets Brainiac take their minds and bottle them away.

He hasn't, though, managed to get a grip on Wonder Woman, who's in the Phantom Zone, where a deal with the alien warlord Mongul allows her to sic his Warworld on Brainiac's mothership. Meanwhile, SuperDoom, ignoring the conversation in his headspace, is wreaking havoc on Brainiac's ship as he gets nearer its core, where the baddie's physical body lurks. As he delivers a painful pounding, Lois arrives on the mental plane and her own powers allow her to grab the mind of the now-vulnerable villain. She agrees with Lana, he has to die. Superman, though, has other ideas. His mental communion has told him what Brainiac really wants - to be reunited with the dead wife and son his hubris saw him lose. Now that they're on the verge of ending his threat and restoring the people of Earth, is there anything to lose by giving him what he wants - on a mental level at least?

I love this beat in Greg Pak and Charles Soule's script. It sums up who Superman is - the Man of Compassion, willing to give a twisted soul one last chance. As for whether Brainiac grabs it with both green hands, that's between you and the comic book. And if you haven't heard about the final two pages, they represent a big surprise I won't spoil. I think it's a good few months before we see the consequences of that brand new plot strand. For now, I'll simply commend Soule and Pak on a really rather good wrap-up to a story as uneven as it was ambitious. It's tough to fault this issue's mix of action and characterisation.

The latter is especially welcome, as the barely defined, or downright bumpy, relationships of the recently rebooted Superman to his supporting cast have really harmed the character. Pak, Soule and Supergirl writer Tony Bedard, though, have of late been building things up again, first with Lana, and now with Lois, Kara, Batman and Wonder Woman. The enormous faith Superman has in them, and the love and respect they show him - even Supergirl has started to appreciate her cousin - is a joy to behold.

As for Brainiac, In just one issue Pak and Soule give him real stature, as a master manipulator of minds, but a failure when it comes to self-insight.

Partnering Soule and Pak is an army of artists. Just look at this bunch.

Remarkably, the jam doesn't harm the story. The work is strong throughout, with good storytelling, dynamic fight sequences and convincing facial theatrics. Especially deserving of commendation are whoever drew the supremely Satanic Brainiac temptation sequence (Jack Herbert? Confirmation or contradiction equally welcome), Cory Smith for the idealised Lana and Steel, and Dave Bullock for the charming possible future featuring an elderly Superman and Bruce Wayne.

There's also good work from colourist Wil Quintana and letterer Taylor Esposito in this double-sized comic,

While not a success from beginning to end, Pak and Soule, and departed collaborator Scott Lobdell, supplied enough good, even great, moments to almost guarantee that in years to come I'll look back on Superman: Doomed with more affection than not. Seeing Superman made into a monster hasn't been comfortable but - as with Supergirl's turn as a Red Lantern - the outcome has seen a positive definition of the character, and there's been a lot of fun along the way.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Booster Gold: Futures End #1 review

Gotham by Gaslight. No-good brigands scour the streets for their next mark. They come across a strangely dressed fellow in a rubbish tip. 


Hardly. It's a time-tossed Booster Gold, wondering what's plucked him from the 21st to the 19th century. He's not there long, mind, as he's soon zapped back to the present day, where he sees another Booster fighting Kevin Kho Omac, with the new Blue Beetle unconscious at their feet.

There follow trips to the 31st century of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Earth 4 of the Charlton Comics Captain Atom, the Great Disaster of Kamandi and a 21st-century Metropolis where his sister Michelle - Goldstar - awaits. Some of the stops see people reference lost powers returning.

And occasionally we visit another Booster, captured and tortured by an unknown entity who wants the answer to some question.

We finally learn what the villain wants when bouncing Booster bursts in on captive Booster. Their costumes are slightly different, they're different ages, but they seem to be the same man.

