Have You Read… ‘Hulk: Gray’?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are worth checking out… 

Hulk Gray (a)

Cover art for the original hardcover collected edition of Hulk: Gray by Tim Sale (image credit: Marvel Comics).

 

Written by:  Jeph Loeb / art by:  Tim Sale (The Incredible Hulk created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby)

What’s it about?

Seeking out an old friend, Dr. Bruce Banner recounts the first hours following his exposure to Gamma radiation – the very event which unleashed his raging alter-ego, aka the Incredible Hulk…

In review

Following their collaborations on Daredevil: Yellow and Spider-Man: Blue, writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale (the creative team who produced fan favourites Batman: The Long Halloween and Superman: For All Seasons for DC) reunited for another Marvel Comics limited series – Hulk: Gray, originally published in 2003/2004 as six single issues under the more mature and less creatively restricted Marvel Knights banner.

Hulk: Gray is a standalone story recounting a previously untold tale in the history of the Incredible Hulk, within the first 24 hours of Dr. Bruce Banner’s fateful exposure to Gamma radiation and his transformation into the raging gray – or “grey” – giant.  That’s right…as aficionados will likely be aware, the Hulk was originally coloured grey for his debut in 1963’s The Incredible Hulk #1 and was subsequently recoloured green due to issues with printing reproduction (although a grey version of the Hulk would later feature in Peter David’s popular run on the title).  But aside from honouring this aspect of the character’s origin, the title Gray has more of a thematic meaning as it ponders the shadier middle moral ground between black and white.  It also explores the Frankenstein parallels that have often been linked to the character – something that was there from that very first classic issue by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  The story is presented in a straightforward manner, weaving its ideas neatly into the narrative.

Hulk: Gray opens as a forever on-the-run Bruce Banner, mourning the death of his late beloved wife, Betty (nee Ross), on the night of their wedding anniversary, takes a brief pause to seek the counsel of an old friend, psychotherapist Dr. Leonard Samson.  Tired of being pursued and eternally haunted by his beastly alter-ego, Banner bares his soul to Samson as he recalls his earliest moments as the Hulk and how the only true salvation in his life was Betty.  Yet, as we learn, Betty’s initial encounter with the Hulk is not exactly a sympathetic one and adds to Banner’s heartbreak in the face of an inevitably irreversible change in his life.

As well as Banner’s relationship with Betty, Hulk: Gray also looks at the conflict the Hulk’s appearance incites with the U.S. Military as Betty’s father, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross begins his relentless campaign to hunt down the creature.  What’s interesting is that Gray really conveys the sense that Ross, with his traditional air of “might makes right” (again in-line with how he was originally conceived by Lee and Kirby), is equally as raging and destructive as the Hulk, the difference being that his actions are deemed lawful and sanctioned by the U.S. government.  He may be more in control and less unpredictable than the almost mindless (or more child-like) Hulk, but the maniacal, near-psychotic Ross faithfully depicted here is proven to be just as dangerous with the resources – the “might” – at his command.

There’s still an element of hope in the story as the Hulk is not totally alone and has one person he can call “friend” (notwithstanding an unfortunately brief meeting with a desert-roaming bunny rabbit) – teenager Rick Jones, whom Banner had saved from the fallout of the Gamma Bomb test.  Gray highlights the ever-important friendship between Banner/Hulk and Rick and touches upon the burden of guilt that Rick carries as he blames himself for Banner being caught in the blast that leads to his ‘condition’.  Despite his troubles, Banner doesn’t hold his new young friend responsible and both as man and beast finds, at this point, his only trusted ally.  It underpins Banner’s inherent sense of morality and benevolence that prevents the Hulk from becoming a force of evil without removing the element of danger that accompanies an unrestrained and primal creature.

Throughout its six chapters, Gray serves up a pleasing dose of Hulk-Smash! entertainment and facilitates a secret, undocumented pre-Avengers confrontation between the formidable grey behemoth and Tony Stark’s Iron Man (with his classic early 60s bulky, golden tin-man appearance).  The desert-bound battle between the two future allies is a standout moment with Stark quickly realising that he’s bitten off more than he can chew as he’s beaten and tossed around by the Hulk.  Despite the technology at his disposal, Stark is unable to counter the threat that he and the U.S. Military have, perhaps unwittingly, provoked.

With the opening and closing of Gray taking place in the present, most of the story is told via Banner and Banner/Samson’s conversation, threaded throughout and serving as a narration.  Jeph Loeb’s entertaining script grapples onto the thematic concepts to present a poignant and thought-provoking tale of a man and a simple-minded and powerful but misunderstood monster, examining the dichotomy between the two personas and Banner’s startling revelation of why he really believes Betty loved him and stood by him for so long.

Tim Sale’s art is great and makes for a suitable accompaniment to Loeb’s script, with a classic, cartoon style that is reverential to – but exaggerates – Jack Kirby’s original visual design and which was also influenced by celebrated Hulk artist Marie Severin and her parody take on the character, ‘The Inedible Bulk’ (appearing in Marvel’s superhero spoof comic Not Brand Echh).  The use of colouring and shading is simple and effective (the black and white bookending sequences between Banner and Samson adds a touch of noir that also accentuates the central ‘grey area’ concept), creating a strong sense of atmosphere and the use of grey ink wash for the Hulk himself provides a subtle highlight that helps the iconic character standout on the page.  Whilst Sale’s style wouldn’t necessarily work as successfully in regular issues of The Incredible Hulk, the art he produces for Hulk: Gray is befitting of the pulpier approach taken by a story rooted in atomic age sci-fi.

Lovingly executed by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, Hulk: Gray is a salute and homage to those early tales of the Incredible Hulk crafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, simply told whilst broadening the depth of a decades-old Marvel Comics icon and reiterating the core elements that make the character most appealing.

Geek fact!

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale would team up once again in 2008 for a further ‘colour’ Marvel hero limited series – Captain America: White in which Steve Rogers recounts a special mission during World War II.

Hulk: Gray is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Action Comics’ #1021

The Man of Steel fights to save Metropolis from total destruction…

Action Comics #1021

Cover art by John Romita Jr (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  John Romita Jr / inks by:  Klaus Janson / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

“Metropolis Doom!” Conclusion : as Metropolis crumbles, Superman faces-off against a supervillain team-up of seemingly unbeatable proportions – but help is at hand…

In review

A good but by no means great issue of Action Comics, issue #1021 concludes the “Metropolis Doom” arc which began back in issue #1017.  The good is furnished by writer Brian Michael Bendis with an entertaining, if packed, script and solid characterisation whereas the not-so-good is the result of the underwhelming visuals by penciller John Romita Jr.

Brian Michael Bendis produces some challenging stakes for the Man of Steel as he confronts the combined threat of Leviathan, the Invisible Mafia and Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom.  Luckily, Superman has some help as the Justice League and Young Justice join the fight to save Metropolis from annihilation.  Bendis continues to demonstrate his passion and belief in the values of Superman in a classic take on the character that is both reverential and relevant, bringing strength and hope in a time of bleak crisis.  The support of the likes of Justice League comrades Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and Green Lantern in addition to Young Justice heroes such as Conner Kent’s Superboy, Impulse and Wondergirl enhances the hopeful and upbeat aspects of the story.  It’s certainly ambitious and epic in scope but can also make thing seem a little overcrowded at times, there are some fun quips from the likes of Flash and Conner Kent in the heat of battle and there’s a lot of strong dialogue for Supes himself, maintaining the determination and morality we’d expect – even when the odds are stacked against our hero.

In terms of adversaries, Leviathan continues to be an intriguing and well-defined antagonist with an idealistic nature and identifiable motivations.  Bendis also continues to develop the increasing threat of the Invisible Mafia and the Red Cloud which has been building since the beginning of his Action Comics tenure, but perhaps it’s time to bring things to a head with Red Cloud/Robinson Goode and seek some resolution to that particular arc.  Once again though, Lex Luthor (in his ‘apex’ form) is the most formidable of opponents and the climactic showdown between Luthor and Superman is suitably tense and richly dialogued.

What really diminishes the quality of this issue – and indeed this arc – is penciller John Romita Jr who’s blocky, cartoonish characters and overuse of linework to accentuate shading is something of an acquired taste (it’s a shame that Romita Jr has maintained this style in recent years as some of his earlier work is actually pretty good).  It’s not totally awful, the visuals are improved by legendary inker Klaus Janson and veteran colourist Brad Anderson and to be fair Romita Jr does help construct some intense action sequences and is able to bring out the emotions of the various players, but it irrefutably pales in comparison to the exemplary work Ivan Reis is doing over on the also Bendis-written Superman.  Fans of John Romita Jr will likely be satisfied but one can only wonder how much more appealing and effective the story could have been if drawn by someone like Jim Lee or Jason Fabok.

The bottom line:  Brian Michael Bendis writes a fairly enjoyable, if overstuffed, issue of Action Comics that’s let down by some unremarkable visuals by penciller John Romita Jr.

Action Comics #1021 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Justice League’ #40

Writer Robert Venditti takes on DC’s premier superhero team… 

Justice League #40

Cover art by Bryan Hitch & Jeremiah Skipper (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Robert Venditti / pencils by:  Doug Mahnke / inks by:  Richard Friend / colours by:  David Baron

What’s it about?

“Impact” Part 1 : crashing to Earth, ex-Green Lantern Corps member Sodam Yat delivers a stark warning of an incoming invasion to the Justice League, lead by an old foe of Superman’s…

In review

Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps and Hawkman writer Robert Venditti takes the reigns of DC’s leading team-up title Justice League as issue #40 presents a fresh start with the first chapter of a new story arc, “Impact”.  Venditti’s tenure follows a largely enjoyable run written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV and with Justice League #40, necessarily scales things back a little and neatly streamlines the superhero group’s roster to a core line-up of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and John Stewart’s Green Lantern.  It seems that Snyder’s close to issue #39 may not have been what readers may have expected – a cliffhanger of sorts (that in hindsight maybe wasn’t?) – as it isn’t addressed by Venditti who instead favours a clean break whilst acknowledging recent events in the wider DC Universe, such as Superman’s reveal of his true identity to the world (in last December’s Superman #18 by Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis).  After the mind-bending plethora of ideas infused into the book by Messrs Snyder and Tynion it’s an appropriate reset that allows ongoing readers to re-orientate themselves and provide an access point for new fans to jump onboard – and it generally works (there is of course a lot going on in the DC canon of late), making for a solid first issue for the new Justice League writer.

Robert Venditti builds an entertaining and appealing opening instalment of “Impact”, quickly demonstrating his knowledge of the DCU and the characters he utilises for Justice League – with an effective grasp of the familiar dynamics between the various heroes (the conflicted but brotherly Batman/Superman interplay providing some small but key moments).  It may be quite a wordy narrative, and a great deal of the issue is merely setting the stage, but there’s still a decent helping of action to accompany the drama, tension and the high stakes (dialling things back to the more manageable and comprehensive playing field of a single universe) established, wasting no time in introducing a new threat for the League to face: the return of the Eradicator – the cold and ruthless Superman clone who debuted during “Reign of the Supermen” in the 1990s.  Receiving warning from former Green Lantern, Daxam’s Sodam Yat, who crashes to Earth, the Justice League learns the news that the Eradicator has engineered an army of Daxamites free from their Kryptonian vulnerabilities and plans to decimate the planet, beginning a campaign of conquest across the universe.  The Eradicator can often be overlooked and perhaps underrated as a Superman villain and Venditti affirms that in the right hands he can be a powerful (both literally and figuratively) antagonist, without violating the known traits of the character and is bound to provide a significant challenge for our heroes to unite against.

The art by penciller Doug Mahnke (with inks by Richard Friend and colours by David Baron) is very good and although there are some rough and sketchy spots here and there, it’s a great looking comic that’s visually epic and exciting in all the right instances with the more confined, character-focused scenes being equally well-defined and together with Venditti’s script it all keeps the reader engaged and provides plenty of anticipation for what’s to come.

The bottom line:  Robert Venditti takes up writing duties on Justice League and with penciller Doug Mahnke delivers a solid first chapter of a new story arc that promises high stakes for DC’s core heroes.

Justice League #40 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Superman #18’

Change is afoot for the Man of Steel… 

Superman #18

Cover art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & Alex Sinclair (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / pencils by:  Ivan Reis / inks by:  Joe Prado / colours by:  Alex Sinclair

What’s it about?

“The Truth” : after facing the lies and secrets of his father, Superman makes the ultimate decision and reveals himself to the world…

In review

After months of teasing by DC and writer Brian Michael Bendis, Superman #18 sees the Man of Steel come to the ultimate decision and reveal his true identity to the world.  A gutsy move for sure and one that’s stirred – understandably – a lot of trepidation amongst the fan community but results in one of the most emotionally resonant and moving comic books to have been published in a long time.  Of course, the revelation that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same has occurred before – as recently as DC’s New 52 – but it has never felt more relevant and appropriate than it does here and despite the initial apprehension of the readership, it just feels right.  The character of Superman is a beacon of hope and an embodiment of those much vaunted values of truth and justice and in these all too often troubled times where people may be fearful of the future and where there can be great distrust in public figures and disappointment at the duplicitousness of those in power, the reveal is a genuine and honest step for the world’s greatest superhero to make.

Brian Michael Bendis provides an unwaveringly strong script that keeps things very much on a personal level with plenty of emotional grounding and a healthy dose of moral debate as Superman/Clark considers the weight and possible outcomes of his decision.  Bendis makes a strong case for what on the surface is a risky choice, Superman’s conversation with Adam Strange facilitating the bulk of the argument.  Bendis retains his trademark style of snappy dialogue but not without undermining the seriousness of the situation, making the exchange both thought provoking and fun.  In the end it feels right and true because of what the Last Son of Krypton has endured in recent times – most specifically the actions of his father Jor-El and the dark secrets he kept, playing a significant role in Clark’s resolution.

Whilst this issue is framed by the press conference in which Superman’s reveal is made (scenes which felt in some way reminiscent of the United Nations sequence in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, carrying that same sense of nobility and highlighting the inherent “goodness” associated with the character – there’s also a neat little nod to Tim Burton’s Batman Returns elsewhere in the book), Bendis takes time to show things very much from Clark’s perspective and understands the importance of those close to him as he chooses to reveal the truth to certain others before going public.  One such moment is executed exceptionally well and without dialogue, allowing the art to tell a specific part of the story more effectively than any series of words could.

Speaking of the art, Ivan Reis (together with his collaborators Joe Prado and Alex Sinclair on inks and colours, respectively) returns after a short break and produces some of his best work – beyond the usual quality in layouts and character, Reis contributes a great deal to the storytelling especially in helping to convey the emotion of the narrative with highly intricate and expressive faces and body language enhancing the spirit of Bendis’ script.

Superman #18 is arguably a masterpiece and although not everyone may be pleased with such a significant change in status quo, Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t take things lightly and opens up a world of possibilities as readers are left with a hint of what the consequences are going to be and how it will shape the future for Superman and the DC Universe.

The bottom line:  A bold new chapter in the history of Superman begins as Brian Michael Bendis and Ivan Reis deliver an engaging and emotional story that upholds the positive virtues of the character.

Superman #18 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comic Review: ‘Batman/Superman’ #1

The greatest team-up in comics returns…

Batman Superman #1.jpg

Cover art by David Marquez (image credit: DC Comics).

 

Written by:  Joshua Williamson / art by:  David Marquez / colours by:  Alejandro Sanchez

What’s it about?

Batman and Superman unite to grapple with the deranged Dark Multiverse villain, the Batman Who Laughs as he transforms their comrades into ‘the Infected’, his horrifying horsemen…

In review

Spilling out of the pages of the recent The Batman Who Laughs mini-series (by writer/artist duo Scott Snyder and Jock), Joshua Williamson, current writer of DC’s The Flash, teams up with artist David Marquez (who previously worked on Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man and Civil War II) for a new Batman/Superman series, a title that’s been sorely missing in the post-Rebirth era of the DC Universe.

Given that this first arc takes it’s lead from The Batman Who Laughs, pitting the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel against the terrifying schemes of the twisted Dark Multiverse Batman, Batman/Superman #1 has a more gothic, horror infused tone to it than previous Bat/Supes team-up books and although that may leave it ‘feeling’ more like a Batman comic in some respects, it’s immediately clear that Joshua Williamson is perfectly suited as writer of the series.  Williamson quickly proves adept at handling the big two of DC’s pantheon, ensuring the focus is equally split whilst demonstrating an understanding of the established (and expected) traits and qualities of each character and the dynamics of their relationship, given the differences in viewpoints.  Most of these explorations occur via the dual narration/monologues that run throughout the book, although this is nothing new in any iteration of Batman/Superman (or Superman/Batman as it was before the New 52), it is part of the creative make-up of the title and really gives the reader a feel for what motivates the heroes and reasoning as to why, despite their opposing views and methods in the pursuit of justice, Batman and Superman continue to be allies – and more importantly, brothers.

As with any debut issue, there’s a certain amount of exposition in Batman/Superman #1 in order to establish the characters and the main narrative, but Williamson manages to keep things relatively tight, coherent and moving at a steady pace – the central plot and the investigations by Batman and Superman building gently throughout, drawing the reader into the action neatly without it rushing the story along or hindering its momentum.  It’s unfortunate that DC spoiled the closing twist of the book in their marketing but whether you’re familiar with that or not, the issue remains a gripping and suspenseful read.

Making the move from Marvel Comics to DC, David Marquez produces superlative visuals, rendering powerful characters and cinematic layouts – adding an ever so slight element of grit to his beautifully detailed pencils that’s fitting for the tone of the comic, keeping it moody and atmospheric in all the right places whilst creating exciting and clearly staged action scenes.

The bottom line:  It’s been too long since we’ve had a Batman/Superman comic and it’s off to a confident and reassuring start under the perfectly matched creative team of Joshua Williamson and David Marquez.

Batman/Superman #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘Batman: Hush’

Warner Bros. Animation adapt another popular Batman story for the latest DC Universe animated film… 

Batman Hush (film) a

The Dark Knight Detective returns in the Warner Bros. Animation release ‘Batman: Hush’ (image credit Warner Bros/DC Entertainment).

Spoiler-free review

Starring (voices):  Jason O’Mara, Jennifer Morrison, Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Peyton List, Geoffrey Arend, Maury Sterling, Rainn Wilson

Directed by:  Justin Copeland / written by:  Ernie Altbacker / 81 minutes

What’s it about?

Pitted against some of his oldest and most dangerous foes, Batman soon finds himself facing a new enemy – the mysterious ‘Hush’…

In review

Batman: Hush is the latest DC animated film from Warner Bros. Animation, based upon the popular 12-issue story arc (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Jim Lee) from 2002.  “Hush” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest modern era Batman stories in which Bruce Wayne faces a gauntlet of villains and a mysterious new nemesis – a manipulative, bandage-faced foe known as ‘Hush’ – whilst grappling with stark revelations from his past and the complications of a burgeoning romance with Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

This direct-to-video animated adaptation is an enjoyable one, doing a reasonably solid job of translating the source material to the screen and neatly condensing its elaborate plot into a relatively short running time of 81 minutes (around average for the DC animated films).  Certain elements of the original story are either trimmed or cut entirely but Hush generally feels cohesive and flows steadily without rushing through the narrative or unnecessarily dragging its heels.  Certain changes are made in order to service the adaptation or for creative reasons (mainly to fit Hush within the mainline ‘DC Universe Movie’ continuity) but for the most part they add a freshness to the story for those who have read the comics.  There is, however, one particular alteration that is likely to prove divisive and although it works for the film it arguably robs it of some of the emotional power of the original comic book story – leading to a fairly satisfying but less weighty finale that doesn’t quite measure up to the source material.

As with the comics, Hush places significant focus on the Batman/Catwoman relationship and that plays out as expected, as do several key moments fans will expect – the highlights undoubtedly being that iconic Bat/Cat rooftop embrace, Batman’s ‘tussle’ with Superman – the closest we’ve ever come to the epic conflict in previous DC animation Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II – and of course, the Batman’s ragingly brutal and bloody encounter with the Joker (pushing the film’s PG13/15 certificate rating).  The inclusion of Bane adds to the drama and adrenaline, although it’s a shame he’s not much beyond a dumb, musclebound brute here, although we are provided with a narrative reason for the character acting less “eloquent” than fans may be accustomed to.

Batman Hush (film) b

The Bat and Cat in ‘Batman: Hush’ (image credit: Warner Bros/DC Entertainment).

The voice acting performances are fine, if a tad unexceptional.  Whilst no Kevin Conroy, Jason O’Mara (in his fourth solo outing as the Batman, following Son of Batman, Batman vs Robin and Batman: Bad Blood) is non-the-less reliable in the central role of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jennifer Morrison is equally adept at delivering the requisite slinky, feline quality to Selina Kyle/Catwoman and the chemistry between the pair is adequate if unremarkable.  Peyton List does well handling two completely different roles – Poison Ivy and Batgirl, Jason Spisak eerily channels Mark Hamill as the Joker, alas Bruce Thomas isn’t the greatest fit for Commissioner Gordon, nor is James Garrett as Alfred (to be fair we have been spoilt by some real star casting in those roles previously).  On the plus side, Hynden Walch is superb as Harley Quinn as is Sean Maher as Nightwing and Geoffrey Arend delivers a pleasingly menacing Riddler whilst Maury Stirling proves a good choice for Bruce’s childhood friend, Thomas Elliott.  There’s also the welcome return of Jerry O’Connell as Clark Kent/Superman as well as Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane and Rainn Wilson is once again suitably devious as Lex Luthor.

The style of Hush continues the pseudo-anime design of prior DC animation releases which may not be to everyone’s liking but gives an established and consistent look to the universe, although it lacks the detail and craft of Jim Lee’s comic book pencils.  Director Justin Copeland keeps everything tight and focused and delivers some strong and well-staged action scenes which is no small wonder given his experience as a storyboard artist on previous DC animation projects including Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, The Death of Superman and most recently, Reign of the Supermen.

The bottom line:  Batman: Hush is another entertaining Warner Bros/DC animation release that, despite a controversial alteration, does a good job of adapting the iconic comic book story.

Batman: Hush is available digitally now with Blu-ray and DVD releases to follow in August.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Action Comics’ #1012

There’s mystery and intrigue as Brian Michael Bendis continues his Superman work…

Action Comics #1012

Cover art by Jamal Campbell (image credit: DC Comics).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Szymon Kudranski / colours by:  Brad Anderson

What’s it about?

As Superman faces the threat of Leviathan’s attacks, Daily Planet reporter Robinson Goode investigates the rise in criminal activity in Metropolis…

In review

Following the recent launch of the Event Leviathan mini-series, Brian Michael Bendis continues his Superman run with the latest issue of Action Comics.  Building on the previous arc, “Leviathan Rising” and the ‘Invisible Mafia’ storyline, Action Comics #1012 is a slow but interesting read – it’s lack of action (ironically there’s much more of that in the main Superman book, also written by Bendis) made up for with some intriguing character work.  Despite the comic’s cover, there’s actually not a lot of Superman – or Clark – in this issue, which makes sense given he’s busy with what’s going on in Superman and Event Leviathan.  Bendis does however provide some enjoyable moments between Clark and Lois in the Fortress of Solitude, where there’s some sweet and playful dialogue as the couple discuss their first meeting before Clark speeds off to deal with a crisis or two.

The bulk of Action Comics #1012 focuses on the Daily Planet’s newest reporter, Robinson Goode a.k.a. Superman’s new adversary known as the Red Cloud – who seems to be having trouble controlling her ‘red mist’ powers (as her ambiguous secret meetings with the Invisible Mafia’s ‘Queenpin’ continue).  Bendis gives Goode an appropriately snarky quality and her often dismissive attitude towards her colleagues, specifically Trish, adds to that although there’s a little bit of fun as the pair ponder over a photograph of Lois Lane locked in an embrace with Superman…a moment that could have consequences?  Shifting the narrative forward, Goode meets with Rose Forest who reveals that she has been fighting the underground criminals of Metropolis as the meta-vigilante ‘Thorn’ and believes that there’s a conspiracy within the city’s police that’s linked to the increasing Metropolis crime-wave.  This is where the story begins to get interesting and more so as it builds ties to Event Leviathan – that series can be enjoyed separately, but Action Comics also functions as a companion piece whilst still fleshing out its own ongoing story arcs.

Part of what works well with Action Comics is that Brian Bendis brings a more grounded, street-level quality to the book (saving the epic scale and spectacle for Superman) with a tighter focus on characters such as Robinson Goode, the Daily Planet and an investigative angle that’s all in evidence here and whilst there is less of Superman, his presence is still felt throughout the story.

Szymon Kudranski’s art is rather excellent – there are a couple of odd facial expressions but it’s generally strong and full of detail, with an extra grittiness employed in the brutal sequences depicting Thorn’s violent encounters with Metropolis gangsters.   Colours by Brad Anderson are especially effective in the contrast between the darker, more sinister moments and the brighter, clearer scenes elsewhere.

The bottom line:  A slow yet intriguing issue of Action Comics with which writer Brian Michael Bendis continues to build a solid run for the Man of Steel whilst neatly tying into Event Leviathan.

Action Comics #1012 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Event Leviathan’ #1

Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev re-unite for DC’s new mystery thriller…

Event Leviathan #1

Alex Maleev’s evocative and moody cover for DC’s ‘Event Leviathan’ #1 (credit: DC Entertainment).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Alex Maleev

What’s it about?

Drawn together as they investigate the destruction of key intelligence agencies, Batman, Lois Lane, Green Arrow and The Question find that they must uncover the identity of the mysterious perpetrator known as Leviathan before more attacks can occur…

In review

Writer Brian Michael Bendis expands his DC Comics work with Event Leviathan a six-issue mini-series that unites some of the DC Universe’s greatest detectives – Batman, Lois Lane, Green Arrow and The Question to investigate the decimation of the intelligence community by Leviathan, an enemy whose true identity remains unknown.  Teaming up with his most celebrated collaborator, artist Alex Maleev (the duo having previously worked on titles such as Daredevil, International Iron Man, Infamous Iron Man and the creator-owned Jinxworld series, Scarlet), Brian Bendis provides a promising and intriguing start to this gritty mystery thriller.

Less of an actual sprawling ‘event’ in the traditional sense, which usually involves collecting a plethora of titles and numerous tie-ins, Event Leviathan spills out of the recent “Leviathan Rising” arc in the Bendis penned (with art by Steve Epting) Action Comics yet is a contained story in its own right, although a reading of that aforementioned arc (and forthcoming issues of Action) will enrich the experience of this first issue.  This isn’t an action and plot heavy premiere and Bendis incorporates a decent amount of exposition to recap the events in Action Comics and the groundwork laid there, making the book accessible to new readers.  This might make things a little slow and ponderous to those who do follow that Superman – who is actually absent here – title but it sets the mood and we are drawn in by the dialogue as Bendis reiterates the stakes, principally the destruction of the facilities of intelligence agencies ARGUS, the DEO and Spyral, the dynamics between the central characters (always a strength with Brian Michael Bendis) and the mystery they must work together to quickly unravel – the identity of the masked Leviathan.

Bendis has already been crafting a solid run on both Superman and Action Comics and has certainly nailed the core components of Lois Lane’s personality and that continues seamlessly in Event Leviathan, pinning down her drive and determination to the truth – and not unlike her Kryptonian husband, justice.  He also has a unique handling of Batman who is slightly more engaging and forthcoming with others as well as being prone to a dash of dry sarcasm, in comparison to the more bleak and troubled soul of Tom King’s Batman.  That’s no criticism of King’s work but that specific approach wouldn’t quite fit in with Event Leviathan where the Dark Knight needs to be committed to a common cause.  It’s not necessarily inconsistent, just appropriate for this story and Bendis ensures that there’s a focus on the skill and deduction we expect and enjoy in any representation of Batman.  Aside from Lois and Batman, Bendis delivers strong takes on Green Arrow and The Question giving both significant roles to play and the tension is heightened by an injured and defensive Steve Trevor, desperate to prevent his survival of Leviathan’s acts being seen as a source of suspicion.

Alex Maleev’s art (who also provides his own inks and colours) is, as usual, sublime with the dirty and gritty visuals giving Event Leviathan the sort of grounded, detective noir feel it needs and whilst there’s that certain street-level sense that came with his work on Daredevil, he’s also just as capable when it comes to creating epic scenes – the crumbling interior of the new ARGUS base and the establishing exterior shot of its prior state are stark and beautiful, respectively.

The bottom line:  Event Leviathan launches with a slow burning but interesting and atmospheric start, made all the more appealing thanks to a tried and trusted creative team.

Event Leviathan #1 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Film Review: ‘Shazam!’

The Worlds of DC greets its newest hero…

Spoiler-free review

Shazam

Zachary Levi enters the Worlds of DC in ‘Shazam!’ from Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema (c. Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema).

Starring: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Faithe Herman, Cooper Andrews, Marta Milans

Directed by: David F. Sandberg / written by: Henry Gayden (story by Henry Gayden & Darren Lemke, Shazam created by Bill Parker & C.C. Beck) / 132 minutes

What’s it about?

Foster child Billy Batson, granted god-like powers by a mysterious wizard finds he must grow-up sooner than expected when he finds himself faced against the threat of an ancient evil…

In review

Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema’s Shazam! Is the latest offering from the ‘Worlds of DC’ cinematic universe, a sweet, fun and funny superhero romp that wears its childlike innocence and sense of adventure with pride. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel or stand amongst the very best of the genre but Shazam! is non-the-less a good time and a crowd-pleaser with a spirit that harkens back to the Christopher Reeve Superman films.

Based on one of DC’s lesser known – but oldest – characters (who at one point was selling more comics than Superman and originally known as Captain Marvel until legal issues got in the way), Shazam! sees troubled fourteen year old foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel), struggling to adjust to life with his new adoptive family, encounter a mysterious wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who believes Billy to be pure of heart and selects his as a successor to his incredible powers – by merely saying the word “Shazam” (which on the face of it seems silly but is actually an acronym of Greek gods Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury), Billy’s body transforms into that of a muscle-bound adult (Zachary Levi) endowed with an almost limitless range of powers and becomes the only hope of preventing evil demons, known as the Seven Deadly Sins, from being unleashed upon the world by the crazed Dr, Sivana (Mark Strong – formerly Sinestro in Warner’s ill-fated Green Lantern) who plans to seize the power of Shazam for himself.

Shazam! doesn’t hide from the fact that it’s essentially a superhero version of Tom Hanks classic Big (with a hint of Spielbergian magic) and much like Spider-Man: Homecoming did with the coming-of-age films of John Hughes, it simply goes along with it. Although the opening act may be a little sluggish it serves to give viewers a proper introduction to the characters and draw you into Billy Batson’s story – a significant part of which is his friendship with his foster brother and superhero fanboy Freddy, superbly played by It’s Jack Dylan Grazer and it’s the chemistry between the cast and their respective characters (which also includes an undeniably cute turn from the talented Faithe Herman as young ‘sister’ Darla) that really makes things click. Angel and Grazer are obvious standouts but it’s when Zachary Levi enters the frame that Shazam! hits its stride. The former Chuck star is absolutely the perfect choice to play the empowered version of Billy and he exudes the right combination of youthful excitement, awkwardness and physicality the role demands, handling all the action, heart and humour (an integral and well executed element of the film) with equal skill and with a believability and vulnerability that sells the idea of a boy in a man’s body. As Sivana (whose father is played by John Glover – Smallville’s Lionel Luthor), Mark Strong provides a decent amount of menace and danger – pitched with an appropriate touch of corniness. Sivana is by no means one of the all-time “great” villains but Strong does well with the character, for which we do get a bit of a backstory that helps define his motivations.

Shazam! is not as action orientated as other comic book blockbusters but it still has a fair measure, mostly reserved for its hero-forging middle section where Billy/Shazam must quickly master his abilities in a deadly face-off with Sivana and the climactic finale as he grapples with the creepy CGI-horde of the Seven Deadly Sins and director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) has a firm grip on it all. These moments are certainly exciting but in the end it’s the family-focused, character driven aspects of Shazam! that make it all-the-more appealing and whilst it may make some fans hungry for a return of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman it expands the DC film universe as it continues to find itself on firmer footing.

The bottom line: a solidly entertaining comic book flick with a great leading cast, Shazam! successfully balances emotion, laughs and superhero punch-ups to engage the masses.

Shazam! is in cinemas now.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Comics Review: ‘Detective Comics’ #1000

DC celebrates 80 years of their most treasured icon…

Detective Comics 1000.png

Main cover art by Jim Lee for the milestone ‘Detective Comics’ #1000 (c. DC Entertainment).

Written by:  Scott Snyder, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom King, Denny O’Neil, Kevin Smith and more / art by:  Greg Capullo, Alex Maleev, Tony S. Daniel, Steve Epting, Jim Lee and more / colours by:  various

What’s it about?

An anthology of short stories to mark the 80th anniversary of Batman as Detective Comics reaches one thousand issues…

In review

Following Superman’s landmark 80th birthday last year, DC presents the 1,000th issue of Detective Comics (more accurately going by the full title of Batman: Detective Comics in contemporary times) in celebration of 80 years of Batman, the comic book publisher’s most treasured (and lucrative) character and one of the world’s most popular and beloved fictional icons.  This behemoth 96-page issue enlists some of the greatest comics talent to produce a truly special and memorable collection of short stories.

There are numerous tales in Detective Comics #1000 and it would be exhaustive to provide a detailed overview of each one but needless to say there are many highlights.  Perhaps fittingly, the book opens with the fan favourite creative team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (whose character work is, pleasingly, a little less rough and cartoonish than in his previous collaborations with Snyder) and intriguingly as they deal with Batman’s longest and most mysterious investigation.  Current Batman writer Tom King with artists Tony S. Daniel and Joelle Jones present “Batman’s Greatest Case” an expectedly strong contribution that involves the whole Bat-Family and some fun interplay between the various players, particularly Dick Grayson and Damien.  Geoff Johns and Kelley Jones team-up in a creepy story dealing with a copycat criminal.  Jones’ art is the only real ‘blip’ here as there’s a diminished, muddied quality to his visuals in comparison to his work in the nineties.

Superman and Action Comics writer Brian Michael Bendis reunites with Alex Maleev for “I Know“, a stark and gritty tale where an elderly and bitter Oswald Cobblepot laments that he always knew what Batman’s other foes never knew – the true identity of the man beneath the cowl.  It’s a reminder of Bendis and Maleev’s monumental Daredevil run that will only make readers yearn for a full Batman mini-series from the (dynamic?) duo.

A real treat is the return of the legendary Denny O’Neil (whose most celebrated collaborator, Neal Adams appears elsewhere with a story written by Christopher Priest) who together with the sublime Steve Epting presents an appropriately sombre and moody sequel to the popular “There is No Hope in Crime Alley!“.  O’Neil’s tenure as a Batman writer in the 1970s helped to bring the character back to his darker crime fiction roots after the camp and zany 1960s and revisiting one of his most beloved stories is a perfect addition to this anthology.

The pick of the bunch though has to be “Manufacture For Sale“ by Kevin Smith (geek icon and writer of Batman: Cacophony and Batman: The Widening Gyre) and Jim Lee (DC art god who also pencils the main wrap-around cover for this issue), a heartfelt and poignant story which sees Bruce Wayne’s search for a specific item that ties to his past and turn it from something used for an evil deed and utilise it as an object of hope.  It’s beautifully crafted and bound to be cited in the years to come as a classic moment in Batman history.

Whilst much of the content of Detective Comics #1000 is self-contained it does close out with the title’s regular writer Peter Tomasi and rotating artist Doug Mahnke as they set-up the upcoming Arkham Knight arc that kicks off fully in issue #1001 which brings the popular video game character into DC Universe continuity and leaves the reader ready and waiting for many more issues of Detective Comics.

The bottom line:  Essential for even the most casual of comic book readers and Batman fans, Detective Comics #1000 is a perfect celebration of 80 years of the Dark Knight Detective, boasting some of the very best comics talent.

Detective Comics #1000 is published by DC and is available in print and digital formats now.  A Deluxe Edition hardcover containing extra material is slated for release in June.

Images used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).