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Project 52, Week Five: Comparing notes on Justice League Dark

And so we find ourselves at the end of our little adventure at last. Five weeks, four gentlemen of the blogosphere, 52 comics. Somehow, we reviewed ’em all. So, to celebrate, let’s finish off with a double review: Alex vs Bret on… Justice League Dark #1 Written by Peter MilliganArt by Mikel Janin Bret’s Review: You know that feeling you get? When you’re surrounded by cool people talking about cool things and you don’t have any idea what’s being said but you know you’d better keep damn quiet and pray you don’t get asked a question, because you know full well if you open your mouth you’ll sound like a fool? [deep breath after long sentence] …That’s the feeling I got from Justice League Dark. I feel like this comic was better than good but I honestly don’t know why. I’ll start with the bits I fully understood. The Justice League, after having investigated some kooky goings on, have narrowed down their suspects to the Enchantress who then swiftly defeats them with magic. Against Batman’s will, Zatanna decides magic is her thing and so steps up to deal with the threat. That’s all we see of that side of the story and it’s only 6 pages worth. The rest of the time is spent introducing this new other team who I should imagine will join forces to defeat the foe which the Justice League could not. HOWEVER! I don’t know who most of these new guys are. DC have taken a stance of “our characters are so bad ass they don’t need introducing” and normally I’d have a problem with that but here I get the feeling that it’s my fault I don’t know who anyone is! As I know characters such as Deadman, Shade the Changing Man and John Constantine have all had their own solo titles I feel like DC have essentially put all these guys together in one book. And the nerd part of me that was obsessed with collecting all 150 Pokemon LOVES the fact that they’re doing that. It’s what I loved about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics. But here I don’t know who anyone is (except for John Constantine who I now know is a 100% English stereotype, complete with use of the words “geezer”, “bloody” and “bollocks”) Did any of this make the book less fun for me? No. I actually really liked it. The scene with the June Moons on the motorway really made me sit up and pay attention. The characters first appearances were handled nicely as well. Even though they didn’t give a full explanation as to who everyone was or what they could do, I got the sense that it was deliberate which I’m okay with as long as it suits the story. It’s got some great art work to boot and every scene has some stunning backgrounds. Overall, it was a very good book, let down only by the fact that it had so much content that it couldn’t fit an entire story into its first issue. There have been worse comic crimes by far. Rating: B- Alex’s Review: I guess it’s probably a sign of just how many comics I’ve read of this New 52, but everything is beginning to meld into one. It happened with The Dark Knight, and now it’s happening with this. Odd bits and pieces of it reminded me of other issues, but I couldn’t tell which ones, exactly. Justice League Dark is basically equal parts Demon Knights and Swamp Thing. Bad global things are afoot, outside of the standard Justice League jurisdiction. Bad magical things. And so a collection of weird, magicky characters – drawn largely from the Vertigo stable – have to team up and sort it all out. Most of whom get the spotlight for a page or two, which establishes them nicely. And… that’s about it really. All the pieces are set (more than Justice League #1, but less than Animal Man #1, for anyone playing along at home). There are a few nice ideas, especially in how the magic threats manifest themselves, that feel more neatly integrated than Demon Knights’ ever did. The proper Justice League (the one we haven’t seen come together yet, back in the actual Justice League title) fail to fight off a swarm of rotting teeth in a series of panels that heavily recall Swamp Thing’s horror scenes… This is the last comic I’m reviewing for Project 52, and it’s late at night and I’m tired. All of these might explain why everything feels so amorphous, so melted into one. But it’s started to happen, and while Justice League Dark is a good comic, it’s unmistakably a victim of this. There’s nothing – except Janin’s Irving-esque digital art – that makes it stand clearly out from the rest of the fantasy/horror-tinted titles I’ve read. It doesn’t help that two of its characters are shared with other titles – DC Universe Presents’ Deadman, Demon Knights’ Madame Xanadu… Already, to gather material for this review, I’m flicking repeatedly back through it. Already I can feel the onset of: Now, which one was it? With all the creepy stuff… The one with the green dude? Maybe? No? I’m absolutely sure it had Superman in it… Rating: B- This has been Project 52. Thank you, and good night.

Project 52, Week Five (Teen Titans/Hawkman/Dark Knight/Firestorm/Superman)

