Thursday, 30 October 2014

Wonder Woman #35 review

It's ages since I dropped Wonder Woman. Brian Azzarello's makeover of the Amazon legend was, to understate, not my cup of tea. But I can't resist an ending, so popped back to see how Azzarello and artistic partner Cliff Chiang wrap up their three-year story before the next creative team arrives.

In a nice bow, I'd say. Diana remains the god of war - a fundamentally wrong fit for William Moulton Marston and HG Peters' creation - but Azzarello, in a key scene, remembers something of what Wonder Woman is about: compassion and love.

I can't claim that the gory battles which take up most of the issue mean much to me; not the book's fault, obviously. Apparently Uncle Poseidon wants Olympus, and sees baby Zeke, son of Diana's mortal friend Zola, as the key. It isn't Diana, or brother Hermes, who defeat the god of the sea, but Zola herself, her body suddenly unearthly and powerful.

Then a new/old threat shows up, in the forms of the First Born - Diana's oldest, most bitter sibling - and his Chicago-cosplaying minotaur chum. 

There's a fight scene I don't understand involving the First Born's entrails, or something, and minx godling Strife and a champagne bottle, or something. Chiang's art is lovely to look at, but the storytelling here should be clearer - a prodigal reader should be able to parse a scene. Anyway, the consequence is that Diana and Zola are bound, and Zeke is taken by the First Born.

A revelation involving Zeke was predicted by pretty much everyone reading this series at least three years ago, and it turns the tide of battle. This is followed by a reveal around Zola, which prompts Diana to beg one of her typically remote goddesses to embrace Love. It's a great little scene, Diana - technically now the equal of her mistress - the supplicant, humble in her petition.

This follows a vignette in which Diana, fighting the First Born for her life, offers a lesson in submission involving her golden lasso. It's not quite the 'loving submission' of the Golden Age, but it does at least tell us that Azzarello isn't entirely unfamiliar with the source material for his epic.

The issue, and the run, ends with the war of the gods over, and a mother and child reunited. A definite win. I'm not sorry to see this Wonder Woman era end, but I'm glad Azzarello, Chiang and their collaborators - chief among them the superb colourist Matthew Wilson - got to finish their story on their own terms. And while this hasn't been 'my' Wonder Woman, every now and then there have been flashes of the character I love.

Next month, Meredith and David Finch take over the writing and artwork, and look set to give us a more traditionally superheroic Diana. I wish them, along with Azzarello and Chiang, all the luck in the world.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Justice League United Annual #1 review

Having rescued hybrid child Ultra the Multi-Alien from the shape-changer Byth, the members of Justice League United might expect a breather. But no, J'onn Jonzz, Equinox and Alanna Strange are confronted by a stranger claiming to be from 1000 years hence, Mon-El of the Legion of Super-Heroes. And he has one mission - to save the future by killing Ultra.

A fight ensues, and soon Mon-El is joined by other members of the 31st-century's greatest super-team. Brainiac and Saturn Girl calm things down and the Legion's resident super-genius explains that back home a creature named Infinitus is murdering worlds and his energy signature points to his beginnings in 2014, as Ultra. He doesn't want to immediately destroy the child, but if the two teams can't figure out a solution, in 24 hours the entire Legion will have no choice but to kill the child - and sheer numbers mean the JLU won't be able to stop them.

Across the galaxy, the rest of the JLU - Green Arrow, Animal Man, Supergirl and Stargirl - are in a space brothel, following a signal apparently from deceased colleague Hawkman. Rather than assess the situation, Supergirl simply attacks the punters and while she gets some useful information, away team leader Green Arrow is annoyed that Kara ignored his orders.

And so on. Other things happen. Plenty of things, enough to fill this super-sized annual. Including the revival of an old Justice League villain group. Writer Jeff Lemire's plotting is exemplary as he brushes off my early disappointment that the LSH story isn't the issue's entire focus by speedily linking in the space side of proceedings. 

And regardless of that, the dynamics between Animal Man and the rest of the away team soon won me over - there's huge chemistry between the quartet, with plenty of humour and a little bit of tension. I wasn't thrilled that Kara began bullying random brothel users, but it's not hugely out of character - the good thing is that Ollie calls her on it, reminds her she's meant to be on a team. She needs to be less Red Lanterns. more League, and unless the upcoming space school story in her own title rips her out of here, I don't doubt she'll get there.

