Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Man Who Found Nemo

The Man Who Found Nemo
Review of Aquaman #1
By: Andrew Hines

     Given all of his strengths, it is a shame that Aquaman doesn't have a larger fan base.  Given that he's spent most of his time as the laughingstock of the DC comics universe.  We've all heard the jokes and made more than a few.  Yes, I'm guilty of it as well.  What we need to focus on is the history behind Aquaman that made him the hero that he is.  Here goes nothing, I guess.

     Arthur Curry, also known as Prince Orin of Atlantis, was the son of the Atlantean Princess, Atlanna and surface-dweller and lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry.  Because of who his father was and the fact that he had blonde hair which is known in Atlantis as the "curse of Kordax." Because of this, he was left on Mercy Reef to be devoured by sharks. Because of his blonde hair and lineage, he had telepathic control over marine life and was able to persuade a dolphin to carry him to the surface, back to his father.  He lived there for thirteen years, until his father was killed by Atlanteans who had come for Orin, because his maternal grandfather had died and they needed a king.  He eventually became somewhat comfortable in Atlantis, never shirking his responsibilities, despite Atlantean superstitions.  While mocked by the general public, he is respected in the superhero community for his bravery, superior strength, speed, enhanced senses, mid-level invulnerability and intelligence.

     Geoff Johns is back on another book.  I gotta say, this may be his best yet of the new #1's.  While there are numerous jokes about the King of the Seven Seas, this issue tackles his comedic mythos head on.  This is the Aquaman you might remember from the old cartoons.  Proud, despite the constant snickering going on behind his back.  The fact that the entire public calls him out on his reputation and his responses to those individuals makes for a much more compelling character.  In the old DC, we would have seen someone laughing in the background and Arthur would have either shrugged it off or been completely oblivious of it.  This is why Geoff Johns is as renowned as he is, because he makes characters and dialogue very real, rather than stiff.

      From Brazil, artist Ivan Reis is one of the few comic artist I would consider being an artist for the sake of art. He has also taught comic illustration in his native Brazil.  His most notable works are the covers and interior illustrations on DC's Blackest Night and Brightest Day sagas.  His artwork here is the epitome of perfection.  For the life of me, I can't think of anyone else in the comic industry bestter suited to illustrating this title.

     Aquaman gets a 9.8 out of 10 for this issue.  I am definitely hooked on this one.

Here is a link of Ivan Reis' cover work for this issue:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hood & the Gang: review of Red Hood & The Outlaws #1

Hood & The Gang
Review of Red Hood & The Outlaws
By: Andrew Hines
     What do the second Robin, a renegade archer and a vengeful alien princess have in common?  They've all had short tenures as heroes. In the old DC, the Joker beat Jason Todd to death because the fans requested it.  He was too judgmental, forceful with criminals and generally a bad Robin.  When he came back, all of that made him a fantastic vigilante seeking justice by any means necessary.  The Red Arrow, Roy Harper is the former sidekick to Green Arrow, former Teen Titan and apparent international criminal.  This brings us to the femme fatale of the group, Starfire.  Born a princess, then sold into slavery by her sister, she came to Earth and fought crime as one of the founding members of the original Teen Titans. Forget what you thought you knew about her.  Love it or hate it, she's quite different by several accounts.

     Scott Lobdell, the writer for this title has a lot to live up to in terms of fan expectations.  All of the characters are both loved and hated for different reasons, though respected in nearly all circles.  This isn't the Teen Titans, though two of them are former members.  Both the Red Hood and Red Arrow are former sidekicks of two of the greatest heroes in the old DC comics.  There is one disappointment in regard to a character that I must mention.  Starfire, also known as Princess Koriand'r of Tamaran, is far too cold to Roy and too sexual in nature.  On the plus side, there is a new character named Essence, who has apparent ties to how Jason Todd became the Red Hood.  Honestly, with the exception of Starfire as a character, there's really nothing i would change about the book.  Nearly everything else is spot-on.