And so we near the final curtain. Reviews #47-51 of Project 52 include the new rather garish-looking Teen Titans, Tim taking a look at the relaunch’s two most ridiculously named titles, and close on the title that Imogen “Smallville-fancier” Dale said was the only one she’d be interested in reading about – Superman #1. Teen Titans #1Written by Scott LobdellArt by Brett BoothReviewed by Bret The first word in the comic summed it up for me. “Meh”. It was okay, Teen Titans didn’t do anything wrong, it was just very average. I think Teen Titans is probably feeling the wrath I’ve been building up whilst reading a lot of DC’s new 52 because SO MANY of them commit the same crime. And it’s not a big crime, but when you add all those little crimes from all the separate stories it starts to become like Kid Flash’s middle name. A problem. See, on the cover of Teen Titans #1 there are quite clearly seven characters. How many do we meet in issue 1? Four. One of whom is only on the last page as what I feel is a desperate attempt to say “look! We do have more coming next issue! Spend money here again!”. But I’m sorry, that attitude isn’t good enough if you’re going to relaunch all your major titles purely because someone like me, who is reading A LOT OF THEM, is going to pick and choose the best of the bunch and go back and buy those and ONLY those. That means you can’t hint that the good stuff in your comic is coming later, you need to show the good stuff NOW because you are in competition with all the other new comics and I can’t afford to continue to read them all. SO! That’s what let Teen Titans down. We get a good explanation as to who Red Robin is, a bit of an explanation as to who Kid Flash is and less again for Wonder Girl, who made it quite clear that her name isn’t actually Wonder Girl… but never told us what it really was. So like it or lump it sister, you’re now getting called “Wonder Girl” from here on out. The art was nice and really did of good job of the action sequences which in turn helped to avoid large blocks of text when introducing characters. But again, quite frankly it’s not enough to make up for the lack of plot. Don’t get me wrong a lot happens but I feel like I just watched the first half hour of Mission: Impossible and then had Tom Cruise turn to me and ask what I thought. As Ramona said to Scott, it’ll sound great when it’s finished. Overall, as what feels to me like a work in progress I honestly don’t feel I can rate this comic. I’m sure it’ll be much better once it gets underway BUT they chose not to do that so I’m stuck giving Teen Titans a C. It’s a shame, because I’m sure there’s a great story that could have been told in 20 pages, but as I won’t be coming back I guess I’ll never get to read it. Rating: C The Savage Hawkman #1Written by Tony S. DanielArt by Philip TanReviewed by Tim Hawkman, like Aquaman, is one of the B-list DC heroes who stood to benefit greatly from the relaunch. While semi-recognisable to the vaguely-comics-aware public, he suffered from slightly goofy powers, a horrendously complicated origin and backstory, and a terrible costume. While Aquaman addressed the preconceptions that people may have had about the character and simplified the origin to the essential core, The Savage Hawkman instead adds a new layer onto the character and complicates his mythology even further. And while Aquaman’s costume remains about as bad as it always was, Hawkman’s has got even worse. The issue starts engagingly, with Carter Hall dragging the Hawkman armour out to the woods to bury it, and once and for all say goodbye to life as a hero. Needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned, and he finds himself with new armour that appears from underneath his skin (how very Iron Man) and fighting an ancient alien symbiote thing (how very Venom). It’s a decent enough gimmick to make the character feel a bit more relevant and able to compete with the other heavy-hitters of the DC universe, but a relaunch should be about stripping a character back to their core and finding what works, not piling new information on. To writer Tony S. Daniel’s credit, we’re not made to feel like we have to know much of Hawkman’s background, but by making his “Nth Metal” armour such a key component of the story, you’re already saddling us with assumed knowledge. The art by Philip Tan is gorgeous, with a painterly style that matches the tone of the comic very well, lending it an old-school adventure feel that works with the idea of Carter Hall as a heroic, Indiana Jones-style archaeologist, and Tan even manages to make Hawkman’s armour seem threatening and aesthetically pleasing. However, the costume, like the comic itself, has taken something that more or less functioned and rather than explore what actually worked, has decided to instead just add a load of extra stuff on top (A shield that’s a claw! And his axe should also be a mace! More spikes! More explosions!) And Morphicius is a terrible name for a villain. He sounds like a subspecies of climbing shrub. Rating: B- Batman – The Dark Knight#1Written by David Finch & Paul JenkinsArt by David FinchReviewed by AlexDid you read last week’s Batman #1, as reviewed by the eternally handsome Michael Eckett? If so, I can save you $2.99, right here and now. Loosen the staples holding that issue together, switch the pages around a bit and you’ve pretty much got Batman: Dark Knight #1. That’s not exactly a criticism, but… Look, both comics open with captions of Batman […]

Project 52, Week Five (Voodoo/Aquaman/i, Vampire/All-Star Western/Blackhawks/Flash)