I won't give away the reveal to that particular plot strand, but I will say that for all its branding, this doesn't seem to be a Futures End tie-in at all. The cliffhanger 'To be continued' blurb refers us to the end of the weekly and its forthcoming sister title Worlds End, next March or something, but that's it. The story, Pressure Point, links to the last time we saw Booster in the New 52, when he was watching Superman and Wonder Woman kiss on monitor screens and worrying about it. But there's nothing in here of Cadmus Island, or Terry McGinnis Batman, or the mega-annoying Fifty-Sue.

And that's fine by me. Booster time and space hopping, showing us the fun of the old DC Multiverse? I'll take that over a bloated crossover anytime. Seeing writer Dan Jurgens handle the surprisingly English dialogue of Gotham by Gaslight denizens is a delight. Seeing Moritat draw it is even better - his Victorian Batman is a treat. Then there's Steve Lightle reunited with the LSH for a blisteringly good page or two, Ron Frenz giving us his cracking Kirby for the Kamadi sequence...

There are also artistic contributions from pencillers Brett Booth, Will Conrad, Stephen Thompson and Jurgens himself, with inks from Norm Rapmund, Scott Hanna and Mark Irwin. John Kalisz provides suitably smart colours for every era, with nary a wrinkle >cough Dream Girl has white-blonde hair< while Taylor Esposito's letters are spot-on, with some especially nice design on the title page. 

More often than not, such a gaggle of artists would mean a mess of a book, but a tonally shifting issue makes that possible weakness a definite strength. 

I do hope that we are indeed eventually given the answers to questions raised and not resolved here, such as who's behind Booster's time-hopping and who's the torturer. For now, I'm just glad to have spent time with Booster Gold, whose current status as a time agent (it turns out that, amusingly, his partner, Rip Hunter, Time Master supplies briefs covering the likes of The Great Disaster) suits his character splendidly well. I know a version of Booster is upcoming in the excellent Justice League 3000 book, but hey, time travel, we can have more than one.

Buy this book - the wobbly cover by Jurgens, Hi-Fi and Rapmund is a marvel - and I might just get that series.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Teen Titans: Futures End #1 review

The five-years-later set Futures End weekly has teased that something awful happened to the present day Teen Titans. Buy this in the hope or expectation of details and you'll be disappointed. Pick it up with an open mind and you'll get a fun tale of teenage heroes righting wrongs in an uncertain future.

There's a link to the just-launched Titans series in that the villain from that, Algorithm, puts in an appearance. She's head of security for scumbag billionaire Archimedes Grant, whose abuse of individuals, animals, land and resources attracts the attention of some unfamiliar young heroes.

In a more direct link to the weekly than we've seen in most of the specials, writer Will Pfeifer has most of the new Titans hail from Earth 2. They're refugees from the war between Earths, and ticked off that Grant is using their people as bloody entertainment at his parties.

The heroes who, by the end of the book, have become the new Titans are, beginning with the three Earth 2-ers:

  • Klarion the Witch Boy (older than the version we know).
  • A female Kid Flash (identity unknown).
  • Tempest (an Atlantean reminiscent of a sleeker Lagoon Boy).
  • Animal Girl (not Maxine Baker but one Alexia Santos).
  • Heretic (name unrevealed, but I'm guessing a Damian Wayne clone)

They're a suitably varied bunch thematically and, thanks to penciller Andy Smith, inker Keith Champagne and colourist Matt Yackey, visually. My immediate favourite is Klarion, dapper in smile and amused of manner - he manages to seem unfazed by circumstance without ever being irritatingly smug.

Pfeifer sketches in enough pieces of personality to intrigue, making me sad there's little immediate prospect of these newbies showing up in the 2014 Titans book.

Then again, we're in a future timeline, once Futures End wraps, they could simply be written in via time travel or reality-changing shenanigans. It's comics, Pfeifer's allowed, and there's plenty of precedent over in Marvel's X-Men line.

Grant is a true stinker, with no regard for anyone but himself - even when he reacts badly to the fate of his supposed girlfriend, I suspect he's mainly annoyed at the loss of a plaything.