     Kenneth Rocafort is a highly talented artist, whose previous works includes the iconic Action Comics. There's really not enough I can say about Rocafort as an artist.  Unique, talented, and near perfect, he is an artist not to be trifled with.  There are only a handful of artists that get close to what Rocafort does.  He doesn't try to be edgy, dark or realistic.  He does what he does and it suits his intention perfectly.  His grasp of the human anatomy and basic physiology, human or otherwise is clear and I couldn't ask for a better artist for each of these characters.  He is also one of the few artists at home with interior artwork as he is with cover designs.  The colors were also pretty fantastic, thanks to the colorist known only as Blond.

     From what I know of Jason Todd as both Boy Wonder and Red Hood, I had high hopes for this title.  Despite a minor setback with the characterization of Stafire, both Lobdell and Rocafort met my expectations.  This deserves a 9.3 out of 10.

Here are links for those wanting to see how it came out before purchasing.
Blond's colors :
Kenneth Rocafort's artwork (cover):

Oh Captain, My Captain

Oh Captain, My Captain
Review of Captain Atom #1
By: Andrew Hines

     The man of the atom is back and bigger than ever!  Imagine Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame if he still held any compassion for humanity. That's what Nathaniel Adam brings to the table as Captain Atom, especially given that he was the original inspiration for the Superman of Alan Moore's iconic graphic novel.  A government agent, who was once an Air Force pilot. In the old DC universe, Nathaniel Christopher Adam was accused of a crime he didn't commit and given two options: execution or a strange military experiment, after which he would receive a presidential pardon. Obviously he took the latter choice and became a hero, more clandestine and underrated than Superman, but with the same sense of duty.

     Writer JT Krul teases us with a few brief mentions of the backstory, while diving straight into action and a healthy dose of scientific conversation.  Great pacing and clear dialogue set the tone early on for a good read. Starting off during a "battle" with an unnamed and short-lived villain, we see at once a very human character and man of action. We see Captain Atom's  thoughts on the human condition as contrasted with the rest of the animal kingdom. For a man who thinks of himself in rather simple terms, we see from he start, a rather deep individual. Thankfully that doesn't last too long and we're back to watching the hero of the story kick ass and take names. This isn't merely an action-packed story, it also sets the stage for a life-and-death situation for our tireless hero. We discover, as does Captain Atom, that using his awe-inspiring powers may actually kill him.

     There are two fantastic artists on this issue, the interior pencils of Freddie Williams II and the cover art of Stanley "Artgerm" Lau.  Williams' interior art has a sort of noir-ish feel to it, with it's contrasting and sort of dull-yet-lively colors.  These contrasts are most notable when Captain Atom flies around the city.  The dull landscape of the city is made even more so when paired with the bright glow of Captain Atom's blue sheen and red symbol.  Then there's the cover art.  Stanley Lau, whose covers have astounded me for the last year or so on his various jobs, may have outdone himself with the work I've seen on this issue and the next three covers as well. If you don't believe me, check out the link to his gallery at the end of the article.

     Despite going into this with reservations, I was blown away by the time and effort that was clearly put into this issue.  From the inner ramblings of an underrated hero to the climactic ending, both the writing and the artwork were well above average.  The cover art definitely worked in the issue's favor.  Everyone from the comic geeks to the science instructors should read this one.  In my book, it gets a 9.4 out of 10.

As promised, here is the link to the artists galeries:
Stanley Lau (covers):
Freddie Williams II (interior art):

Last of the Flying Graysons

Last of the Flying Graysons
Reviewing Nightwing #1
By: Andrew Hines

     Holy big top, Batman, the original Boy Wonder is back! That's right, the other half of Gotham's City's original Dynamic Duo is back with his own title. The original Robin is once again leaping across the rooftops of Gotham City. Now using the moniker, Nightwing, and doling out justice to the innumerable villains of his city, the surviving member of the Flying Graysons is as fun to watch as ever.  After his parents were killed by the low-level mobster Tony Zucco, he was adopted by Bruce Wayne. Soon, he was donning the cape and tights as the first Boy Wonder. After a few years as Robin, he stepped out from under the Dark Knight's wing and made a new name for himself as Nightwing. Last year, due to Bruce Wayne's "absence*" he took up the mantle of the bat. 

     With Bruce having just returned, Dick is once again Nightwing, albeit with a few minor costume changes. We also get to see some more writing from Kyle Higgins who wrote last week's Deathstroke #1. Higgins even brings back Dick's old home under the big top.  For the first time in several years, Haley's Circus is back in Gotham City.  Higgins moves into the meat of the story cautiously.  By the end of the issue, we have one question: Can Nightwing save Dick Grayson?

     The artwork from Eddy Barrows is fitting of the story in it's entirety.  Clearly showing the athleticism and acrobatic skill of both Dick Grayson and the new villain, Barrows is a very visual story-teller.  You could almost figure out the narration just by seeing the panels. JP Mayer's colors are pretty cool, giving just enough shine to the more metallic parts of his costume. The two also gave us a great cover, one that is fairly memorable, though not exactly epic.

I'm hoping for something more in the next few issues, but for now I give it an 8.0 out of 10.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Hero With a Gift for Grift

The Hero With A Gift For Grift
Review of Grifter #1
By: Andrew Hines
     Cole Cash is a charming con artist who has been traveling across the United States for the better part of the last decade, stealing from men just as dishonest as he is.  There is, after all, no honor among thieves.  Let’s go through a run down of the character in the classic WildStorm before we jump into the ins and outs of the issue. 
     As a member of the genetically modified Team 7 and then the infamous WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Teams, he is no stranger to combat.  As both the gunslinger and “mystery man” of the teams, he is at once hotheaded and calm.  If you take the blonde hair and temper from Arthur of Atlantis (Aquaman) and blended it with the Casanova charm and penchant for trench coats of Marvel’s Gambit, you’d get the classic Grifter.  This is the Cole Cash I grew up with, the man’s man, a good ol’ boy with a silver tongue and itchy trigger fingers hell-bent on saving the human race from shape-shifting aliens.  Well, that last part is a whole other story, so let’s get to the current issue.
     With Nathan Edmonson as the writer, Cole’s story starts out interestingly enough.  Despite the jump on the fourth page looking like something from Lost, it’s a cool transition.  The problem with it is that it doesn’t keep the same pacing as the first few pages.  Rather than a day in the life of a man of action, you see a speedy descent into paranoia.  We see a man in control of his life suddenly hearing voices in his head that he can’t explain.  At least there’s a cameo appearance from Cole’s younger brother Max and a glimpse of the trademark bandana mask used to identify Grifter.
     The art by CAFU (that is the actual name of the artist,) is good, as are the colors by Andrew Dalhouse.  The art is clearly their own and there is no trying to duplicate anyone else’s style.  The colors are perfect for the style of art, sort of soft but visually striking.  The overall effects aren’t exactly epic, but still nearly perfect for the character.
     Knowing the character as I do and the struggles he has gone through during his time in WildStorm.  This is one of those that I was looking forward to since I first heard of the re-launch.  As hard as it is to bring a new character into the fold from another company, Edmonson did a decent job.  This gets a 7.4 out of 10, only slightly better than average.

     Andrew has been reading comics for the last 18 years, namely those from DC Comics and their WildStorm imprint. He started with WildC.A.T.s and the titles of Batman, Superman, Flash, and Green Lantern. 

"The scariest badass on the planet."

Deathstroke the Terminator
Review of Deathstroke #1
By: Andrew Hines
            “Deathstroke the Terminator – The scariest badass on the planet.”  This is the first line of Deathstroke #1.  The man known as Slade Wilson has been a mercenary for decades by this point in the story.  Not only is Slade a battle-hardened mercenary, he is also a master strategist.  After losing his right eye, he volunteered for experiments, which increased his strength, endurance and healing abilities.  While almost every person on the planet uses a maximum of 10% of their brain, Deathstroke uses 90%.  This is a man who notably decimated a 7-member squad of Justice Leaguers in less than five minutes without breaking a sweat.  With that being said, this is obviously a book about a villain. 
            Writer Kyle Higgins had a few hurdles to get past in this premier issue.  First off, there’s the treatment of Slade from the Teen Titans cartoon, as a man who is constantly owned by a group of high school sidekicks.  Thankfully, Edmundson delivers a brand new, more ferocious Deathstroke.  This time, saddled with a team of twenty-something wannabe mercenaries, Slade is given a job he barely wants.  Acting little more than arms dealers, transportation specialists and intelligence providers, the “Alpha Dawgs” are, in Slade’s own words “only competition.”  This issue is rife with action, blood and some humor, plus a killer ending.  Staying true to the character, though revealing little personal information, it’s as fun to read, as it is to watch.
            Artist Joe Higgins gives the reader an eye full in the first few pages with a blood bath that would make Freddy Krueger feel insecure.  He dazzles on every page and keeps the action interesting.  Somehow, despite Deathstroke’s incredible abilities, he manages to keep the feats of strength and athleticism within a believable range. The shapes on several pieces are a bit clunky and over-sized, leading to questions of how he can perform some of his more acrobatic stunts.  The shoulder pieces, for example are problematic as are the Batman-style gauntlets. 
            Questionable design choices aside this title is a fun romp through the life of a cold-blooded villain.  I look forward to where else this series goes and hope for some more personal stories in the future.  Having weighed the pros and cons of this issue, I conclude that it stands as an 9.2 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beware My Power . . . Sinestro's Light?

