Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy 

By Peter David, Bill Mumy, J. Michael Straczynski & others

(Titan Books) ISBN 1-94576- 319-X

Titan’s reprinting (issues #13-18 of the DC series from the 1990s) of the venerable TV phenomenon continues with a sly pastiche of Lost in Space courtesy of Mumy and David, with art from Gordon Purcell and Arne Starr. The maturing crew find the preserved ship of a legendary family of Space Heroes, (complete with a pneumatic-tube-arm waving robot) and must help adapt to a time that has largely left them behind. There are dramas and in-jokes aplenty in this fond romp, balanced in part by Worldsinger, a more traditional Star Fleet tale from J. Michael Straczynski, Purcell and Starr as the crew must convince a poetic alien survivor not to die with his doomed homeworld.

Ken Hooper and Bob Dvorak illustrate Howard Weinstein’s Partners?, a two-parter that fills out the volume. Once again the Enterprise is in a deadly face-off with Klingons after a suspicious border incident threatens to start a shooting war.

As always, these licensed comics are a welcome treat for Trek-deprived fans and in purely strip cartoon terms they are well-written, competently drawn and thoroughly readable. The added fillip of silver screen creators can’t hurt either.

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Masters: The Art of Jim Lee

Marvel Masters: The Art of Jim Lee 

By various & Jim Lee

(Marvel/Panini UK)  ISBN 1-905239-41-6

(A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD)

Since Jim Lee launched himself into the comics arena a lot has changed – and he’s been responsible for a large part of it. So a retrospective volume makes sense for any publisher which owns a large portion of his output. This thick tome contains some of his earliest work for Marvel (Alpha Flight issues #58-60, written by Bill Mantlo and inked by Al Milgrom) wherein he learned the trick to drawing huge casts of characters, and his first real successes (Punisher War Journal #6-7, written by Carl Potts), a visceral team-up of the Punisher and Wolverine, before concentrating on the X-Men runs that made his name and prompted his bid for independence.

From Uncanny X-Men #256-258 (scripted by Chris Claremont) comes a hi-octane, turbulent and perhaps over-blown battle with arch “Yellow Peril” stereotype The Mandarin, whose part in a super-villain pact has him attempt to destroy the misunderstood mutants as part of the “Acts of Vengeance” comic event. Don’t worry about it. There’s lots of semi-naked, exotic women, ninjas, big guns and shouting and hitting – just what every fan at the end of the 1980s demanded. And there’s plenty more where that came from in the last story-arc, reprinting X-Men #4-7, scripted by John Byrne and Scott Lobdell from Lee’s plots. This one features a glimpse into Wolverine’s past as a spy and the menace of Omega Red, a commie mutant whose touch can kill. Have no fear, though, the levels of angsty, hyper-tense testosterone remain at critical levels through-out.

Jim Lee’s work at Marvel shaped a generation of artists and his popularity directly led to the artist breakaway that resulted in Image Comics and a revolution in the industry. Although the work is a little unrelenting in tone, these stories are important and should be seen by a newer, wider audience. They’re quite well drawn, after all.

© 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Swamp Thing: Infernal Triangles

Swamp Thing: Infernal Triangles

By Rick Veitch, Jamie Delano, Stephen Bissette, Alfredo Alcala & Tom Mandrake

(Vertigo)  ISBN 1-84576-395-5

The reprinting of classic Swamp Thing continues as a coterie of guest creators detail the increasingly cosmic adventures of the planet’s Earth Elemental. From issue #77 Jamie Delano scripts and Tom Mandrake and Alfredo Alcala illustrate Infernal Triangles, a reconciliation of sorts with the street wizard John Constantine, used as a semi-witting sperm donor in the creation of the plant creature and his human wife’s baby.

The next issue To Sow One’s Seed in the Wind, written by Steve Bissette, details Abby’s and Swampy’s preparations for that impending happy event, and Veitch returns to write and draw the tale (Waiting for God [Oh!] from # 79) of Superman’s attempts to stop the Bog God’s revenge attempt against Lex Luthor, who almost destroyed him back when Alan Moore was writing the series.

From here things might get a touch confusing, so bear with me.

The Longest Day, from Swamp Thing #80, is a prequel to the Invasion cross-over event that ran through all the DC comics that year. For our purposes suffice it to say a coalition of alien races decide to wipe out humanity, and, as one of them uses plant-based technology, they decide to remove Swamp Thing in a pre-emptive strike. Warned by the Parliament of Trees, our soggy hero nonetheless vanishes from the planet and is presumed dead. Veitch and Alcala handle the creative chores for this and the next part, Widowsweed (issue #81). A frantic and desperate Abby has to deal with an alien bounty-hunter trying to destroy her nigh omnipotent – and missing — husband. The continued tale breaks off at the end of this moving and engrossing chapter as, for no logical reason, the previous year’s Swamp Thing Annual is wedged in to fill up the volume, utterly destroying the mood and the tension that should have carried over to the next volume. These aren’t periodicals, guys! They’re books! Give some thought to narrative flow when you compile these things, or you’ll never expand into the “real” world audience.

That story by the way, Distant Cousins which could have fitted in anywhere before The Longest Day, is a grimly whimsical and dark tribute to DC’s publishing obsession with monkeys and apes over the years and features such luminaries as Angel and the Ape, Monsieur Mallah, Gorilla Boss Dyke, Titano, Janu the Jungle Boy, Gorilla Grodd, Bwana Beast, Roy Raymond, Congo Bill and Congorilla in one attempt to correct evolution’s biggest mistake. Veitch scripts and is joined by a coterie of fun-loving nostalgists including Shawn McManus, Jim Fern, Stan Woch and Tom Yeates on the art.

These are fine stories, provocative and memorable, and deserve to be read – preferably in some semblance of dramatic order

© 1987, 1988, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Under the Hood, Vol 2

Batman: Under the Hood, Vol 2 

By Judd Winick & various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-277-0

The tale continues (as originally printed in Batman #645-650 and Batman Annual #25) and, no matter how I pitch it, forces me to contravene my self-imposed rule of not spoiling any surprise plot twists.

The Red Hood seems to be the adult version of Batman’s dead partner Jason Todd, who was the second Robin before being murdered by the Joker. What is his agenda? Is he just carrying as before his demise – albeit in a pretty harsh manner, or does he have a deeper game to play?

Despite the intrinsic silliness of the plot and the crushing, chronic comic book inability to let any character go, this still delivers plenty of angst-y action, melodrama and pathos. If you can suspend your narrative disbelief and just go with it, there’s guilty fun to be had here, especially if you think of this stuff as soap-opera, not literature. For that we’ve got Shakespeare and Stan Lee.

© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved

Batman: War Crimes

Batman: War Crimes

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-246-0

One last hurrah from the braided mega-event that occupied all the Batman titles during 2005, and as collected in War Drums and War Games: Outbreak, Tides and Endgame. As the dust settles Batman needs to find out how his own hypothetical training scenario led to the catastrophic gang war in Gotham and the death of two of his crime-fighting team. More moody and introspective, this dark tale of repercussions leads to the loss of yet another long-time Bat-ally.

Written by Andersen Gabrych, Devin Grayson, Bill Willingham, Bruce Jones and Will Pfeifer and no less than eleven artists, this slim volume reprints Batman #643-644, Batman Allies Secret Files & Origins 2005, Batman Villains Secret Files & Origins 2005, and Detective Comics #809-810.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman Returns: The Movie and Other Tales

Superman Returns: The Movie and Other Tales 

By various

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-282-7

This movie tie-in volume reprints the comic adaptation of Superman Returns and pads out with an eclectic collection of tales from the more recent portion of the Man of Steel’s nigh seven decades of fun and thrills.

The Origin of Superman comes courtesy of The Amazing World of Superman Treasury Edition from 1973. The much-told tale gets another outing via E. Nelson Bridwell, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, whilst the Luthor, Lois, Superman dynamic is re-examined by Stuart Immonen, Mark Millar and Yanick Paquette in A Night at the Opera originally seen in Adventures of Superman #575 (2000).

Geoff Johns, Brent Anderson and Ray Snyder show a lighter side in The Second Landing from Superman #185 (2002), Action Comics #810 (2004) provides a Christmas and New year’s fable by Joe Kelly and a fistful of guest artists, and the book ends with the delightful tale of Lois Lane’s fight to break the story of that brand new hero Superman, in Lois and the Big One from Superman Secret Files and Origins (2005) by Jami Bernard, Renato Guedes and Nick J. Napolitano.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder

By Judd Winick & Joshua Middleton

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-84576-296-7

Good, old fashioned comic book romp as the Man of Steel meets up with neophyte superhero Captain Marvel, who is in fact a little boy with a tremendous gift. Full of big fights, dastardly villains, giant monsters and robots, all rendered in a painterly style very reminiscent of the old Fleischer Studio Superman cartoons.

This is a great read for all ages and serves as a solid introduction for anyone unfamiliar with some of the major players of the Infinite Crisis volumes.

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Strong, Book Six

Tom Strong, Book Six 

By various

(America’s Best Comics) ISBN 1-84576-385-8

Alan Moore once again surrenders his writer’s role to a selection of top creators for an intriguing medley of tales from his own private universe in this the final collection of Tom Strong adventures.

First is The Black Blade of the Barbary Coast by Michael Moorcock and Jerry Ordway, wherein The Man of Science goes both trans-temporal and trans-dimensional in a quest to save the multiverse, with pirates, dinosaurs and the odd guest star from Moorcock’s own formidable pantheon of fantasy characters.

The Journey Within from Joe Casey and Ben Oliver features Strong’s steam-powered associate Pneuman, whose increasingly erratic behaviour proves to be less decrepitude and malfunction, and more infection and civilisation. Steve Moore and Paul Gulacy provide a dark oriental fantasy that examines the nature of fiction and reality in The Spires of Samakhara, and we see the final fate of a Science-Villain in Cold Calling from Peter Hogan, Chris Sprouse and Karl Story.

The volume — and indeed the series — ends with the appropriately apocalyptic-sounding Tom Strong at the End of the World, written by Alan Moore, who ties in the event with the ending of the Promethea series. In an introspective and contemplative turnabout the characters all transmigrate to a typically different Valhalla beautifully rendered by Sprouse, Story and colourist Jose Villarrubia.

All in all this collection (reprinting issues #31-36) is a fine end to a genuinely different take on the conventions of super-heroics, and a sad loss to the breadth and variety of the comic medium. I suspect we shan’t see its like for many a year.

© 2005, 2006 America’s Best Comics, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Superman-Batman: Vengeance

By Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines

(DC Comics) ISBN 1-4012-0921-1

Here’s another triumph of style over substance as our heroes are targeted by a strangely familiar – not to say almost dangerously copyright-infringing – team of super heroes from another reality – another? again? – bent on obtaining vengeance for the murder of a team-mate at the hands of – surely not? – Superman and Batman!

This further interdimensional foofaraw follows on from Superman-Batman: Absolute Power with a graphically astounding package of rollercoaster twaddle with lots of branded guest-stars but very little sense. Ooh, Shiny!

© 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved