The PopCult Bookshelf

It’s been a while since I did capsule reviews of individual issues of comic books, and that was something I’d planned to do on a regular basis when I started The PopCult Bookshelf back in January, 2013, so let’s take a look at a hand full of comics from the last month or so…

MULTIV-Cv1Multiversity #1
written by Grant Morrison
art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado
DC Comics
39 story pages $4.99

This is the first issue of Morrison’s long-awaited trip through the DC Multiverse, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect: Lots of confusing action and tons of characters, plus in-jokes that you’ll only get if you have a Phd in comic book nerddom.

it’s a bit of a cluster, but it’s still an entertaining ride. We meet all-new versions of familiar DC Comics characters who all have to team up to save reality itself from a menace rehashed from the original “Crisis On Infinite Earths” maxi-series that supposedly wiped out the whole parallel universe thing for DC back in 1985. Morrison once again goes back to the uber-meta “comic books in one universe are the reality in another” concept that he started milking over twenty years ago with Animal Man and Doom Patrol.

He still does that well, but it gets in the way of the storytelling a bit. The book opens with a cartoonist, Nix Uotan, who is also a universe-jumping superhero, SuperJudge. SuperJudge and his talking pirate monkey companion jump to a new universe where SuperJudge trades places with the last hero standing on that version of Earth, so that he can run off to some sort of interdimensional space station and gather heroes from all over the many universes to do battle against The Gentry, which is either some form of Kirby’s Apokolips, or a sly rip on the darkness permeating DC’s “New 52,” or a new version of the Anti-Monitor or something else. It’s pretty vagues as universe-threatening menaces go.

The new takes on old heroes are fun. We meet an African-American Superman whose secret identity is the President of the United States. There’s “Dino Cop,” who seems to be Erik Larson’s Savage Dragon. The Retaliators are a thinly-disguised parody of Marvel Comics’ Avengers, complete with a purple-skinned Hulk parody wearing a diaper. A fairly obscure DC Comics funny-animal character from the 1980s, Captain Carrot, is a major player (and this series has been in the works for years, with much of the writing done five years ago, so this is not simply a reaction to Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon).

Ivan Reis does a decent enough job on the art, although his work is very much in the “New 52” house style.

Overall this is a pretty decent start to a series that will, confusingly enough, be released as a monthly series of one-shots, with each issue focusing on a different universe, and sporting a different art team. In the coming months we are promised a Watchman-style take on the Charlton Action Heroes (Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, The Question), and a traditional take on the world of Shazam and Captain Marvel.

Overall, this is a fun comic, if you don’t take it too seriously. Later issues look to be very promising.

SilverSurfer5Silver Surfer # 5
written by Dan Slott
drawn by Mike Allred
Marvel Comics
20 story pages $3.99

I’ve been a fan of Mike Allred’s for a quarter-century. I remember reading his graphic novel, “Dead Air,” back when I was working as the evening deejay at the old WVNS 96.1 FM. He’s an amazing storyteller and even when he’s working for one of the “Big Two” comics companies, his work stands out as unique, quirky, fun and special.

This is in evidence in this issue of Silver Surfer, which is a stand-alone story that follows four issues that introduced Dawn Greenwood, a small-town girl from Anchor Bay, Massachusetts, as his companion. In this story, after returning Dawn home following an intergalactic adventure, we learn that while they were off the planet, The Lord of Nightmares, due to a lunar alignment, fell asleep, and if he sleeps through the night, the world will forever live in his dark world. He can be awakened as long as one person in the world is still awake.

We learn this from the astral projection of Doctor Strange, who travels to Anchor Bay with The Hulk. This gives us a near-reunion of the original 1970s line-up of the super team, The Defenders. The Hulk is awake, but only because Bruce Banner is asleep. So they have to find the last person awake, then find The Lord of Nightmares so they can wake him up.

That they do this in a twenty-page story is remarkable. In most modern comics a story like this would be spread out over half-a-year of bi-weekly issus. Dan Slott (I’m guessing with plotting help from Allred) has crafted a tightly-paced fun thrill ride. The dialogue and interaction between The Surfer and Dawn recalls the best of the 1960s Marvel sense of fun, without duplicating Stan Lee’s corniness or cringe-factors.

It’s still a trip to see Mike Allred drawing a mainstream comic book in this day and age. His craft recalls an earlier age when comic book artists actually had to know how to draw. He’s tackling The Silver Surfer with a style that looks like Jack Kirby and Alex Toth merged into one person, and they hired Bruno Premiani to ink it.

This is an emmensely fun comic book. Among the best that Marvel is currently publishing.

STK647800Justice Inc. #1
written by Michael Uslan
drawn by Giovanni Timpano
Dynamite Entertainment
22 story pages $3.99

“Fun” seems to be the recurring theme today. This book takes pulp heroes, Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger (plus Howard Hughes and H.G. Wells) and teams them up in a time-travel story that spans several decades.

Written by Michael Uslan, who produced the Batman movies and wrote the Archie comics where Archie married Betty and Veronica, in separate timelines, this is a well-researched, richly-woven tale that begins in the modern day, where Doc Savage accidentally sends a passenger jet back in time with his particle collider, and has to go back and set things straight.

In the past we meet The Shadow, Howard Hughes and H.G. Wells, and in both time periods the billionaire industrialist, Richard Benson (The Avenger) is an off-screen presence…unless he’s already turned up in disguise.

We learn that our heroes will be confonted by The Voodoo Master in their quest to sort things out before the time-space continuum goes all kablooey. As first issues go, this one sets things up perfectly. There’s plenty of pulp-style intrigue and action and a great cliffhanger to keep you wanting more.

The art by Timpano tells the story very well with level-headed layouts and fine rendering. A two-page text feature fills us in on some of the cultural references.

Justice Inc. is a great start for a series that will team up three giants of the pulp world. It’s also a nice nostalgic treat to see the title used again on a comic book. “Justice Inc.” was the title of the first story of Richard Benson as The Avenger, and when DC Comics got the rights to do the first adaptation of the character in the mid-1970s, they had to find an alternate title, since Marvel had “The Avengers” on the stands at the time. So DC published four issues of Justice Inc., with three of them drawn by Jack Kirby. It’s cool to see the title revived for a new comic.