Rapid-Fire Reviews: Beyond The Black Hole

by

Or – “There Are Old Pilots And Bold Pilots, But Few Old, Bold Pilots…”

I saw recently that a clinical study proved that January 25th is the most depressing day of the entire year, scientifically and unequivocally.  While I don’t disagree with that sentiment (especially as it regards the attendance of employees in Midwestern United States call centers) I find it fascinating that somebody actually got paid to try and figure out something that silly and (let’s be honest, here) banal.  Still and all, it’s the kind of story that you read and go, “Yeah, I can see that.”  Thus, to ease your slowly-receding ennui (and Stephen’s not-so-slowly receding hairline) I give you another batch of coverage of comics you might have read, but forgot to laugh at the first time…  Rapid-Fire Style!

Previously, on Everything:  The Palomino moves in to investigate, and finds a mysterious gravity field surrounding the Cygnus.  The derelict ship suddenly comes to life, and allows the Palomino to dock.  The crew finds a crew of humanoid, faceless robots onboard the Cygnus, along with the ship’s Commander, Dr Hans Reinhardt, a prominent scientist last seen twenty years prior, when he refused an order to return the Cygnus to Earth.  Reinhardt explains that the rest of the crew left him behind, and he now commands an army of Review_Bubble.jpgrobots, including the hulking, ominous Maximilian.  Reinhardt reveals that he is working on a project to fly the Cygnus into the black hole and explore beyond and Durant reacts with enthusiasm and decides to accompany Reinhardt into the black hole.  The other Palominocrew grow suspicious of the faceless drones’ human like behavior, and Old B.O.B., a damaged earlier model robot similar to V.I.N.CENT, explains that the faceless drones are in fact the former crew, who mutinied when Reinhardt refused to return to Earth, and have since been reprogrammed to serve him. With this knowledge, the crew attempt to gather back at the Palomino, but Durant is immediately killed by Maximilian, and McCrae is sent to the hospital to be reprogrammed. The rest of the crew rescue McCrae, but Booth panics and attempts to escape alone in the Palomino. Reinhardt orders the ship shot down, resulting in a collision which damages the Cygnus, especially destroying the port side antigravity force field generator.  Without the null-gravity bubble, the Cygnus begins to get torn apart by the black hole’s immense gravity.  As the ship falls apart, Reinhardt and the Palominosurvivors both form the same escape plan: to use the probe ship previously used by Reinhardt to scan the black hole. Reinhardt is crushed by falling equipment, however, and Maximilian appears to decline to rescue him, preferring to seek and confront the humans. Reaching them, Maximilian shoots Old B.O.B. beyond repair but is itself destroyed by V.I.N.CENT and drifts out of the ship and into the hole. Holland, Pizer, McCrae, and V.I.N.CENT make it to the probe but find that it has been programmed to fulfill Reinhardt’s objective: a flight through the black hole.  Then, weird stuff happens, and even if you’ve seen it, you have no frickin’ idea what the last 10 minutes mean…

ASM1.gifAmazing Spider-Man #618:  Back in the day, in a Marvel Comic, there was no such thing as a Zombie.  No, my friends, the walking dead were referred to as ‘zuvembies’ during the late 70’s-early 80’s era at Marvel, presumably to avoid being sued by an angry horded of undead lawyers.  (Why don’t the soulless flesh-craving monsters eat their lawyers?  PROFESSIONAL COURTESY!)  Likewise, organized crime in the Marvel U is known as “The Maggia,” but these days their stock has been severely devalued.  This issue shows us the deaths of a couple dozen Maggia heads, including the elusive cyborg named Silvermane in the first three pages.  It’s kinda shocking to see this much concentrated death in such a short chunk of space, but it works through the story, especially as Hammerhead turns against The Family, Pete Parker gets involved, and new crimelord Mr. Negative takes control of…  Aunt May???  Mind-controlled May tells her nephew like it is (“A whole new meal ticket for you to LEECH off…  God forbid you take USsomewhere nice, or that you have two pennies to rub together or finish ONE THING that you started!  What are you this week?”) and Spidey is already shell-shocked when various wiseguys start coming back from the dead.  Aunt May’s venomous tirade makes the issue for me, as an almost meta-statement about Peter Parker the eternal schlub, and the use of Mysterio is pretty clever.  I have no idea why Carlie Cooper’s dad coming back from the dead is good, though…  In two words: Brutal Honesty.   3.5 stars. 

Rating: ★★★½☆

AA1.gifAvengers Vs. Agents of Atlas #1:  Ken, Bob, Jimmy, Venus, Namora, Derek and M-11 continue their refusal to go quietly into that good night here, following up on their conflict with the X-Men by squaring off with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  When old-skool Avengers foes (The Growing Man, The Lava Men, and more) start showing up, the New Avengers and the Agents of Atlas get involved.  A strange force starts futzing with the timestream, and Luke, Logan, Peter, Carol and Bucky are replaced with the original Avengers circa issue 5 or so,  featuring pointy Iron Man mask, Giant-Man with antennae, and a very unhappy looking Thor.  The art in this first story is good, but it’s nothing compared to Takeshi Mayazawa’s beautiful take on Namora in the backup story, ass she faces off with illegal whalers.  She smashes their ship and leaves them to drown, but the whales that they would have murdered talk her into saving them with a life raft.  It’s a vaguely familiar, vaguely shop-worn tale with a nice twist, and just lovely manga-inspired pencils throughout.  The intiative that Marvel editorial has taken to save the AoA is not unappreciated by me, and this issue is quite nice, giving us the possibility of seeing a gorilla fight the Norse God of Thunder.  So, y’know… bonus!  All in all, there’s no such thing as a bad Parker Agents tales, and this is no exception.  Two words: Agents Assemble!  4 stars. 

Rating: ★★★★☆

AC1.gifAdventure Comics #453:   Young Clark Kent has lost a lot of his cache with me since he stopped hanging out with his pals in the Legion and lost his own title to them, to boot.  I’m not that upset, though, to see him likewise booting Aquaman out of the lead slot in Adventure.  The sea-king just hasn’t been the same since Black Manta killed his son (and since Nick Cardy stopped drawing the book) and I’m interested to see what happened in the DC Universe “15 years ago,” with relative adjustments for whatever year it is.  This issue sees Clark Kent away at camp (which, come to think of it, would make a really good setting for a horror movie, what with all the tent poles and machetes and darkness) dealing with the sudden menace of an 11-year old girl with superpowers rivaling his own!  Turns out that she made a wish and got her fondest hidden desire, but Kal-El reminds her that you can’t become a hero by wishing.  She vows to work at it, to train and put effort into it, and one day even Clarkie will be jealous.  “You’re going to be hearing about BARBARA GORDON, SUPERHEROINE!”  Wow!  She’ll grow up to be a congresswoman and Batgirl!  There’s a quick Aqualad tale in the back, as well as the news that Marshall Rogers will be doing the art on a revival of Mr. Miracle, one of Jack Kirby’s obscure New Gods characters from a few years ago.  Hopefully, we can get some bigger press for them, too.  Heck, in a few years, I wonder if we’ll be seeing Aqualad and Batgirl taking over for their mentors, and the younger heroes leading a new JLA?  That’d be cool.  Two words: 1977 issue.  3 stars. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆

AI1.gifAvengers – The Initiative #31:  The Cabal has pretty much fallen apart, with two members defecting to the X-Men, Doctor Doom keeping his own counsel as always, and Norm-O doesn’t realize that Loki is just screwing with him.  With slots open at the table, Norm opens an invitation to the new head of Camp HAMMER: The Taskmaster.  Tasky, for his part, has been enjoying the fringe benefits of being a hero, partying 24/7 and generally doing whatever it is that strikes his fancy.  When Hood and Goblin (attorneys at law?) come a’callin’, and perform an inspection of the operation.  Osborn nails it when he tells ‘Master, “That was an impressive display of well-rehearsed, well-coached, well-threatened personnel on their best behavior.  Which is nothing like the way they usually behave.”  Heh.  Constrictor and Diamondback sorta kinda break up, and Taskmaster accepts a seat at the big table.  He immediately regrets it, though, and makes an overture towards quitting, only to be told by Norm-O that there’s no “out” in Cabal, and is ordered to ASSAULT Asgard.  That’ll go well.  This is interesting stuff, and the look at the difference between being a second-tier gunman and henchman trainer and a first-line supervillain is pretty awesome overall.  I’m also completely taken by Rafa Sandoval’s art, and hope to see him on a title when this book gets canned in a month or three.  Two words: Action.  Consequence.  3.5 stars. 

Rating: ★★★½☆

AM1.jpgMighty Avengers #33:  When you get the news that a book is going to be cancelled, there’s a couple of responses.  A lot of times, for me, it’s one of relief that I will have an open slot on my hold list for something new.  The loss of Mighty Avengers is a mixed blessing, as this book has been all over the place, going from must-read to vomit in less than 60 seconds.  This issue is an odd one, pitting Norm-O against Hank Pym in a battle of the Avengers ramrods against the power of the cosmic cube.  Norm fires the U.S. Agent, Hank figures out the secret of Loki/Scarlet Witch, Ultron returns, and it’s all just kinda the mid-season episode of Buffy where we’re filling time until the Big Bad returns for the finale.  Overall, nothing is wrong with this issue, it’s just sort of an adventure of Hank’s Avengers with multiple villains, and some cute little time-space-dimensions shifts causing the characters to be changed temporarily (a bit that would have been a great hook in a longer story.)  The end of America’s Favorite Gameshow (“Crap!  ON!  YELLOWJACKET!”)is long overdue, but part of me feels like turning him into Marvel’s Batman isn’t that much more interesting than the endless litany of wife abuse.  Mighty Avengers just kinda goes “Meh” this month, and that’s kind of a shame, given the writer and the cast.  Two words: Iron Lad?  2.5 stars.   