            Anyone who has read Green Lantern in the last 30 years, or even seen the recent film starring Ryan Reynolds and Mark Strong, ought to know the equal parts respect and disdain most fans feel for Sinestro.  He is not only the enemy of Hal Jordan, but the best friend of Jordan’s predecessor, Abin Sur.  He is both a strong leader and elite Lantern, but in contrast, is the greatest enemy to the Green Lantern Corps.  That being said, he and Jordan equally share the spotlight in Green Lantern #1.  As the self-appointed Guardians of the Universe and Sinestro grapple with what it means to allow one of their greatest enemies back into their ranks, Jordan is trying to make sense of his life without the Corps.  The twists and turns and references to the old model, are numerous.  Finally we get to see what happens when a hero is AWOL as many years as Jordan has been.  There are very real repercussions, which is something I'm quite happy to see in a comic book.  The last time we saw real life hit home for any comic book characters in the DC realm was in Alan Moore's iconic Watchmen.  
The writing Geoff Johns is great (this time) and it pulls you into the story faster than a twister appearing in Tornado Alley.  All of the characters, including the immortal Guardians, are spot-on from what the fans expect.  Johns is perfect and in his element writing for the Green Lantern title.  He has spent years on this and according to an interview with the geek-centric website,, has enough Green Lantern stories in him for the next several years.  Given that Johns is the writer responsible for Hal Jordan’s return to the land of the living, it was to be expected that he is a force to be reckoned with in the pages of Green Lantern. 
Doug Mahnke’s art is exceptional and possibly the only real artistic competition so far for Jim Lee.  He is true to the look of the characters and their essence, while still allowing room for his own take on them.  It’s a fine line and he rides it with the precision of a high-wire performer.  Christian Alamy’s inks are pretty good, the shading is near-perfect, though the feeling is slightly off.  David Baron’s colors, on the other hand are to be admired.  Every color compliments the others in the panel.  No color seems too dark or light, as they lend an elegant aesthetic.  Then there’s the cover.  Ivan Reis, whose covers are art gallery quality, has nearly outdone himself with the cover of this issue.  At the same time, realistic and surreal, his colors, lines and shading are spectacular, in every sense of the word.  Even if you’re not a fan of comics, and just an art lover, this is the series to follow.
Being a fan of Green Lantern since day one, this is a great read and bound to be a fantastic story arc.  Having seen more than a few bad comics in my time, and a couple that hit below the mark in the New 52 so far, this is a wonderful issue.  The issue ranks 9.6 out of 10.

The Bat is Back and Better Than Ever

The Bat is Back
Review of Detective Comics #1
By: Andrew Hines

            Batman: Detective Comics delivers what is essentially a classic tale of the Caped Crusader.  Set just five to seven years after Bruce Wayne first donned his trademark cape and cowl, readers are thrust headlong into the criminal melting pot that is Gotham City.  Still a vigilante in Gotham, the Dark Knight’s only ally is Police Commissioner Jim Gordon.  Younger fans will finally get a glimpse of Jeremiah Arkham, the man who built and now runs Arkham Asylum, the maximum security facility that the city’s criminally insane call home.  Unfortunately in this new Gotham, a brand new villain known as the Dollmaker is on the loose, though Batman seems unaware of his presence.  The first pages are a mad dash to get to the Joker before he harms another innocent life.  Though he only appears once, it is his actions at the end of the issue that will leave fans speechless. This truly is the quintessential Batman story and a perfect point to jump into the action.

