Thursday, 24 July 2014

Star Spangled War Stories #1 review

After the sales disappointment of New 52 titles Men of War and GI Combat, DC bravely makes another foray into the war genre. The USP here is that the star of Star Spangled War Stories is a zombie. 

Now, I'm not the biggest zombie fan, but I am a follower of writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and illustrator Scott Hampton. Darwyn Cooke likewise gets my attention with his cover image of an undead soldier presiding over a scene of carnage. 

Turns out, this opening image is all kinds of misleading. Yes, the title character is a soldier, but he isn't fighting in one of the classic theatres of war - he's on the home front of today, working as an FBI agent. And I don't mind a bit, because what's behind the covers is far more than I was expecting. 

This packed opening chapter is so twisty-turny that even laying out the set-up will have you second guessing - just trust me, if you like dark drama with multi-layered characters and pitch-black humour, Star Spangled War Stories is worth a read. While some of the dialogue is a tad ripe, I can see an in-story reason; all in all, the script is surprising, suspenseful and absorbing. There's no way I'm missing the next instalment. 

Hampton has been producing moody comic art for decades and his work here doesn't disappoint. The realism of the main characters draws me into the story - I'm assuming photo reference has been used. The downside of this is that occasionally the expressions don't match the dialogue. Still, it's a pleasure to see Hampton's full-colour work as his imagination and craft ground the fantasy of GI Zombie. Things get pretty graphic, so if you're not down with blood-spurting limbs, avoid. But I imagine anyone buying a book with 'zombie' in the title will cope. (Speaking of the title, would someone please insert the missing hyphen from compound adjective 'Star Spangled'?)

Will Star Spangled War Stories give DC the non-superhero hit it craves? If quality counts, there's no doubt that it will. Sadly, readers - me among 'em - don't always give new books a try. If DC has any sense at all they'll be giving away copies at the San Diego Comic Con over the next week, to get some buzz going. There'll be a preview in their other titles this month. House ads, Channel 52 ... anything to get eyes on a very promising new book. Given I want this series around for awhile, it's fingers crossed DC's marketing maestros step up to the plate. Otherwise, this is one very dead zombie. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Storm #1 review

Welcome to your first ongoing series, Storm. Hope you survive the experience. 

Actually, the old X-Men catchphrase doesn't apply in this debut issue, as Storm is so powerful, so self-assured, there seems little she can't handle. Certainly the thugs who don't like her interfering - that is, saving lives - in their small state of Santo Marco seem little threat to the weather witch. 

They are, though, a real problem for the people Storm wants to protect, giving her a different kind of headache. Should she hang around and show the bullies who's boss, and likely make things worse for the people after she's left, or retreat for now, keeping delicate pro-mutant negotiations on track?

Back at the Jean Grey School, headmistress Ororo has another problem in the shape of a rebellious young pupil who challenges her beliefs. 

Writer Greg Pak lays out Storm's character and situation with admirable economy, telling us everything we need to know about her in the first few pages. The fact that she was written for decades by Chris Claremont, the king of internal narratives, doesn't hurt ... it makes Ororo's running commentary seem the most natural thing in the world. 

And Pak doesn't make things entirely easy for the First Lady of the X-Men; as well as the moral dilemma and tactical problem, Ororo does feel pain, as the tsunami she's trying to stop kicks back. 

It's also good that Pak doesn't present Ororo as the untouchable, perfect goddess she's been at times. She gets things wrong, she gets things right - she's a person, not perfection. 

The art is pretty much perfection, mind, with illustrator Victor Ibanez and colour artist Ruth Redmond depicting Ororo as strong, graceful, a true force of nature in power and personality. They do a similarly fine job with the supporting players, especially new mutant Creep, and the Beast - hate Hank's current design as I do, there's no denying they capture the look well. Ibanez and Redmond also conjure a convincing Santo Marco, full of convincing people and weaponry against realistic backgrounds. 

I've not heard what the direction of this series will be, though threads set up here look to be continuing. I hope it's not too school heavy, else what's the point of this being a Storm solo book? If Hawkeye's series can be about what he does when he's not an Avenger, why not have this concern what Ororo does when she's not an X-Man? OK, she's a busy headmistress, but hey, Logan's being headmaster has never got in the way of Wolverine's own stories.  We know Storm can fly solo. Let's see it.  