Rating: ★★½☆☆

BVS1.gifBuffy The Vampire Slayer – Willow One-Shot:  Willow sets out on a journey for wisdom and power, and finds that the whole thing is a Harry Potter slash/fiction.  Really…  Delving into her soul, she meets her naked snake-woman patron, gets in a fight, and quickly realizes that it’s all a sham for a series of universal conceptual deities, then chooses to go with the devil she already knows.  Joss Whedon himself writes, demonstrating his mastery of Willow-speak, and Karl Moline draws, which means I’m automatically going to be in love with her book.  It’s a cute little side-story, but I’m not entirely sure where it fits in Willow’s chronology, or whether I’m happy to have paid $3.50 to that Loch Ness monster to get it.  There’s an appearance by the one Buffy character who doesn’t get to keep coming back from the dead, and it finally answers the question of why Willow hasn’t done something about that situation with her phenomenal cosmic power, but overall, I got to the end and found that that story just reminded me that I like a character that I already liked.  It’s good to see Willow as the central character for a change, but there’s not much of consequence growing on.  Karl Moline overbalances the scales for me, in that looking at the representations of earth, air, fire, water and (apparently) college algebra was a great scene.  Two words: Girl Power. 3 stars.   

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Bo1.gifThe Boys #38:  DAH BOYCE!  This issue, like the last, is told in the voice of The Frenchman, but you couldn’t find a more different perspective and story…  Whereas last time we had Frenchie’s serio-comic adventures in a probably made-up town, this time we are given the story of the Female and her penchant for horrific swift and blinding violence.  “It was not Hiroshima,” Frenchie says of her abilities.  “Never Hiroshima…”  After the death of her father, The Female’s mother was forced to take her to work with her, allowing the child to become daused in radioactive goop of some sort (an offshoot of Compound V.)  When a man tries to pick her up, she RIPS HIS FACE OFF. When the feral super-baby in the Japanese sewers becomes public knowledge, she is taken into custody by Mallory and his operatives in The Boys, and remanded to the care of The Frenchman.  Frenchie manages to bring her into a semblance of humanity.  We hear her words through Frenchie, but as the issue ends, we get an idea of the true emptiness of the Female’s life, as she walks alone into the subway, her face showing incredibly sadness and alienation.  Darick Robertson does a wonderful job with this issue, showing us the brutal life of the most dangerous member of the team and refusing to shy away form the most horrifying and brutal elements of her life.  I’m a fan of this series from the beginning, and I was bothered when they said that they were going to tell the origins of the characters, thinking it would damage their mystique.  Instead, what I got was a deepening of the characters, and a sense that even these outrageous characters have hearts and souls within their bulletproof bods.  Two words: Heart wrenching.  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

DC1.gifDetective Comics #861:  Kate Kane is an interesting character, but in a way, she feels more like a Marvel archetype than a DC one.  Drummed out of the service due to her orientation, with a history of heavy drinken and partying, and driven by loss in ways different from Batman (either of ‘em.)  Her origin arc ended (for the moment, anyway) last time, and now we throw her into modern-day Gotham, tying her into the adventures of Batman as both of them facing down against a serial murderer dubbed “The Cutter” who has been kidnapping and dissecting women.  Kate’s cousin Bette (who is secretly the Teen Titan called Flamebird, and previously the first Bat-girl) is in college, and the two women reconnect through Kate’s investigation, only to have the issue end with Bette being the next target of Cutter.  The change in art teams (JH Williams is replaced by Jock here) probably doesn’t help, since I love Williams’ stuff.  In the Question backup, Renee and her partner Huntress have let a villain trail them to their lair, then end up paying him off to fake their deaths.  The problem comes when Question’s mentor Tot (Dr. Aristotle Rodor to you) confronts her for her new methods, claiming that Vic Sage would have been appalled at her actions.  (The Steve Ditko Vic Sage certainly would have, just as an aside…)  Renee’s story is more fun for me this issue, while Kate’s return to the mainstream contemporary DCU disappoints, especially seeing her in comparison to Dick’s Batman gig.  The balance ends up leaving this book less compelling than previous installments.  Two words: Good art.  2 stars.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

DP1.gifDoom Patrol #6:  The questions regarding the return of Larry Trainor are sort of answered here, tying together all the various incarnations of the Negative Man/Woman/Hermaphrodite over the years of Doom Patrol by positing that the mind of the Negative Man is in the drivers seat, and Larry is just the largest mental storage loft in his memory banks.  The issue ends with Larry sitting alone on the beach, wondering if he’s in the Doom Patrol because he wants to die.  In the Metal Men backup, Kevin Maguire returns as the robot wonders face three mannequins bristling with weaponry.  Copper makes a good showing of herself, Lead loses his cool, Gold gets beheaded, and Tina realizes that Doc Magnus programmed her, so her insane love of him may actually be his own doing.  It’s a long-overdue realization that seems like everyone who ever read the book should have seen from the very first issue, so that’s pretty neat, there.  The two titles in this book always balance themselves between comedy and drama, but it’s weird that this issue actually does it in both stories.  The Metal Men rip their opponents to shreds, while Negative Man’s story is filled with dark humor, and his last line of the issue (“I hate elephants.”) is a wonderful non-sequitur.  Doom Patrol is slowly evolving into something entirely new and different, something we’ve never seen before in superhero book, and I’m welcoming the evolution.  Two words: Oddly compelling.  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

DW1.gifDoctor Who #7:  So, we’re now in that weird place where the TV adventures of the Tenth Doctor are complete, and the Eleventh is on his way, but the comic is still going to be working with #10.  It’s an understandable stance (and probably one that is mandated by their BBC licensors) given that the Eleventh Doctor’s tricks aren’t going to be spoilered early for comics fans.  This issue deals with two new companions (Matthew and Emily, from 1920’s Hollywood, as seen in the first arc) joining the TARDIS, and opens with a wonderful shot of the Tenth Doctor decked out in the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, Fifth Doctor’s sweater, the Sixth Doctors coat (famously described as “an explosion in a rainbow factory), and the Seventh Doctors porkpie hat.  “You’ve worn all of those?  IN PUBLIC?” asks Matthew, and the Doctor admits to wearing the coat and scarf together once, on a bet.  The rest of the issue is filled with running, as something strikes the TARDIS while the shields are down, and Ten and his partners have to find a console room so that they can keep the ship from destroying itself, or collapsing into e-space.  The Doctor ends up in a Gothic Room that I’m sure was part of the TARDIS in the 1990’s TV movie, Matthew finding a strange woman who wants to tell him how evil the Doctor is, and Emily facing death at the hands of mysterious aliens.  The art is first rate, capturing the rubber-faced expressions of David Tennant perfectly, and Tony Lee’s love (and knowledge of the ephemera) of the series is obvious on every page.  Two words: Reverse polarities!  5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★★

GL1.gifGreen Lantern #49:  So, there’s these space zombies?  And a guy who’s basically a space marine with an energy sniper rifle?  And then, finally, somebody goes back and explains the story of Driq, the Green Lantern who died but was continually animated by his ring.  Really…  It happened back in ’87, back when Green Lantern rings were considered too powerful.  Driq is mostly the catalyst for getting into John Stewart’s head, explaining a little bit more about the ‘stoic’ member of Earth’s four Lanterns, and deals with the return of not only his dead wife Katma Tui, but the entire planet Xanshi, whose death John caused back during Cosmic Odyssey.  After getting clear of the wave of mutilation, Green Lantern Stewart finds that Xanshi is on a collision course with Earth.  In a backup story that takes place right before Blackest Night #6, Mera and Ray Palmer are in the clutches of Black Lantern Jean Loring, and watch as a Batman-shaped Black Lantern captures the resurrected heroes and transforms them into Nekron’s pawns.  No one, sez Jean, is going to stop her.  “I guess I’m no one,” replies the watching Deadman, in a moment that I greatly like.  Ed Benes does a better than usual (at least in my mind) job with the art here, and John’s torment works for me, as he chooses to behave like a soldier and a grown-up and just deal.  It’s pretty much just backstory for Blackest Night, but it’s good backstory nonetheless.  Two words: Uh oh.  3.5 stars.

Rating: ★★★½☆

GT1.gifThe Great Ten #3 (of 10):  Thundermind!  Thundermind!  Does whatever a Thundermind…  would.  Err…  Nevermind.   China’s own Superman takes center stage here, and it’s interesting to see his origin and the unusual take that Thundermind has to heroics.  Since warriors claiming to be the Chinese gods of myth are attacking, the government has continued the communications blackout, but when Beijing comes under attack, mind-mannered school teacher Zou Kang speaks his mantra (“All Hail The Jewel In The Lotus!”) and transforms, battling Kuan Ti, erstwhile god of war.  He holds his own against the wannabe deity, but is knocked down.  August General In Iron and Most Accomplished Perfect Physician arrive just in time for the “war god” to hail his own victory, and crow about having an audience see him down the most powerful member of the Great Ten. After the battle, Zou Kang hurries to tell his coworker (What’s the Chinese equivalent of Lois Lane?  Xiao Xiang?) about Thundermind’s attack.  It’s a very cute moment, cementing Thundermind with all those silly Silver Age tales for me…  and that’s a good thing.  I really hope that we’ll see more of these characters in the DCU, and that they won’t go the way of the Global Guardians, the New Guardians, the Red Shadows, and all the other international heroes of days past.  Two words:  XXX XXX.  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

IH1.jpgIncredible Hercules #140:  Portents of the death of the Prince of Power have been all over the place in recent months, and it seems as though the fates want Amadeus Cho to take Hercules’ place.  The Brains/Brawn team have brought Zeus (de-aged to a 10 year old boy), Athena (turned to stone by a gorgon), as well as Avengers New and Mighty, to stop Hera from her plan to take over the universe by creating a new one and shunting all the good stuff into it.  Hephaestus part in the plan is revealed as he takes the stone form of Athena to cast a new robot girlfriend. (Raise you hand if ewww?)  Hercules and Amadeus are captured, and each would only be able to save the other by sacrificing himself.  Neither man nor boy hesitates, though, and by hitting the buttons simultaneously, they both get out free.  Hera is betrayed by one of her own, though, and things go pear-shaped in the end.  Worst of all, The Agents of Atlas (who have found their way to the same location, albeit a bit later) end up at the mercy of Aphrodite, who still hates Venus for the years that the syren spent using her (alternate) name.  Aphrodite’s presence causes some strange behavior (Namora loving Hercules, Jimmy loving Namora, Marvel Boy loving Venus) and things are probably about to get really bad.  As with Doom Patrol/Metal Men, the two stories complement one another, and anything with Agents of Atlas in it gets my vote.  Two words: Spiffo neato.  4.5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★½

JLA1.jpgJustice League of America #41:  The events of Blackest Night get a one page non-spoilery recap, and the events of Cry For Justice are completely spoilered in the first few pages of this issue, but this reveal does finally give Vixen a reason to leave this incarnation of the League.  Oddly enough, the nexus of this JLA revamp comes in the form of Donna Troy, as Wonder Woman convinces her of her greater duty.  At the same time, in the past, the Civil War fighter called Tomahawk runs into a mysterious artifact, while in the present, that same artifact cause Darwin Jones to be attacked by someone who looks like a Black Lantern Lightray.  (Didn’t Stephen say that the cover for next issue reminded him of Kirby tech?)  Donna recruits her old pals from the Titans to be the nexus of her League, with Doctor Light (and possibly Red Tornado) holding over from the last group, Guardian and Mon-El provide the Superman element, and Hal Jordan convinces Oliver Queen that he can’t go all “Longbow Hunters” just because his son was wounded in the line of duty.  That means the active roster seems to consist of Mon-El, Troia, Batman, Doctor Light, the Guardian, Cyborg, Starfire, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, with Congorilla and Starmanapparently in the wings, and Damian “Robin” Wayne claiming that if Bats is in, he’s in too.  Fix Red Tornado, and we’ve got 14 members.  Again.  The spoiler at the beginning bothers me, as well as the question of how Donna (who has never been in the League) gets to be in charge just because her sister was a founder.  Bagley’s art is a little rough in places, and this issue doesn’t quite gel for me.  Still, it’s a new lineup and a new team, so it may grow on me.  Two words: Guarded optimism.  1.5 stars.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

JSA2.gifJSA All-Stars #2:  Speaking of new teams, new lineups, and who has the right to lead what team where, there’s more Magog in this book than you can shake a stick at.  Johnny Sorrow has reassembled the Injustice Society’s last incarnation, all in the name of nabbing Stargirl away from the JSAers.  They manage to steal back Courtney, and we suddenly are treated to the location of Sandy Hawkins, having sat up for 22 days straight (apparently) dreaming a future in which Sorrow manages to awaken the King of Tears.  The Liberty Belle/Hourman backup story sets up a Nick and Nora mystery for the JSA’s super-couple, pitting them against Icicle and Tigress of the Injustice Society before all four find that they need each others’ help.  Rick does the investigative legwork, while Jesse kicks in her old speed powers, and we end with a lead that will take our twosome to Venice.  The backup tale works a lot better than the lead, as this whole “Who wants Stargirl?” blah blah blah has run it’s course and needs resolution quickly.  Magog is less annoying than last issue, but that’s a lot like saying that the nitric acid is slightly more palatable than the carbolic.  It’s still gonna burn up your guts and make you die…  just like Magog.  I guess.  The good part of all of this is that splitting the JSA into two teams has made it much easier to focus on some of the two and a half dozen team members that the team has had since relaunching…  Two words:  Less Magog.  2 stars.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

JSA1.gifJustice Society of America #35:  On the other side of the JSA isle, Doctor Fate is back, and he’s managed to free Mordru from his imprisonment in the amulet of Nabu.  It’s old-school Geoff Johns JSA week, as the future terror of the 30th century imprisons the Societors (is that even a word?) in their own little private hells, mental jail cells from which only Doc Fate can save them.  He does, of course, and Mr. Terrific has a wonderful moment where he outthinks both a Sphinx AND Mordru, leaving the sorceror hoist by his own magical petard.  Jay Garrick has some nice character work as well, but overall it feels like the team breakup was done in a less than balanced manner.  Seems that a couple of the All-Stars (notably Cyclone and Stargirl) would have been more likely to stay with this side of the team, and their presence could add some much needed youthifying to this books Justice Society of the Aged.  I’m still troubled by the return of a new Kent Nelson who is nearly exactly like the old Kent Nelson (something that I never cared for, even though it was my much-adored Steve Gerber who wrote that story) and I’d like to see something proactive and interesting for this JSA team.  Two words: Old School.  2.5 stars.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

MB1.gifMarvel Boy – The Uranian #1 (of 3):  Bob Grayson (no relation to the Batman) takes center stage in a book that I was pleasantly surprised to see Marvel even attempt to put out.  (The fact that it’s the third Agents of Atlas thing in this review didn’t hurt, either.)  The year is 1950, and a Uranian probe brings young Grayson to Earth, the planet of his birth, for the first time.  Arriving during the height of Communist paranoia doesn’t do much for the youth’s attitude, and Bob ends up becoming a controversial figure.  With a little help from a comic book publisher (Marvel Comics, you might remember, actually publishes in the Marvel Universe) he takes on a new name and attitude, calling himself Marvel Boy for the first time.  The issue also reprints the original 1950 issue that first brought this Marvel Boy to audiences.  Oddly enough, I once had a chance to buy Marvel Boy #1 for $20, but couldn’t bring myself to spring that much for a single comic book when the regular ones were 75 cents a pop.  More the fool, I…  1950’s comics don’t turn up all that much, for good reason.  I’m actually glad to see that someone is looking at what Bob Grayson’s original superhero status was, and trying to bridge the gap between 50’s and modern versions of Marvel Boy…  It’s an interesting start, and it’s a pleasant enough issue (if somewhat bland) with interior art that reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz (in a good way) and I’m interested to see where this all goes.  Two words: MORE AOA!  3 stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

No.gifNova #33:  S0ooo, Nova and Darkhawk have both gone out into space, and bad things have happened.  In the wake of War of Kings, though, they’ve been captured by the Sphinx, one of Nova’s oldest foes.  Plucked out of space and time, they are trapped in a strange time pocket wherein they meet Black Bolt (from before his death) and Mr. Fantastic (from a few years earlier than that.)  their latest discovery is Namorita, seemingly pulled from her early days in the New Warriors, a time when she and Rich were enjoying a flirty sort of relationship.  The heroes end up fighting a younger version of the Sphinx who wants to kill his older self, and are all trapped in a device that makes them imagine their greatest fantasies, taking them out of action.  Something about Darkhawk keeps him safe though, and Young Sphinx is forced to draw a group of villains (The Man-Wolf, Ulysses Bloodstone, Moonstone, Basilisk, and someone who looks like an evil Darkhawk) to counter the heroes.  It’s interesting that all of the villains is powered by a mystical stone, making me think that we’re going to see that their powers all stem from the Sphinx’s own magical Ka stone.  It’s a lovely bit of continuity, and Abnett and Lanning continue to impress, while the art on this issue (by Andrea Divito) is superb, easily making up for the squishy-headed mutant Nova on the cover.  Two words: Keep Namorita!  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Ph1.jpgPhantom Stranger #42:  Magic has gone through some changes lately in the DCU, and the possession of The Spectre by a Black Lantern ring doesn’t help matters that much.  Blue Devil and and the Stranger get involved, and barely survive before they dig up their own ace-in-the-hole:  Boston Brand, Deadman.  Boston’s own body has been reanimated by the alien rings, but Deadman himself is able to overpower his physical remains.  The Phantom Stranger helps him to fight off his corpse, save the mystical land of Nanda Parbat, and The Stranger remains his cryptic self.  It’s odd to remember, now that he’s the eternal guest-star, that the Phantom Stranger headlined his own comic TWICE for several months, and that he made the hippie amulet and fedora look work.  Ardian Syaf handled the art, and while he (she?) is no Jim Aparo, the images and clear and well handled, and some of the more difficult visuals (The Spectre trying to break free of his own possessed body) are surprisingly easy to understand.  This serves mostly as another behind-the-scenes look at Blackest Night, but as these kind of stories go, it’s pretty well-done, certainly better than some regular comics that keep churning out month after month…  I kind of wonder why the Phantom Stranger doesn’t have his own title anymore.  I’d love to see a James Robinson or a Neil Gaiman-penned Stranger ongoing with a universe-wide scale.  Two words: Awesome hat.  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Po1.gifPowers (Vol. 3) #2:  Not a lot of comics could get away with the main character sticking babies on spikes.  Welcome to Powers.  The shocking opener is revealed to be a dream/hallucination by Christian Walker’s girlfriend, who has been experiencing bleedover of Walker’s centuries of memories as a side-effect of either his powers, their epic sexual escapades, or (more likely) both.  Walker himself is embroiled in the murder investigation of a super known only as “Z,” a man whom Walker fought alongside in Dubya Dubya Two.  The investigation of the pawned Nazi memorabilia from last issue leads Christian and partner Enki Sunrise to Erika Bustamonte, the daughter of a mobbed-up rich feller, whose wife has apparently beeing seeing Z on the side.  Erika freaks out, screaming that she did what her dad couldn’t and tells her mother that she should have stopped sleeping with Z.  Suddenly, things look  a bit more complicated.  Brian Bendis is at his best here, with little moments (like Walker texting his girlfriend, who is still freaking out about the things she sees her lover doing in his past) sticking out more than the murder plot, and Michael Oeming giving a bravura lesson on how to draw something in a way that no one else can manager.  It’s good stuff, though the pacing is somewhat slower than previous Powers tales.  Two words: Mother $#&#er!  3 stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

SS1.gifSecret Six #17:   Catman fights the Bronze Tiger.  There, I’ve told you why you need to buy this book.  Set against a backdrop of the madness of Blackest Night, this issue continues right where Suicide Squad #61 (I think) left off last month.  The active members of the Six are in battle against Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad, while Scandal is left at home to face Waller herself, and Amanda seems ready to burn down the House of Secrets to get her.  Nightshade and Bane fight (although he asks her “Hitting me?  Is that was that was supposed to be?”) Black Alice takes down most of the opposition, and Catman and Tiger’s battle ends up with both men unconscious in pools of blood.  The risen dead criminals who died on Suicide Squad missions are rising, though, and it looks by the end like the Six and the Squad might need to actually come together and work as a unit in order for anybody to survive the battle.  Ten bucks says that Deadshot shoots Rick Flag again.  (And isn’t this a CLONE of the original Rick Flag, per the Suicide Squad limited last year?  I’m confused…)  It’s good to see Jim Calafiore (I remember him from Exiles) working his unique and angular style again, and Gail Simone teams with classic Squad scribe John Ostrander to give us team members on both sides acting just like they should.  Even though the crossover is suppressing the usual “Dirty Dozen With Bigger Guns” vibe of the book, Secret Six continues to impress.  Two words: Shoot Amanda!  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Sp1.gifSpider-Woman, Agent of  S.W.O.R.D. #4:  Here’s a problem that I have with Marvel right now.  For years, The Viper has worn her hair over one side of her face to hide the scarring on that side.  Ever since Bendis started using her a few years ago, she has appeared (as on this issue’s cover) unscarred.  This is a minor thing, yes, but much like the use of relatively powerful villains as part of the Hood’s army in New Avengers, it could have been explained with a simple line of dialogue, if anybody chose to actually address it, or if anybody REALIZED it.  Viper allows Spider-Woman to meet a real Skrull, and he first mistakes Spider-Woman for his queen.  By the time he realizes his mistake, he’s barely able to wake up in time to get his butt kicked by the red-clad Avenger.  She breaks away from the Viper and ends up jumping off a building a second too soon to remember that she can’t fly.  As much as I want to love this series (and as much as I do kind of like Maleev’s art) the book is just too drab and predictable for me to really get fully into the events of the stories.  Spider-Woman’s characterization is kind of one-dimensional, focused on her time as a prisoner of galactic war, and she has spent all the issues of the book so far on the run from various and sundry unpleasant types.  As much as I loved her resurrection in Avengers, I’m afraid that retconning all her new appearances as having been a shape-shifting villain has killed the characters momentum, no matter how wonderful her hair and costume are.  Two words: Bad idea.  1 star.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

St1.gifStarman #81:  The immortal metahuman known as the Shade takes center stage here, with an issue that is Starman in name only.  It would be more honest to call this “Starman’s Supporting Cast #81,” as The Shade and Hope O’Dare are forced to work together to stop the rampage of Jack Knight’s dead big brother David, AKA Starman V.  Shade and Hope are also in the midst of a relationship, though she seems decidedly more casual about it than poor Dickie Swift and his shadow powers.  Opal City makes a resurgance here, as well, and mention is made how all the cities protectors after Jack (Elongated Man, Black Condor, and more) have died horribly in the last couple of years.  It’s an interesting point, and one that seems pointedly aimed at those who use death as a plot device to try and clear the decks of characters with which they don’t know what to do.  Naturally, the Shade saves the day, and we end things with Hope explaining that she “doesn’t NOT love him.”  Heh.  I like that moment, as it reminds me what James Robinson does well: the little character moments that make these lines on paper live and breathe.  I hope that he can get it together and catch a little lightning in the bottle that is his JLA run.  When he’s on his game, even the strangest characters (witness Jake Benetti and The Shade himself) come across as hero material.  Hell, putting a gorilla in gives him the benefit of the doubt, actually.  Two words: Victorian awesome.  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Sw1.gifS.W.O.R.D. #3:  Once again, I am faced with the unpleasant revelation that my book is a ‘lame duck,’ as this title will be ending soon, according to the writer.  Monica Brand has been captured by her own agency, under the conrol of Henry Peter Gyrich, and is about to be extradited as a alien.  Henry McCoy (who has gone past Ape-Beast and Cat-Beast to, apparently, Aardvark-Beast form) turns to the same counsel that allowed Gyrich to ascend in the first place, the mysterious robot called Unit.  Kept in stasis in S.W.O.R.D. HQ, the Unit is revealed this issue to be the vanguard of an invasion force, but still helps the Beast for a moment before betraying him to Gyrich.  Abigail and McCoy escape with an assist from Death’s Head (who has been hanging about since last issue for some reason) and are about to get help when information comes through that a group of innocent alien “metroliths” has landed in America.  Realizing that the ever present Norm-O will kill them, Abby and Hank turn back and head right into battle to save the innocent creatures.  “Abigail Brand… Will you marry me?” asks the Beast as his girl does the heroic thing.  It’s all very pacey and quick, and Lockheed’s battle with the agents of S.W.O.R.D. cements his position as badass, possibly the most badass character to ever hang out in the X-Mansion.  Two words: Kinda cancelled.  3 stars.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