            A talented writer by any means, Tony S. Daniel hits his mark at every turn in this modern take on the classic Detective Comics.  This takes me back to the original stories of the Caped Crusader by creator Bob Kane.  The story and pacing are wonderful.  So much better than Justice League, it’s amazing that these stories came from the same company.  Daniel’s writing just gets straight to the action and the essence of the story.  This issue reminds you exactly how Batman gained his reputation, both as the World’s Greatest Detective and as the Caped Crusader.  It really gets to the source of what Batman is all about.
            The artwork, also by Daniel, shows off the newer look for the Dark Knight Detective.  The more technological twist is apparent in the design.  Crisp and clean, there’s no mistaking that Daniel is a true double-threat in the comics industry and both of his talents are clearly featured.  With such shining talents, which is pretty handy in a city as dark as Gotham, I look forward to more from Mr. Daniel. 

            I hope for great things from the entire creative team on this one.  I have to give this one a 9.2 out of 10.

Rebirth of the Golden Age: A Look at Action Comics #1

Look, up in the sky … it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s probably not Superman just yet.  The comic that single-handedly launched the Golden Age of Super Heroes, Action Comics starts back at number one. DC’s Man of Steel is just developing his powers.  Merely able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, rather than fly, he is brand new to Metropolis.  With many familiar faces showing up in the first issue, this is a stirring new take on one of the most iconic characters of the past century.  Branded as more of a vigilante than a trusted ally of Justice, he is on the run from the cops and not yet working at the Daily Planet.
            Grant Morrison, the writer for Action Comics, has been at this for more than a few years.  After celebrated runs on Batman, Batman & Robin and the two-part graphic novel All-Star Superman, Morrison’s words will now grace the pages of Action Comics.  As he stated in a recent NPR interview, Morrison’s first glimpse of American culture came in the form of Superman.  On a cold day in his native Scotland, the cover of Action Comics had the young Morrison transfixed. With this in mind, is it any wonder that he writes with such enthusiasm?
            The only possible result is a mixture of the powers of Superman/Kal-El with the “humanity” of Clark Kent.  To be fair, we can only guess as to whether he is aware of his extra-terrestrial origins.  He manages to get the most crucial characters of the Superman mythos to play the roles that the readers love.  Jimmy Olsen is exactly as fans remember him while Lois is just as dedicated to the stories as she’s always been.  Lex Luthor, intelligent and arrogant as ever and true to form in every way, is at the center of the events unfolding in this ground breaking first issue.  The dialogue is very real, as if you were over-hearing an actual conversation.  It never seems stiff, and thus makes the characters all the more real.  Beyond that, he makes Superman quite young and a bit cocky, though his heart is obviously in the right place.
            Artwork by Rags Morales is nothing short of inspiring. I haven’t followed Morales’ work as closely as some other artists over the years, but each time I pick it up I see plenty to admire.  The look of both the characters and backgrounds are great.  Add to that, Nick Bryant’s awesome colors and you get a comic that lives up to its hype.  Somehow, Bryant manages to capture the threat of Superman’s heat vision in a way that I’ve never seen done before.
            I would say that this is one of those few titles that you should follow every month. That being said, I give this a 8.7 out of 10.