Part two of this, the final week of Project 52’s reviews of every single #1 in the DC’s New 52 initiative, brings our most surprisingly positive review yet, an angry inner dialogue on sexual politics, and what Bret has been teasing on Twitter as a “430 word bitch slap” straight to the face of the Fastest Man Alive. Voodoo #1Written by Ron MarzArt by Sami BasriReviewed by Alex Immediately before reading this comic, I did something potentially rather silly. After last week’s apparently rather pervy selection of comics, I read Laura Hudson’s piece on Catwoman and Starfire’s apparent ‘liberated sexuality’. It was a well considered, satisfying read which filled me with exactly the right type of righteous indignation. Then I did something much, much sillier: I read the comments. To quote one choice example: “Sorry PC Police!!! – The Perverts & Fan Boys are taking Back comics!! – just like in Video Games & Japanese Anime – You’re sorry ass Gender blurring B.S. doesn’t sell. NO One wants your Close-Minded “world view” and twisted social gender role restructuring. DC wants to get NEW readers and by New they mean one’s that are “Normal” and don’t hate Sex” So when I opened Voodoo, and was greeted by the sight of our heroine on all fours, displaying her cleavage to the reader, surrounded by dollar bills, I … it didn’t make me feel good about humanity. It turns out this ‘Voodoo’ (apparently DC’s first black female to get her own ongoing series) is a stripper with a mysterious past. And so it is that we’re treated to a page of her dancing and posing in her pants, before cutting away to the comic’s actual characters: two government agents – one woman, one man – watching the show. It is at this exact point that my mind splits in two. Alex #1 [reading page three]: Ah, okay. I see what they’re doing here: the guy’s not being played sympathetically. He’s got big reflective shades on. I’ve done enough Film Studies to know my audience metaphors: the shades hide his eyes, the way a screen or page removes us from the reality of pornography. He’s the Male Gaze, and he is not an attractive prospect. Alex #2: But what exactly is it that’s being reflected in those shades? A woman stripping, in comics’ classic far-as-we-can-go-without-being-softcore cheesecake fashion. And [page four] here’s a waitress encouraging him, also with a big rack and a top we can conveniently see down in every single panel. Alex #1 [page six]: Ah. Um… Hang on! Here’s the ballsy female agent. The one that straight up told the pervy audience metaphor he was a jackass and stormed out. And look! Her non-stripper presence has irked some underage gentlemen trying to get eyes-on with their first pair of titties. These men are definitely not sympathetic. They called her ‘lady’… Alex #2: …and then immediately accuse her of either “looking to party” or being a lesbian. Alex #1: Exactly! Unsympathetic! They’re That Guy from the comments thread. And [page eight] she just knocked them all out. Damn satisfying. Alex #2: I’ll concede that. Look I was about to make an argument about the problems with the Female Hardass archetype, but [page nine] we’ve cut to the strip joint’s dressing room. Where all the woman are conveniently in the process pulling their tops off. Alex #1: It certainly is all very Showgirls… with the standard ‘oh, we’re all doing it to pay for college/our kids’ clichés and bitching about the “balding fatty” clients. Um, is Showgirls feminist or misogynist? I forget. Alex #2 [page twelve]: Shhh, it’s time for another action scene. By which I of course mean stripping. Which goes on for … [page fifteen] four pages! Alex #1: (During which, to be fair, the sunglasses fall to the ground with a noise that, if you listen closely enough, sounds distinctly like ‘METAPHOR!’) [page sixteen] But that’s all okay because Hardass Lady Agent’s back and… Alex #2: …and she’s having sex with the male agent and wants him back so she won’t be alone tonight. [page seventeen] Before jumping back to more stripping! Alex #1: Yes. But stripping intercut with a one-panel moment of horrible surgical violence and [page eighteen] Voodoo’s transformation into a big scaly monster. Alex #2: A monster which is still wearing lacy pants and has its breasts covered by a few demure strands of hair. Alex #1: Thus turning both of those cheesecakey signifiers inside out, surely? Who’s turned on by the breasts of the Creature From The Black Lagoon? Alex #2: C’mon, Alex, you’ve been on Deviantart. Alex #1: Ick. But… [page nineteen] the violence! The blood! The return of the shades and the dead open eyes of the pervy audience-representative. This can’t be meant to turn anyone on, can it? Alex #2: Can it? And I can’t decide. This is either a clever satire which plays with your expectations by titillating, titillating, and then dropping a big boner-killing landmine in your lap, or a prime example of comics’ dodgy politics, which remembers on the last few pages it’s supposed to be a thrilling sci-fi story. Either way, it’s all told very competently, setting up three characters, killing one off and ending with a compelling thrust to the next issue. And, when it’s not focusing on improbable breasts, Sami Basri’s art is beautiful and complemented well by Jessica Kholinne’s colours. But at the end of the day how much I like this comic boils down to which Alex is right and so… Alex #1’s Rating: A-Alex #2’s Rating: E Aquaman #1 Written by Geoff JohnsArt by Ivan ReisReviewed by Tim Poor Aquaman can’t get no respect. He’s the ruler of 70% of the Earth’s surface, but to most people, he’s a cheap punchline, the guy who talks to fish, who rides a dolphin to emergencies and can’t help out unless the fight is taking place next to a convenient inlet, or possibly a fjord. Geoff Johns takes […]

Project 52, Week Three (Green Lantern/Batwoman/Resurrection Man/Frankenstein/Batman & Robin/Red Lanterns)

Welcome to week three of the new DC Universe, and week three of Project 52. In this edition we’re playing with one of my favourite things in the world: symmetry. We’re starting out with the star of this summer’s most high-profile flop, Mr G. Lantern, before moving over to Batman. The wonderful centrepiece is provided by Tim, with two of the smaller-name titles of the New 52 launch. And then it’s back to the Batverse, and out with the naughty Red Lanterns. Green Lantern #1Written by Geoff JohnsArt by Doug MahnkeReviewed by Bret This is complicated for me. Having just read Green Lantern #1, I want to write two very different reviews. The first would say that it’s been refreshing to read a book from DC’s New 52 starring one of their main characters that actually turned out to be quite good. From other mainstream stories I’ve read I’ve come under the impression that it’s only DC’s more obscure or wacky line-up that can deliver the goods, whereas their main characters haven’t moved far past simple four-colour stories of amazing powers, with no real depth. However, I’m happy to report that Green Lantern tells an interesting tale of how longtime Green Lantern villain, Sinestro, has been given a green power ring that gives him amazing abilities, whilst long time hero, Hal Jordan, has lost his ring and now has to adjust to a life full of bad dates and eviction notices. It’s an interesting read seeing Jordan fail on every level while, in contrast, Sinestro has been given power and tasked to take down the former members of his Yellow Lanterns. The pacing is good, and they manage to introduce the characters without large chunks of text to wade through. Even the art is nice AND we’re treated to an action sequence or two which actually feel plot relevant. All good, you might think? Well yes, but then there is that other review sneaking around in the back of my mind. The one that says “Hey, you only know who these guys are from ‘cos you’re geekier than your average Joe. And isn’t this a first issue? Aimed at people who haven’t been uber-geeks since before the Spice Girls were famous? Yes everyone knows who the Spice Girls are now, but that’s my point dude! Stop changing subject! Green Lantern TOTALLY assumes that you know who Sinestro is and who the Sinestro Corps are. It even expects you to know where Hal Jordan has been for the past few years, why he hasn’t been on earth AND how he lost his ring. That to me sounds like a lot of assuming to be made. Especially if this book is aimed at first-time readers.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for this comic to have history. It’s clearly left them to tell an interesting tale. But wasn’t the point of “The New 52” to be just that? “New”? And having read Green Lantern #1, I feel a little cheated. Like I now need to go back to the comic shop and say “Hey, are you sure this is issue 1? ‘Cos I need to read something to bring me up to speed on exactly what’s happening with these guys. And also, you remember the Spice Girlsm right?” but then I suppose that’s what Wikipedia is for. Filling in the holes left by lazy writers. A decent story makes Green Lantern a B. The fact that if I didn’t already know what was going on I wouldn’t have enjoyed it makes it an F. So we’ll go half way and say…Rating: C- Batwoman #1Written by W. Haden Blackman & J.H. Williams IIIArt by J.H. Williams IIIReviewed by Alex I hadn’t read Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’ acclaimed Batwoman run on Detective Comics, nor had I read the #0 issue last year. So please excuse me for saying some things that will be stupidly obvious to anyone who did. This is an incredibly good-looking book. It’s the girl at the party with everyone’s eyes on her, as J.H. Williams does his usual shtick of mixing painterly wobbly-framed segments with more traditional inked art. When it comes to comics’ combination of words and pictures, my interest tends to fall firmly on the textual side. But what sticks about my two dips into this issue is how it looked. It’s reminiscing the next morning about talking to that girl, the alcoholic haze not dimming your memory of the way she moved, but not remembering a word she said. Your friend suggest, uncharitably, that she must be empty-headed. And that’s not fair: Batwoman’s story is interesting enough, it’s just that the memories of how it’s told keep getting in the way. The page that lays out all the exposition around its edges, in a series of images that suggest a dozen artists illustrating Batwoman’s past. The skull-faced baddie wearing a suit, with a pink novelty tie. The panel borders shaped into logos and thunderbolts… There’s something to be said about how Batwoman isn’t interested in this relaunch. It wasn’t born of the New 52 – that last #0 issue was nearly a full year ago and this issue was scheduled months earlier. It’s a straight continuation of the Detective Comics story. But it still works as a #1, lays out everything you need to know effortlessly. Or, at least, I think it does. I just keep thinking about that art… Rating: B+ Resurrection Man #1Written by Dan Abnett & Andy LanningArt by Fernando DagninoReviewed by Tim Resurrection Man, one of the lower-tier titles in DC’s relaunch, poses an interesting question. When your hero’s power is coming back from the dead, how do you put him in peril? This series answer seems to be: get metaphysical on his ass, as the issue quickly establishes that Resurrection Man is somehow involved in a struggle between Heaven and Hell (albeit hidden behind references to “Upstairs” and the “Basement Office”). The whole Jesus parallel has yet to be raised, […]