Batman #33 review

As the Zero Year storyline concludes, Batman is finally face to face with the Riddler, but it's Edward Nygma who has the upper hand. The Riddler has a proposition - if Batman correctly answers 12 riddles, a dozen weather balloons won't rain death down on Gotham's citizens. 

Even if Batman succeeds, the city isn't safe - government jets are heading for the metropolis to lance what has become a boil on the American landscape. Only a desperate Jim Gordon, Lucius Fox and a SWAT team stand between Gotham and a quick end. 

And so the year-long storyline, which has been broken down into three acts, comes to a satisfying conclusion. 

I was dubious about Zero Year when the sequence was announced, as it sounded like we were getting a verrrrry long version of Batman's origin. Happily, that initial impression was wrong. What writer Scott Snyder and penciller Greg Capullo have given us is a fascinating look at Batman's beginnings which, while dipping into existing parts of the legend, has added detail here, finessed aspects there, and introduced enough new elements to keep the most jaded reader on board. 

The conclusion again provides reasons to cheer both cast and creative team, with my favourite moment being Batman delivering his own punchline to the ever-smug Riddler's conundrum. Little mysteries are explained, subplots addressed and, finally, the ad hoc adventurer who has struggled against both his villains and himself emerges as Batman triumphant, swinging towards his destiny. 

As he's done throughout, Snyder scatters his script with fun facts, making a thrill ride educational too, while dialogue and action succinctly define the young Batman and Riddler, establishing a new dynamic to carry them forward in the recently revised continuity. 

Supporting characters are treated equally well, with the aforementioned Jim, Lucius and the indispensable Alfred claiming their places in the Batman legend. (I may be reading too much into it, but a scene in which Jim receives much-needed inspiration looks to me like a subtle callback to a well-known night at Wayne Manor.) One of Bruce Wayne's lesser-known girlfriends also shows up, slightly different to her traditional mode, and I can't wait to see what plans Snyder has for her. 

The artists' work on this final chapter caps a Batman run that looks like no other. Capullo and inking partner Danny Miki provide fine storytelling filled with memorably attractive images. They visually define and redefine Gotham and its inhabitants with craft and style.

I don't know whether the business with the Riddler's hat, cane and laser beams, for example, was originated by Snyder or Capullo, but the artists pull the scene off with all the intelligence and talent we've come to expect. 

Throughout the storyline colour artist FCO Plascencia has veered away from what we think of as the 21st-century Batman palette with winning results, and he sees that experiment through to the end. From the naturalistic hues used for the urban efforts of Lucius and Jim, to the neon nightmare of the Riddler's lair, the colour work sings - if ever justification were needed for DC's recent decision to give colourists cover credit, here it is. 

Credit, too, to Dezi Sienty, whose always sharp lettering makes for an easy read. 

The cover could be more of a summation of this chapter - it's a beautiful illustration, but one fitted to Batman's lion wrangling of an issue or so back - but let it pass. 

The entire creative crew has produced consistently fine work, resulting in a story that belongs in every Batman fan's library. 

Zero Year? More like Hero Year. 

Superman #33 review

Metropolis is buzzing about the new hero who made the scene last issue. At the Daily Planet editorial conference, Perry White asks all the right questions:

Yeah, what's with the long hair? As for the cape, Ulysses gets one later. Sort of.

Perry sets his team off to explore the story from various angles, with Lois Lane tasked with the big assignment - an interview with the lank-locked superhuman. Our girl is confident she can follow up her long-ago Superman exclusive with a similar-sized scoop.

Clark Kent wants answers too, and shows up at the office asking for Perry's help. A lifetime ago, the Planet editor went deep behind the walls of the Ulysses project which connects to the new hero who helped Superman best a mystery villain last time. Of course, he can't compromise his secret identity by telling Perry how much he knows and why. Old newsman Perry plays hardball - he'll tell Clark all he knows if Clark writes up his findings for the Planet, and agrees to pack in his news blogging for a staff job.

The pair's negotiation is interrupted as the subject of their conversation shows up at the Planet, having been looking for Superman. With no knowledge of the secret identity concept, he doesn't see a disguised Superman before him, just his new friend with different clothes and glasses ...

It's a terrific opening to the second issue by the new Superman creative team of Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson. In eight pages Johns gives us the best Daily Planet scene in maybe a decade, and that's mainly down to one character - Perry White. Too often neglected, Johns reinstates him as the heart of the newspaper, a grizzled newshound who always asks the right questions and knows which of his staff are best suited to get the answers. He tells Clark, 'I'm drowning in mediocrity...' but he doesn't believe that for a minute. 

And Romita and Janson draw the pages perfectly, paying attention to expressions, movement and body language - this isn't a long sequence of talking heads, it's a fascinating people drama that has me yearning for a 'solo' Daily Planet series. I want more of this new Lombard, more laid-back amusing than boorish; new hack Jackee with her zest for life; super-efficient Ron Troupe; the Jimmy Olsen/Lois Lane team; and I can't wait to see the 'as good as signed' Cat Grant.

And as Perry is the heart of the Planet, so the Planet is the heart of a good Superman story. A writer can throw all the cosmic threats they want at Superman, but if he's not grounded as Clark Kent among a crew of dynamic, fun characters, what's the point? What is he fighting for?

Ulysses is fighting to protect his fellow humans, even if they're not the ones he knows from Dimension 2. Johns perhaps overplays the stranger in a strange land bit, making him seem more a Forrest Gump bumbler than a thinking hero, but when a bunch of giant toy soldiers interrupt his first encounter with Metropolis' favourite snack, he gets the job done. Not being much of a thinker, though, he makes rather a mess of a city street, ticking Superman off a tad when he arrives from investigating the Ulysses Research Lab (Url, which I rather like). Mind, this does give Johns a chance to sideways reference last year's Zod battle on the big screen in a way which has me nodding in approval.

There's an ending I didn't see coming, and another tiny not-quite-appearance by some mysterious figure from Superman's past. 

Superman #33 is a splendid issue, one which leaves me far more engaged in Johns' Men of Tomorrow storyline than I was last month. My only real negative criticism remains, that Clark is such an old misery guts. You know, he's got a mystery to solve, but rather than show the fire of a great investigative reporter, Clark seems burdened. Yes, he gets results, but he's so much not a people person here.

This is further evidenced by the way he treats Ulyssses, patronising the heck out of him. Sure, he doesn't seem the brightest bulb, but his good intentions are obvious. Rather than allow him to be by his side as he probes his story, though, Superman tells Ulysses to stay put in his apartment until he gets back (if he really wanted Ulysses to be usefully distracted he might have said to go get a haircut...).

And Clark completely dismisses Ulysses' knowledge of his old foe Klerik. That's going to bounce back and bite Superman on his armoured arse. 

Still, the story's going in the right direction, in an overall entertaining manner, and looking better by the issue. I'm intrigued by the person behind the scenes, and the toy soldiers and last issue's robot Titano have me hoping for a decent Toyman revamp. Clark's going to be back on the Planet staff any minute and Ulysses could wind up a useful superhero supporting player in the Vartox mould.

Johns and Romita are quickly developing a synergy: Romita deals well with a few very chatty pages, Johns knows when to turn off the talk and let Romita, Janson and the mainly excellent colours of Laura Martin (psst, forget 'realism', Superman's hair has blue highlights) convey the story.

The trio are also responsible for the moody cover, which amplifies a small moment inside into an image replete with foreboding. It's great work.

Romita's getting better at conveying Superman's flight, making him seem weightless, as if he's being drawn into the air. He looks a tad hunched at times, but I expect Superman will relax more as Romita gets used to the New 52 mandarin collar design.

All in all, a more than solid Superman issue, one which has me full of optimism for the future. It's amazing what a little Daily Planet can do.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Robin Rises Omega #1 review

Batman's ongoing quest to bring Damian Wayne back from the dead spins off into a special as DC starts counting down to the the return of Robin. 

Will it be Damian by Batman's side when the story ends at the turn of the year? It certainly seems so, given how long the sequence has been going on, and how it's apparently going to continue in the same direction. A swerve isn't out of the question, but this issue begins with a recap of Damian's life and death, and ends with Batman swearing to follow his corpse not so much to the ends of the earth as far beyond it. 

In between there's a tremendously entertaining, massively over the top battle with Glorious Godfrey. The Darkseid underling wants the Chaos Shard - from early issues of the Batman/Superman title - which is hidden in Damian's sarcophagus. Given it may have enough power to restore his dead son, Batman isn't having it. Cue Batman, Ra's al Ghul, Frankenstein and the League of Assassins vs Glorious Godfrey and his parademons. Bring in sundry other superheroes. Mix and duck. 