Andy Smith's tight, clean lines, expressive people and sharp storytelling techniques are right up my alley. He's great at action shots in particular, which is obviously useful in a superhero book - I especially like his depiction of Kid Flash's speed trail. I'd love to see him given a regular DC assignment - not every comic artist has to choose the super-stylist route. Heck, if I were DC I'd chain Smith to the licensing department.

And I'd treasure Champagne who, of course, deserves some credit for what makes the page. I've not seen this former stalwart's credit in a DC book for awhile; it's good to have him back.

Yackey's colouring is brighter than is fashionable, but suits this story, which is serious, but not gloomy. The only note I'd give, backseat-editor wise, would be to pick out Klarion in the couple of panels before his introduction, rather than leave him in a monotone crowd. Then again, the treatment we get does reward a careful read. Letters come from the ever reliable Rob Leigh.

Karl Kerschl's lenticular cover is one of the most effective treatments I've seen. And of course, it won't scan for toffee, so a shout-out to the excellent Batman Wikia, whose image I've nicked - thank you.

If your budget's tight but you follow the Titans, this title is skippable. Fun, well-done but skippable. But if you've a few spare pennies, give it a shot.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Supergirl: Futures End #1 review

It's five years from now and Supergirl is gone, supplanted by a Cyborg Supergirl who can barely remember ever being human. She's united with the Cyborg Superman in a quest to find a world that can be transformed into a new Krypton, complete with 'upgraded' inhabitants. 

As cosmic upcyclers, they've failed so far, but Cyborg Supergirl, whom Cyborg Superman designates Herald Two - guess who's Herald One? - has had an idea. She takes him back to Earth, scene of his most ignominious defeat but somewhere she believes the key to success lies. She aims to find a 'specimen' of 'Neo-Sapien', someone who looks Kryptonian with the genetic potential to spark a reborn race. 

Thanks to the intervention of super-scientist Dr Shay Veritas, said specimen finds her first. He wants to talk, she wants to subdue him and mine his DNA. But he has an ace up his sleeve, the mental powers of a man born 100,000 years before his time. Yes, it's Adam Blake, also known as Captain Comet, and it turns out they have a shared past as members of the Wanderers super team. And lovers.  

But is there enough of the original Kara in Cyborg Supergirl for him to reach?

It turns out there is, Adam lights the flame that burns Kara free and sees her turn on 'Herald One', demanding answers - who is he really, because he sure as heck isn't her cousin? By issue's end Kara has, literally and very painfully, rejected his idea of perfection and reclaimed her life. Her future isn't ending, it's just beginning.  

In a real world sense, though, it is a Futures End for Supergirl, as this is one of the last Kara stories for who knows how long by Tony Bedard - I believe he's on next month's Supergirl #35, but who knows with DC's tendency to chop and change? The stories he was expecting to tell, teased in online interviews, are no longer coming, with new writers announced for the book. So I savoured every page of this issue. 

I hate the New 52 version of the Cyborg Superman, a Brainiac-transformed version of Supergirl's father, Zor-El. I abhor the idea that, even lacking the knowledge of their relationship, he would cut up her body and replace parts with robotics. 

So making this Kara's Five Years Later fate makes perfect sense - the future is meant to be foul. And Bedard, bless him, uses the situation to show us just how strong Kara is. Yes, she's emancipated from her 'partner' due to the intervention of Adam, but he can only work with what's there. And what's there is the essential Supergirl, buried deep, but undoubtedly present. We see that early in the issue as Cyborg Supergirl refuses to countenance the murder of everyday Earth people. 

And once the true Kara, regains control of her mind and sees what's been done to her body, I love the way Bedard plays it. Kara is fierce, and wants revenge. 

She recognises Cyborg Superman as a cancer in the universe, just as he ate away at her own body, and she's going to take him out. 

Captain Comet is different here to how I remember him from Grant Morrison's Action Comics run, but the Neo-Sapien tag pegs him as the same guy. I guess he's gone through some changes in the several in-panel years since he was last seen. 

One of the most entertaining aspects of the Futures End specials is seeing who turns up in a new form. As well as Captain Comet, this issue also gives us a version of The Wanderers, the Silver and Bronze Age Legion of Super-Heroes allies. I doubt they really would've figured in Bedard's regular Supergirl plans, but they make for a fun element here. 

While she's pretty ravaged by the close of this issue, Kara has triumphed and is rewarded with a 'perfect moment'. I like that. 

I also like that unlike most of the Futures End tie-in writers, Bedard explicitly references the events of that book. If any members of the current weekly's creative team steps down, DC would be wise to bring this smart writer on board. 

Emanuela Lupacchino's storytelling is good, packed with power and feeling; I smiled at seeing how much the Cyborg Supergirl's obscene metal makeover is reminiscent of Superman's New 52 nonsense armour. Ray McCarthy inks the story and does a decent job, while Hi-Fi colours and Rob Leigh letters. There's isn't a single outstanding image but the entire issue is consistently fine. That's a win, I think. 

Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Dan Brown's images for the lenticular cover are striking, but it's a shame Kara is scowling as much in the current day scene as in the future. Bedard has worked hard to put her in a place of optimism, and a newly content Kara would be a more dramatic contrast to the Cyborg Supergirl. 

While I'd rather have seen Bedard and Lupacchino give us a tale of today's Kara, rebuilding a life on Earth, as gimmick-led event tie-ins go, Supergirl: Futures End is a classy entry. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Batgirl: Futures End #1 review

Two years from today, Barbara Gordon gets married.

Two years from today, Barbara Gordon becomes a widow.

Five years from today, she is Bete Noir, the Beast of Gotham, running a trio of Batgirls. She's cleaned up most of the city's crime, and now the teacher Barbara modelled the Beast on is back in Gotham: Bane - the man who broke the Bat. And before he blows up the city, he plans to break the Beast.

Whoa! This is dark stuff. From the horror of the opening through the trials Barbara puts herself through to become a more effective force against crime, to Bane's reading of her desires, this is grim. There are light moments - Stephanie Brown Batgirl uses the goop so beloved of an earlier version of the character, Tiffany Lucille Fox Batgirl whines about being sidelined out in the field - but this is one downbeat comic.

You likely know that Simone's run on the regular Batgirl series is over, to be supplanted by a lighter approach. Without having read a page, the internet loves loves LOVES the new Barbara Goes to College take, DIY costume and all. Simone is perfectly capable of running such a book, but as she's so associated with super-gloomy New 52 Batgirl, a new writer and artist sends out the message of a new beginning. Fair enough, Simone is a professional, and she has a new Secret Six in the works (which the internet loves too).

Still, looking at this comic, it's as if Simone decided, as she departed, to take the mickey out of the prevailing New 52 tone, amping the darkness beyond 11. 

So Babs is a hulk of a woman, less Batgirl than Butchgirl, clad in a Bane mask even as she takes Gotham's gangsters down. On the way to where she is today, she snapped the neck of a man purely to get Bane's attention. Where Batman put his friend Lucius Fox's son on the streets in a Batwing suit, Beast Barbara lets Fox's untrained 12-year-old daughter Tiffany run around with Steph Brown and Cassandra Caine.

Is there light at the end of the Gotham tunnel? Maybe. Simone likes Barbara too much to abandon her to the darkness completely. And thank the stars for that - if this is her last play with Barbara for awhile, I'm happy the big-hearted, compassionate heroine we know survives.

If you're looking for specific Futures' End (FE) links, look elsewhere, you won't find them here - there's no reference to the Earth 2 war, or Brother Eye, Cadmus or any of the other foundations of that series. Like most FE DC books, Batgirl goes its own way, embracing the question: 'where might my character be in five years if she could go anywhere, somewhere the eventual five-years-later books wouldn't allow?' And on that basis, this issue works. Simone continues the themes of her Batgirl run, catches us up with some of the characters, and goes a bit bonkers. There's a sense that this is a book without a safety net, which is exciting, but when things end rather positively, I couldn't be happier.

The dialogue is a delight, from Barbara's opening narration through to her closing thoughts. And because she plays well with others, Simone absents James Gordon Sr from the wedding, without saying he's dead, meaning he may still be in jail as per the current Batman Eternal weekly. The Batgirl battalion is a smart way to acknowledge Barbara's legacy, including previous continuity Batgirls Cass and Steph, and showing there'll likely be more. The story also winks at Barbara's old Oracle persona, with her running a team from a secret headquarters. Said HQ is the Ha Ha Hacienda, the Joker's 1970s bolthole, which may be Simone showing that the Beast has beaten her worst enemy by metaphorically inhabiting his soul. 

Or maybe it was just empty and on a bus route.

Bane was one of the revelations of Simone's Secret Six series, and she grabs the chance to reintroduce him here. Sure, Bane has appeared a few times in the New 52 continuity, but this is the first time it's felt like the version I loved, housework, daughter obsessions and all.

The odd cheesecake pose aside - check out Steph on the splash page, that's exactly how a superhero begins a battle - I rather enjoyed Javier Garron's work. The storytelling is good, the poses true and the facial acting fine. A flashback to Barbara's training incorporating incongruously fun-looking Polaroids elicited a grin. Decent colours, too, from Romulo Fajardo Jr and letters from Saida Temofonte (usually to be found on the excellent DC Digital titles).

It took me awhile to find the right angle, but the lenticular treatment for Clay Mann's cover, coloured by Fajardo, works well.

So, while not the Barbara Gordon I want to read, and probably not the Barbara Gordon Simone prefers to write, as enforced tie-ins go, Batgirl: Futures End is a good read. More than ever it has me hoping Bane will join Simone's new Secret Six soon. As for Barbara, I'm looking forward to some lighter stories - and I wouldn't be surprised if Simone isn't too. 

Justice League United: Future's End #1 review

In the recently debuted Justice League United series, Miiyahbin Marten has just discovered her super-powers and hasn't yet adopted a superhero identity. Five years in the future she's Equinox, Canada's greatest hero. And she has a great new villain:

'Great' as in fun, not impressive. It's the Polargeist, making a polar heist! Equinox makes short work of him, but never-ending-battles being what they are, she immediately receives a plea for help from J'onn J'onzz. Will her old teammates in Justice League United answer her call to action?

You bet they ... won't. Stargirl is off planet. Supergirl isn't speaking (Kara's Futures End tie-in will apparently present her as an evil cyborg, so fair enough). Alana is 'in no shape' after something happened to husband Adam Strange. Green Arrow is dead. And worse, Animal Man is henpecked.

Hawkman isn't even mentioned, though readers of the weekly Futures End title know he's been a Stormwatch member for awhile at the time of this story.

Nothing for it but to ask the regular Justice League - Cyborg, Stormguard, Vostok, Dawnstar, Flash - for help. As J'onn has been acting as super-warden on Mars, Earth's prison planet for the worst super-villains, and there's been a break-out, of course they'll lend a hand. Into the JL cruiser they hop and it's off to Mars, where some rather formidable escapees and a surprise villain mean this gets continued in Justice League: Future's End #1.

Which is fine by me, I had a good time with this comic and a bigger story is good. I love peeks into the future, looks at how the DC Universe will be in a five-years-later you can guarantee won't ever arrive.

I like that Equinox has developed into quite the hero, a brave, resourceful young woman confident in the use of her elemental powers. I like the idea of a prison planet, being a Legion of Super-Heroes fan, where Takron-Galtos was all the rage.

I like that Legionnaire Dawnstar is in here - yeah, she belongs in the 31st century, but this is just a possible future, cleverly teasing the outcome of the upcoming JLU encounter with the Legion.

I don't like that Dawnstar's unique tracking abilities aren't brought into play in the search for J'onn - once the team lands on Mars she should hone in on him in 20 seconds flat. Instead she's presented as simply a flier, a Hawkperson substitute. 