On a similar note, as a lifelong Legion fan I was dismayed to see Mon-El so determined to kill Ultra without talking things over first. But Lemire explains his hot-headedness via Brainiac's 'future flashback' and well, this is comics - Mon-El's arrival allows for a dramatic opening and a fun fight scene. The Infinitus recap also sees Lemire introduce the Legion to new readers, explaining why the concept of the team is so cool - the size allows for diversity of character and power sets.


And as a Legion lifer I'm delighted to see the team back after their New 52 titles were cancelled. In a nice touch, Lemire expands on the traditional Legion Espionage Squad idea by spelling out further sub-teams - a battle squad, a rescue team and a command unit. Makes sense. I'm not going to worry about the continuity, the mix of characters and where this 'fits' - look kids, it's the Legion! Let's just hope this ongoing guest appearance leads to a new series, and soon.

The almost plothole - what's the hurry to kill Ultra, surely time travellers have a millennium to sort things out before Infinitus rises? - is plugged with a bit of thought on the part of the reader. Brainiac and co set out for the 21st century a few minutes after Mon-El and arrive a few minutes after Mon-El, ergo there's a relativity factor with the Time Bubbles; however long they spend in the past, that's how long they'll have been gone when they return. So yes, they do indeed have 24 hours to save the future.


This is the start of a several-issue arc continuing in the regular title, and on the basis of Lemire's script, I can't see anyone reading this issue not continuing the experience. The pencils of Neil Edwards and inks of Jay Leisten, who are 
moving onto the regular series, make it a certainty - the artists are a fantastic pairing, filling the pages with big, clean, dynamic comic art. The characters are utterly heroic or totally dastardly as required, moving through space with weight and speed. The compositions are first class, meaning the storytelling is precise and stylish. And the colours of Jeromy Cox are the icing on the visual cake. 

There's only one moment of 'Good Lord, that's horrible' but that's not the fault of Edwards and Leisten - they didn't design Supergirl's current costume. Who knows, maybe Edwards is foregrounding Kara's ridiculous arse detail to make its awfulness impossible to defend, and expedite its exit? Nah, he'd never be that mischievous ...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Infinity Man and the Forever People #4 review

Bat Cow is a strange beast. But then so is this comic. The first few issues of this New 52 take on Jack Kirby's Fourth World space hippies have gone heavy on the cosmic drama, but it's comedy to the fore this time. 

Not that there aren't serious moments, but the encounter between the young students' from New Genesis and Damian Wayne's rescue cow sets the tone for my favourite issue yet. I suppose it's not too surprising a Boom Tube mishap puts them in the middle of a Wayne Enterprises dairy farm - they are visiting Earth on a field trip.

Happily, the jokes in Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen's story are better than that, with Serafina's interaction with Bat Cow worth the price of admission.

Leaving Bat Cow behind, the kids get back to their Venice Beach apartment complex via bus, motivating some nice narration, then join the 'Super Saturday Swimfest' as part of their project to assimilate into human society. There, they come across a character from Kirby's OMAC series, before the current Lanterns/New Gods story interrupts big time.

We also get a scene on New Genesis reminding us just how different today's Highfather is from Kirby's kindly shepherd figure, check in with seldom-seen title character Infinity Man and see annoying Highfather acolyte Azur Te arrive on Earth to spoil everyone's fun.

It's all drawn with joyous bombast by Giffen, inked with style by Scott Koblish and coloured with guile by Hi-Fi.

(OK, 'coloured with guile' is meaningless, but this is the kind of comic that makes me think of late-Sixties Marvel - big concepts executed with real dash, heralded by rhyming credits.)

DiDio and Giffen's previous collaboration, a 21st-century twist on OMAC, was superb fun, but didn't take with DC fans. I've no reason to think this series, which is similarly imaginative, intriguing, wild and woolly will do any better. There's no point worrying about it - all I can do is spread the word about Infinity Man and the Forever People, see if I can get a few folk to try its inspired mix of old and new. And Bat Cow. 

DC Digital - Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman #11

Here's another quick done-in-one from the ever-changing creative teams of Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman. This time it's Diana teamed up with Big Barda to fight robot gorillas. And behind them, a couple of classic baddies from the farther reaches of the DC Universe.