This really is enormous fun from writer Peter J Tomasi and artists Andy Kubert and Jonathan Glapion. The early pages, condensing several decades of comics history, is a masterclass in implausibility, and all the better for being presented utterly straight-faced in Bruce's narration. Kubert and Glapion draw in softer than usual style, and Brad Anderson goes impressionistic with the colours. I'd love to see them apply this style to an entire issue. 

Not that the rest of this double-sized book looks bad by comparison, it's more a case of differently excellent. The Kubert family style is to the fore - especially when we're looking at Ra's al Ghul, that's pure Joe Kubert - and it's a look I've loved for a long time. Andy Kubert's own artistic inclinations are much in evidence too, in terms of composition and movement. Add in Glapion's sharp finishes and Anderson's colours and we have sequences as good as the excellent opening. 

I do wish we didn't keep getting shown the wrapped corpse of ten-year-old Damian, though - too creepy. 

While the big battle which fills most of the issue is just good superhero comics, it was the little moments that really made me smile - Alfred sitting as equal head of the family at Wayne Manor dinner time; Glorious Godfrey tasting a snowflake. I'm a little sad to see Batman lashing out at colleagues in the final pages - Holy Recidivism! - but I suppose he needs to be desperate to journey to Apokolips. 

And that's where the Caped Crusader is going, as this storyline winds back into the Batman and Robin monthly for a while before the next Robin is unveiled in another special, Robin Rises Alpha (don't ask for an explanation of the backward titling, it's all Greek to me ... maybe Darkseid's Omega Effect will prove pivotal in reviving Damian). 

As a jumping-on point for the Return of Damian (or Not) storyline, this issue is a success. It's a comic that reads smoothly and looks great, recapping events and moving the story forward. I had a ball with it.

Supergirl #33 review

A wonderful last page. That's what this finale to the Red Daughter storyline has. I whooped, I smiled. Writer Tony Bedard has delivered on his promise to put some light into Kara's life

He does it literally, as well as metaphorically, as Kara uses the power of Earth's yellow sun to best Worldkiller-1, the sentient Kryptonian armour out to possess her. Before that happens, Bedard gives us a fine confrontation between Kara - still a member of the Red Lantern Corps - and W1 in Brazil. Forcing a fight in the packed favelas of Rio, W1 sees the natural concern Kara has for those less powerful than her as he tried to conquer/court her. 

She's using her rage at, oh, all sorts of things, to power her resistance to W1, but she harbours no resentment towards the people of Earth. Her recent travels, and travails, with the Red Lanterns seem to have changed Kara, given her some perspective on when anger is, and isn't, appropriate. And while the fury is there, so is the compassion that had become buried during her tormented first few months since waking up on Earth, lonely survivor of a destroyed world.  

Kara uses her Kryptonian powers and Red Lantern abilities, but in the end it's the intelligence she was born with, and the experience she's gained as a young hero, that saves the day. 

There's even a sign that she's coming round to liking cousin Kal - sometimes it takes a drastic situation to make you realise what you've got. 

By the end of the issue, Kara is no longer a Red Lantern, she's Supergirl once more. A better Supergirl, one ready to embrace her role as citizen, and protector, of Earth. 

I really want to reproduce the final page here, but it's the last page of an important story for Kara, and deserves to be experienced in context. It's a great moment that's been earned.  

Helping regular artist Emanuela Lupacchino by pencilling some pages is onetime Wonder Man artist Jeff Johnson. I think I can see who did what, but don't make me commit. Safe to say there's some good storytelling throughout, Kara remains on model and W1 looks suitably freaky. The Rio scenes look good (apparently the footie fans have gone home), there's a visual nod to something that happened to Supegirl in the Eighties and the space battle is a winner. Kara's moods are perfectly evoked, from anger to desperation to quiet triumph. A shout-out, too, to inkers Scott Hanna and Ray McCarthy, colourist Hifi, and letterer Rob Leigh, whose W1 font had me reading the baddie's words in a growly voice. That never happens. 

A great issue all round is marred only by a mislabeled two-page 'epilogue' which has no relation to anything that's ever happened in this series. It's by a different creative team and is an insult to Supergirl fans who pay to read about Kara's world. Apparently Superboy is going to be hanging out with Wildstorm's rubbish Gen 13 teen team. Another week, another terrible new direction ...

Gen 13 even gets really cheesey cover billing, squeezing the previously advertised image. Kara may be calm, but my rage is rising ...