Modern, Refreshing & Beautiful, Though Slow

To kick-off the historical re-launch of one of the most successful and enduring comic book companies, DC has delivered their first new #1 in the form of Justice League.  Written by Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns and illustrated by Co-Publisher, Jim Lee, this is definitely a book worth reading.
Set five years before the majority of the New 52 titles of DC’s new Universe (DCnU), the story arc follows Batman as he recruits the champions that will become the Justice League.  In the first few pages, Green Lantern (Air Force pilot, Hal Jordan) comes to his aide and the two begin to clash, just like in the “old” DC. This world that they live in has just been introduced to super heroes, though the average Joe doesn’t trust them. This is made clear as the first panels feature Batman running across Gotham rooftops, pursued by several SWAT helicopters, all taking aim at the Caped Crusader. This merely lends an air of realism to the story, which something only a talent like Johns could pull off effectively.
As the avatars of light and darkness, they were always at odds.  It is refreshing to see that dynamic alive in the first pages of the DCnU. Johns has a way of bringing fresh voices to iconic characters while staying true to their core spirit and values. They take verbal jabs back and forth for most of the 40-page issue to the point that you want to clock GL just to shut him up for any length of time. Once it does happen, you’re greeted by a gripping cliffhanger.
Now we proceed to the artwork of Jim Lee. Lee is the artist who first pulled me into the world of comics during his early run on WildC.A.T.s, which ended it’s 18-year run last year. He is also well known for his early 90’s work on X-Men, the mutant heroes of rival company, Marvel. In the minds of many fans, Jim Lee is one of the finest artists 
That talent is made abundantly clear in the pages of Justice League. Every detail is clear and the whole of the images are stunning, as usual. Lee is one of the few artists out there who sees the forest despite the trees. He doesn’t get lost in details. His work shows the major focus of the image and visual storytelling. Over the years, his artwork has only gotten better. The issue also features inks by Scott Williams and incredible colors, courtesy of Alex Sinclair.
To put it in perspective, the last time I saw artwork and colors this rich and crisp was in the pages of Alex Ross’ graphic novel, Kingdom Come.
If we continue to see this level of creativity (and hopefully a bit more action) in the coming months, there may just be a new favorite for this fan. Hopefully we can see a bit more action and better pacing in the next issues. All things considered, I give this an 7.8* out of 10. 
(After reviewing my article and a second look at Justice League, I scaled the score back from 8.8 to the 7.8 you see above.)

The World's Greatest Heroes Start Back at #1

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Flash have been built up to astronomical proportions in our hearts and minds since our grandparents were children. We all know the names and origins of our favorite heroes. From the Last Son of Krypton and the Caped Crusader to the Amazon Princess, we have connections to the characters. These types of heroes from our wildest fantasies and most enduring hopes have fueled our imaginations since as far back as we could remember.
Very soon, however, all of our memories will be re-written as the company that created the World’s Greatest Heroes reboots its entire history in one shot. Anyone who grew up knowing anything about Superman or Green Lantern will certainly be thrown for a loop starting August 31st. The first new #1, Justice League, came out on that day.
Just so we’re clear, this isn’t your daddy’s DC Comics.
Thankfully the heroes that we know and love, including the mentors and inspiration for many of the Justice League are going to be back in a big way. DC Comics is about to launch a company-wide restart on 52 titles. No company has ever attempted this before, which leaves the world’s comic nerds on the edge of their seats. A large part of the reason is because DC has been locked in legal battles with the creators’ heirs over the rights to the Man of Steel. This re-launch and minor reinterpretation of the characters should help them in the courtroom. According to press releases from the DC department heads, re-launching all titles of the company will give them a venue to negate all non-canon material. This will allow them to breathe new life into characters whose essence have been diluted, altered or exaggerated over the decades by various writers. It’s also a great way to bring characters into the 21st century.
There will most definitely be changes as Lois Lane will be of-limits to Clark Kent/Superman for a while since she has a boyfriend, as is evident in the preview pages of Superman #1. Batman and his son Damien will now make up the Dynamic Duo, with all of the former Robins having their own titles. While the “new” Batman and Robin pairing will be slightly unsettling for returning readers, there’s also the lack of explanation for how the original Batgirl’s paralysis gets left in the dust.  With all of these changes, DC has recently announced that they are keeping the old guard in place in the form of the Justice Society. Their ranks include the Golden Age versions of Flash, Green lantern and Wildcat, the guy who taught Batman, Catwoman and Superman the art of boxing.
With all things considered, the reboot of an entire comics universe looks to be an event that will reshape the pop culture we’ve come to know and launch us into a new world full of excitement, modern mythology and instant classics. If you’ve never read a comic book or if you’ve been a life-long fan of the other guys, this is the time to dive into the world of DC Comics.
You can thank me later.
Here, for your convenience, is a link to DC Comics The Source blog: