Here’s a smattering a trades and some other reviews for
your reading pleasure.

For those of you who still read monthly comics and enjoy
the occassional small press or indie book, be sure to check out the
warrior-scribes’ expanded comic book review site RACK RAIDS at www.rackraids.com.

Elgin Carver:

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor0.jpgAll-Star Superman #6 (DC Comics)

Before the Watchmen, or
Miracleman, or the Dark Knight comic book heroes were not personified by their
faults nor their foibles. Their struggles with their manias were not central to
the stories and their darkest natures were not something they fought with on a
daily basis. There was even a time before Spiderman and the Fantastic Four when
the daily challenges of life did not determine how lead characters comported
themselves in public and we knew little of our their private lives.

These changes give a texture to today’s tales, bring complexity to the plots,
allow a more adult outlook to how characters may react to a given situation,
and often redefine how readers approach stories. These changes also removed a
lot of the fun in any given book and made almost every person involved less
admirable. While not the driving cause behind the phenomenon, much of this
period also involves the continual and relentless diminution of the audience
for comic books. A reduction that, were it not for the additional finances made
available to the publishers from movies and other licensing goods, would have already
pushed the medium to the point of no return. Comics cannot exist without
sufficient audience, and audience cannot grow in a medium perceived as designed
for children, if children have no way to be introduced. Are there regular fans
who did not read comics as a child? If so, they are few and far between.

Whether or not this situation
is the motivating force behind this series is less important than the fact that
here the first superhero is being re-worked and re-explained as he first was.
Pure in spirit and intent, in stories that can be enjoyed by all ages,
Superman, those people he always associated with, and some not so common, are
given new life in an old form. Without guile and with manifest good intent,
Superman goes about his daily business saving the world and with subtle
reworking and flashbacks, the new reader quickly is brought to know all the
basics of who, what, when, how, and why. Grant Morrison has every reason to be
happy with his writing and Frank Quitely has created images that are
practically definitive. Their portion of this title’s existence should last for
at least another six issues, and hopefully for many more.

If you haven’t read this series, if you haven’t read Superman titles in a
while, if you know kids that are candidates for entry into fandom, if you are
tired of troubled and angst ridden people who should be a lot happier with
their lot in life, if you want clear stories and images that deliver what we
all imagine in our minds we would be like should the power descend to us, then
this book is for you. A hardback compilation of the story thus far is expected
shortly, and back issues should be readily available. Pick up one or the other because
plain, clear fun has returned to comics.


http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor01.jpgThe Incredible Hulk #102 (Marvel)

One of the great inventions
from the Marvel House Of Ideas was the Hulk. An animated force of nature, man
at his darkest and brightest, he moved across the continent in adversity.
Everyone that knows comics, knows the Hulk and needs no more introduction. Some
decades ago he was moved to a micro world for no apparent purpose and with even
less interest by the readers. For far too many issues now he has been on a
distant planet, fighting aliens for whom no reader could possibly care, about
what even the combatants cannot fathom.

If the writers and publisher has no more
to say about the Hulk, please just draw a curtain over the title and let it die
with dignity.


Jeb Del:

Seven Sons (AIT/Planet Lar)

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor7.jpgI don’t mean to damn with faint praise when I say that the
most interesting part of this charming book might be the text feature in the

That’s not to say that writer Alexander Grecian and artist
Riley Rossmo haven’t crafted a fine comic: they’ve taken the well-known tale of
seven Chinese brothers and translated it to the American West. But part of what
makes Seven Sons work as well as it does is the foundation of research
laid out in the fascinating appendix, tracing the various versions and
transformation the story has undergone through the years: it’s an exemplary bit
of folkways study.

The book follows the familiar storyline of identical Chinese
brothers, each possessed of a unique (and highly specific) power. When the
first brother tries to aid some local children with his ability to hold the
contents of a river in his mouth, tragedy strikes—in this case, not just
children, but family members, as well (diverging from most previous versions).
The balance of the story continues the traditional sequence of events, as a
series of punishments is meted out to what the townspeople assume to be just
one man, but actually faced by a succession of the identical brothers, each of
whose powers is uniquely suited to withstand the fate in question. There’s more
to the story than the simple retelling, though, as it takes some unique and
interesting twists on its way to a bittersweet conclusion (there’s a reason why
the book is titled Seven “Sons”, rather than the more conventional “Brothers”).

The juxtaposition of East and West is not “Kung Fu The
Comic,” though: there’s no mingling of martial arts with gunslinging. Instead
of high-kicking action, there’s a sense of Greek tragedy that’s closer to
“Deadwood” than “Kung Fu”. Like many folk tales that become children’s stories,
the tale of the Chinese brothers has a primal simplicity about it, that can be
restrictive if not approached with imagination. That’s not a problem here.

My one quibble with Grecian’s approach (which he acknowledges
in the appendix) might be the attempt to layer it with lessons about race.
While it’s quite true that the brothers are Chinese in a mostly-white
environment, the misunderstanding that fuels the story has the death of
innocents at its heart, and could play out just as grimly with an all-white
cast in this particular setting. And while the white characters could be
condemned for thinking that “all Chinese look alike” (this being the way the
brothers evade execution), the fact that they never see more than one of the
identical septuplets, and have no idea that there even is more than one, tends
to undercut that point.

There is a nicely rough texture to Rossmo’s linework. The
American West is often portrayed in comics with the perpetual “big country”
vistas of a Cinemascope film—in this case, we’re looking at internal landscapes
more than external ones, and the look is more that of delicate Chinese
calligraphy than grand Frederic Remington oils.

A tale becomes oft-told because it has the elements to be
re-told well. That’s very much the case with Seven Sons.


Sean Fahey:

Raided: Justice
Society of America #1
(DC Comics)

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor4.jpgThis is probably the last thing you want to hear from a
reviewer, but I can’t decide whether I like this comic or not. Many of the qualities I find appealing about
this relaunch of the superhero team book JSA
are also the same qualities that I find troublesome. On the one hand, I appreciate that this comic
has carved out its own philosophical niche – the Justice Society is about
family, not necessarily saving the world day in and out (ala the Justice League)
but rather honoring the legacy of the past and preparing the next generation of
superheroes. Right on! But the promise of that philosophy is better
than the execution, especially when the next generation of heroes is kinda
lame. The original Atom’s son, Damage,
who looks and acts like a WWE reject. A
new Starman who is so batshit that he mumbles on and on about Sloppy Joes. Ma Hunkel’s socially inept (one would almost
say socially retarded) granddaughter. I
get what series writer Geoff Johns is doing with these characters – they
clearly need the guidance of the older heroes, and that’s what this book is
about. But these new characters and
their issues are either clichéd or so “out there” that it’s hard to relate to
them, feel sympathetic to their over-the-top problems, or even care what
happens to them. Something a little more
grounded would be much more relatable and easier to get behind (which is why
I’m holding out hope for the fourth – surprise – new member of the cast). Still, Johns sends a clear signal in this
inaugural issue that the Justice Society
of America
will embrace the same philosophy and principles that helped the JSA become not just another “team
book.” I’m in wait-and-see mode. – Sean


Graig Kent:

Iron Man: Armor Wars tpb (Marvel Comics)

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor1.jpgI’m always surprised whenever I pick up a collected edition
of a pre-1990’s story, particularly anything from Marvel, and I can actually
enjoy it without irony and without regularly wincing. All too often I find that, until the
grim-n-gritty era started to ramp up, most Marvel Universe titles stuck to that
“Marvel Style of Writing” wherein plot begets art which begets dialogue, and
the script is often rife with overwrought thought balloons and unnecessary
exposition. DC wasn’t exempt from this
either, but with a roster of talent like Moore, Giffen, DeMatteis, Gaiman, and
Morrison in the ‘80’s, they managed to escape those trappings a lot sooner.

Though it doesn’t fully avoid the thought balloon or that
Marvel-specific narrative tendency to address the reader directly, true
believer, Iron Man: Armor Wars
actually uses these hokey tricks to its advantage in most cases. In a time where every issue was meant to
allow new readers on board, there’s much exposition to start off each chapter
and the narration and brain bubbles expedite the process. The story as well is largely an internal
struggle and invading the thoughts of Tony Stark is a necessity.

The core plot is deviously simple: turns out some of Stark’s
Iron Man technology was stolen and redistributed to super criminals and
governments alike. Upon discovering
this, Tony feels the weight of thousands of deaths and criminal deeds on his
conscience and sets out to prevent his technology from doing any further harm. This means he goes up against a wealth of
techno-suited bad guys, and, in more than one instance, good guys in attempts
to destroy their armor.

His actions cast him in a dim public view, and his teammates on the Avengers
can’t help but question him. Of interest
to Civil War readers, Tony and
Captain America
butt heads here for the first time. In
fact, the Armor Wars is a nice (and
in many respects, superior) precursor to Civil
in showcasing Tony Stark’s determination when he sets his mind to something. Pig headed is one way to describe him,
capital “A” A-hole is another. In my few
encounters with the characters, I’ve found Stark to be fascinating, but
supremely unlikable, and here he’s treading the line, being sympathetic to a
degree, but still not heroic.

The book factors in some nice touches, including a lot of
business related issues, as well as the legalities behind his Iron Man
technology and corporate vs. government intrigue. It is an ‘80’s book, so it doesn’t tackle
them with any great depth, but they are background elements which elevate the
maturity level of the story even further.
Bob Layton and David Michelinie are credited with story and script,
while M.D. Bright does layouts with Layton
on finishes. It’s standard illustration
for the era, nothing special but certainly tells the story exactly as it needs
to be told. Of note though, is the
horrendous cover design of a cut-out figure on a gradient backdrop which Marvel
seems to be replicating with many of its 80’s era reprints. Seriously, it’s damn ugly. The legendary Barry Windsor-Smith provides a
beautifully written and drawn epilogue to the story, a wondrous dreamscape that
explores Stark’s inner demons, but unfortunately a too-pat “everything will be
back to normal next issue” conclusion.

Armor Wars
collects Iron Man #225 through 232,
published in 1987/88 under the groan-inducing pun of “Stark Wars”. The series was originally collected in 1990,
but has been out of print since. Though
I am hardly what one would call a “fan” of the character, I couldn’t help but
pick up the book when it was released this past week. A friend of mine has been fervently hunting
for the 1990 trade for years, enlisting myself and other in the search, and I
suppose in his excitement there has been some transference, and the trade
became a must-buy for myself as well.
After reading, I can see what he enjoyed so much and why the though of
it remained with him so long. Stuck in
the ‘80’s in tone, storytelling, illustration and execution (Tony Stark looks
kind of like John Oates), it’s a full-on reflection of the era, but in a
positive way, like Magnum P.I. or The Cosby Show.


The Outsiders Vol. 5: The Good Fight (DC Comics)

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor2.jpgThere’s something… not quite right about The Outsiders one year later (that’s
one year after Infinite Crisis,
iffin’ ya didn’t know). Although hardly
one of high prestige, the book, written by Judd Winick, had been solidly
enjoyable and highly entertaining previous to the time jump. Launched concurrently with the latest
iteration of Teen Titans, The Outsiders is intended to be the yin
to Titans’ yang, less focused on
family and reactive super-heroics, and more interested in proactive ass
kicking… taking the fight to the bad guys before they can even get started.

Even though, really, not much has changed in terms of the
purpose of the book and the team, The
, in this volume, reads differently. It’s as if Winick was thrown for a loop by
the one-year time shift, and he no longer knows his characters, their relationship
to each other, nor their place in the DCU.

This fifth collection of Winick’s run begins with Anissa
Pierce (daughter of Black Lightning, Jefferson Pierce), aka Thunder, working
deep undercover in the inner circle of a dictatorship in the fictional African
country of Mali. The opening chapter is
pretty heady stuff, dealing with the bitter truth of how similar dictatorships
operate. It’s unfortunate, then, that
what follows is brightly colored costumed theatrics which only devalue the true
plight of the region. Yes, I understand
it’s a comic book, but there’s no point in going into such depths to educate on
the severity of the situations that exist in the region, and then undermine it
with bright and fantastical fictions leading to oversimplified and unrealistic

What follows the opening salvo awkwardly leads to the second
storyline (and, in a sense, ignoring the situation of the opening chapter,
leaving it to be resolved with a two-panel aside) wherein Pinky… erm… Monsieur
Mallah and the Brain become the Outsiders new targets. Holed up in an abandoned nuclear power
factory in Russia,
the monkey and the brain have been tampering with superhuman DNA collected from
various super-battles, and creating imperfect, mindless clones tailored to
their customer’s needs and fortunes.
This storyline is more satisfying than the first, although the romantic
relationship between Mallah and the Brain is… unsettling.

Though still high-impact and a flurry of action, what
hinders The Outsiders the most is the inconsistency of the characters. Though Captain Boomerang is a relatively new
and untapped character, Nightwing, Grace, Thunder, Katana, and Metamorpho are
all well established, many in this title and most throughout the DCU. Nightwing is completely out of character
here, more Batman-like which is against the character, ignoring Nightwing’s
current status in his own moribund title and even his time during 52. Metamorpho has re-absorbed Shift, and yet is
being drawn like Shift, and acts more like Shift than Rex Mason, which is
confusing. Winik has lost control of
both Grace and Thunder, original creations of his for this series, completely
losing grasp on both their voices, and by linking them romantically has not
only deviated from their history but seems sensationalistic rather than organic
character developments.

All that said I still found myself entertained. I really like these characters and their
powers and hope that Winik can recapture his understanding of them. Their escapades can still be madcap or gritty
but follow-through on the stories is in order. The art by Matthew Clark, Ron
Randall, Art Thibert, Pop Mhan and crew is excellent, and does manage to offset
some of the difficulties I have (making the pictures pretty does lead to some salvation). I can’t fully endorse it, but I’ve certainly
read much worse.


Crisis Aftermath: Battle
For Bludhaven TPB (DC Comics)

http://chud.com/nextraimages/jan9thor3.jpgI won’t go on and on about the Battle for Bludhaven because it doesn’t deserve it. The book is a steaming pile and is best left
ignored. The concept, full of
possibilities, fails completely in execution, and it’s a great shock to anyone
who’s read some of the recent work of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey. They’re doing fabulous things on Jonah Hex, and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters is doing everything Civil War has promised but has fallen
flat on.

During the events of the latest Crisis, the entity known as Chemo was dropped upon the city of Bludhaven, killing
thousands and making the city an unlivable disaster zone. In the wake of this terrorist attack, walls
have been erected and military police have been placed to keep people out, but
a radioactive source has been located in the midst of town and the curiosity is
overwhelming. No less than four organizations
have infiltrated the walls in search of the entity, including the new Force of
July, the Atomic Knights, the Nuclear Family, and the Teen Titans. As the story progresses, some characters drop
out, but more and more come in, including Green Lantern, the Palmiotti/Grey
creation the Monolith, and the characters that will be spun out into The Freedom Fighters (don’t let that
entice you to read this though). The
ultimate reveal of the energy source is a surprise, fitting in continuity as
well, and yet handled so terribly that it’s actually a further detriment to the

There is altogether too much going on in this book to make
for entertaining reading. With, at
times, up to 30 characters appearing at once – some for the first time, others
so obscure you’ll need your Who’s Who
to refresh your memory – there’s no room for characterization, and little
understanding of character motivations.
The dialogue is serviceable, but every character reads the same, with
lines that could be interchanged between any of the players. Dan Jurgens and Jimmy Palmiotti handle the
art chores, but it’s a pretty poor match.
Jurgens’ ability to draw distinctive characters is limited, as is his ability
to render dynamic action sequences, so not only is the book a challenge to read
text-wise but it’s boring to look at too.
In all, it’s a complete failure with little redeeming value save for
being blog-fodder for the Dave’s
Long Boxes
and Chris’
Invincible Super-Blogs
of the world.


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