Teen Titans #1 review

New direction, more attitude, in your face. That's the tagline for this first issue of a new Teen Titans volume. That, and the preview that ran in DC titles last week, had me expecting to be annoyed by this issue. Well, doesn't 'attitude' equal 'annoying'? It certainly did when attitude was zeitgeisty. 

Happily, the title characters here aren't irritating in the least. Wonder Girl, Red Robin, Bunker, Raven, Beast Boy ... while different in personality, they all come across as decent kids as they rescue a school bus from terrorists. The bad guys are out to do something nasty involving Star Labs, but our heroes aren't going to stand by and let that happen. 

Cue plenty of action, planned and improvised, which lets the young metahumans show they're not beginners any more. They know how to use their powers, they work well together - they're pretty much unrecognisable as the sour-faced, backbiting loners who populated the last run. OK, so Red Robin is still rather dour, but he is from Gotham. 

I'm not sure writer Will Pfeifer is trying to say anything with his story, other than 'I'm relaunching the team in a less New 52, more classic mode' (well, there is a tolerance message, but that's pretty much Bunker's every breath). I'll take that, and thank him. 

There's no forced 'edginess', no one is on the verge of villainy. A few baddies die, but there's no revelling in it and, while I'd rather they faced the courts, well, it serves 'em right. Perhaps as the story develops - this issue works as a one-and-done but it's also the beginning of something bigger - we'll see something of Pfeifer's world view. 

For now, though, I'm just delighted to see a story of the newest Titans that doesn't make me retch. Lots of camphones at the end of the issue set up the apparent direction which sees the Titans as celebrities. It's an overdone concept which doesn't excite me in the least, but Pfeifer wrote one of my favourite Aquaman runs - if you missed the Sub Diego stories, dive into the back issue bins - so he gets some leeway. 

Using Star Labs is a nice nod to the New Teen Titans launch of the Eighties, and it also allows some pre-New 52 DC characters to enter the revamped continuity. 

I spot Josiah Power of the Power Company super-team and Manchester Black of the Elite. Anyone recognise Jensen or 'Sir'?

Kenneth Rocafort's art is clean, energetic, full of fascinating layouts that don't get in the way of the storytelling. New York looks fantastic, and I appreciate the character he puts into the non-speaking bystanders. I like his take on all the characters, but Wonder Girl really does need straps on that costume. She'd be falling out of it every ten seconds, and isn't Cassie Sandsmark meant to be an adventurer, a practical type?

Rocafort's work is coloured by Dan Brown, who makes things fresh without being too bright, while John J Hill's letters are sharp and welcome. 

In an age when relaunches almost inevitably bring a price bump, kudos to DC for holding the Teen Titans line at $2.99. And even more thanks for giving the team a second chance at stardom. On the basis of this issue, it might just work. 

Friday, 11 July 2014

New Suicide Squad #1 review

A new chapter in the Suicide Squad story begins with a new number one. Events segue so smoothly from the last issue of the previous run that if you didn't see the cover copy, you'd not notice. Still, if it helps sales and gets attention on the work of new creative team Sean Ryan and Jeremy Roberts, that's fine.

Because this is a pretty decent first issue. Not amazing - the final instalment of the previous volume, #30, also written by Sean Ryan, was more impressive, a rollicking good read - but there's a nice energy that could make for a compelling run. Roberts' sharp linework is an instant win - he draws the cast consistently well, and knows how to choreograph a good action sequence. 

And Ryan's character dynamics are well-worked, with the scene between deposed Squad boss Amanda Waller and new team chief Vic Sage promising fireworks.

Vic Sage? Yep, it seems mysterious hero The Question has the trust of the US Government and for some reason he's acting like an ass. How this will tie into his upcoming role in the just-announced Trinity of Sin ongoing, I've no idea. To be honest, I'd rather forget the linked pasts of the Phantom Stranger, Pandora and the Question, especially the latter's current mystical nature. For now, I want to see where Ryan is going with Sage; he's apparently playing Waller, sending a new version of the Suicide Squad into Russia on a very dubious mission. As well as existing members Deadshot, Harley Quinn and Black Manta, he's added Deathstroke and the Joker's Daughter. You'll notice the repetition in the MOs of four of the five. Waller does too. Why Deadshot and Deathstroke? Why Harley Quinn and the Joker's Daughter? 'Friendly competition' says Sage. My translation: he wants one or more of Waller's team choices to get killed, to teach her some kind of lesson.

Me, I'd rather the weirdly popular 'noble assassin' Deathstroke and one-note Joker rip-off JD fell under a Russian tank, I don't want to read about either. I suspect they'll be around awhile, though - what with Deathstroke currently being on telly and JD the star of a hyped-to-success 3D cover comic - so let's hope Ryan does something interesting with them. And if he can make Black Manta more than a villain of few words, so much the better. With Deadshot being the only team member with true charisma, Ryan will need to go some to convince me this is a line-up worthy of my time. 

A big wow moment, that's what this book lacks. Something of the level of Thunderbolts #1, or Avengers Academy's debut. A surprise, a reason to pay attention to the book. As an old school Squad fan, I know that an unpromising bunch can be spun into gold by a first-rate author, so I'm not writing this bunch off, but so far as debuts go, this is simply solid. 

When the things that impress me most are the return of Deadshot's tache and the speech pattern of Waller's new right-hand person Bonnie, that's not good.

Sage's assignment for the Belle Reve bad guys involves disrupting the Russian government machine with a spot of easily disowned murder and mayhem. Squad missions are usually more on the metahuman side - I'm not comfortable with the US government sponsoring the slaying of civilians for some nebulous exercise in point scoring. Hopefully, Waller feels the same, although she seems so keen to remain part of the Task Force X programme that she's treating Sage better than he deserves.

I suspect I'm grumpier about this issue than it merits because of the Joker's Daughter, the worst excuse for a Batman villain to turn up in forever. The Seventies JD had wacky charm, the new version is simply a psycho wannabe who fills the pages with blood. Harley, on the other hand, has an actual personality and her own take on the life villainous, a certain crazy sexy cool. 

My favourite Squad moment here sees her begin her assault on Russian values with one of the great symbols of America. Just call her Batwoman. And look at how well Roberts and colourist partner Blond represent snow.

Roberts and Blond also provide the barnstorming cover, which boasts a brilliant new logo.

If you've ever been a Suicide Squad fan, I say give this a try. It's a well-crafted, entertaining comic book. I do hope, though, that it quickly becomes something really special.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Superboy #33 review

Apparently tasked with closing out this Superboy run by cleaning up the mess made by following a rotten concept (Superboy as conflicted living weapon) with a worse one (a replacement Superboy who's an out and out killer), Aaron Kuder has fun. In short, killer Superboy Jon has been confronted by conflicted Superboy Kon at NOWHERE, the evil factory that created Kon from Jon, alternate future world son of Superman and Lois Lane Kent. Kon has been in Jon's head, even as a day's contact with the thoroughly decent scientist kids of STAR Labs and resident hero the Guardian made him a much nicer chap. Now the time travelling of Jon has converted him into a tachyon being, and he and Kon have been kicked out of the regular universe by the universe itself, then accidentally made their own reality, and an army of alternate Superboys has appeared, and the metahuman teens of NOWHERE are involved and ...

... seriously, given how nonsensically complicated this book has been, my precis is award-winningly concise.

It's all silly, and can't really be made to make satisfying sense. At one point the super-scientific 'explanation' from Kon to Jon is so wordy it's as if Kuder is challenging his excellent artist, Jorge Jimenez, to make the pages work despite the Attack of the 130-Word Panel. Imagine Chris Claremont lampooning himself - I bet letterer Carlos M Mangual is still clutching his cold compress. 

This could, though, be a case of a tyro scripter who's not quite nailed how to pace a comic - Kuder begins this issue with three pages of nobody villains yammering on - entertainingly, I admit - to establish that a barrier has popped up over NOWHERE HQ. Then there's a page of plot business with the Star kids, then two splash pages, one of which is a lot of fun, but terrible for the book's effectiveness.

Superboy #33 is actually full of big artistic flourishes, with blazing colours courtesy of the Hories. It's a great-looking book, bigger than it's daft, and it's very, very daft. It's as if Kuder simply decided to have a laugh with what could be a thankless task as - like Charles Soule in this week's Superman/Wonder Woman - he brushes away recently departed Superman scripter Scott Lobdell's sloppy plotting. Here Kuder does sterling service by having Kon note that he's no longer serving as time and space-spanning herald to the big, cosmic Oracle fella who hung around Superman for about a year without ever doing anything. That was Kon's lonely fate forever more back in Teen Titans Annual #3, oh, a whole two months ago. Now? Not so much. There's not even a one-panel 'flashback' to some unseen story, it's just brought up and dismissed by Kon with the shrug it deserves.

Aaron Kuder, I want to shake your hand.

The rest of the issue features explosive action with the Legion of Superboys, changes for the Star kids and a rather ominous ending. I enjoyed this instalment lots, once the synapse-slaughtering 'explanations' were done. I'd happily have settled for a wholesale 'but that's not important right now'.

What I'd like to see now is Kuder and Jimenez invited to create a book of their own, one where they can put their talents to better use, one which sees them given the lead time to work out their characters and plot beats without having to worry about tidying up someone else's rubbish. Kuder is a promising writer - imaginative with a real knack for character dialogue - while Jimenez can go from goofy to apocalyptic with his art in the space of a couple of panels. They deserve a clean break, a better showcase for their talents.

As for the New 52 Superboy, it looks as if we're going to wind up with some unified version, Kon the clone and Jon the original, nice as pie. Or we could get newly kind-hearted Jon sacrificing himself for the Star kids and Kon. Or maybe we'll see Bizarro-Boy inherit the crown. Or a passing donkey. In the New 52, you never know who Superboy is going to be in any given week. You just know it's going to be awful. Mismanagement has made a once popular property radioactive - see also Allen, Bart. The best thing DC can do now is rest the Superboy name for awhile, remember what once worked about Kon and give readers that guy.

If you ask me, though, I could tell DC what a Superboy series is. It's 

I think the concept could fly. Anyone else like to see that?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Grayson #1 review

Dick Grayson is on his first mission as Spyral's Agent 37. Teamed with veteran Helena Bertinelli, he's tasked with kidnapping a mule hosting a super-bomb from the Trans-Siberian Express. Dick's acrobatic, stealth and fighting skills come in handy, but he finally resorts to Spyral's 'hypno' techniques in a bid to succeed.

After the horror that was the final issue of Nightwing, I'm delighted to report that this is a fun debut for Dick's new direction. He's away from the murderous madness of Gotham and in the middle of a spy romp bonkers enough for 007. 

Tim Seeley and Tom King's story skirts the edges of campness - Helena's codename is Matron, which brings to mind Mother from Sixties show The Avengers, and the mule's moniker is Lenin backwards - without going full-on Batman 66. The tone suits Dick, who seems in control of his life for the first time in awhile. It's true that he's on a mission for Batman, undercover in a shady organisation that has to know he's trying to play them, but Dick knows they likely know what he's up to, so fun reversals are nigh on guaranteed. Born into a family of aerialists, our hero likes walking a tightrope. Spyral will be trying to turn Dick, while he'll almost certainly bid to recruit Helena for the good guys.

Spyral are an interesting lot, claiming to be saving the world but obsessed with learning the secret identities of heroes; there's confirmation here that they know Batman is Bruce Wayne, along with the reveal that they recognise Cyborg as Victor Stone - which is a tad underwhelming, given the JLA-er doesn't actually seem to maintain a secret identity.

Given how most super-people dress, I laughed when Seeley's script had Dick and Helena's boss, Mr Minos, refer to Midnighter as 'black-ops fetish-man'. Interesting character, Mr Minos, with his vortex face visual and burning need to know who the heroes are; I look forward to finding out his story.

While Andrew Robinson's eye-popping cover - revised to deduct Dick's cool new haircut - makes much of our hero wielding a gun, inside he uses it like a batarang. I was afraid DC would rewrite Dick as a killer, but so far, so Batman family. 

And to entice Dick's female (well, mostly) fanbase there's the old Grayson charm, and shameless fan service as he relaxes at St Hadrian's School (for Secret Agents).

For action fans, there's the surprise of a Midnighter appearance. Surprisingly for a member of Stormwatch, he seems to have no idea who he's facing. I suspect he's too distracted by Dick's peachy bottom. 

The fight scene is just one excellent page among many by artist Mikel Janin, who clearly relishes the high adventure set-up - whether he's drawing spies, scenery or hardware, it's obvious there's a smile in his pencil. Kudos, too, to Jeromy Cox for effective colour work and Carlos M Mangual for commendable lettering. And if it weren't for a 'Dick in agony' scene from the recent Forever Evil crossover, the opening page would be perfect - can't we just ignore how we got here and enjoy the next stage of Dick's journey? 

Because on the basic of this blisteringly entertaining opener, I'm confident I'll like this series a lot as it bridges the gap between espionage and superheroics. There's no doubt that Grayson will become Gotham's Nightwing once more in time, but for now it's great to see the original Robin fly free.