Project 52, Week Two (Batgirl/Justice League International/OMAC/Hawk & Dove)

The last lot of this week’s reviews. This time it’s one of the most interesting/controversial comics to come out of the relaunch, with the de-disabled Batgirl; the second Justice League title; our first proper trashing, and a piece I think we’ll all remember as ‘My Man Ommy’. If I might be so self-congratulatory, I reckon this is the best set of reviews yet (note that my contributions to this post are minimal). 14 comics down, 38 to go. Bring it. Batgirl #1Written by Gail SimoneArt by Ardian SyafReviewed by Tim There is so much to be gleaned about Batgirl from the wonderful front cover by Adam Hughes. The art is of the high standard one has come to expect from Hughes, detailed without being too busy, painterly but with a pop sensibility. Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl isn’t sexualised, nor is she striking an aggressive pose, but instead is leaping forward, into action. And she’s smiling! She looks like she actually enjoys being a superhero! Batgirl was always going to be an interesting relaunch, after they announced that Barbara Gordon was once again going to be taking up the mantle, but they weren’t going to retcon away her shooting by the Joker and subsequent paralysis. Given that, in her guise as Oracle, Barbara become such a symbol for disabled comics readers, someone they could identify with who wasn’t defined by her disability, it seemed strange and downright regressive of DC to change the status quo in this regard. Most comic readers never knew Barbara as anyone other than Oracle, so there was no great clamouring for her to be restored. Still, with Gail Simone writing, I trusted that the transition would be at least smooth, if not perfect. Like with Batwing, the breathing room that dealing with a single hero as opposed to a group is evident here. However, where Batwing used that space to allow Ben Oliver’s stunning art to shine, Batgirl instead crams in twice as much story. No decompression here! It’s a credit to Simone’s mastery of writing that the issue doesn’t feel weighed down or overly stuffed by the various storylines at work here (prologue, action sequence, introducing supporting cast, more action, flashbacks) and instead feels solidly packed with a great mix of plot and characterisation. We are quickly given a firm grasp on Barbara as a character struggling to readjust to the heroic life, but nonetheless determined to put a positive spin on things. Unlike her mentor Batman, Batgirl brings levity and wit to her escapades, which makes her dramatic freezing under pressure all the more shocking. The art by Ardian Syaf is nothing extraordinary, but does a very solid job of storytelling, with enough creativity in the layouts to keep things interesting and the action sequences fast-paced and flowing. Whether taking Barbara out of the wheelchair and putting her back in the Batgirl costume is the right decision is tough to judge at this point, but as far as the comic goes, it does a fantastic job of introducing a character’s history without feeling like a lecture on them. A good first issue that does everything it needs to with charm to spare.Rating: B+ Justice League International #1Written by Dan JurgensArt by Aaron LoprestiReviewed by Alex Ah, a multi-national superhero team. Is it time we had The Conversation? It’s always bugged me how location-specific superheroes are tied down to stereotypes. The identity of characters get completely overwritten by Being Russian or whatever. After all, it’s not like Batman is defined by Being American. This is probably true of most pop culture, I guess, but it’s more obvious in comics where identity is worn on your brightly-coloured sleeve, in the name and costume and powers a hero has. At best, it shows a limited, America-centric worldview. At worst, it’s … well, it’s kind of racist, isn’t it? It was getting better, with Batman Inc especially navigating identities for its various Captain Foreigns that were formed equally by place and self. But JLI is a step back. The team is drawn together by the UN from around the world, and the issue is a textbook characters-meet-and-squabble story. (Hint: they will probably all kiss, make up, and forge the necessary team spirit just in the nick of time). That’s fine, although it’s done a little clumsily. But beyond Green Lantern (no, not the one from the other Justice League comic, one with a much worse haircut, and still not the black one that people actually like) having issues with Booster Gold as team leader, most of the conflict for this squabbling is drawn from the characters being from different countries. These are meant to be people we look up to with awe and wonder, and for some of them, their first response when meeting someone of a different nationality is to say ew, you’re not like me. I’m being a bit unfair here – the superheroes don’t have costumes and powers defined by their nationality, mostly – but the fact is that nothing else about the issue stood out. It’s reasonable enough comics, and it’s rather nice to look at (Lopresti turning in yet another example of sleek cartoonised art), but there’s nothing special about it, apart from that one character talks in broken English about Russian supremacy and Russian winter and Russian alcohol and another says things like “mate” and “sod it” and “blimey charlie, guv’nor!”. Rating: C- O.M.A.C. #1Written by Dan Didio & Keith GiffenArt by Keith GiffenReviewed by Bret O.M.A.C in one word is OMAZING! You know when you find something on Youtube that’s so bizarre that you have to show people? O.M.A.C (henceforth referred to as “my man Ommy”) has completely captured that experience. Firstly, this little adventure is titled “OFFICE MANAGEMENT AMIDST CHAOS” which, let’s face it, just rocks on every level. Five pages in I found myself wondering “who is this crazy blue man with a fish tail for a Mohawk? Why is he talking to that screensaver of a sunbathing girl? […]

Project 52 Week Two (Action Comics/Batwing/Detective Comics)

Today’s second injection of undiluted Review straight to the base of your spine. This time, it’s some of the big boys: Superman, Batman, African Batman and …er… Static Shock. Action Comics #1Written by Grant MorrisonArt by Rags MoralesReviewed by Alex Lex Luthor: “The brown tree snake, introduced to the U.S. territory of Guam right after World War Two, caused dozens of indigenous birds and reptile species to become extinct. The cane toad, sent to Australia as a pest control agent, decimated local biodiversity.” And Grant Morrison, put on the first issue of Action Comics after the rebooting of the entire DC universe, gets to overwrite the entire history and metaphor of Superman. The first issue from a writer like Morrison, is pretty much a guaranteed Statement of Intent. Last time he touched the Man of Tomorrow, Morrison wrote him as an omnipotent Sci-Fi Jesus. He came down from the skies and cared for all of humanity, and sacrificed himself to save us. This isn’t quite that Superman. Apart from being younger and less all-powerful (and wearing jeans! Can you imagine Jesus wearing jeans?), the central metaphor is different. It’s laid out pretty clearly on the first page: “Rats. Rats with money. And rats with guns. I’m your worst nightmare”. This is Superman as the champion of the oppressed, delivering social justice. It’s something Morrison has often discussed being at the heart of the character from his very first appearance: smashing a car on that iconic cover from 1938, the last time Action Comics had a #1. And so Superman’s targets are corrupt businessmen who take advantage of cheap labour, men who hit their wives, and xenophobes. Being honest, the metaphor and the Brand New Direction are more interesting than the actual plot. It’s thrilling enough, and well-told, but there’s nothing about the story that leaves me craving the next issue. It’s not even that heavy on Morrison’s trademark Big Ideas. What will bring me back is faith in Morrison, and Morale’s gorgeously cartoony art (why couldn’t all the new books look like this? This is what Accessible Comics in the 21st Century should look like). Most of all, I want to see where the book’s going to go with all the underlying stuff, what it has to say about social justice and inequality. Rating: A- Batwing #1Written by Judd WinickArt by Ben OliverReviewed by Batwing is the first solo title I’ve reviewed, and the difference it makes to the pacing of the comic is immediately felt. Rather than having to cram in multiple introductions (or, in the case of Justice League, only introduce a few characters and leave the reader feeling short-changed) it has one central figure to build a story around, and while a supporting cast and recurring villains are also introduced, their characterisation isn’t so essential, so can be dealt with at a more leisurely pace. Batwing doesn’t feel nearly as rushed as other titles have, and as such feels more like a story in its own right, rather than a preamble to the real meat of a title. I haven’t been reading the “Batman Incorporated” arc (I can already feel Alex tutting at me across the Internet) so this is my first encounter with Batwing. I must admit, the concept of “Batman of Africa” struck me as both a little hokey, and lodged in the Silver Age (people do realise Africa isn’t one big country, right? Tell me I’m not in the minority on this…) but Judd Winick makes it work by highlighting the similarities between Gotham and Batwing’s Tinasha (such as a corrupt police force and a brazen criminal culture prone to theatrics) without sacrificing the cultural identity of the Congolese setting, or falling into stereotypes. The universe relaunch works in the title’s favour – with superheroes reinvented as a more recent phenomena, the huge disparity in global distribution is easier to accept, and Winick and Ben Oliver seem to be addressing this ever further by building a superheroic mythology for Africa in the DCU. More than anything, the art sells me on this book. Ben Oliver’s pencils and inks are gorgeous; astonishingly detailed, with realistic expressions and great costuming without sacrificing dynamic layouts or a sense of weight and movement in the action sequences. It’s a truly beautiful comic, aided by Brian Reber’s painterly colouring, which gives the daytime sequences a kind of heat haze while adding a moonlight glow to the action at night. Time will tell whether Batwing will generate enough sales to keep it going far beyond its first arc, but if the standard continues to be this high, it deserves a long and healthy life. Rating: A Detective Comics #1Written by Tony S. DanielArt by Tony S. DanielReviewed by Alex Detective Comics #1 is a very competent comic. That’s a virtue, no doubt, but when it’s the main thing that stands out, it’s also a limit. Don’t expect anything transcendant or life-changing, don’t expect to be grabbing your friends by the lapels and saying, look! read this!. It’s a fairly by-the-book Batman story, told well. You know: there’s a criminal on the loose, the cops don’t trust Batman but Gordon does, Bruce Wayne breaks hearts, Batman punches the Joker repeatedly in the face… It doesn’t use the relaunch to do anything new, and the story would have fitted just as neatly in the status quo six months ago. Everything’s the same, including Tony S. Daniel, who’s been a regular artist and/or writer on Batman for nearly five years now. Except, okay, the police don’t trust Batman, which, as someone commented on the JL review, feels a little like a character being brought more closely in line with his film counterpart. Nevertheless: I’m pretty hooked on the central whodunnit, which is at it should be in something called Detective Comics, and that last page is seriously ballsy. Daniels’ art is looking better than I’ve ever seen it, and he makes a surprisingly good writer. He manages to fulfill both ends of the […]

Project 52: Week Two (Men of War/Green Arrow/Swamp Thing/Stormwatch/Animal Man)

You remember how DC are scrapping all their comics and launching 52 new ones, right? You remember how we’re reviewing them all? Me, Tim, and Bret? Good. Then enjoy the first dose of this week’s Project 52, including reviews of Green Arrow and Swamp Thing. Men Of War #1Written by Ivan BrandonArt by Tom DerenickReviewed by Tim Men of War is one of DC’s attempts to branch out a little beyond straight-up superheroics – in this case, to a military anthology title. That said, it’s still located within the DCU – the main story in this issue (a modern day version of Sergeant Rock) features a US Army operation that goes tits up when a mysterious superhuman attacks the same target as them. The back-up strip, titled “Navy SEALs: Human Shields”, is much more of a standard military tale, located, like the main story, in some unnamed Middle Eastern country, featuring a team of SEALs pinned down by sniper fire. Both stories are heavy with military jargon (helpfully annotated with translations) and gung-ho spirit. The Sergeant Rock story casts the main character as a scarred enlisted infantryman, still only a Corporal at the beginning of the book, who disobeys his superiors but makes brilliant tactical decisions. His mentor is an equally rebellious badass who is killed in action at the issue’s end, field-promoting our hero. Ivan Brandon creates a compelling tale of what military action in a superpowered world might look like, contrasting the power of one powered individual against the human squad, and Tom Derenick’s art is dynamic and atmospheric, with suitably craggy-faced heroes and explosive action.The back-up strip didn’t work quite as well for me. Jonathan Vankin’s writing felt overly expository, and Phil Winslade’s art, while agreeably reminiscent of British military titles like Commando, was too sparse and his faces all look the same. In addition, there was a hefty undercurrent of conservative values (know your audience, I suppose) with some unfunny homophobic “jokes” and digs at the Peace Corps, as well as a “oh course I’m not racist, some of my best friends are black!” moment that felt a little preachy. Overall, as a genre I’m unused to, I enjoyed the first story more than I thought I would, but the second spoilt the experience for me somewhat. Final Grade: C+ Green Arrow #1Written by J.T. KrulArt by Dan Jurgens & George PerezReviewed by BretOut of the 4 new comics I picked up today, Green Arrow was the one that interested me most. I’ve seen Smallville and liked what they did there with the green leather-wearing archer, Oliver Queen (even if they were trying oh so hard to make him Batman). Sadly the first issue of Green Arrow misses out on the emotional complexity and the “do what it takes to get the job done” attitude we saw from ol’ Ollie in the show. Instead, his new solo comic ends up reading more like a Saturday morning cartoon. And not a very good one at that, with a parent friendly “it’s not good to be a bad guy” moral brought up every other panel and all. I think it’s the fact that, despite passable foreground artwork, the background of the panels were often a single colour block rather than showing any hint of detail. That and the fact that heavy amounts of text were used to tell the story. This made the characters come off as simple and patronising to me. But then maybe Green Arrow has a younger audience in his line of sights. Having said that though, I did find it odd that our seemingly child friendly hero went from using concussive, blinding and freezing arrows to shooting a guy through both palms and forcing him to accidentally electrocute himself. The sudden burst of blood and violence felt very out of place in this black-and-white world of right and wrong. Overall lazy colouring, generic characters and text to explain what I should be seeing explained through art make Green Arrow misfire. Rating: D- Swamp Thing #1Written by Scott SnyderArt by Yanick PaquetteReviewed by AlexFor a comic about Swamp Thing, this issue sure is a brilliant advertisement for the New DC Universe. It opens with a sleek panoramic view – Clark Kent in Metropolis, Batman under Gotham, Aquaman in an unidentified ocean. And so, in three pages, it manages to establish a credible worldwide threat and introduce the heroes and universe better than last week’s Justice League managed in its full 40 pages. It helps that Yanick Paquette’s art is so incredibly gorgeous, of course. Superman’s a square-jawed lump of handsome, and the new costume manages to look regal. Even Aquaman looks good in this comic. And then the Swamp Thing story begins, and it’s an intriguing one. The changes to the Swamp Thing mythos – one with which I must admit only a passing familiarity – don’t feel unnecessary. It feels like a true fresh start, and the changes are woven into a compelling mystery. But that’s not all! Then there’s a brilliant horror sequence that’s probably the creepiest bit of comics I’ve encountered. But wait, there’s more! It alludes fascinatingly to “the events of last year!, just suggesting the slightest edges of a history. And there’s some fun Palahniuk-style facts about botany. And! And! AND! …There’s a lot squeezed into this comic. Snyder takes full advantage of the situation that’s been presented to him, in every facet. Even the DC universe being born again in media res is used to create a sense of mystery. And so it makes a convincing case for this entire relaunch – mystery isn’t something we’re used to in the familiar world of Superman and Batman, and without mystery, any sense of wonder can dissolve – and for the way this character – who, in the most praised comics written about him, appeared in a separate reality – fits into a world of superheroes. It’s comics at a hundred miles an hour and this review was meant to be […]