Wonder Woman and Big Barda, from Jack Kirby's Fourth World, is an interesting pairing. Where Diana is an Amazon, Barda is a super-Amazon. Amazon times space god. Diana loves to fight, yes indeed, but Barda lives to fight. She's not terribly interested as to why metal monkeys are swarming a museum, she's just happy to have something entertaining to hit. This leaves room for Diana to be the voice of reason, rather than the battle-happy soul she's presented as all too often these days.

With current continuity swept to one side in Sensation Comics, we can enjoy the Diana and Barda of pre-New 52, happy heroines not constantly oppressed by outside forces. They have time to relax after a training session on Apokolips, time to share a hot dog. It all makes for 20 pages of smiles, helped greatly by a running gag that doesn't outstay its welcome. As for the surprise baddies, shall I spoil it? Nah, it's only 69p/99c for a fast-paced, hugely fun story, so go see.

Writer and artist are both unfamiliar to this too-mainstream fella, but after this I'll be popping across to Monkeybrain Comics to check out more by the wonderfully named Adam P Knave. Tight plotting, smart action, characters who feel right ... say no more. And let's not overlook letterer Saida Temofonte, who does a fine job, and the warm colours of Rex Lokus, which are just right.

Looking at Matthew Dow Smith's Wikipedia entry, it seems I have seen some of his work, but he looks to be a bit of an artistic chameleon, meaning I didn't recognise him here. Figures are a little stiff at times, and there's not much sense of motion, but his storytelling is strong and the blocky, lumpy style fits the cheery script.

While I wish Sensation Comics didn't include so many guest stars - oh for a simple Wonder Woman story featuring 
Wonder Woman villains - it's tough to argue with a confection as tasty as this. So don't, just read it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Catwoman #35 review

Selina Kyle has claimed her inheritance. Daughter of crime boss Rex 'Leo' Calabrese, she's abandoned her costumed ways to rebuild a battered Gotham by uniting the city's crime families.

How that works, I don't know. And we're not told in this first issue of a new direction. We're just informed that Selina's new 'business interests' are so benefiting Gotham that she's getting invites to respectable parties and the police department is looking the other way.

Writer Genevieve Valentine does give us the new set-up; Selina's right-hands are previously unmentioned cousins Nick and Antonia Calabrese, the city's other mobs are willing to meet with her and the snake in the garden is longtime family member Ward. The respect granted by the other families seems to be more about her surname than her own reputation, with no one mentioning her Catwoman past, which surely is a matter of public record.

The lack of kitties is a headscratcher. OK, this revamped run sees Selina trying to play well with others rather than be the solo act, but I didn't spot a single cat until the final page (I'm not counting that scabby monstrosity that looks like a mini Man-Bat on Jae Lee's cover). Of course, it doesn't help her new role if she's seen as a crazy cat-lady, surrounded by moggies, but the odd puss to stroke sinisterly never did Blofeld any harm. At the very least, random cats in the background of street scenes would be a visual nod to who this book is meant to be about.

Right now, it's about the politics of crime and that's not very interesting to me. Valentine almost lost me for good by opening with an obscure, opaque quote from Elizabeth I - it's a big enough ask to accept that a jewel-thieving adventurer is, overnight, obsessed with civic matters, without having her suddenly be a pretentious history buff too. It seemed to be the novelist-turned-comic-writer trying to lend weight to a less respectable literary form with grand words. This notion may be doing Valentine a disservice, it could be that the Virgin Queen's words simply seemed the best way to lay down her theme that a dangerous balancing act for the good of the kingdom is worth attempting. But witty and smart as this Selina Kyle is - and I do like the internal monologue in general - the Elizabethan 'art of war' bit simply doesn't fit.

A good point is that Selina remains unwilling to kill, though her relaxation when it comes to gun-running makes her a hypocrite.

Several times I found myself distracted as I waded through this issue, looking out the window, or at the steam rising from my cup of tea. The instalment is exceedingly talky, with no engine pummelling us towards the end. The story comes alive, briefly, when the shadow of the Bat falls on Selina, but otherwise it's meetings and subtexts and not much fun at all. 