And for goodness' sake, what's with Cyborg's casual sexism?

As for Animal Man being too nervous even to let wife Ellen know he's been asked for help, I don't believe it. There's a friend in need, and a threat to Earth. Sure, Ellen's suffered due to Buddy's position as a hero - they lost son Cliff due to his being Animal Man - but she's no shrew, she'd support a rescue mission for J'onn. 

I'm hoping next issue we learn a bit about Stormguard's abilities - he's been popping up in Future's End and I can't recall a single thing about him. As a failed Aquaman and the Others reader, a lesson in Vostok would also be useful. Writer Jeff Lemire - whose work in JLU I've enjoyed hugely - should be introducing his characters a little better. The relationships are there to be seen, but the basics - who is this hero, what do they do - are missing.

Weighed against the overall imagination and fun of this book, though, the problems listed count merely as quibbles. Lemire does a pretty decent job with an imposed editorial event.

Drawing the book is Jed Dougherty, a new name to me. I like his confident way with people - great facial expressions, fine body language (check out Maxine Baker going off in a strop). The action moments are pretty standard, but they work well enough. And it's all coloured with style by Gabe Eltaeb, who also shows up for the excellent lenticular cover drawn by Mike McKone. The transition between today's team and the 2019 version works stunningly well.

All in all, JLU: FE is no classic, but it's a fun ride. It's a shame Equinox is the only active member, but we see and hear enough about the others to keep me happy. And would anyone be surprised to see Buddy - and maybe 'Little Wing' Maxine - show up for the finale? 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Green Arrow: Futures End #1 review

I dropped off Green Arrow shortly after the team of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino came on the book. Their work was impressive, their direction assured, but not really my cup of tea. Still, new Green Arrow Emiko Queen's involvement in the Futures End series - co-written by Lemire - intrigued me enough to pick up this 'five years later' tie-in.

That, and a rather nifty lenticular cover. Dig that crumbling gravestone!

Lemire and Sorrentino are still around, and still impressing. They make it easy to jump back in, explaining things as we go along and 'colouring in' the characters, meaning that by the time the clever ending came it meant something to me.

Futures End #1 featured the five-years-later funeral of Green Arrow Oliver Queen. This issue, set a little before that, shows how he meets his end. Ollie persuades his frenemies in the Outsiders to help him take down the scientists of Cadmus Island, who are experimenting with refugee super-beings from Earth 2. To improve the odds, he wants to add the element of surprise, setting up the story's twist.

Lemire's X-Men-style jokey intro captions take away from the drama a tad - I never want to see 'Nuff said' in a DC comics again - but overall the script is a winner.

The Ollie in this issue is unrecognisable as the callow youth we met at the New 52 relaunch. Never mind five years, he seems at least 15 years older, like the Green Arrow of the Mike Grell series. And, truly unforgivable haircut aside, that's fine by me, I prefer my GA a world weary crusader rather than a swashbuckling one. I also like this kid Emiko - Ollie's half-sister, daughter of Shado, I learn - and Ollie's tech pal Naomi has become a hero of the streets, Dart. The villain of the piece is the inevitable Deathstroke - all DC creators have a hard-on for this guy, even those nice Tiny Titans fellows - but Lemire writes him well, making him a bitter Republican to Ollie's liberal.

And Sorrentino draws Deathstroke superbly, presenting him as a ghostly figure, a seemingly unstoppable force. The whole book looks very, very good, with Sorrentino's control of mood to the fore. And colouring partner Marcelo Maiolo adds to the intensity, trademark duo-hue panels and all.

Even if you're not a Green Arrow fan, I recommend this issue purely from a craft point of view; it shows how excellent creators can put a new spin on the well-worn superhero tale. It's especially worth getting if you're following Futures End, with the direct tie-in some of this week's other gimmick issues doesn't have. It's sharp, it's fun - buy it.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

DC Digital Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #11 review

Like, zoinks, this series just gets better and better. Mystery Incorporated teams up with the Super Friends when the Hall of Justice is invaded by seven ghosts. Seven rainbow-themed ghosts. And one of them has zapped Superman away. 

The world's greatest super-heroes fear a crime wave should news get out that the Man of Steel is gone, so they want the expertise of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby to work out what's going on. Trouble is, the Hall is open to the public and if people see the gang snooping around, they'll suspect something is up. Disguises are called for. Ones that will allow them to blend in seamlessly ...

Perfect! Writer Sholly Fisch never misses a trick, letting Hanna Barbara's economic/lazy house style advance the story via the 'coincidental' resemblance of characters to one another. 

He even gets a little naughty, nodding to the awful, disrespectful, nasty fate of Wonder Dog in the Teen Titans books of a few years back. (If you read this comic with a small kid and they ask what the 'national security' business he's off on is, just tell them he's having adventures with Detective Chimp and Rex the original Wonder Dog.) 

And as an extra back-to-the-Seventies treat, Fisch brings in Supergirl, giving artist Dario Brizuela the excuse to draw Kara in her classic costume. Brizuela and colourist Franco Riesco keep things clean and cute and bright and beautiful, bringing a wonderful Saturday morning feel to proceedings. 

I bought this chapter digitally, but the adventure's conclusion - oh yes, it's continued and there's a doozy of a cliffhanger - can be found in comic stores right now via Scooby Doo! Team-Up #6.  Tell your friends. Tell your Super Friends. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Action Comics: Futures End #1 review

It's 2019 and Clark Kent is living in Ethiopia, trying to bring new life to dead ground. He's retired from being Superman and is relying on the skills he learned on his parents' Smallville farm.

Thousands of miles away in Metropolis, people are getting super powers. A would-be suicide can suddenly fly. A petty crook gains super-strength. A young boy uses invulnerability to defend his abused mother.

Suddenly, their futures seem brighter. Soon, though, they learn that the abilities are but a temporary gift from a mysterious stranger.

The powers are gone as quickly as they came. but the beneficiaries have been given a glimpse of something brighter; there may be a better future out there if they just try for it.

The glowing Superman figure appears before Clark, and he too is left with food for thought.

I wasn't looking forward to the Futures End event, but my cats love the lenticular covers - so scratchy. And as it happens, I love this issue. Turns out it's written by Sholly Fisch, Johnny DC genius and occasional Action Comics pinch-hitter. So it is that while Superman barely appears, his spirit is all through the book, literally and metaphorically. Older fans will find it interesting that the figure loaning out super-powers and words to live by is a dead ringer for the Sand Superman. This seems to be a wink more than anything, because the Seventies version was an adversarial figure, whereas the new guy is all heavenly helpmate.

Fisch really gets what Clark is about - a man more powerful than those around him, but never one to feel above them. Here he is getting his hands dirty, while his legacy inspires people around the world. It's about hope, it's about potential - it's about Superman.

Fisch thinks through the power set - how does invulnerability work apart from super-senses? Is super-strength so great without invulnerability? Questions such as this make for a fresh look at the Man of Steel.

As for how this fits in with the Futures End weekly, Clark has only just shown up there in a scene that looks to fit after this issue. To be honest, I don't much care, I'm just happy to have a done-in-one that captures the wonder of Superman.

Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes do a commendable job on the art, bringing a soft-yet-scratchy quality to the pages that complements Lee Weeks and Dave McCaig's spiffy lenticular cover. The interior Clark looks a little off the New 52 model, but it has been five years and he's grown a beard, so let it pass. The Sand Superman looks superb, eerie as heck, and I hope we see him again. Colourist Pete Pantazis and letterer Carlos M Mangual also deserve praise for helping pull the story together visually.

All in all, this is an entertainingly effective issue that demonstrates once again that DC and its readers are losing out by not having Fisch on a regular title. I can only assume he's busy with the day job, so I'll simply look forward to his next guest appearance. I just hope we don't have to wait until 2019 ...