The Trip, Part One/Unul/един/Jedan

Roughly two months ago now, Dominic “BFF” Parsons and I begin an InterRail adventure. There was a lot of dead time on trains. Me being me, a lot of it was filled feverishly writing stuff down. Here’re the results: one part diary to two parts travel guide (and hopefully semi-useful to anyone ever considering a trip themselves). is pretty much defined by its central turf war, between two factions: noisy cars, and stray dogs. Areas of the city are given to one, or the other, almost exclusively: the five-lane roads take what should be the centre as their territory and push the dogs out. The dogs regroup on outskirts, around abandoned buildings and patches of wasteland – of which there are a lot. Bucharest isn’t a conventionally pretty place, mostly appearing to be halfway through being built, or torn down. Apparent derelicts and squats will, on closer inspection, turn out to be totally open bars and shops. For us, this meant a lot of confused wandering, searching for where, exactly, the actual city was. The semi-incomprehensible road system pushes everything into a tiny space. This makes Bucharest a difficult city to experience (especially if, like us, you’re staying nearly a mile south of everything). But crack open that tough exterior, and there’s a veritable bounty on offer. (That was a coconut gag; good, eh?) The endless Soviet concrete is balanced out with fat green swathes of park. If you can actually find the centre, there’s a good selection of bars. Based on our experiences at the Tiki Bar (Intrarea Nicolae Şelari), the cocktail bars are of a good quality, too, if a little expensive. (Budget Eastern Europe Holidaying Lesson #1: Don’t drink spirits. Spirits are the devil, as far as your wallet’s concerned.)Food, on the other hand? Food is incredibly cheap. We ate at reliable Romanian chain restaurant La Mama (Episcopiei 8, one of a dozen locations) and, more spectacularly, outside of the Palatul Cercului Militar Naţional (Strada Constantin Mille, off of Calle Victorei), a nice patio outside a building that, on a visit to the toilet, was revealed to be the gilded hall of a stately home.Romanian cuisine? Hearty is the word that leaps, like a spring-loaded cliché, to mind. The best example I can think of is caşcaval pane: a mild, cheddarish cheese, battered and deep fried. It’s food designed to accompany beer. Tasty, satisfying and deeply, deeply bad for you.Train 1: Bucharest – SofiaOur first train, our first overnight journey and our first terrifying encounter: being chased through the carriage by a bearded man shouting at us in Russian, who’d ripped our tickets out of our hands. Tired and suspicious, we snatched them right back. This chase was followed by some mild wrestling before a kind Dutch couple pointed out that, as far as they could tell, he seemed to be the conductor. Oh. Sorry! Travel guides all seem to fall back on phrases like “diamond in the rough” or “unpolished gem” to describe Sofia. You can see why: the odd facet shines bright, but it’s a matter of finding them, of excavating the places and moments it has to offer. And the truth is: we ran out of time. We managed to find the odd unexpected spot – an underpass that hid a makeshift bar, where the low bass of the generic techno bounced perfectly off the tinkling water feature it sat alongside – but our dig went unfinished. The memories left were buildings halfway to being knocked down, peeling graffitied plaster and endless masses of concrete. We managed to squeeze in a visit to Happy’s Bar & Grill (ul. Georgi S. Rakovski 145B) before departure though, with its slightly awkward meeting of neon-brite miniskirts and grilled meat skewers. Train 2: Sofia – BelgradeTree, tree, mountain, tree, tunnel, tree. For ten hours. Was I ashamed of how happily I realised Belgrade was not the tufts-of-weeds wasteland I’d expected, but something sleekly modern, something familiar, something – and I say this with blushing cheeks – Westernised?Of course. A little. Yes. Did it give me a second’s respite? Not one.It just made it that little bit easier to fall in love with Belgrade. Okay, the Cyrillic signs started to melt away, more people spoke English, but mostly: the road system makes sense; the centre is compact, with promising spots dotted all over; finding the good stuff isn’t just possible, but simple.The most prominent example of that good stuff being Kalemegdan Fortress. And oh my, what a place to have a beer. The vast space between its crumbling walls has been turned into a park, complete with giant plastic watermelons to sit on, and bars. We chose first an expensive (relatively speaking) cocktail bar, then a more humble set of umbrellas on the other side, both offering completely different, but equally handsome, views across the Sava and Danube rivers. It’s a sign of how much of an English townmouse I am that a proper river – with ragged, forested edges – feels like the Amazon or something.After a quick trip to the (impressively non-depressing) zoo, we decided to follow the Sava, our only view of Belgrade’s less attractive side – the pale, chicken-skin undercarriage of the semi-abandoned boatyard – as we got heavily lost. It only took a couple of cheap cocktails – as easily found as ever – and a friendly waiter, though, to wash that all away and remind us that we were definitely pro-Serbia. (Additional photos over on the Dirty Mistress Tumblr)

Project 52, #1: Alex Spencer vs Justice League

For me, it started with Spider-Man. The X-Men would come later, but first the Spider-Man film, and then onto Marvel’s website. After-school dips into the library of Marvel’s free online comics reader, dotComics. All done in secret, quietly ashamed of my new habit. For the new DC Universe, it starts with Batman. Of course. The Justice League will come later. For me, this couldn’t be much further from where my relationship with comics began, literally and metaphorically. Literally: I picked up Justice League #1 from London’s Orbital Comics, far from that bedroom in Staffordshire. Metaphorically: A comic printed on real, sniffable paper, read on a train squeezed between passengers giving me funny looks. (This kind of stuff matters with a new #1. Some people get overexcited and want things like variant covers and polybags, but it brings out the luddite in all of us. It warms up big heaped spoons of nostalgia.) And perhaps most importantly, a comic published by DC. As I suspect is going to be a theme of our reviews, Marvel was my entry drug. Superman? Wonder Woman? Green Lantern? These characters didn’t matter to me. Batman, though… Ah, Batman. And that’s how Justice League starts. With Batman, chasing a villain and dodging the police. But don’t forget: this is a new Batman, with swathes of his history (or continuity, as we call it in comics) chopped off. Gruff, black cowl & cape, mistrustful, yellow utility belt, sneaky and smart… The exact same Batman, then. We haven’t shifted far from Status Q, by the looks of things. As a representative of the new DC Universe, the message it’s sending seems to be: don’t worry. things won’t change too much. (It’s telling that the sketch stuff in the backmatter shows designs for new costumes that were rejected for being too different.) Still, the reboot means this comic gets to tell the story of how Batman, Green Lantern and Superman meet for the first time. And how they meet is with the adversial tension and fisticuffs that are a solid tradition of superfriends meeting for the first time. This provides a few nice moments – Green Lantern trying to work out what Batman’s powers are in particular – and momentum for the issue’s plot. The plot being, essentially, get x from a to b (where x = Batman and Green Lantern, a = Gotham city and b = wherever Superman is). The pieces are moved around so that the punching can continue. And that’s it, except for a four page vignette woven into the middle of the story. It offers a glimpse of another character, pre-secret origin, and breaks up the action so the story is a little less formulaic. But this isn’t a story, really. It’s an introduction, to the new readers this relaunch will hopefully pull in. Here’s the world, here’re the characters, here’s the threat. In this it succeeds. The characters are established quickly and easily. Their personalities are drawn a little large, perhaps – Green Lantern’s unbelievably cocky, Batman doesn’t trust anyone – but they’re clear. It’s a reintroduction, too, to the old readers this relaunch hopefully won’t put off. As that kind of reader, I was looking for clues of how it’s going to be, closely studying speech bubbles and the art. Frankly, if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have noticed Jim Lee’s artwork. Lee is an artist whose reputation I’ve never quite understood. He’s headlining the entire relaunch, designing costumes and drawing this flagship title, but his scratchy inexpressive art isn’t likely to open new readers’ eyes to how beautiful a comic book can be. It’s serviceable art that tells the story in a traditional, musclebound way. Again, it says: not much has changed. Justice League #1 is certainly a first issue. But the first issue of a line-wide reboot, the standard-bearer for an entire universe? The kind of comic people will be nostalgically blogging about in ten years’ time? Hmm. Final Grade: C

52, #1: Tim Maytom vs. Justice League

First: an introduction. Anyone who’s talked to me about comics knows that when it comes to superheroes, I’m a Marvel boy. Marvel comics were what got me into comics, and they have been a constant presence in my life since I was 7 years old. That said, when I was around 16, I was buying largely out of force of habit. X-Men, so long my bread and butter, had hit a creative slump (I was reading the British reprints, so there was no sign of New X-Men and the revitalisation it would bring yet) and I was considering giving the whole comics thing a rest. Then, at our city library, I came across three very important titles: Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Warren Ellis’ The Authority and Grant Morrison’s JLA. All three spoke in a much more mature voice, and showed me the potential that comics had as a storytelling medium. Watchmen and The Authority led me to more adult titles – Vertigo and Wildstorm, and eventually on to independent and small press comics. Morrison’s JLA showed me that even an all-ages, continuity bound tale of superheroes could feel fresh and exciting. Now, DC is once again relaunching in an attempt to revitalise their stories and attract new readers, but it’s not just one title – it’s 52. And because I’m a sucker for big formalist exercises, I’m joining with my friends Alex and Bret, and (potentially) some exciting guest stars to review the whole stinking lot. So…Justice League #1. As a statement of intent, Justice League does the job just fine. Interestingly, it’s set five years ago, which I guess allows for the sort of continuity wrangling that this reboot requires, and establishes a world where superheroes are a new, unknown quantity, hunted by the police and not yet used to working together. The opening narration, “There was a time when the world didn’t call them its greatest super-heroes”, suggests that eventually we will move forward to a timeframe when the Justice League are respected and even beloved by the public, which to me should be the status in the DCU. More than Marvel, the heroes of DC are iconic, larger than life, and placing them in a more grounded*, cynical world suggests “darkness” for the sake of it. The story is a fairly standard tale of superheroes (in this case Batman and Green Lantern) meeting for the first time, resulting in a clash of personalities that almost comes to blows, before they team up to investigate a threat that leads them to Metropolis, and the still new-to-the-world Superman. Batman’s characterisation is fairly well set now, and Green Lantern, seemingly informed by the recent movie, is presented as a cocksure, arrogant figure who occasionally refers to himself in the third person (ugh). Jim Lee even seems to be drawing him as something of a pretty boy (after all, Ryan Reynolds is a very handsome man). As far as the rest of the art goes, Lee’s Batman feels a little clumsy – not the urban ninja figure I think of him as, and the action feels a little stilted. That said, he does some nice work with the layout during the detour to the soon-to-be Cyborg, and his splash page of Superman at the end feels suitably grand. I’m not sure how I feel about the new costume for Supes – costume design has never been Lee’s strong suit, so getting him to redesign DC’s most iconic, profitable heroes feels like a poor decision. Overall, it’s a fine enough start for the new DC universe. Were I a more regular DC reader, I’d be interested as to how the Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman will be portrayed in this new paradigm, but as it is, this first issue wasn’t enough to make me want to carry on reading the title. One can only guess what the next month will bring. Final Grade: B- *As grounded as a universe containing gods, mutants, aliens, robots, Atlantis and people in tights beating each other up can be…