Well, it may be fun for Sopranos fans, or West Wing walk and talk devotees. And there's certainly skill in the script - bar Catwoman's odd assumption that someone saying a complicated tattoo isn't finished means they won't be going back for more work - with dialogue exchanges convincing. But, well ... Catwoman. I don't doubt that by the end of this sequence Selina will be leaping from rooftop to rooftop once more, baubles in her hands, cats by her side, but meanwhile, is there an audience for this approach? 

Garry Brown's art is worth a look, despite the surprisingly drab choices of colourist Leigh Loughridge. There's inevitably a lot of scowling, gangsters being what they are, but Brown gives good scowl and similarly impresses with sidelong looks (don't tell me Yakuza princess Eiko isn't out to stroke Selina's ... nah, too obvious). He does an excellent Batman, and hopefully he'll get to draw the costumed Catwoman too. For now, his Selina is sublime - strong, determined, intelligent. Brown's cityscapes look good too, as do the posh interiors. Mind, when a script calls for a 'beautiful tattoo' it'd be wise to draw it, rather than a blob that may be a big Japanese wave, but is more likely to be a tiger.

He does conjure up a great Black Mask. I don't know who the other guy in the scene with the fallen gang leader is, though - the script hints at Nick, but he's been drawn and coloured differently. I can't see myself rushing back to find out who this is - a comic with Catwoman not being Catwoman, in which the big stakes are the civic pride of Gotham and the question of which gang leader runs the show, just isn't for me. Elizabeth I would perhaps like it.

Arkham Manor #1 review

Arkham Asylum is no more, blown to smithereens. The authorities need to store the inmates somewhere while rebuilding goes on, but the citizenry aren't thrilled by the immediate solution, a sports stadium in the heart of the city.

The mayor looks at the options, out-of-the-way buildings that can be made secure enough for the worst Gotham has to offer. He settles on Wayne Manor, recently vacated by its owner and ripe for new residents. A compulsory purchase order gets the building into civic hands and it's soon filled to the brim with the criminally insane.

The Batman isn't delighted, and almost blows up the house to keep it unsullied by the people he spends his life fighting. In the end, though, he'd rather give the building a chance to do some good than see it meet the same fate as Arkham. 

He thinks: 'The inmates are secure. Gotham is quiet.'

For about a minute and a half, anyway. News of a death soon has Batman zooming back to the manor, where he finds the GCPD's Lt Harvey Bullock and a slew of investigators.

So, another week, another new Batman title. We've just had Gotham Academy and a revamped Batgirl, today also sees a new beginning for Catwoman, there's Gotham by Midnight to come ... so can Arkham Manor makes its mark?

On the basis of this first issue, it's a definite, mmm, dunno. Gerry Duggan's script is precise, wasting few words as it sets up the bare basics and a mystery. He gets major points for adding a little humour, via Batman's 'workout'. He remembers that Batman is a detective, includes a nod to TV's Criminal Minds and paces the book nicely. Alfred is the way I like him, more thoughtful manservant than action man. It's apparent that Duggan has the chops to be a good Bat-writer.  

And Shawn Crystal's art, as subtly coloured by Dave McCaig, is a pleasure on every page, with nicely composed panels that breathe or get claustrophobic as needed. He doesn't skimp on the detail that makes the manor seem real - have you ever seen a comic book artist take the time to give us a skirting board? I don't like his super-unshaven Batman, but that may be a first-issue thing as it does come in useful at the end of the book. 

And while I like the Kelley Jones style splodginess of Batman's cape, I'd rather he didn't foreground the ugliness of DC's current Batman costume (those boots!). Niggles aside, Crystal does well to give this series its own visual identity.

Duggan and Crystal work well together, with full-page scenes of Batman arriving by the front door, then remembering what the manor has meant to him, making for sharp, stylish visuals. And the cover by Crystal, McCaig and an excellent logo designer, is striking.

My problem with this as the debut issue of a new series is that it doesn't feel like anything other than an above average Batman book. I bought this comic wanting an Arkham Manor story. I don't actually know what that would mean, and that's what Duggan fails to show me. Events are viewed through the narration of Batman, with only one named player attached to Arkham on panel. To give Duggan his due, he gives us a snapshot of Eric Border in just a few lines, but who else is here? Gotham Academy and Batgirl filled their pages with new characters, and gave a sense of what the series might be, in terms of feel and stories. Here, we don't get that. It could be the opening issue of an arc in pretty much any Batman book of the past 20 years, given the regularity with which Arkham Asylum is crippled.  

The craft and style on display mean I'll give this book a couple of issues to show why it needs to exist in a world of a dozen Batman titles. But if it doesn't, Arkham Manor risks getting lost among the pack.

Friday, 17 October 2014

DC Digital - Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman #10

Wonder Woman is big in Gateway City. Literally. She's used the Atom's size-changing technology to take on a giant monster.

But not just any monster - Byth, shape-changing enemy of Hawkwoman and Hawkman. The winged wonders are on hand alongside the Tiny Titan, but this is Wonder Woman's show, because size isn't everything - Amazonian strength is the key to taking down the extraterrestrial menace.

And when the war is over, what's needed is Diana's wisdom and compassion, making for an ending that's logical while surprising, funny and entirely satisfactory.

Rob Williams writes a splendid one-off adventure with Attack of the 500ft Wonder Woman, giving us a story that stars the Amazing Amazon while being a mini-JLA adventure. His Diana is the pre-Flashpoint version, living in Gateway City while carrying Themyscira in her heart and channelling the power of truth in a brilliant new way that is pure Wonder Woman.

Visually, this is the pre-Crisis Wonder Woman, even before the eagle flew from Diana's chest to be replaced by the crass double-W bustier. It's a joy to see the Silver Age costume once again, but heavens, Diana is having a bad hair - do something about that fringe, girl! The art is by Tom Lyle, best-known for his runs on Robin and Starman, and I'm delighted to see him back on a DC product. The finish is different to how I recall Lyle's work looking, doubtless down to him working without an inker here, but it looks pretty good. There's a real vibrancy, an energy to the pages, and I hope DC grabs Lyle for more work soon. Heck, if DC plans to follow their Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman digital series with a Justice League book, Lyle should be tapped for that - at the very least, he draws an amazing Hawkman and Hawkwoman.

My only problem with the art is that the first page could be clearer - the story turns, in part, on something Diana saw as a young warrior on Themyscira. All the way through I was waiting for the reveal as to what it was. Turns out, it was right there, in our face, but the composition makes it look as if Diana's looking beyond it. Or is it just me?

Colourist Wendy Broome's ability to convey light sources is a big plus in a day-set book featuring massive opponents, while Saida Temofonte's lettering is sharp and effective.

I'm not sure if there's a policy of one story each so far as Sensation Comics goes, but I do hope not; I'd really like to see Williams, Lyle and co back for a longer adventure featuring Wonder Woman.

But fix the hair first...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Supergirl #35 review

If they exist, Superman: Doomed completists might skip this issue, as the banner is a tad misleading - it's an aftermath only in that it takes place following that crossover, with the first page picking up where Supergirl's last issue left off. And the scene and copy is a tad misleading, but that's comics. The image by Guillem March works well, though, with some great cloth-work on the cape.

The Red Hood catches up with Supergirl in New York's Queens and suggests a team-up. The Hood, bad boy wonder Jason Todd, wants her help to take down aliens who have been selling ET tech to Earth scumbags. Kara isn't delighted to see him as she was enjoying a normal moment with potential boyfriend Michael and his parents. Still, they get onto the streets and stop the traffik in guns that can hurt even a Kryptonian.

Along the way there's a little tension, professional and personal, but by issue's end Kara is back with Michael, they're kissing and Red Hood, spying from across the street, is wishing her luck in a bittersweet way.

Writer Tony Bedard ties up a leftover plot from Scott Lobdell's Superman run, which is nice, though I can't believe anyone was actually clamouring for a resolution to the alien tech beat he brought in; it seemed nothing more than a maguffin to put Superman and Starfire on the same page. And that's just what it is here - an excuse for artist Jonboy Meyers to draw some big, splashy action while Bedard gives us the really fun stuff - the characterisation.

Kara and Jason recently met in the Batman/Superman annual and got along rather well. Here, Jason says he sought her out for her firepower - useful when you're a Batman Family member taking on extraterrestrials. This isn't hugely convincing, given one of his best pals and teammates is Starfire, an alien powerhouse who's already involved in the case. He also says that after their recent encounter he wondered how they'd do as a Superman/Batman style team. Really, though, it's all because he fancies Kara and wants to spend time with her. so when he tracks her down to the hospital and sees her interest in Michael, he feels a little flat. Never mind, there's superheroic work to be done and all that - and a chance to show Supergirl what she's missing.

Credit to Bedard for never having Jason refer to Michael's being a wheelchair user - it's obvious he sees a person, not a chair. Michael is a rival, and he has to prove he's better for her. And more credit to Bedard for having Kara acknowledge she's intrigued by Red Hood, while returning to Michael's side as soon as she can.

There's a subplot turning on why Jason is stronger than normal, something which isn't revealed here - if you really care, the solicitation for this week's Red Hood and the Outlaws #35 gives it away. I can't say I was bothered, being too distracted by the knowledge that this is Bedard's last issue as writer. Seeing the great personality he gives Kara via her narration, dialogue and actions while knowing it's not going to last, well, I could teach Jason a thing or three about bittersweet. 

Bedard keeps Kara confident, shows that she now has real empathy for Earth folk, has her understand the concept of property damage, realise she's attracted to rubbish men, call Jason on his apparent willingness to kill ... The coming Crucible space school direction may prove a great ride, but I'm annoyed that Supergirl's best writer since the DC Universe revamp occurred is leaving the book.

And does anyone reading this issue think Kara actually needs anyone else to teach her about being a hero? She's learned about herself from surviving a string of terrible experiences, and she's learned about friendship from her time with the Red Lanterns and Justice League United. Bedard is an excellent writer, well able to build on what's come before, and I wish he'd been given that chance.

Jonboy Meyers does a good job with his fill-in turn, keeping Kara and Jason on model, the settings convincing and the action realistic. 

There's a splash page shot of Jason which impresses with its use of forced perspective, and I love the way Michael's mother is looking at Kara here - try and convince me she's not wondering why this obviously nice girl is pretty much displaying her vitals. Funnily enough, Dad is grinning. 

If DC seriously wants to bring in a broader audience with the coming new direction, this ridiculous, offensive costume has to go - remember, Supergirl beat Batgirl to Doc Martens.

Meyers doesn't quite make a moment in which Jason shows off his Swiss army knife hands non-laughable, but who could? 

And I don't like a panel in which Supergirl has the shadowy, red-eyed face so common to modern depictions of Superman - in the old days, that was how we knew someone was going dark Phoenix. Overall, though, Meyers acquits himself well.

And that's that. Another mini-era of Supergirl over. I hope the school story proves as shortlived as the Red Lanterns arc, which came in, did its work and went away again. And then maybe Bedard can return for the longer engagement he deserves.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 review

It's 1951 and baby Sabrina Spellman is taken from the arms of her human mother, Diana, to be raised by her warlock father, Edward, and aunts, Hilda and Zelda. Edward resists his sisters' entreaties to kill Diana, deciding that a lobotomy and a permanent stay in hospital is enough to stop her derailing their daughter's future. He loves his wife, but loyalty to his faith comes first.

Within a few years, Edward, too, is gone, sentenced to an awful fate. Was it the doing of his corpse-devouring sisters? Did hard-hearted Zelda persuade the softer Hilda to get the human-hating Witches' Council involved?

And that summation represents only the first few pages of this debut issue of the companion, complementary series to the hit Afterlife With Archie. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa presents Sabrina the Teenage Witch as never before, keeping the basics of the story - setting, characters, lore, cat - but excising the cutesiness. And that allows him to tell a very grim tale indeed. The retro setting evokes the eerie world of Rosemary's Baby, a place of covens and betrayals and evils both banal and otherworldy. 

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina recasts her cuddly aunts as outwardly normal, but possessive of withered souls and a quiet ruthlessness. The budding witch is a far more sympathetic character, relatively naive and holding onto the orphan's hope that her parents are alive and together, maybe even thinking of her; but nature and nurture are dragging her in only one direction. Cousin Ambrose shows up to befriend the lonely young woman, but his more worldly view of spellcasting leads Sabrina down that same dark path. 

The character nearest their regular persona is Salem the cat, sarcastic as ever and the voice of reason - the familiar is familiar.

The biggest shock comes with the cameos by a certain pair of rivals for a feckless ginger's affections. If you thought Betty and Veronica were minxes in their regular world ...

Smaller, but perfectly formed, shocks come every few pages, as Aguirre-Sacasa reveals more about this version of Greendale. He's perfectly partnered in satanic worldbuilding by Robert Hack, whose lyrical pencils, inks and colours never fail to find beauty amid the darkness. And when he gets a full-on horror scene to draw, you'd better run! 

British readers may, like me, be reminded of UK girls' weeklies from the Sixties and Seventies, Bunty and Mandy, say, or the shortlived but highly collectible Misty, whose spooky thrillers this Sabrina would likely enjoy. Every page, heck, every panel cries out for framing, while working as a building block for a hugely immersive look at Sabrina's early years. And while I normally dislike upper and lower case lettering in comics, Jack Morelli's choice here is perfect, speaking to a world of whispers and secrets.

As well as the 28pp lead story, this issue includes the 1962 debut of Sabrina, and it's fun to see that while she was always drawn as a sweetheart, she wasn't exactly a good girl back then. Add in a couple of text pages and a look at some of Hack's process art and you have a terrific bargain at $3.99. I bought this digitally but now I know the printed cover is a die-cut Flowers in the Attic homage, I'm heading for the comics shop tomorrow.

I don't know where Aguirre-Sacasa, Hack and co are going with this series. The obvious route is to have Sabrina tempted by the apparent convenience of witchcraft, but resisting, trying to be more Wendy than Wicked. So they're likely pointing their brooms in another direction entirely. Wherever they're off to, I'm flying right behind them, because this reimagining of a kids' favourite has everything I want in a horror comic - a compelling storyline, fascinating characters, dark wit and pitch black twists, conjured onto the page with imagination and intensity. Unmissable.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Justice League United #5 review

The new Justice League United team has scored its first victory, rescuing the space child, Ultra, from an intergalactic war. But a price was paid - Hawkman died.

So who's activated his transmitter from across space? The question has Animal Man, Stargirl, Supergirl and Green Arrow racing to a bounty hunter's den, courtesy of Sardath's zeta beam. And that's the last we see of them in an issue that focuses on new superhero Equinox, laying out her powers, heritage and responsibilities. She sorts out the whitago - a whitago is to a wendigo what a Marvel zuvembie was to a zombie - in no short order and takes her place on the JLA. Also signing up is Alanna Strange, aparently too excited at suddenly being a superhero to worry too much about being zillions of miles from husband Adam due to a peesky 'zeta-loop'.

Actually, it's rather wonderful to see Alanna, and indeed, Equinox - aka Canadian teenage Miiyabin - thrilled to bits at being with the JLU. After a couple of decades in which superhero books seemed embarrassed by themselves, it's great to see characters embracing the goodness and thinking more of the fun than the sacrifices. Hawkman's death - for however long it lasts - hasn't put anyone off, it's inspired; even the previously grumpy Supergirl is smiling at the prospect of a new adventure.

Jeff Lemire's script gets off to a cracking start with J'onn J'onn's hilarious Martian version of an old Earth proverb and things jog along nicely to the end. The whitago plotline is cleaned up a little too quickly, perhaps, but it does re-introduce us to Mii's grandmother in a new role - Supergran! 

It turns out that she's also a protector of Canada (or Canadia, as my chums on the Panel Culture podcast have it), and Lemire would be missing an opportunity were he not to have her fill in for Equinox on occasion. Senior superheroes are always fun.

The only off-moment is this reaction from starlet-turned-superhero Stargirl.

Yeah, right.

Oh, and is 'Ever cool' a Canadian thing? Both Mii and (apparently middle-aged) best pal Heather say it. And it's ever annoying.

Timothy Green II (there's a Freddie Williams II, too, is a II different somehow from a Jr?) draws this issue, and while I like the sense of heroic whimsy he conveys, some of the figurework is a tad goofy - Supergirl and Stargirl, for example, have pipecleaner legs, and many of the 'standing around' poses are awkward. it's a shame inker Joe Silver, who looks to have talent, didn't correct as he went along, as a hint to Green (whose work I generally enjoy a lot). 

If Green is officially replacing the tremendous Mike McKone - who's represented here by that beaut of a cover - I hope he gets to redesign Alanna's costume, which is bonkers similar to that of Equinox. The always excellent colour artist Jeromy Cox could at least change one of the colour schemes, 

Hey ho, these are minor things in a series that continues to delight. And next time, in the Annual, we get the Legion. What can I say but Long Live the Legion - and Justice League United.