TB1.gifThunderbolts #140:  So, bad things have been happening involving the Thunderbolts, as their numbers keep getting smaller and smaller, and the remaining agents more and more insane and unpleasant.  After engaging the Agents of Atlas last issue, the team is pretty scattered, with Scourge gutting Marvel Boy, and The Grizzly fighting off an angry Gorilla-Man.  Venus turns the tide of battle when she sees the injured Uranian, crying out in anguish, and literally dropping all of the T-bolts in their tracks.  We find out a great deal about the past life of the Headsman, some psychological profiling on Mr. X, and the worst nightmare of Scourge before the Ghost phases through M-11 The Human Robot.  Marvel Boy manages to implant a hypnotic suggestion in Scourge’s mind to shoot Norman Osborn when he sees him next, and the Agents successfully retreat.  The ‘Bolts return to their own ship to lick their wounds, and are dispatched by Osborn to Oklahoma to help fight the Asgardians.  As soon as he sees the hologram of  Osborn, Scourge shoots it, and ends up putting a bullet in the Headsman’s brain, leaving the team to stand in horror as they are dispatched for the mission that will certainly kill them all.  Thunderbolts has been a roller-coaster ride lately, and when it’s at it’s best (like this issue) it’s the same sort of fun that makes me like Secret Six: unpleasant people in unpleasant situations.  Two words: Osborn sucks.  2.5 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

WW1.gifWonder Woman #39:  The madman behind all the recent unpleasantness comes forward again, as Ares sets his final plan in motion.  While Wonder Woman fights, the Amazons and Olympians also clash, leading to Achilles getting speared through the chest by Alkyone of the Amazons.  “Did you actually BELIEVE I would allow Amazons to be ruled by men?” she asks.  It’s a good point.  Princess Diana is forced to battle the Cotta, the creature whose lair held the magic clay that Hippylyta used to create Wonder Woman herself.  Hippolyta, Donna Troy, Artemis and Wonder Woman’s ape-knights arrives just in time to turn the tide, and Diana reclaims her bracers from her captors to find that she now has an extra power: the ability to call down the lightning by clashin them together.  Achilles survives his torment, and the Amazons make piece with him, and Diana sends Zeus on his merry way.  The story ends with the eerie sight of Ares carrying off the children of the Amazons for whatever evil goals he may have in mind.  It’s a nice ending to a seemingly interminable arc of this book, and I’m hoping that the next one is more succinct.  Still, this is the most successful WW issue in a while, giving her a solid win, some new powers, and even setting her off onto a path to Blackest Night.  I believe that Nicola Scott will be joining the Wonder Woman team, if only temporarily, and I’m looking forward to that as well, not that Aaron Lopresti has been any slouch.  If only for finally bringing this arc to a close, I am extremely fond of this issue.  Two words: Genocide?  Bleah.  3.5 stars.

Rating: ★★★½☆

XF1.gifX-Factor #200:  The biggest surprise of my comic-buying month, X-Factor not only returned to my good graces, it returned to my pull list this issue, as Madrox and his team take on a case from Valeria and Franklin Richards to find their missing mother.  Teresa Cassidy has an ephiphany about her actions, buries her daddy, thinks about taking on his name and deals with her grief with some help from a friendly (and very familiar) vacationing member of the clergy.  M’s father is kidnapped, Guido faces down The Thing, Shatterstar quotes ‘Gladiator’, Longshot has a hangover, and Madrox learns the dictionary definition of irony.  (I personally blame Alanis Morissette.)  The issue ends with the revelation that the Invisible Woman has ended up in a very familiar chunk of Europe, and that a known associate of the X-Factor team may already be there.  Also, it turns out that the bratwurst is just to die for…  I was surprised to find how much I liked this issue, having phased the book out several months ago, but the combination of great character work (particularly on Shatterstar, with his new beau and his awesome battle with one of the biggest names in the Marvel U) and some pretty art (Bing Cansino is a new name for me, but one I’ll be looking for in coming months) brought me back in.  It’s always wonderful to wonder what the hell is going on in a GOOD way…  Two words: Big comeback.  4 stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall, though, it hasn’t been a bad January for me, with many books reminding me why I’m onboard in the first place, with the Agents of Atlas everywhere at once, a couple of surprises from old faves, and even a rare 5 star Matthew review on board.  Not a bad setup, and overall, our composite score ends of being 3.2777 (if my math is correct) rounding up to 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Could have been much worse, wouldn’ t you say?

Rating: ★★★½☆